Friday, April 30, 2021

More Adalbert Stifter

I’m excited to learn that there will soon be more of Adalbert Stifter’s writing available in English: New York Review Books is publishing Motley Stones, a sequence of six novellas, translated by Isabel Fargo Cole. Publication date: May 4. Right now, the book is available to order at 30% off.

I've read Stifter's novel The Bachelors and the novella Rock Crystal (included in Motley Stones). It's not hyperbole to say that I’ve never read anything remotely like Adalbert Stifter’s writing.

Related posts
A passage from The Bachelors : A passage from Rock Crystal

[What would my reading life be without NYRB? Greatly diminished.]

“A child immediately rises up”

Things, the narrator tells us, “at the moment we notice them, turn within us into something immaterial, akin to all the preoccupations or sensations we have at that particular time, and mingle indissolubly with them.”

Marcel Proust, Finding Time Again, trans. Ian Patterson (London: Penguin, 2003).

An elementary-school kid takes my place when I read Alvin’s Secret Code; a middle-schooler, when I read Deathman, Do Not Follow Me.

See also this Proust passage.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Vintage library supplies

From Smithsonian magazine: “Vintage Supplies that Kept Libraries Running.” I still see a couple of charging cases in my university library’s reference room. I think they hold scratch paper now. And I still see older books with the holes left by perforating stamps. They track the school’s changing names, from “normal school” to college to university.

One bit of more recent library technology I wish I had asked about as a kid: a machine in my branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. A book to be checked out was opened flat under a hood of sorts. A light flashed above, accompanied by a strangely satisfying thunk. At least I think that’s what happened. This machine must have been making photostats for circulation records. I remember that with several books, the librarian would nest them before checking them out.

(Is anyone familiar with what I’m trying to describe?)

Thanks to Gunther at Lexikaliker for passing on the link.

*

May 2: I found two photographs of the charging machine I tried to describe.

* May 6: More discoveries in ">the post with the photos.

Related posts
The Card Catalog : Catalog card generator : Celebrity borrowers : Library slip, 1941, 1992

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Back to the office

“To see March 2020 even though it’s 2021 kind of spooked me a little”: “A return to offices frozen in time” (The Washington Post).

Block that metaphor

Chuck Todd, speaking of Joe Biden on MSNBC not long ago:

“Here he is, now at the precipice of introducing a new era.”
Related reading
All OCA metaphor posts (Pinboard)

On Duke Ellington’s birthday

Duke Ellington was born on April 29, 1899.

Here are two recordings made not long before I began listening. They’re from “the stockpile,” the trove of recordings Ellington made at his own expense, unreleased in his lifetime.

From Black, Brown and Beige (1943), “Symphonette.”

Cootie Williams, Money Johnson, Eddie Preston, Richard Williams, trumpets; Booty Wood, Malcolm Taylor, Chuck Connors, trombones; Norris Turney, Buddy Pearson, Paul Gonsalves, Harold Ashby, Harry Carney, reeds; Joe Benjamin, bass; Rufus Jones, drums. Recorded May 6, 1971 and released on The Intimate Ellington (Pablo, 1977). The soloist is Harry Carney on baritone sax.

The UWIS Suite (1972), written for a week-long Ellington festival at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: “The Anticipation,” “Uwis,” “Klop,” and “Loco Madi.”

Duke Ellington, piano; Cootie Williams, Mercer Ellington, Money Johnson, Johnny Coles, trumpets; Booty Wood, Vince Prudente, Chuck Connors, trombones; Russell Procope, Harold Minerve, Norris Turney, Harold Ashby, Russ Andrews, Harry Carney, reeds; Joe Benjamin, bass; Rufus Jones, drums. On “Loco Madi,” Wulf Freedman, electric bass.

“The Anticipation,” for piano alone, was recorded on August 25, 1972 and released on Duke Ellington: An Intimate Piano Session (Storyville, 2017). The other sections were recorded on October 5, 1972 and released on The Ellington Suites (Pablo, 1976). The soloists on “Uwis”: Carney, baritone; Turney, alto; Procope, clarinet; Ashby: tenor. The closing bit: Turney, flute; Minerve, piccolo; Carney, bass clarinet; Ashby, tenor. On “Loco Madi”: Ashby, tenor; Johnson, trumpet; Turney, alto.

The Ellington band premiered The UWIS Suite on July 21, 1972 in Madison. To my knowledge, that was the single public performance.

Related reading
All OCA Ellington posts (Pinboard)

Theories

Marcel Proust, Finding Time Again, trans. Ian Patterson (London: Penguin, 2003).

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

ABC

On “the preeminence of ABC.” From Judith Flanders’s A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order (New York: Basic Books, 2020):

It is an unspoken assumption of alphabetic writing systems that the alphabet is primary. Letters near the beginning of the alphabet are somehow superior to those that follow: alpha males dominate romantic fiction; in the 1950s, B-movies followed or preceded the main feature; in the 1960s the B-side of records carried the songs that were not expected to be hits. The preeminence of ABC over, say, DEF, or LMN, runs unconsciously through every part of the world that uses an alphabet, and some regions that do not: there have been broadcasting companies named ABC in the USA, Australia, Britain, the Philippines, and even in Japan, a nonalphabet country; it is also the title of a Swedish news program, a Spanish newspaper, and several food companies and cinema chains across the globe. As well as an Arab Banking Corporation in alphabetic Bahrain, there is an Agricultural Bank of China in decidedly nonalphabetic China. ABC is a programming language, and a streaming algorithm. English-speakers learning first aid are reminded to check ABCs (airways, breathing, circulation). Mathematics has an abc conjecture, an ABC formula, and Approximate Bayesian Computation. The Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof Islands off the coast of Alaska are known as the ABC Islands; their counterparts in the Lesser Antilles are Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao.
I’m still in the preface and already learning things.

"Millionaire cousins“

A tribute to the housekeeper Françoise’s “millionaire cousins,” the Larivières, who come out of retirement to work in a café run by the widow of their nephew, who has been killed in the Great War.

Marcel Proust, Finding Time Again, trans. Ian Patterson (London: Penguin, 2003).

An odd moment, in which the relatives of a fictional character, in a book “in which everything has been made up,” are avowed as real. Even odder when we realize that it seems to be not “Marcel,” the autobiographical narrator, who speaks here but his creator, M. Proust.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

John Richards (1923–2021)

John Richards, the founder of The Apostrophe Protection Society, has died at the age of ninety-seven. Here is a tribute from the Society’s pages. And here is an article from The Washington Post.

Related reading
All OCA apostrophe posts (Pinboard)

“Blue, black, yellow, plaid, etc.”

A patron of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, or someone purporting to be a patron, wrote a letter of complaint about the orchestra’s decision to devote its 2021–2022 season to the work of Black composers.

An excerpt, preserving the errors in the original:

I feel you could and should structure your programing and events as ‘musicians’ and their contribution to the art,or a style not weather they are blue, black, yellow, plaid, etc.
I don’t take this letter at face value: I suspect that it’s the work of a provocateur. What interests me though is not the identity of the writer but the items in a series: “blue, black, yellow, plaid, etc.”

Why do white people so often bring colors not found in humankind into discussions of race? “I don’t care if you’re black, white, green, or purple,” &c. I think doing so serves two purposes. One, the catalog of colors loudly proclaims a lack of racism and shows just how much the white person means it: “You could be green for all I care,” any color, of course, being a deviation from the default setting white. At the same time, the catalog renders the realities of color and racism absurd — because there are no green or purple people. The catalog of colors thus urgently marks the white person’s distance from racism while simultaneously trivializing the reality of color — which in itself is a racist gesture.

I thought these thoughts on my own. But I am late to the game.

Related reading
The invocation of strangely colored people (Rachel Manija) : Stuff white people do: invoke strangely colored people (macon d) : You Don’t Care if Someone Is Black, White, Green, or Purple? You Should! (Katy Waldman)

[And what about all the seasons devoted to the work of white composers? The provocateur appears not to understand irony. “Black, white, green, or purple” appears to be a common series. I knew it before reading Katy Waldman’s essay.]

Monday, April 26, 2021

A Joe Biden notecard

My son Ben thought I would like this photograph of a notecard in Joe Biden’s hands. I do. It’s a markedly different notecard from one seen in the former guy’s hands.

Thanks, Ben.

Related reading
All OCA index card posts (Pinboard)

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

This guy’s in trouble. Just look at the beads of sweat on his forehead and temples. Can anyone help him out by at least letting him know the name of the actor playing his part?

Leave your best guess in the comments. I’ll drop a hint if one’s needed.

*

That was fast. The answer’s now in the comments.

More mystery actors (Collect them all!)
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Astraios, music and film

A concert from Astraios Chamber Music, available through May 3: Music & Silent Film. A total delight, and probably the most artful COVID-era online production I’ve seen, right through to the closing credits.

Among the films shown: El hotel eléctrico (dir. Segundo de Chomón, 1908), with a score by Elaine Fine. Watch, listen, enjoy.

Will Shortz, enemy of free verse

Will Shortz, doing the Sunday Puzzle this morning on NPR, asked what an Olympic swimming pool and a poem have in common. The answer: meter. Shortz: “A poem usually has meter.”

Uh, no.

Will Shortz’s blend of smarty-pants certitude and cluelessness (no pun intended) irks me whenever it surfaces. As it did this morning.

See also “Cool jazz pioneer”, nepenthe, and NOLIKEY.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Today’s Newsday Saturday

Today’s Newsday  Saturday crossword, by Matthew Sewell, is themeless, but it verges on Stumper territory, or turf, or Sturf. Sturf’s up! Not as difficult as last week’s puzzle, but still plenty difficult, with many clues that lead in no one direction. Take 15-A, eleven letters, “Prepared to make contributions.” RAISEDAHAND? VOLUNTEERED? No. Or 20-A, eight letters, “Treatment in oils.” PORTRAIT? Uh-uh. It wasn’t until I hit 56-A, eleven letters, “Early workplace for Gershwin,” that I was able to get a section of the puzzle more or less done.

Some entries I especially liked:

1-A, eleven letters, “Latter-day quackery.” The reality-based community says “Thank you.”

6-D, three letters, “Setting for the Winnipeg Folk Festival.” One of several wonderful clues for very short answers.

9-D, five letters, “Actor whom Obama called ‘big-eared and level-headed.’” A nicely self-deprecating touch.

26-A, three letters, “Spreads threads.” See 6-D. An inspired clue.

36-D, five letters, “Rugged or ragged.” I just like the alliteration.

44-A, three letters, “Elf (per se or a prefix).” Huh? I thought this must have been a cryptic clue. I learned something.

54-D, four letters, “Changes visible wavelengths.” Defamiliarization at work.

62-A, eleven letters, “Walks, for example.” Where to? A highly indirect clue.

One clue I take issue with: 38-D, four letters, “‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ scheme.” No, that’s not the scheme. I will offer a minor spoiler: the scheme in question is a rhyme scheme. For “Twinkle, Twinkle,” it’s not AABB; it’s AABBAA. To say it’s AABB is like saying that the rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet is ABABCDCD. A better clue for AABB might be “Couplets.” Or perhaps “Rhyme lines.”

Thinking about the incomplete rhyme scheme makes me remember Ralph Kramden’s Social Security number: 105-36-22.

No other spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

*

An afterthought: for AABB and a children’s song, how about “‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ scheme”?

Friday, April 23, 2021

“Fully Vaccinated”

[Randall Munroe, xkcd, April 23, 2021. Click for a larger view.]

I like the aberrant literalism of today’s xkcd.

I also like being able to say that Elaine and I will be two weeks past our second dose of the Moderna vaccine in two weeks. Moderna: aka the Bodyslammer, the Sledge. The second shot has knocked me for several loops. I’d ask Elaine how she’s doing, but she’s asleep — see? After the vaccine’s side effects wear off, we should have ample time to practice our basic conversational skills before putting ourselves back into circulation.

Thanks to science and medicine and all those working therein, without which — I don’t want to think about it.

Related reading
All OCA xkcd posts (Pinboard)

[The mouseover text: “You still can’t walk into someone’s house without being invited!” “What? Oh, I see your confusion. No, this vaccine is for a bat VIRUS. I’m fine with doorways and garlic and stuff.” The alternative Moderna names are my coinages. They fit.]

Sardine-O-Rama

~ A recipe for sardine butter (The Berkshire Eagle).

~ Why everyone needs sardines in their larder (The Irish Times). With a recipe for sardinesca. Sardinesca sounds like a good reason to have sardines on hand — and to get yourself a larder. Our kitchen has only cabinets.

~ Popping Tops, a newsletter about tinned seafood, by Tim Marchman, seafood enthusiast. The first installment is about Bela-Olhão sardines. Now I know what I’m having for lunch today. I think Bela sardines are terrific.

Thanks to Matt Thomas for alerting me to Popping Tops. Matt’s newsletter is the Sunday New York Times Digest, “bringing the articles everyone’s talking about as well as hidden gems from America’s ‘paper of record’ to your inbox.” He always finds something I didn’t.

Small pleasures

In Two Weeks in Another Town (dir. Vincent Minnelli, 1962), a plane is ready to take off. John Andrus (Kirk Douglas) is lingering. A flight attendant calls from the airplane door: “Mr. Andrus, we must take off, or we’ll lose our clearance.”

And right then the message comes on the screen, as it very rarely does:

Buffering . . .
Leaving enough time for a last kiss.

[No. 9 in a series.]

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Advice from Raymond Chandler

I like these sentences, from Raymond Chandler’s “Advice to a Secretary,” newly published in The Strand:

It is never stupid to ask questions. It is only stupid to guess at the answers and take a chance on being wrong.
Good advice for all.

A Star Tribune article has more about, and from, “Advice to a Secretary.”

Pocket notebook sighting

What’s this? The screenwriter is asleep in his bungalow? With nothing much by his typewriter? Well, maybe he’s got something in his notebook. Take a look, Mr. Producer. And please, start at the back for dramatic effect.

[Kirk Douglas as Jonathan Shields, Dick Powell as James Lee Bartlow, in The Bad and the Beautiful (dir. Vincent Minnelli, 1952). Click any image for a larger view.]

There are different guesses about who’s based on whom. The playwright Paul Eliot Green has been suggested as a model for the Southern academic and novelist James Lee Bartlow. But Green did most of his Hollywood work in the early 1930s. I think William Faulkner, who worked on and off in Hollywood from the early ’30s to the late ’50s, is a more recognizable choice.

More notebook sightings
All the King’s Men : Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : The Big Clock : Bombshell : The Brasher Doubloon : Cat People : City Girl : Crossing Delancey : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dead End : The Devil and Miss Jones : Dragnet : Extras : Eyes in the Night : The Face Behind the Mask : Foreign Correspondent : Fury : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : Kid Glove Killer : The Last Laugh : Le Million : The Lodger : Ministry of Fear : Mr. Holmes : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : Now, Voyager : The Palm Beach Story : Perry Mason : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : The Racket : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : La roue : Route 66The Scarlet Claw : Sleeping Car to Trieste : The Small Back Room : The Sopranos : Spellbound : Stage Fright : State Fair : A Stranger in Town : Stranger Things : Sweet Smell of Success : Time Table : T-Men : To the Ends of the Earth : 20th Century Women : Union Station : Vice Squad : Walk East on Beacon! : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window : You Only Live Once

I am not that guy

Another e-mail arrived for a man of medicine who bears my name. As I wrote in a previous post about “Dr. Michael Leddy,” I’ve received everything from booking information to receipts for garden equipment, all meant for him. Another such e-mail arrived yesterday. I began reading:

You don’t know me, but I work with [name] on [street address]. I’ve been working with him to help bring in more erectile dysfunction and vasectomy patients to his practice.
I wrote back:
I frequently get e-mails for some guy with my name. But I am not that guy. And believe me, no one in his right mind would want me to perform a vasectomy on him, even if I work cheap. And I can’t do a thing for ED. Please remove my name from your mailings.
And then I realized I hadn’t read far enough:
I did some research into your practice and identified a few opportunities to drive in more patients for shoulder replacement to the practice.
Oh. So I wrote back again:
Nix to the shoulders too.
Related posts
Dr. Leddy, practicing : On the honorific “Doctor”

[I too am “Dr. Michael Leddy,” possessor of a doctorate. But as I always told my students, I preferred “Mr. Leddy” — good enough for my dad, good enough for me.]

“Grammar-Nerd Heaven”

Mary Norris writes about Taming the Tongue in the Heyday of English Grammar (1713-1851), an exhibition of grammars from Bryan Garner’s collection. “To enter the exhibit,” Norris writes, “is to climb aboard the Grammarama ride at Disneyland for Nerds.”

I have to point out: Norris, who says that it’s difficult not to mythologize Garner, does some mythologizing herself. As a fourth-grader, Garner did not bring a Webster’s Third to school to settle a question with a teacher. He availed himself of the Webster’s Third in the classroom. The question was whether shan’t is a word. Garner tells the story in an essay about shall.

Here’s an OCA earlier post about the exhibit.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Grammar or logic

The Baron de Charlus:

Marcel Proust, Finding Time Again, trans. Ian Patterson (London: Penguin, 2003).

It’s one of the moments — there are many — in which M. Charlus’s confident lunacy makes me fast-forward to Ignatius J. Reilly.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Meta Raft

From Johnny Allegro (dir. Ted Tetzlaff, 1949). Criminal mastermind and crazed aesthete Morgan Vallin (George Macready) thinks that ex-con Johnny Allegro (George Raft) is still the hoodlum of old newspaper photographs. “I’ve changed a lot since then,” Allegro tells him.

“But your type never changes. Just looking at you makes me think of alley fighting, tommy guns.”

“Is that bad?”
I guess not, not if you’re George Raft.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

On all three counts

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Derek Chauvin has been found guilty on all three counts.

[Our household, too, just rose for the jury as they left the courtroom.]

Heather Cox Richardson’s latest

In the April 19 installment of Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson writes about gun violence, Brown v. Board of Education, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and cowboys, real and imaginary.

Letters from an American is invaluable. Also free.

Walter Mondale (1928–2021)

The New York Times has a lengthy obituary.

I remember riding in an elevator in 1984 with a clean-cut collegian wearing an orange button on his jacket. In black letters on an orange background: FRITZ IS A WIMP. I think that moment must have been my first awareness of toxic masculinity at work in politics.

*

Here, from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, is a transcript of a Reagan speech from October 1984, with the crowd chanting the words on the button.

Twelve movies

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers.]

Treasure Island (dir. Victor Fleming, 1934). I hadn’t seen this film since boyhood and did not remember how genuinely good it is. Jackie Cooper as young Jim Hawkins is a great asset here: listen to his voice and you’ll hear him as a plaintive boy version of Shirley Temple. But it’s the pirates that make the movie, a collection of grotesques, above all, Lionel Barrymore’s delirious Billy Bones and Wallace Beery’s conniving Long John Silver. Were Robert Louis Stevenson and Victor Fleming, like Blake’s Milton, of the Devil’s party without knowing it? ★★★★

*

Johnny Allegro (dir. Ted Tetzlaff, 1949). As a florist, George Raft is John Allegro (yes, George Raft, a florist). But as a fellow with a criminal past, he’s Johnny. His past gets him entangled in a criminal enterprise with the desirable Glenda Chapman (Nina Foch) and the unhinged Morgan Vallin (George Macready). Foch and Macready, the one understated, the other over the top, help to compensate for Raft’s trademark stiffness. ★★★

*

Two by Vincent Minnelli

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). A movie producer (Walter Pidgeon) conducts a Socratic dialogue about exploitative movie producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) with three of the people whose lives Shields ruined: an actress (Lana Turner), a director (Barry Sullivan), and a writer (Dick Powell). Or were they ruined? Great acting, great storytelling via flashbacks, great black and white cinematography by Robert Surtees, a great score by David Raksin, and Gloria Grahame in an Academy Award-winning performance as a southern lady. It’s “the movies,” and even in 2021, it’s fairly easy to figure out at least some of the real-life models for the characters. ★★★★

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962). Not a sequel but a companion, with Douglas as a washed-up actor and Edward G. Robinson as a washed-up director, each holding on to meager career prospects in Rome. Cyd Charisse, George Hamilton, Dahlia Lavi, and Claire Trevor complicate the actor-director dynamic. I prefer the sharp and snappy 1952 world; too many outbursts make this movie campy by comparison. Best scene: Douglas’s character watching “himself” in The Bad and the Beautiful; worst: the car. ★★★

*

Salesman (dir. Albert Maysles and David Maysles, 1969). Four salesmen — the Badger, the Gipper, the Rabbit, and the Bull — travel from door to door (“I’m from the church”), pushing enormous illustrated Bibles on Catholic households. There’s something hilarious and repulsive about the use of the most hackneyed, high-pressure sales tactics to push these behemoths ($49.95 for the base model, $357.97 in today’s money) on households of modest means. And there’s something immensely sad about this documentary, particularly in the person of the bitter, hapless, wise-cracking monologist Paul Brennan, the Badger, who emerges as the star. Best and worst scene: Charles McDevitt, the Gipper, trying to “spark up” the Badger. ★★★★

*

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life (dir. Ric Burns, 2020). I’m a fan: I admire the neurologist Oliver Sacks for his eccentric humanity and his ability to identify with and celebrate the humanity of others. This documentary is a fan too, a beautifully made account of Sacks’s life, made in the last months of his life. Anyone who knows Sacks only as a writer of curious case histories (or as the doctor played by Robin Williams in Awakenings) will learn of his painful family background (a schizophrenic brother, a mother who calls Oliver an “abomination” when she learns he’s gay), drug use, frequent professional rejection, profound shyness, and, in the end, a six-year loving relationship with a partner. In lieu of a fourth sentence, I’ll point the reader to a short essay Sacks wrote for The New York Times after receiving a terminal diagnosis: “My Own Life.” ★★★★

*

The Mark (dir. Guy Green, 1961). A compassionate, deeply unnerving (because compassionate) portrait of a man who’s served time for “child seduction,” now attempting to make a new life for himself. Jim Fuller (Stuart Whitman) is an American in Manchester, England, working in accountancy thanks to a benevolent boss and a group that helps released prisoners. Complications develop when he begins a relationship with the firm’s secretary (Maria Schell). Rod Steiger, blessedly understated here, plays the psychiatrist who serves as Fuller’s lifeline. ★★★★

*

Two by Joseph Losey

The Servant (dir. 1963). From a novel by Robin Maugham, with a screenplay by Harold Pinter. A drama of host and parasite, with a manservant (Dirk Bogarde) taking over the household of a boozy aristocrat (James Fox). Sarah Miles and Wendy Craig provide various forms of support. One of the darkest films I’ve seen. ★★★★

Accident (1967). From a novel by Nicholas Mosley, with a screenplay by Harold Pinter. Silences, miscues, non sequiturs, and ominous tension, with an Oxford philosophy prof (Dirk Bogarde), an academic rival (Stanley Baker), and an aristocratic student (Michael York) all under the spell of an Austrian student and princess (Jacqueline Sassard). But it would be misleading to say that the movie is “about” that. Better, perhaps: it’s about the ways in which people step on one another, figuratively and literally. ★★★★

*

FBI Girl (dir. William A. Berke, 1951). Cesar Romero and George Brent star as agents investigating the murder of an FBI clerk; Audrey Totter is the late clerk’s roommate; and Raymond Burr lurks as a sinister figure on the payroll of a shady governor. So far so good, but this movie has nothing compelling in its action. Just wait for the scene in which the characters watch TV (and look for a young Peter Marshall on the small screen). This movie puts the udg in low-budget. ★

*

Little Caesar (dir. Mervyn LeRoy, 1931). The rise and fall of Caesar Enrico Bandello (Edward G. Robinson), a small-time hood determined to be “somebody.” Robinson is great, of course. I paid attention to the movie’s atmosphere: the lonely diner, serving spaghetti and coffee at midnight; the enormous interiors, some modernist, some weirdly baroque. And I was impressed by the economy and speed of the storytelling: a car, filmed from a distance, pulls up at a gas station, the doors open, the station’s lights go out, shots are fired, a cash register dings — and then we’re having spaghetti and coffee. ★★★★

*

That’s Life! (dir. Blake Edwards, 1986). Featured in the Criterion Channel’s collection Close to Home: How to Make a Movie Without Leaving the House — here, the house of Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews, filled with glitzy people, some played by family members, all gathering for a birthday party. Andrews plays a singer married to the birthday boy, a kvetching architect about to turn sixty (Jack Lemmon almost parodying Jack Lemmon). Sex jokes, prostate jokes, and bowel jokes are all on the menu. Andrews’s character’s stoicism as she waits through a weekend for biopsy results was, for me, the movie’s one virtue. ★★

[Sources: the Criterion Channel, PBS, TCM, and YouTube.]

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Monday, April 19, 2021

“Too small”

Jerry Blackwell, Special Assistant Attorney General, in his final words for the prosecution in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial, speaking of the defense’s greatest shading of the truth or departure from the evidence:

“You were told, for example, that Mr. Floyd died, that Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big. You heard that testimony. And now having seen all the evidence, having heard all the evidence, you know the truth. And the truth of the matter is that the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin’s heart was too small.”
The prosecution has done an excellent job of making its case with memorable bits of language: “calling the police on the police,” “let up or get up,” “common sense” and “nonsense,” and this final contrast.

You can hear these final words at C-SPAN, at the 6:42:13 mark.

How to improve writing (no. 92)

I had to read the sentence a second time:

A couple of weeks ago around dinnertime, neither my husband nor I were in the cooking mood.
Jeez, that’s in The New Yorker, in print, for crying out loud. I’ll fix it:
A couple of weeks ago around dinnertime, neither my husband nor I was in the cooking mood.
Every writer slips up. I speak from experience. But see the sentence above, beginning Jeez.

Garner’s Modern English Usage on neither . . . nor : “This construction takes a singular verb when the alternatives are singular or when the second alternative is singular.”

Related reading
All OCA “How to improve writing” posts (Pinboard)

[This post is no. 92 in a series dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

In search of lost hair

I was standing with my daughter kitty-corner across from a Carhartt store. We were selling candy and leading cheers to raise money for her high school. The year was 1980, years before she was born.

But then I realized that I was watching a videotape of my daughter and me, standing kitty-corner across from a Carhartt store, &c. It was still 1980, years before she was born. Gee, my hair looked so good on videotape. So I thought, “Maybe I should grow it longer.” And then I thought, “No, wait, that was forty-two years ago, when I had a full head of hair.”

Yes, forty-two. Arithmetic doesn’t always work properly in dreams.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Mutts and Peanuts

Today’s Mutts is a nice homage.

Venn reading
All OCA Mutts posts : Mutts and Peanuts posts : Peanuts posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Seven vs. eight

Jon Gruber juxtaposes events:

So seven people get blood clots after getting the J&J vaccine and we pull it, but eight people get killed by a crazed gun owner and it’s just another Friday in America. Makes sense.

“Have loved”

“I have loved every minute of being a police officer”: a close reading of Kim Potter’s letter of resignation, by Lauren Michele Jackson (The New Yorker ).

Recently updated

Is there a Swiss peeler in the house? There’s much more to this tool than I imagined.

Today’s Newsday Saturday

Today’s Newsday  Saturday crossword is by Brad Wilber. Though it’s still a Themeless Saturday, it felt to me like a Stumper, providing twenty-six minutes of difficulty. That’s a good thing. 1-A, seven letters, “Etsy merchant,” offered a deceptively easy start.

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked:

3-D, fifteen letters, “Fat-free plan.” One of two fifteen-letter answers.

10-D, fifteen letters, “Card game oxymoron.” Not that difficult to figure out, but still difficult to figure out. I have no idea what the answer refers to — yet.

17-A, five letters, “Draft.” Just for the ambiguity. Noun? Verb? Beer? Winds? Writing?

21-A, three letters, “Upside-down rooster.” Could I be the only person to have imagined a broken weathervane?

28-A, six letters, “Chase-scene entertainment.” The clue improves the answer. You’d think first of something that happens in a chase scene, at least if you were me.

38-A, six letters, “Did due diligence at a dealer.” I like the alliteration.

41-A, five letters, “Unbroken.” Clever.

41-D, seven letters, “Put page numbers on.” The answer is likely to strike a solver as utterly ridiculous or ridiculously great. I say ridiculously great.

46-D, six letters, “Tin Woodman’s topper.” Easy, but I like it because it reminds me of one of my dad’s favorite trivia questions: what is Dorothy’s last name? And guess what: Tin’s name is indeed Woodman, not Woodsman. Who knew?

One clue I’d question: 37-D, eight letters, “Start of an Austen declaration.” I think of the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice: ITISATRU — and then run out of letters. Is the declaration this clue points to all that well known? It may be. I may not be Austenite enough to know that.

No spoilers; the answers (and some commentary) are in the comments.

Friday, April 16, 2021

The Rite of Spring Toy Orchestra



It’s the work of Chris Ott and his assistant Igor. Chris has a YouTube channel.

Rogers cardigans

“Every color of cardigan Mister Rogers wore on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood from 1969–2001, presented in chronological order”: it’s a beautiful print, or a beautiful image to look at online.

[Found via Laura Olin’s newsletter.]

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Is there a Swiss peeler in the house?

A kitchen drawer opened, and a peeler, still on its display card, shifted forward into view. It’s a SwissPro peeler, made in Switzerland. I bought a four-pack ($17.99) in 2009 after watching several videos of the then-recently departed Joe Ades, the charismatic peddler who sold similar peelers on the streets of Manhattan. I gave away two peelers and kept two. I forgot that we even had a spare.

The SwissPro peeler is built to last. Our in-use peeler is as sharp as ever. It needs nothing more than careful washing and an occasional wipe of the blade with cooking oil to remove any oxidation.

The SwissPro (“by Rosenhaüs”) now seems to be unavailable in the States. But comparable peelers abound. Look for something with a stainless-steel handle and a carbon-steel blade, like so. And it should, of course, be made in Switzerland.

Here’s a sample of Joe Ades at work, demonstrating that the Swiss peeler can be used for much more than peeling.

*

April 17: Gunther and Stephen have added helpful details in the comments. As Gunther notes, the original peeler is the REX, first made by the Swiss company Zena in 1947. The STAR peeler followed in 1970. As Stephen notes, the peelers are sold at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich. (Museum of Design, I think.) There’s also a poster, with the peeler in gold. Further evidence of the peeler’s celebrated status: as Gunther notes, there’s a Swiss stamp honors the peeler. The stamp makes me think of the Sachplakat, or object poster, an advertising poster depicting an object, a brand name, and little or nothing more.

The Zena website is worth your time. Knowing now that my peeler is a knock-off, I’m tempted to buy a REX, even though my knock-off has been working well since 2009. That’s the kind of guy I am.

“Merely contingent”

By the light of a dining-room lamp, a conversation takes place in which wisdom, “the wisdom, if not of nations at least of families,” seizes on some event and “places it under the magnifying glass of memory,” creating new perspectives, rearranging events in time and space.

Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, trans. Peter Collier (London: Penguin, 2003).

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[The Muse of history: Clio.]

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Bye, Blogger e-mail subscriptions

Google is messing with making changes to its Feedburner service and will discontinue Blogger e-mail subscriptions in July. Google suggests that Blogger bloggers download their subscription lists to use with a new service — something like Mailchimp, I suppose, though Google offers no suggestions.

I’m going to pass, in part because I cannot imagine formatting blog posts to my satisfaction to send out in the form of daily e-mails. (I am just that persnickety.) But also because I think it’s rude to port e-mail addresses to a new service that nobody ever signed up for.

I’ve deleted the sidebar link for new e-mail subscriptions. Come July, I hope that anyone reading Orange Crate Art via e-mail likes what I’m doing enough to visit here or add an RSS subscription. There’s a link for that still in the sidebar.

More about H. Neil Matkin

The Chronicle of Higher Education has its most detailed report to date on the life and times of H. Neil Matkin, president of Texas’s Collin College, where students are customers, professors work without tenure, and the dangers of COVID-19 are deemed to be exaggerated: “That Man Makes Me Crazy.”

Related posts
Meet H. Neil Matkin : Once again : And once more

[You can read Chronicle articles that aren’t behind the paywall using Reader View or the Kill Sticky Headers bookmarklet.]

A letter from Oliver Sacks

No, not to me. To Austin Kleon. And it’s handwritten.

Bonuses: the note-taking effort that prompted the letter, and a tour of Sacks’s desk. Dixon Ticonderogas, a pencil sharpener, many chunks of metal, and a Mont Blanc fountain pen.

[If you’ve seen Oliver Sacks: His Own Life, you’ll have a better understanding of the chunks of metal.]

Recently updated

How to improve writing, no. 89 Now with more tedious discussion of the phrase a pair of twins.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Thankful

I am so thankful that Joe Biden is our president.

[Typed during the memorial service for William “Billy” Evans, Capitol police officer.]

Time travel

Yes, you can roam around.

Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, trans. Peter Collier (London: Penguin, 2003).

Proust’s narrator is speaking, of course, of memory. But as Carol Clark points out in the introduction to her translation of The Prisoner in this same volume, the narrator can indeed be years older or younger from pargraph to paragraph. She quotes from a letter by Evelyn Waugh to John Betjeman:

Well, the chap was plain barmy. He never tells you the age of the hero and on one page he is being taken to the W.C. in the Champs-Elysées by his nurse & the next page he is going to a brothel. Such a lot of nonsense.
Clark says that Waugh was “facetiously complaining.” I hope so.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Monday, April 12, 2021

SAFE-T

The killing of Daunte Wright and the events that followed last night in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, prompt me to share a Chicago Reader article about Illinois’s SAFE-T Act. It’s a criminal-justice reform bill, signed into law in February. The acronym stands for Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity — Today. In other words, now.

“That attention to detail”

The Duc and the Duchesse de Guermantes admire Mademoiselle de Forcheville’s tact and intelligence.

Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, trans. Peter Collier (London: Penguin, 2003).

The Duc and Duchesse’s evaluation of Mademoiselle is (at least thus far) wholly positive. Add to Mademoiselle’s tact and intelligence her wit, and the way she pronounces certain words — just like her father! Oh, and her brio. Yes, her father was witty too, but he did not have such brio. Let the hair-splitting analyses begin.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, April 11, 2021

“It’s pathetic”

Here’s an anonymous resident of Villa Grove, Illinois, quoted in the Chicago Sun Times. She’s speaking of life in the town where a bar opening in February 2021 was linked to forty-six cases of COVID-19 and a two-week-long school closing. You can easily figure out why she chose to be anonymous:

“They don’t check to see how many people are in businesses. There are no mask mandates. When restaurants and bars were supposed to be closed except for pickup, there were still several that were open like there was nothing going on,” she said. “There’s hardly anywhere that mandates masks. It’s pathetic.”
That’s the meaning of “freedom” in downstate Illinois.

And that’s my airing of grievances for the day.

A related post
COVID-19 in Douglas County

[Says the bar’s owner, “We don’t want Chicago telling us what to do.” The state capital is Springfield.]

Airing of grievances

For some people, every day is Festivus.

[Worth clicking through if only to see the startling photograph.]

Idiom of the day: soup up

A clue in yesterday’s Newsday crossword — five letters, “Jazzes (up)” — prompted me to (finally) write a post about soup up.

My guess about an origin: perhaps a way to describe the adding of soup to a meal. I imagine a seedy little café, circa 1927, adding a bowl of soup to, say, the beef stew, roll, and coffee it usually serves its patrons: “We souped up the dinner for ya, Bill. Eat hearty.” But it’s tough to guess correctly about these things.

Merriam-Webster gives these definitions for soup up:

to increase the power, efficiency, or performance of

to heighten the impact of : to make more exciting or colorful
It’s the origin of the verb that’s surprising. According to M-W, soup up comes from soup, “drug injected into a racehorse to improve its performance.” M-W dates soup up to 1924. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the verb to 1931. The OED dates soup-as-drug to 1909, citing the 1909 ‌Webster’s New international : “any material injected into a horse with a view to changing its speed or temperament.” The OED suggests the prefix super- as an influence.

And now I recall that in The Asphalt Jungle (dir. John Huston, 1950), “soup” is what the criminal gang calls the nitroglycerine they use to blow up a bank vault. Sure enough, the Oxford English Dictionary has soup as nitroglycerine or gelignite, with a first citation from 1902. I like this 1903 citation, from Isaac Kahn Friedman’s The Autobiography of a Beggar: “Louis learned how ter make de ‘soup’ from a gang of ‘yeagers’ dat used ter blow de doors off country banks.” Yeagers are more commonly known as yeggs: that is, safecrackers.

And crackers remind me of soup, and of the imaginary café. If I keep going on with this post, it’ll soon be time for lunch. There will be soup.

[The Autobiography of a Beggar is not an autobiography. It’s a book of what look like colorful stories by a Chicago journalist.]

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Today’s Newsday Saturday

Today’s Newsday  Saturday crossword, by Anna Stiga (Stan Again, Stan Newman, the puzzle editor), was easy but satisfying, with inventive clues and unusual answers. Some clue-and-answer pairs that I especially liked:

6-A, five letters, “Big name in guitar making.” Surprising to see this answer clued as a name. But it is one, or was.

7-D, six letters, “’13’ preceder.” Seems obvious when you see it, but strange at first.

10-D, eight letters, “Topical application.” Just because the answer is such a squeamish-making word.

16-D, five letters, “Nickname like Rin.” I had no idea that Rin is a nickname. The only Rin I know of barked.

18-A, five letters, “Dark-meat delicacy.” Has anyone ever eaten it? Enjoyed it?

25-A, ten letters, “They’re paid to strike.” MERCENARIE — ? No. The answer makes me think of just one name, from kidhood TV.

30-A, thirteen letters, “Expedient but imperfect.” Not sure if this idiom originates in the world of coding or is just widely used there.

32-A, eight letters, “Box-set pastime.” “Box-set” still makes me think, first, of CDs.

37-D, six letters, “Smears with ink.” Ha.

44-A, three letters, “Needle point.” The clue redeems the answer.

51-D, three letters, “Grammy Album of the Year sharer (1982).” I didn’t see this answer coming, partly because “1982.”

56-A, five letters, “Jazzes (up).” I’ve been meaning to write a post about the answer.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Katalin Kariko

The New York Times reports on Katalin “Kati” Kariko, whose work with colleagues on messenger RNA became the foundation for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. I like this paragraph:

By all accounts intense and single-minded, Dr. Kariko lives for “the bench” — the spot in the lab where she works. She cares little for fame. “The bench is there, the science is good,” she shrugged in a recent interview. “Who cares?”
As the Times article makes clear, Dr. Kariko’s position in academia has long been precarious. I’m guessing that might change, and that she’ll soon be sharing a Nobel Prize. Signs point to yes, don’t you think?

Friday, April 9, 2021

Right?

As Eric Nelson, Derek Chauvin’s attorney, continues to muddy the waters and drag George Floyd through them, I have to point out Nelson’s annoying habit of ending questions with “right?"

But that’s not an adequate description: what Nelson typically does is make a statement which then takes on the appearance of a question with the addition of “right?” He adds a “right?” even to utterly unexceptionable points about mundane matters of fact. His purpose is to create the illusion that a witness is agreeing with the defense. But it’s a pretty transparent tactic, and the illusion is one an observer can see right through.

Worse: when a witness offers a contrary response, Nelson will again say “right” — no question mark — and move on, as if the witness and the defense are still in agreement.

“Two plus two make five, right?”

“No, four.”

“Right.”

“All the time”

As Elaine was quick to point out, this sentence fits COVID-19 times well:

Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, translated by Peter Collier (London: Penguin, 2003).

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[Translator’s note for the 1870 war: “Franco-Prussian war. Napoleon III surrendered to the Prussians at Sedan in 1870. This was traumatic for civilians because of the resulting uprising of the Paris Commune in 1871.”]

Minutes past and future

I have noticed that my university’s website now posts not the minutes but the "past minutes" of committee meetings. This phrasing can mean but one thing: that the university plans to post “future minutes,” minutes of meetings that have not yet taken place.

Some will say it’s presumptuous to post such minutes. Or some may have already said that, in the past. Or they may be saying it right now. But posting future minutes would increase the service profiles of committee members while freeing up time for teaching and research. Future minutes: presumptuous? Perhaps. Helpful? Certainly.

Zippy thesaurus

In today’s Zippy: Peter Mark Roget.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard) : Beware of the saurus : Defending the thesaurus : Rogeting

[Is Zippy the only daily comic strip that titles every installment? Today’s title: “My Synonym Will Call Your Antonym.”]

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Advice from Gabby Giffords

From a PBS NewsHour interview with former Arizona Congresswoman Gaby Giffords, shot in the head in 2011, still continuing her recovery with the help of music:

Jeffrey Brown: “What do you tell yourself when things are difficult?”

Gabby Giffords: “Move ahead.”

Recently updated

Drugs, doing, eating I worked up the patience to do some searches for “I ain’t do no drugs” and “I ate too many drugs.”

Another bedroom

I was in my grandparents’ apartment in Union City. I hadn’t been there in more than forty years. The strange bulge in the kitchen wall, underneath the window — a hinged metal door of some sort, long painted over — was still where it had always been, but the sink was in a different corner. The room layout was the same as always: kitchen, bathroom, “TV room,” living room, bedroom. But now there was another bedroom, dark. I looked in, and there was my grandmother, asleep on a bed. And I realized I had better leave before I woke her up.

So go my dreams in the COVID time, veering from the mundane — see previous dream — to the very strange.

What was that door anyway? A natural refrigerator in cold weather? A milk door? But it was in a fifth-floor apartment. Was there a fire escape outside the kitchen window? I think so. Did milkmen climb fire escapes?

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

[Thanks to Elaine for the suggestion of a milk door. It looked something like the Majestic door on the milk-door page I’ve linked to.]

Lobbying

I was walking through the vast lobby of a nearby arts center. No one else was there, but tables and chairs had been set up for an event.

Yes, that was in a dream.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Drugs, doing, eating

Re: the day’s developments in the Derek Chauvin murder trial: “I ain’t do no drugs” is something people say. “I ate too many drugs” is not. See your nearest search engine for confirmation.

“I ain’t do” is a construction in Black Vernacular English. (I’m no linguist, but I know enough about language to say that much.) A Google search for "I ain't do no" -chauvin -floyd -trial returns 197,000 results. A search for "I ain't do" -chauvin -floyd -trial returns 4,290,000 results.

A search for "I ate too many drugs" -chauvin -floyd -trial returns 2,320 results, and they appear to reference the trial. A search for "I ate too many drugs" -chauvin -floyd -trial that ends with April 6 returns just twenty-four results, all false hits or references to the trial.

"I ain't do no drugs" -chauvin -floyd -trial returns relatively few unique results — twenty (down from 2,210 with many repeats). But many of those twenty results are transcriptions of hip-hop lyrics. So again: “I ain't do no drugs” is something people say. “I ate too many drugs” is not.

But whatever George Floyd said, it doesn’t change what was done to him.

[I used Google and not DuckDuckGo for these searches because Google searches more of the Internet.]

“Individual meat loaves”

It’s time for more Prem.

[Life, June 23, 1947. Click for a larger view.]

I think the meal follows this logic: The marmalade cuts the taste of the Prem. The cauliflower and buttered almonds cut the taste of the Prem and marmalade. The french fried onion rings cut the taste of the cauliflower and buttered almonds.

All done. Where’s my Jell-O?

Related posts
Name that (Prem) sandwich : What is the plural of meat loaf ?

Recently updated

Name that sandwich Now with the winning name from 1941.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

American Edge (ugh)

Have you begun to notice vaguely identified television commercials celebrating American “innovation”? They’re the work of the American Edge Project, which, as The Washington Post explained last year, is a Facebook initiative:

Facebook is working behind the scenes to help launch a new political advocacy group that would combat U.S. lawmakers and regulators trying to rein in the tech industry, escalating Silicon Valley’s war with Washington at a moment when government officials are threatening to break up large companies.

The organization is called American Edge, and it aims through a barrage of advertising and other political spending to convince policymakers that Silicon Valley is essential to the U.S. economy and the future of free speech, according to three people familiar with the matter as well as documents reviewed by The Washington Post. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the group because it hasn’t officially been announced.

In December [2019], American Edge formed as a nonprofit organization, and last month, it registered an accompanying foundation, according to incorporation documents filed in Virginia. The setup essentially allows it to navigate a thicket of tax laws in such a way that it can raise money, and blitz the airwaves with ads, without the obligation of disclosing all of its donors. Many powerful political actors — including the National Rifle Association — similarly operate with the aid of “social welfare” groups.
Yes, dark money.

Safari vs. Chrome

From MacSparky, a comparison of Mac RAM usage in Safari and Chrome. And an anecdote about matching MacBook Airs, one of which ran with the fans always on:

They couldn’t figure it out. They thought her machine was a lemon, but it passed every Apple hardware test. Then she switched browsers from Chrome to Safari. Problem solved.
There are good reasons why someone might need to run Chrome. But between the RAM and the fans — phew.

Monday, April 5, 2021

COVID-19 in Douglas County

From a CDC report:

Forty-six cases of COVID-19 were linked to an indoor bar opening event that occurred during February 2021 in a rural Illinois county. Event patrons were linked to secondary cases among household, long-term care facility, and school contacts, resulting in one hospitalization and one school closure affecting 650 students.

This story is now everywhere, with “rural Illinois” or, at best, Douglas County given as the location. A local news source has identified the bar in question. The owner denies responsibility for the outbreak: “No one that owns or works at this bar transmitted Covid to anyone.”

Perhaps not. But as the CDC reports, one patron in attendance had tested positive for COVID-19 the day before the event, and four more patrons had symptoms on the day they went to the bar. And there’s the usual masks-were-available disclaimer, which doesn’t mean that people were using them.

Douglas County is one county over from me.

Twelve movies

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers.]

The Glass Wall (dir. Maxwell Shane, 1953). A Hungarian survivor of Nazi camps, Peter Kaban (Vittorio Gassman) arrives in New York as a stowaway, where his sole hope of not being deported is to jump ship and find the American serviceman whose life he saved and can vouch for him, a guy who said he played clarinet in Times Square. A gripping story of life on the run, with Kaban as both the hunter and the hunted. There’s a touching moment with a Hungarian burlesque dancer (Robin Raymond), and Gloria Grahame gives a great performance as a coat-thief and unexpected love interest: dig her monologue about working in a shoelace factory. You’ll have to watch to the end to understand the title. ★★★★

*

99 River Street (dir. Phil Karlson, 1953). A superior noir, whose events play out in a single night. John Payne plays an ex-fighter who drives a cab and hopes to own a gas station someday. When his life spins out of control, a dispatcher pal (Frank Faylen) and an aspiring actress (Evelyn Keyes) help him put things together. Brutal fight scenes, in and out of the ring, and a host of shady characters: Jay Adler, Peggie Castle, Brad Dexter, and the feral Jack Lambert. ★★★★

*

The Scarf (dir. E.A. Dupont, 1951). An escapee from an asylum for the criminally insane (John Ireland) seeks to figure out if he committed the crime for which he was convicted. This ambitious effort scatters in several directions, from a philosophical dialogue between the escapee and a learned desert recluse (James Barton, in a great role) to a sojourn in the desert with a singing waitress (Mercedes McCambridge) to a slapstick fight in a bar. The story becomes, finally, about choosing between heteronormative desire and intergenerational desert bromance (yes, really). Best scene: the ultra-creepy psychiatrist (Emlyn Williams) meets the waitress. ★★★

*

Sudden Fear (dir. David Miller, 1952). A famous playwright (Joan Crawford) and an aspiring actor (Jack Palance) marry, and already I’m afraid. The couple’s happy life in San Francisco is complicated by the unexpected arrival of the past, in the form of Gloria Grahame. Great suspense, with steep staircases, a little mechanical dog, and lots to think about regarding plots and scripts and performances (great ones). Would pair well with Cast a Dark Shadow (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1955). ★★★★

*

Midnight Lace (dir. David Miller, 1960). Dumb luck: we didn’t know we were about to watch another movie from the director of Sudden Fear, with strong overtones of that movie and Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. Doris Day and Rex Harrison are Kit and Anthony Preston, a power couple in London, she an heiress, he a corporate executive. Someone is telephoning and threatening to kill Kit, but who, and why? A great performance from Day as an increasingly desperate but resourceful victim-to-be, and fine supporting performances from Myrna Loy as Kit’s feisty Aunt Bea, and John Williams (from Dial M) representing Scotland Yard. ★★★★

*

Julie (dir. Andrew L. Stone, 1956). More dumb luck: we didn’t know that we were going to be watching another movie with Doris Day as a woman in danger. No mystery here: the danger to Julie Benton comes from her obsessively jealous, violent husband (Louis Jourdan). At times the movie feels like a prescient PSA in its explication of the realities of domestic violence: the law, as a police detective says, can do little in the absence of evidence. The ending has become the stuff of spoof, but considered on its own terms, it’s wildly suspenseful and ahead of its time. ★★★★

*

The Verdict (dir. Don Siegel, 1946). After sending an innocent man to his execution, a police inspector (Sydney Greenstreet) is determined to show up the colleague who has taken his place in Scotland Yard (George Coulouris, with an improbable mustache). Set in 1890s London, the story is ostensibly a vehicle for Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, but there’s little chemistry between them in this locked-room murder mystery. Greenstreet looks tired, and Lorre skirts around the edges of the story, out late, drunk. The solution to the mystery requires that disbelief be hung by its thumbs. ★★

*

Don’t Blink – Robert Frank (dir. Laura Israel, 2015). I greatly admire Robert Frank’s photography — my copy of The Americans is many years old. But I found this documentary exhausting and unsatisfying, with fleeting image after fleeting image, all to the accompaniment of a largely irrelevant musical soundtrack. Frank is a benign but curmudgeonly presence, living with enormous personal loss, giving up little to the filmmaker’s camera. This documentary made me miss the patient close-reading of photographs typical of a Ken Burns project, and that’s saying something. ★★

*

My Favorite Year (dir. Richard Benjamin, 1982). “I’m not an actor; I’m a movie star!” It’s 1954, and a hard-drinking, swashbuckling Errol Flynn type, Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole), is to appear on King Kaiser’s Comedy Cavalcade (i.e., Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows). Young Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker), who idolizes Swann, vows to keep the errant star on the straight and narrow. The bromance and feel-goodism that take over the movie leave me cold, but the scenes of writers and actors at work are a delight. Watch that cable. ★★★

*

Dangerous Crossing (dir. Joseph M. Newman, 1953). Meet the Bowmans, Ruth and John (Jeanne Crain and Carl Betz), newlyweds on an ocean liner. Mr. B. disappears, and no one can attest that he was ever on board. So think of this movie as as variation on The Lady Vanishes. Its strong point: the way it plausibly places everyone, from a fellow passenger to the ship’s doctor, under suspicion. ★★★★

*

The Whistler (dir. William Castle, 1944). A wealthy executive pays for a hit man to “remove” someone but soon has to reconsider the deal. This low-budget movie (based on a radio show) has vaguely acceptable acting, bare-bones sets, and a clever but ridiculous plot whose twists come via telegrams. One surprising moment: when the camera pulls back, a little corner that looks like a cheap stand-in for a restaurant turns out to be a little corner in a larger set. Watch for Gloria Stuart, Old Rose in Titanic. ★★

*

Road House (dir. Jean Negulesco, 1948). What a road house: it has living quarters for its manager, a bowling alley, and a bar and grille (sic) named Spare Room. The owner, Jefty Robbins (Richard Widmark), has hired Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino) as a singer-pianist, but she has eyes for Jefty’s pal, road house manager Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde), who’s had eyes for Susie the cashier (Celeste Holm). The movie looks at first like a conventional love triangle (or rectangle), but don’t forget — it has Richard Widmark. My favorite moment: Ida Lupino sing-speaks “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road”). ★★★★

[Sources: the Criterion Channel, TCM, and YouTube.]

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Small pleasures

We were texting about Boston’s Kenmore Square, the Hoodoo Barbecue, and the Rathskeller, aka “the Rat.” And the iOS dictation service turned Rathskeller into wrath scholar.

Oh well. If dictation is to mess things up, at least it can do so in an amusing way. That’s a small pleasure.

Wrath scholars though are no pleasure, and they are amusing only at a safe distance, if at all. I have known but one — an alpha for sure. Beware of Prof!

More dictation mishaps
Boogie-woogie : Derrida : Edifice and Courson Blatz : Folk music

[No. 8 in a series of small pleasures. Rathskeller is an interesting word to look up.]

Sunday, April 4, 2021

A painting rediscovered

“Alice Neel painted two neighborhood boys in her studio in the 1960s. Fifty years later, the mystery of what happened to the picture has been solved”: a bittersweet story from The New York Times.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Grifters gonna grift

A story with pre-checked boxes and a “money bomb”: “How Trump Steered Supporters into Unwitting Donations” (The New York Times). Unfreakingconscionable.

Today’s Newsday Saturday

Today’s Newsday  Saturday crossword, by S.N., Stan Newman, feels a lot like a Saturday Stumper. The puzzle took me twenty-two minutes. As Zippy would say, Yow!

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked:

3-D, ten letters, “Stand-up comic’s bane.” I like the colloquial answer. I sometimes thought of it when teaching.

4-D, three letters, “Garden party.” The clue improves the answer.

18-A, six letters, “Commercial preparation.” ELIXIR? PATENT? I could see this answer only from crosses.

24-D, three letters, “Short alternative to 8.” The answer looks obvious now, but didn’t when I was solving.

29-A, six letters, “Nightmarish visions.” Grateful not to have them, but after reading a bit, I see they’d have no interest in me.

31-A, eight letters, “Undemanding listening.” Another colloquial answer. I remember in my twenties being startled by someone of my age saying that she liked “easy listening” music. She was not being ironic.

33-D, five letters, “Betray overeagerness.” I usually prefer to champ at the bit.

36-A, eight letters, “When ‘I Will Survive’ got a Grammy.” Funny to see this answer under 31-A.

41-D, three letters, “Base’s not-very-high figure.” Another clue that improves an answer. I thought at first that the context was chemistry or paychecks.

45-A, six letters, “Stick-y snack.” I was thinking JERKY. It often helps to reread a clue.

69-A, eight letters, “About 75 ml of a cup’s hot stuff.” I like the defamiliarization here.

One clue that didn’t convince me: 21-D, four letters, “Tangy takeout.” The word tang can be applied to many kinds of food, including this kind. I’ve just never thought of this kind in relation to the word tangy, which for me evokes barbecue sauce, or Kraft French dressing, “glowing weirdly orange”. Elaine, thinking dynastically, suggests the answer CHINESE.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Simone Weil on force

I started thinking about these sentences this afternoon:

To define force — it is that x that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing. Exercised to the limit, it turns man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a corpse out of him. Somebody was here, and the next minute there is nobody here at all.

Simone Weil, The “Iliad,” or the Poem of Force, trans. Mary McCarthy (Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill, 1956).
Force can take the form of a knee on a neck or a vehicle aimed at human beings in uniform. It can be directed against a person or a community. It can be the work of a lone wolf, as we now say, or a larger group, or the state.

One need not be a believer to be thinking these thoughts on Good Friday.

Imaginary word of the day

It came to me in a dream, in the form of an illustration of usage. I wrote the entry this morning:

winch∙ing \ˈwinch-iŋ\ n [prob. fr. Walter Winchell †1972 Am. newspaper columnist] (2021) : the public disclosure, as by a gossip columnist or other media personality, of an unfounded accusation, typically salacious or otherwise damaging, against a public figure <The jazz musician’s prospects were damaged by the ⁓ he received in the newspapers>
The arrival of this dream word is no doubt influenced by my watching the 1957 film Sweet Smell of Success, whose gossip columnist and destroyer of lives, J. J. Hunsecker, is modeled on Walter Winchell. The word lynching probably plays a part too. The murder of George Floyd: that was a lynching.

Other dream words
Alecry : Fequid : Misinflame : Skeptiphobia

Thursday, April 1, 2021

“A dream sofa”

The narrator recognizes pieces of furniture from La Raspelière, the Verdurins’ rented country house in Douville. (Before that the furniture was with the Verdurins in rue Montalivet). He sees these pieces as “almost unreal,” bringing parts of the old salon into the present one, evoking “fragments of a destroyed world which seemed to be existing elsewhere.”

Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, trans. Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003).

If this were an episode of Perry Mason, I’d now stand up in the visitors’ gallery and confess, “Yes, I posted those sentences. Yes, two long sentences, in a single day. I tried to stop myself. But don’t you see? I love that passage” — and then we’d break for a commercial. After which, I’d go back to reading Proust.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

“That unreal part”

M. Brichot is a member of the Verdurins’ little clan of salonistes. The Verdurins, “the Patrons,” lived in the rue Montalivet until an accident (fire?) destroyed their house. They later rented a country place, La Raspelière, in Douville. Now back in Paris, they live in a townhouse on the Quai Conti. Brichot points the narrator to the far end of a room in the townhouse: “That might just give you an idea of what the rue Montalivet house was like twenty-five years ago.”

Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, trans. Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003).

And now I’m thinking of places I can see again only in memory.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[Fire is my informed guess. Mme Verdurin to a guest: “I don’t mind your smoking, of course, if it weren’t for the carpet, which is a very fine one. Not that that matters either, but it would catch fire very easily, I’m terribly afraid of fire and I wouldn’t want you all to be roasted alive just because somebody dropped a cigarette end.”]