Monday, May 31, 2021

Some of the old songs, Sam

That Applebee’s commercials rely on the theme songs from Cheers and Welcome Back, Kotter to encourage a return to in-person eating tells you something about the chain’s target audience. Cheers signed off twenty-eight years ago; Welcome Back, Kotter, forty-two years ago.

[Let the record show: Elaine and I have been to an Applebee’s just once. We did not laugh; we were not needed; and no one knew our names.]


Back at Madame Beck’s school after a concert.

Charlotte Brontë, Villette (1853).

This passage seems to presage one in Marcel Proust’s Finding Time Again (1927). As Proust’s narrator enters the Guermantes’ Paris courtyard, its uneven paving stones bring back the past: “And almost at once I realized that it was Venice,” and the narrator experiences the sensation he felt “on the two uneven flagstones in the baptistery of St. Mark’s.” There’s nothing like an exact resemblance here: Lucy Snowe is back at the scene of a crucial moment in her life; remembering it, she notices a detail she noticed then. For Proust’s narrator, one discrete moment brings back another without conscious effort. Still, paving-stones.

A colorful detail about one of the hired men in the male brothel in this volume of Proust’s novel: he was involved in the murder of a concierge at La Villette. La Villette is a Paris park.

Related reading
All OCA Charlotte Brontë posts (Pinboard)

[Translation by Ian Patterson (London: Penguin, 2003).]

Memorial Day

[“Gloucester, Massachusetts. Memorial Day, 1943. A Legionnaire sounding taps for the War dead during services.” Photograph by Gordon Parks. From the Library of Congress. Click for a much larger view.]

Sunday, May 30, 2021

“The radiant present”

Off to a concert. Lucy Snowe begins to see more of the city of Villette, capital of the fictional French-speaking kingdom of Labassecour.

Charlotte Brontë, Villette (1853).

Related reading
All OCA Charlotte Brontë posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Lois Ehlert (1934–2021)

Lois Ehlert, artist and author of countless books for children, has died at the age of eighty-six. Publishers Weekly has a lengthy obituary and appreciation.

If Lois Ehlert’s name doesn’t ring a bell, think Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

Today’s Newsday Saturday

Today’s Newsday  Saturday crossword is credited to “Stock and Vasquez.” I think this must be their first Newsday Saturday. Matthew Stock has a site where he publishes crosswords: Happy Little Puzzles. Quiara Vasquez has a site too: QVXWordz. I’ve seen their names together on an Atlantic Sunday crossword.

Today’s puzzle is tough but fair, as students sometimes say of teachers. And verging, I’d say, on Saturday Stumper difficulty, as students probably never say when describing teachers.

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked (with a minor hint for 44-D):

10-D, six letters, “Matthau’s Odd Couple costar on Broadway.” No, not him. Another guy, and I’m ashamed to say it was news to me.

13-D, five letters, “Piece of one’s mind.” Clever, and a good reminder of what it, the piece, is meant to be.

15-A, nine letters, “They’re tinny and tasty.” My mind went first to ALTOIDS. Too short, or small.

20-A, four letters, “Squat.” Clever.

24-A, twelve letters, “Field full of seeds in the spring.” Even I got this one easily, which might be one reason I liked it.

37-A, three letters, “Open-and-shut case grp.” The clue redeems the answer.

39-D, seven letters, “The ____ did it (solution to ‘Murder at the Winery’).” Groan.

44-D, five letters, “Legislate or recreate.” Heteronym alert!

48-A, four letters, “Sticks together to keep youngsters safe.” Youngsters — that’s sweet.

56-A, nine letters, “Renegade and Renaissance, for the Obamas.” I swear that my first thought was GOLDFISH. Did Malia and Sasha have pet fish way back when? I came back to reality soon enough.

One answer that still baffles me a bit: 55-D, three letters, “Fusion-reaction energy source.” When I typed in the final letter, I thought it had to be wrong. It seems odd to pair this answer with a clue involving science. But I may be missing something.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

From the television

“For many of us, Memorial Day marks the official start of summer.”

I think they mean unofficial.

But as Elaine said, official is the new unofficial.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Domestic comedy

“I tend not to look people in the windshield when we walk.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

“Empty, quiet, cool, and clean”

Charlotte Brontë, Villette (1853).

Related reading
All OCA Charlotte Brontë posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, May 27, 2021

An EXchange name sighting

[“HIllside 8661.” From The Blue Dahlia (dir. George Marshall, 1946). Click for a larger view.]

That’s not a pocket notebook — it just sits by the telephone. I believe it’s what used to be called a telephone pad. In a few seconds the bungalow that goes with that telephone pad will fade into the apartment that goes with that number.

As contributors to the Telephone EXchange Name Project attest, HIllside was a genuine exchange name, in Los Angeles (where The Blue Dahlia takes place) and elsewhere.


June 6,2021: As I just discovered, that telephone first appeared in these pages in 2016.

More EXchange names on screen
Act of Violence : The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Armored Car Robbery : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : The Blue Dahlia : Blue Gardenia : Boardwalk Empire : Born Yesterday : The Brasher Doubloon : The Brothers Rico : The Case Against Brooklyn : Chinatown : Danger Zone : The Dark Corner : Dark Passage : Deception : Deux hommes dans Manhattan : Dick Tracy’s Deception : Down Three Dark Streets : Dream House : East Side, West Side : Fallen Angel : Framed : The Little Giant : Loophole : 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) : Naked City (8) : Naked City (9) : Nightfall : Nightmare Alley : Out of the Past : Perry Mason : Pitfall : The Public Enemy : Railroaded! : Red Light : Side Street : The Slender Thread : Stage Fright : Sweet Smell of Success (2) : Sweet Smell of Success (2) : Tension : This Gun for Hire : Vice Squad : Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Small pleasures

The video of a meeting about an urgent university matter suffered from terrible lag. The problem wasn’t the browser or the connection. It was the website, which probably wasn’t made to stream recordings of hour-long meetings with ease. I quote from the meeting:

“The names of the files are”

Buffering . . .

Buffering . . .


If there’s to be lag, it can at least be amusing lag.

[No. 10 in a series.]

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Eric Carle (1929–2021)

Eric Carle, artist and author of countless books for children, has died at the age of ninety-one. The New York Times has a lengthy obituary, with links to previous Times coverage of his work.

Here is Eric Carle in 2009, talking about The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

“No Worries if Not!”

What’s happening to The New Yorker ? The styling of a title for a cartoon piece: “No Worries if Not.” The title is all-caps on the page, but in the browser tab and in two New Yorker e-mails (May 23, May 24), if  is styled with a lower-case i. Look, here’s proof:

  [Left to right: May 23, May 24.]

A year ago, The New Yorker capitalized if in titles. As recently as December 21, the magazine capitalized its if s. But by December 28, the capital was gone. It’s still gone, as this April title shows. It appears that in lowercasing if, The New Yorker has ditched The Chicago Manual of Style and the MLA Handbook and cast its lot with the Associated Press and The New York Times.

I must point out: the April title I’ve linked to in the preceding paragraph — “I Am Trying to Decide if I Should Buy Two Rolls of Paper Towel or Three” — is in need of correction. It should read “I Am Trying to Decide Whether I Should Buy Two Rolls of Paper Towel or Three.” How do I know that?

Garner’s Modern English Usage on if and whether:

It’s good editorial practice to distinguish between these words. Use if for a conditional idea, whether for an alternative or possibility.
Merriam-Webster is particularly helpful:
There is a grammatical hint that calls for whether instead of if. Whether is the one that precedes an infinitive, which is the verb form in the collocation “to + simple verb,” as in “I am wondering whether to change our reservations.” Whether, in this case, refers to the making of a choice, whereas if states a condition, as in “If the contestant spells the word wrong, he or she will be eliminated.”
Read “whether I should buy” as “whether to buy,” and the choice is clear. Or you could think of Hamlet: “Whether ’tis nobler,” &c.

Why did the if in the April title make me think about whether ? Because if and whether often confound me when I write. So I keep an entry about the two in a notes app.

But let’s leave rolls of paper towel alone. I think the writer is being arch. No worries if not!

[See also pant. And Apple’s approach to pluralization.]

The Bronx

From To Each His Own (dir. Mitchell Leisen, 1946). Daisy Gingras (Victoria Horne), after hearing about life in claustrophobic Piersen Falls:

“The more I hear of them cozy little towns, the better I like the Bronx.”

[Now streaming at the Criterion Channel.]

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Cursive in Maine

The New York Times reports on cursive handwriting in a Maine school:

For years, screens have replaced notebooks, keyboards have subbed in for pens and digital life has revolved around the printed word.

But at a small school in Maine, cursive handwriting thrives, with two students recognized in a national contest last week for their skills crossing T’s and dotting I’s with precise and legible shape, size, spacing and slant.
But it bears repeating: writing by hand ≠ cursive handwriting.

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)

Twelve movies

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

Guilty Bystander (dir. Joseph Lerner, 1950). A great role for Zachary Scott as Max Thursday, ex-cop, practicing alcoholic, and house detective in a seedy hotel. His son and his ex-wife’s (Faye Emerson) brother are missing, and he has to pull himself together, at least enough to find them. Mary Boland has a great turn as Smitty, the hotel proprietor; J. Edward Bromberg is a poor man’s Peter Lorre as a gangster in a warehouse. A good low-budget effort, restored from a single surviving print: it’s like Italian neo-realism in a B-movie. ★★★


No Man’s Woman (dir. Franklin Adreon, 1955). Marie Windsor is a nasty, scheming, treacherous art dealer — what noun did you think I was leading up to? In what became the manner of Perry Mason and Murder, She Wrote, this movie presents a host of characters with good reason to kill: an ex-husband, the ex’s fiancée, a gallery assistant, the assistant’s fiancé, and an art critic. Unambitious storytelling but fine performances. Windsor must have had great fun playing this role. ★★★★


The Woman in Question (dir. Anthony Asquith, 1950). A British Rashomon, and a luckily appropriate follow-up to No Man’s Woman. Agnes (Jean Kent), aka Madame Astra, fortune-teller, is murdered, and a police inspector is given five different accounts of her character, from a landlady, a sister, the sister’s beau, a neighbor, and a suitor — and yes, the inspector cracks the case. A tour de force for Jean Kent, who changes from genteel lady to slattern to siren to helpless damsel to scorned lover. Props too to Hermione Baddeley, as an ultra-talkative landlady, and to Dirk Bogarde, who brings an element of Nightmare Alley to the story. ★★★★


Christmas in July (dir. Preston Sturges, 1940). A fever dream of capitalism and consumerism, with Dick Powell as an office drudge who devises an inscrutable entry for a rival coffee company’s slogan contest: “If you don’t sleep at night, it isn’t the coffee, it’s the bunk.” When his co-workers concoct a telegram telling him he’s won, a shopping spree and hilarity ensue. I think of Preston Sturges as Frank Capra with an edge, a filmmaker who both mocks and cherishes cheerful realities. With snappy writing and many members of Sturges’s informal stock company. ★★★★


I Care a Lot (dir. J Blakeson, 2020). Rosamund Pike plays Marla Grayson, an evil court-appointed guardian who robs old people of their assets and their freedom. When she puts Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Weist) into a care facility, things go very wrong. This movie looks like teary made-for-TV drama at first, before turning into a very dark comedy. Is it my imagination, or is Marla supposed to look like Ivanka Trump? ★★★★

[Ivanka? Did you get your hair cut?]


Time Regained (dir. Raúl Ruiz, 1999). An adaptation of the final volume of In Search of Lost Time that takes up and recasts elements from throughout Proust’s novel (including the famous madeleine scene, here treated in a funny, offhand manner). A brilliant film with painterly cinematography that captures the novel’s narrator, Marcel, moving through space and time, as rooms and streets open onto memories, and people change into younger then older versions of themselves. With Catherine Deneuve as Odette, Emmanuelle Béart as Gilberte, John Malkovich as Charlus, and Marcello Mazzarella as an eerily convincing Marcel. It’s for readers only: if you haven’t read Proust, much of what’s here will make little or no sense. ★★★★


This Land Is Mine (dir. Jean Renoir, 1943). Life under occupation: the Nazis have marched into town, and residents make peace with the occupiers or don’t. We see a variety of responses: from a pragmatic railway manager (George Sanders) to a switch man and saboteur (Kent Smith). At the heart of things: Albert Lory, a meek schoolteacher (Charles Laughton) who lives at home with his mother (Una O’Connor), secretly adores a colleague (Maureen O’Hara), and unexpectedly finds the chance to speak truth to power. That this movie feels so much of our time in its premise is both tragic and unsurprising. ★★★★


Two by Mitchell Leisen

To Each His Own (dir. Mitchell Leisen, 1946). I love discovering a movie I’ve never heard of and being knocked out, as happened here. Waiting for a train, a businesswoman (Olivia de Havilland) examines her life in a series of flashbacks. At the heart of her story: a son born out of, as they used to say, wedlock. So many things to consider here: a small town, small minds, selfishness, generosity, grief, stoic determination, love, self-knowledge, and, as time begins to run out, an ending that puts me in mind of Make Way for Tomorrow. ★★★★


No Man of Her Own (dir. Mitchell Leisen, 1950). Even better, I’d say. The story is built of probable impossibilities: pregnant, alone, with nothing but a suitcase and a handful of coins, Helen Ferguson (Barbara Stanwyck) travels by train to San Francisco but ends up in Illinois after a derailment kills her newfound traveling acquaintances, a recently married couple back from a year in Europe. The husband’s family has never seen even a picture of his wife, who was also pregnant. Helen Ferguson takes the identity of the late Patrice Harkness, and thus begins a high-stakes attempt to erase the past and create a new life — but the past, as William Faulkner said, ain’t even past. ★★★★

[I’ve seen two other Leisen films, Murder at the Vanities and Easy Living, but I couldn’t have told you who directed.]


The Blue Dahlia (dir. George Marshall, 1946). Shades of the Odyssey: Alan Ladd plays Johnny Morrison, a Navy pilot who comes home to Helen, his two-timing wife (Doris Dowling) and a house full of day-drinking partiers. When Helen turns up dead, Johnny becomes the prime suspect. A satisfying story full of fine performances: Howard Da Silva as owner of the Blue Dahlia nightclub, Veronica Lake as Lauren Bacall, Will Wright as a house detective (did every building have one?), and, above all, William Bendix as a fellow vet prone to fits of rage. My favorite moments: Ladd and Lake in a car in the rain, exchanging snappy patter; Ladd tipping over a table. ★★★★


Nichols and May: Take Two (dir. Phillip Schopper, 1996). An episode of American Masters, now at TCM. It’s worth waiting out the commentary from an odd array of talking heads (men only, including Tom Brokaw) to get to the skits, which are incredibly smart and incredibly funny, with incredible timing and tone. It’s comedy that demands attention to every word. Listen, for instance, to Nichols and May talking over music. ★★★★


They Won’t Believe Me (dir. Irving Pichel, 1947). I always like seeing TV people in their pre-TV days: here Robert Young, the genial family man of Father Knows Best, is utterly convincing as Larry Ballentine, a player-schmuck who thinks he can juggle his wife (Rita Johnson) and multiple girlfriends (Jane Greer and Susan Hayward). The movie takes the form of extended flashbacks as Larry tells his story to a jury — something like a high-end Detour, and here too the protagonist’s story defies belief. The final scene must have startled audiences in 1947 — it certainly startled me. Favorite line, Hayward to Young: “You’ve got quite an opinion of your drawing power, haven’t you?” ★★★★

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

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Brontë manuscripts

Brontë manuscripts for sale: “A trove of Brontë family manuscripts — all but unseen for a century — will be auctioned by Sotheby’s as part of what the auction house is billing as the sale of a legendary ‘lost library’ of British literature treasures” (The New York Times ).

Monday, May 24, 2021

Recently updated

Words of the day: estrade and dais  Now with names for the chemistry-classroom fixture with sink and Bunsen burner.

“Mostly I read”

From a rebroadcast episode of Innovation Hub, “The Man Behind 24-Hour News,” in which Kara Miller interviews Lisa Napoli, author of Up All Night: Ted Turner, CNN, and the Birth of 24-Hour News. Napoli says that she stopped watching television in 2001:

“My mother called and said ‘Put the TV on,’ and I saw the second plane hit the tower, and I turned the television off, and I have not had it on — I have not had a television since then. . . .

“I just can’t — I can’t consume it. I live in a large apartment building in downtown Los Angeles. Last night we were sitting here eating dinner, and we could see someone with a gigantic television on — we see them every single day; all day long it’s on CNN. I don’t think it’s healthy; I just don’t think it’s healthy. . . .

“I just made the personal choice twenty years ago to turn it off, and I feel smarter because of it. I read. I listen. Mostly I read.”
[I could’ve sworn I posted these comments, more or less, when the show first aired. Apparently not.]

Words of the day: estrade and dais

What’s the word for the platform at the front of a classroom where the instructor’s desk stands? Is there a word for it? I was reaching for such a word on Saturday and later found one in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette : estrade.

From the Oxford English Dictionary : “a slightly raised platform; a dais.” Estrade is borrowed from French, which gets the word from the Spanish estrado. The first OED citation for the word in English is from 1696. But when Brontë uses the word, it’s undoubtedly meant to be read as French, in the company of classe, classroom; grenier, attic; salle à manger, dining room; and so on. The OED provides a citation that places us in a classroom. From J.G. Fitch’s Lectures on Teaching (1880): “The teacher . . . should have his desk on a mounted estrade or platform.”

Dais is a much older word, first appearing in English in the thirteenth century. It has relatives in Old French, modern French, Italian, and Provençal. The primal source is the Latin discum, table. The OED definitions:

A raised table in a hall, at which distinguished persons sat at feasts, etc.; the high table. (Often including the platform on which it was raised.)

The raised platform at one end of a hall for the high table, or for seats of honour, a throne, or the like: often surmounted by a canopy.
The dictionary notes that these meanings became obsolete in 1600 but were later revived by historical writers and antiquarians.

Another meaning came later, with a first citation from 1888, post-Brontë:
By extension: The platform of a lecture hall; the raised floor on which the pulpit and communion table stand in some places of worship.
I will admit that in my life as a student and teacher, I never heard anyone speak of a dais or an estrade. A reference to the first would have made me think of the table at a Dean Martin celebrity roast. A reference to the second would have baffled me:
Professor: “Come up to the estrade after class and we can talk about that question.”

Me: “?”
But some of my earliest teaching took place in a classe with an estrade. (I’m sticking to the French of Villette for fun.) The estrade — okay, platform — must have been at least a foot off the classroom floor, with an extra step between platform and floor. I often descended from my perch to walk around the front of the room at an altitude that felt more congenial.


A question came up in the comments: Geo-B wondered about a name for the front-of-the-room classroom fixture with sink and Bunsen burner. I asked a chemistry teacher. It’s called a demonstration table or demonstration bench. Thanks, Phyllis!

Here, from the American Chemical Society, is a description of a properly outfitted chemistry classroom.

“In Your Classroom”

The latest xkcd : “In Your Classroom.”

My contribution to the Good and Weird sector: ancient weaponry, in the form of a recurve bow. A student devoted to archery brought such a bow to class at my invitation to show how Odysseus strings his bow in Odyssey 21.

No arrows, of course. And yes, it was a different time.

Sunday, May 23, 2021


Charlotte Brontë, Villette (1853).

Related reading
All OCA Charlotte Brontë posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Today’s Newsday  Saturday

Today’s Newsday  Saturday crossword is by Greg Johnson. Not especially amusing, not especially tricky. A solidly challenging puzzle. Reader, I solved it.

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked:

1-D, five letters, “Puff filler.” Seems obvious, but which way to spell it?

6-D, six letters, “Do over a walkway, say.” Represent!

8-D, four letters, “53-Across category.” This one messed me up for an inordinate amount of time. I was thinking of a kind of 53-A, not a category that subsumes 53-A.

10-A, five letters, “’50s command for Bogart.” GETAWAYFROMTHATPHONE doesn’t fit. Also, Casablanca is from the wrong decade.

22-A, seven letters, “Certain face-covering feature.” Very clever.

23-D, five letters, “Reminiscent of Saharan transportation.” The first letter tricked me up here.

27-D, five letters, “They’re handled at the beach.” And the park. O childhood.

32-D, nine letters, “Rhode Island Reds’ prides.” I first saw these in Boston.

41-D, six letters, “Occupations that go nowhere.” Nice misdirection.

46-D, five letters, “Return from the right.” I was thinking typewriters.

50-A, seven letters, “What a valet is asked to do.” Really? For a grown-up? Then again, I haven’t employed a valet in many years.

53-A, fifteen letters, “Produce from the Northwest.” A main staple!

57-A, nine letters, “What are needed to say ‘Aye!’” A weird plural.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Accounts, multiple and definitive

In a books newsletter from The Washington Post, news of scholars pleading that Philip Roth’s papers not be destroyed as Roth wished:

In a statement released this week by the Philip Roth Society, dozens of professors begged the executors to ignore Roth’s wishes. “Arrangements limiting access to one biographer run counter to conventions of academic inquiry,” they wrote. “Scholarship can only be advanced when qualified researchers engage freely with essential sources. . . . A writer of Mr. Roth’s stature deserves multiple accounts of his life in keeping with the nuance and complexity of his art.”
And the next item, a link to a book review: “The Double Life of Bob Dylan is the definitive account of a shape-shifting genius’s early years.”

Livonians in Latvia

“With a population estimated at just around 200, Europe's smallest ethnic group is fighting to save its language and culture from extinction”: the BBC looks at the Livonian people of Latvia. Smoked fish are part of the culture. Now I have a new way to understand Baltic Gold sprats.


Thinking alphabet thoughts made me wonder: why do we solve (or fail to solve but maybe at least get partial credit) for x ? Wikipedia, relying on a celebrated 1928 study of mathematical notation, credits Descartes: “The modern tradition of using x to represent an unknown was introduced by Descartes in La Géométrie (1637).” Speculation abounds about Arabic and Greek sources and about why Descartes chose x : Why We Use “X” as the Unknown in Math (Gizmodo).

A strange confluence: when I asked Murray, a mathematician, about x, I mentioned that perhaps the names of the x and y axes are explained by y ’s following x in the alphabet. And it turns out that Descartes gave us the x axis. The y came later. And then I realized that axes is yet another heteronym.

My favorite x is an X, in Wallace Stevens’s poem “The Motive for Metaphor”: “The vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant X.” Yikes! That line makes me wonder how Wallace Stevens did in algebra class.

But seriously: the X of that poem names an ultimately unknowable reality that resists and exceeds the imagination. I think I should get at least partial credit for that last sentence.

Thanks to Murray for the Gizmodo article.


In The Washington Post, John Ficarra, a Mad editor, writes about his problem with heteronyms:

The English language has something to confuse or annoy just about anyone — the mysteries of who and whom usage, the e.g. vs. i.e. standoff, the polarizing Oxford comma. I have a long-standing, personal problem with heteronyms — words that are spelled the same but don’t sound alike. Allow me to explain with a little story.

In order to graduate from the graduate program at my university, every student was required to take part in a group discussion of heteronyms. My group asked me to take the lead which, alas, went over like a lead balloon.

And we’re off.

Thanks, Murray!

[If there’s an excise tax on heteronyms, I may have to excise them from my writing.]

Thursday, May 20, 2021

The alphabet and the encyclopedia

Encyclopedias haven’t always been alphabetical. The structure of a medieval encyclopedia was hierarchical, reflecting a divinely ordered universe. Begin with God, then human beings, animals, and on to inanimate things. The change to alphabetical order, Judith Flanders argues, marks a change in worldview. From A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order (New York: Basic Books, 2020):

Just as the spread of alphabetically organized dictionaries and indexes had indicated a shift from seeing words purely as meaning to seeing them as a series of letters, so too the arrival of alphabetically ordered encyclopedias indicated a shift from seeing the world as a hierarchical, ordered place, explicable and comprehensible if only a person knew enough, to seeing it as a random series of events and people and places.
As Flanders also points out, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that makes the principle of alphabetical order moot.

Also from this book
On “the preeminence of ABC” : Meaningful letters : Pen and paper and

Baltic Gold

The large print on the jar says “Sardines,” but the small print says “Sprats, Sprattus sprattus.” Baltic Gold whatever-they-ares are incredibly delicious: tiny, tender, lightly smoked fish from Latvia. The only catch, as it were: once opened, the jar goes in the refrigerator and the remaining fish are to be consumed within twenty-four hours. The label says so. So an 8.82 oz. jar requires some dedicated interest in smoked fish, and maybe more than a single eater. Add bread or crackers, a little olive oil (to supplement the jar’s rapeseed oil), and a few flakes of red pepper. The 8.82 oz. will disappear.

I found Baltic Gold in an international foods store and called Gold Star USA in Brooklyn after finding nothing about Baltic Gold on the company’s website. But no, this product has not been discontinued. It’s in their downloadable catalog. “They’re great!” I said to the person on the phone. “Very high quality,” she said. “Enjoy.” Yes.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

[“Sprats are not sardines, but they are closely related”: Trevor Day, Sardine (London: Reaktion, 2018).]

Zombie cicadas

Brood X cicadas (coming soon to a yard near me) will be contending with a “death-zombie fungus.” Matthew Kasson, associate professor of plant pathology and mycology at West Virginia University, explains:

“Infected cicadas, despite the fact that a third of their body has fallen off, continue to go about their activities like mating and flying as if nothing happened.”
I think at this point it’s safe to say that “things” are never going back to “normal.”

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

“Let’s agree that if”

From the NPR podcast Consider This (from the weekday broadcast All Things Considered ). Akiva Eldar, Israeli political analyst and journalist, and Mkhaimar Abusada, professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, in conversation:

Eldar: I don’t see any way where the Israelis and Hamas can reach an agreement as long as the Israeli government is held by the Israeli right-wing parties, who don’t believe in a two-state solution. And in Gaza, what Hamas managed to do is to unite the Palestinian communities in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Israel proper. And this is not going away if we don’t deal with it in the roots of this seriously.

Abusada: Akiva, can — let me just interrupt here and say, let’s agree on one thing here, that the continuation of the Israeli occupation of West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, which has been going on for more than half a century now, since 1967, and the creeping annexation with settlement expansion on Palestinian territory is the source of the problem. Let’s agree that if Israel puts an end to its occupation of Palestinian land and accepts international law and U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, there is a good possibility for peace. There’s a good possibility for security and peace for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Eldar: I fully agree with you, my friend.
[I’ve made slight changes from the NPR transcript. Comments are off for this post; I’m not interested in debating.]

Jaylan Butler v. Staes, et al.

The ACLU of Illinois has announced the resolution of Jaylan Butler v. Staes, et al. On February 24, 2019, Butler, a Black college student and swimmer, was at a highway rest stop near East Moline, Illinois, with his team and coach, all returning to campus from a meet. Police took Butler to the ground, handcuffed him, held him down with his face in the snow, a knee in his back, and pressure on his neck. One officer put a gun to his head and told him, “If you keep moving, I’m going to blow your fucking head off.” The police soon realized that they had been looking for someone else. That didn’t stop them from keeping Butler handcuffed, arresting him for resisting arrest, and placing him in a squad car before dropping the matter.

Here, from the ACLU’s announcement, is Jaylan Butler’s statement on the resolution of the lawsuit:

The memories of that night being pressed to the ground, with officers swearing at me and a gun pointed at my head, will remain with me forever. But I know that unlike other Black men who have been stopped and manhandled by police, I got to go home. For me, this lawsuit has always been about holding the officers accountable for their actions that night. I believe I have accomplished that goal. As a result, I am happy to dismiss the suit and move forward.

I want to thank all of the people from across the country who were supportive of me during this time. I value your well wishes and words of appreciation more than I can say.

The end of this lawsuit is not the end of the fight for police accountability. We must ensure that officers are held to account when they violate someone’s constitutional rights. This is an effort that I will continue to support for the rest of my life.
You can read the text of the lawsuit here. And here, from a swimming website, is an additional account of the circumstances around the incident.

A related post
Stopping at a rest stop with your swim team while black (With links to news coverage and an interview)

Some of Mary Miller’s votes

My representative in Congress, Mary Miller (R, Illinois-15), votes with the worst of the worst. You wouldn’t know about most of her votes from reading her Facebook or Twitter posts, which cast her as the defender of guns, “life,” and freedom. Here are a few of her votes since arriving in the House:

~ Miller was one of 139 representatives who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election (January 6).

~ She was one of 206 representatives who voted against H.R. 5, the Equality Act, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation (February 25).

~ She was one of thirty-eight representatives who voted against H.R. 1652, VOCA [Victims of Crime Act] Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021 (March 17).

~ She was one of fourteen representatives who voted against H.Res. 134, Condemning the military coup that took place on February 1, 2021, in Burma (March 19).

~ She was one of seventy-one representatives who voted against H.R. 1392, the Protection of Saudi Dissidents Act of 2021 (April 21).

~ And she was one of sixty-two representatives who voted yesterday against S. 397, the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.

Miller is still best known — if she’s known at all — as the new member of Congress who on January 5 told a “Moms for America” rally that

“Hitler was right on one thing. He said, ‘Whoever has the youth has the future.’”
She may now became better known as one of ten members of Congress who are refusing to wear masks on the House or Senate floor. Here she is, all smiles, with Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorn, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and others. Not clear, at least to me, whether any of them have been vaccinated.


CNN has a list (dated May 19) of members confirmed as vaccinated. Boebert, Cawthorn, Greene, and Miller are missing from the list.


May 20: As you might have guessed, Miller voted yesterday against H.R. 3233, National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex Act.

All the Mary Miller posts
January 5 and 6 in D.C., with Mary Miller : The objectors included Mary Miller : A letter to Mary Miller : Mary Miller, with no mask : Mary Miller, still in trouble : His ’n’ resignations are in order : Mary Miller in The New Yorker : Mary Miller vs. AOC : Mary Miller’s response to mass murder : Mary Miller and trans rights : Mary Miller on a billboard

[Votes from the incredibly useful]

Tuesday, May 18, 2021


In a coffee-room in the fictional French-speaking kingdom of Labassecour, forty miles from the capital Villette, Lucy Snowe is alone in several ways.

Charlotte Brontë, Villette (1853).

Related reading
All OCA Charlotte Brontë posts (Pinboard)

Pen and paper and

From Judith Flanders’s A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order (New York: Basic Books, 2020):

To write in ink required a great deal of equipment, far more than today’s pen and paper: paper and a pen, to be sure, but also a knife to sharpen the pen’s nib; ink in an inkwell; sand or pounce (pumice) in a shaker to dry the ink; a cloth to wipe excess ink from the pen; wax or wafers to seal documents, a seal; and a candle or other type of fire to heat the wax. In 1663, Samuel Pepys heard news of “a Silver pen . . . to carry inke in,” which was likely an early prototype of the fountain pen, but either he never got his hands on one or it was unsatisfactory, for two years later he reported that on a hackney-coach journey, suddenly “thinking of some business, I did [a]light and . . . by the help of a candle at a [market] Stall . . . I wrote a letter . . . and never knew so great an instance of the usefulness of carrying pen and ink and wax about one.”
Also from this book
On “the preeminence of ABC” : Meaningful letters

Monday, May 17, 2021

FSRC: annual report

The Four Seasons Reading Club, our household’s two-person adventure in reading, has finished its sixth year. The club began after I retired from teaching, so the year runs from May to May. In our sixth year we read nine novels, two plays, and one short-story collection. And we spent almost five months climbing one mountain. In alphabetical order:

Robertson Davies, The Cornish Trilogy : The Rebel Angels, What’s Bred in the Bone, The Lyre of Orpheus

William Lindsay Gresham, Nightmare Alley

Erich Kästner, Going to the Dogs: The Story of a Moralist

Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Julio Ramón Ribeyro, The Word of the Speechless: Selected Stories

Anna Seghers, The Seventh Cross, Transit

Sophocles, Philoctetes, Women of Trachis

Gabriele Tergit, Käsebier Takes Berlin

Kurt Tucholsky, Castle Gripsholm

Thanks to the translators whose work opens up other worlds: Cyrus Brooks, Carol Clark, Peter Collier, Lydia Davis, Margot Bettauer Dembo, Sophie Duvernoy, James Grieve, Michael Hoffman, Peter Meineck, Ian Patterson, Katherine Silver, John Sturrock, Mark Treharne, and Paul Woodruff.

Here are the reports for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Meaningful letters

From Judith Flanders’s A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order (New York: Basic Books, 2020):

A few letters have retained meanings, or vestiges of meanings, even after millennia. In Greek, for example, omicron is ò mikrón — short, or little, “o” — to make clear the distinction between that letter and omega, ō méga — long, or big, “o”; epsilon, è psilón, or naked “e,” clarifies that that letter is not the same as êta, which, owing to its accent, is not naked, but dressed. In French, the name of the letter “y” is pronounced “ee-grek,’” that is, “Greek ‘i’,” while in English “w” is pronounced “double u,” a reminder that the written letter is made up of two u’s joined together.
Also from this book
On “the preeminence of ABC”

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Today’s Nancy

Today’s Nancy harks back to a 2019 strip with a cookie jar and meta hijinks. Olivia Jaimes, whoever she is, is a hugely inventive artist.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[“Olivia Jaimes” is a pseudonym.]

Fifty blog-description lines

For many years the first words of Van Dyke Parks’s song “Orange Crate Art” — “Orange crate art was a place to start” — served as what Blogger calls a blog description line. In May 2010, I began to vary the line, always choosing some word or words or element of punctuation from a post then on the front page, and always keeping the quotation marks that enclosed Van Dyke’s words. The result is an array of odd slogan-like bits of language.

Here are the latest fifty. Some are immediately familiar to me; others are now mysteries. “Improvisational jazz”? A farcical phrase from Jonathan Turley’s testimony in Donald Trump**’s first impeachment. “Not making cowsheds, I’ll bet”? Ya got me. See if you can spot the salty line:

“The one I thought of”
“A slightly belated Happy National #2 Pencil Day to all”
“Nowheresville my eye”
“What’s an ethos?”
“Applying for a learner’s permit tomorrow”
“I would like you to do us a favor though“
“My great and unmatched wisdom”
“At the kitchen table”
“I’m in. You?”
“I take notes”
“Patience and Fortitude”
“I keep notes”
“Improvisational jazz”
“Online header of a sort”
“And you are?”
“I was just leading a workshop on ornament making”
“Typing 2020”
“If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost”
“Whale, oil, beef, hooked”
“Wait a minute, that’s me!”
“Not making cowsheds, I’ll bet”
“For practical purposes”
“Stay home if you can”
“Stay home if your life and work allow it”
“In a parallel universe”
“The day of small things”
“One-way aisles”
“Me travel?”
“Door stop, essentially”
“You’ve reverted to the Blogger legacy Interface”
“Vote as if your life depends on it”
“We are waiting for Brünnhilde”
“Hurry, January”
“Georgia Blue”
“More energy, better sleep, fewer typos, less despair”
“Then, voyager”
“Weeks of inward winter”
“Research outfit”
“A single window”
“Dishes of fruit from remembered suppers”
“Somebody was here”
“Still on its display card”
“Spaghetti and coffee at midnight”
“Not one real character concealed under a false name”
“The desk fills the screen”

It does.

More blog-description lines
Two hundred blog-description lines : Fifty more : And fifty more : But wait — there’s more : Another fifty : Is there no end to this folly?

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Bob Koester (1932–2021)

He was the proprietor of Chicago’s Jazz Record Mart and the founder of Delmark Records, a home to blues and jazz musicians of all stripes. The New York Times has an obituary. As does the Chicago Tribune.

Out of practice

Elaine and I went out to visit friends last night, our first nighttime social effort in well over a year. And we didn’t remember to turn on the outside light when going out. We’re out of practice.

But we did remember how to talk to other people in person. Once again, it didn’t feel odd at all.

Today’s Newsday  Saturday

I woke up thinking I’d better write a post about the Newsday  Saturday crossword. And then I realized that I hadn’t done the puzzle last night. Why? Because we were visiting friends to watch a movie, for the first time in well over a year. The times are changing.

Today’s puzzle is by the Newsday puzzle editor, Stan Newman. It’s a fine puzzle, with room for lowlifes and rowdies and royalty:

5-D, four letters, “Wild bunch.”

28-D, five letters, and 49-A, three letters, “Quite a boor.”

34-A, fifteen letters, “2017 QEII celebration.”

For me this was one of those puzzles in which clue after clue leads nowhere — for instance, 17-A, seven letters, “Paper aide,” or 30-D, five letters, “More than kind.” And then when the puzzle is done, nearly every answer seems inevitable.

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked:

3-D, six letters, “Bread flavoring.” Yes.

8-D, fifteen letters, “Erie Canal Museum city.” We’ve stayed there a few times on road trips — in the city, not the museum.

20-A, seven letters, “They’re in a book of Liszt’s.” Where they’d be Liszted in the index, I suppose.

30-A, five letters, “Evacuation order.” A nice clash of diction between clue and answer.

35-D, eight letters, “Signature collectors’ banes.” Who thinks about these things? Signature collectors, I guess.

38-A, six letters, “Deny or sustain, say.” Not as obvious an answer as you might think.

44-D, six letters, “Milwaukee TV tribute statue in a two-thumbs-up pose.” Not SISKELANDEBERT.

62-A, eight letters, “Subject of an early Tom Wolfe book (1968).” Easy to be misled by the opening letters of the answer, at least if you’re me.

One pairing that doesn’t persuade me: 12-D, eight letters, “Ecclesiastical antonym.” I may be missing something, but I don’t see a contrast. Ecclesiastical matters can be just as 12-D in their focus as anything else.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, May 14, 2021

“Adoration” again

[“Adoration,” by Florence Price, arranged by Elaine Fine. Randall Goosby, violin. Zhu Wang, piano.]

Here’s “Adoration” again, this time with audio and video. And this time the text under the video at YouTube credits Elaine as the arranger.

I get pitches

Only occasionally. They suggest “collaboration,” and they’re inevitably from someone with no idea what my blog is about. This morning, there’s a pitch from a website:

Hello! Great to MEAT you!
It’s all about meat and health and positive emotions. Meat: that must be why this pitch was in the SPAM folder! Maybe I should send them one of my WURST efforts! Or should it be WELL-DONE? I’ll hurry and try not to take too LOIN! Now I’m out of exclamation points.

Related reading
All OCA liverwurst posts (Pinboard)

[What is my blog about? Many things.]

E-mail, or email ?

From Bryan Garner’s LawProse Lesson #364:

From the inception of email in the late 1970s, the word was predominantly hyphenated. (Same with e-business, e-commerce, etc.) In print sources, the turning point came in 2012: that's the year in which, in books at least, the solid form overtook the hyphenated form in frequency of use. Today the solid form predominates by a 2:1 ratio in books. The ratio is much higher in other types of writing. The Chicago Manual of Style acknowledged the shift in its 17th edition of 2017. If you've been a stalwart hyphenator and intend to continue, just know that your communications will strike people as ever more quaint.
I like the consistency of e-noun, no matter the noun, and have no plans to remove hyphens from my 2005 post How to e-mail a professor. I’m content to have my communications strike people as ever more quaint. Just look at some of the meanings of quaint : “clever, ingenious; wise, knowing; skilled” (OED). Granted, those meanings are obsolete.

If you like to subscribe to Bryan Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day & LawProse Lessons, you can sign up for the free e-mails or emails here.

Spencer Silver (1941–2021)

He inadvertently created the adhesive that found a use in “repositionable pressure-sensitive adhesive sheet material” — aka the Post-it Note. The New York Times has an obituary.

OCA is big on Post-it Notes. I see eight partial pads on my desk as I’m typing.

Some Post-it Note posts
Disses, digital and analog : Jim Lehrer’s Post-it Notes : Post-it Note bird : Post-it Note history : Thelonious Monk : Twenty uses for a Post-it Note

Thursday, May 13, 2021

A Fine Price

[“Adoration,” by Florence Price, arranged by Elaine Fine. Randall Goosby, violin. Zhu Wang, piano.]

Elaine just learned that her arrangement of Florence Price’s “Adoration” for violin and piano will appear on violinist Randall Goosby’s first album, Roots (Decca), to be released on June 25. HIs performance, with pianist Zhu Wang, has been released on YouTube as a calling card for the album.

This performance of “Adoration” is the first recording of Elaine’s arrangement. But “Adoration” seems to be everywhere in this grief-stricken time. Last July a string orchestra in Chicago played “Adoration” (Elaine’s arrangement) as part of a musical vigil for Elijah McClain, the violinist killed by police in Aurora, Colorado.

[Price wrote “Adoration” for organ. How was Elaine able to make an arrangement? The piece is in the public domain in the United States. Elaine’s arrangements of “Adoration” for duos and for string orchestra are available in the IMSLP under a Creative Commons license.]


Merriam-Webster is selling an NFT of its definition of “NFT.” The pitch begins: “Many people don’t really know what “NFT” means. But you do. So does Merriam-Webster, America’s most trusted dictionary.”

The current high bid: Ξ 7 ($26,344.89).

Yes, it’s for a good cause, with the proceeds going to Teach for All. But I dunno. My post title is meant to suggest my amused disbelief. You’d never catch The American Heritage Dictionary engaging in this kind of postmodern stunt, harumph. (My harumph is in jest.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Matt Thomas’s Times digest

Matt Thomas is ending his Sunday New York Times Digest after more than thirteen years. He explains why here. He will continue to blog at Submitted for Your Perusal.

Matt reads the print Times, and thus always finds items that a reader/skimmer of the online Times is likely to miss. I am grateful for his dedication to finding items worth sharing.

Notebook sighting

[Caught (dir. Max Ophuls, 1949). Click for a larger view.]

Two doctors chat, and as the camera swings from one side of the office to the other to track their conversation, The Spiral gets a brief turn as the center of attention — or at least of my attention. No cropping here: the desk fills the screen.

The Spiral was a venerable name in notebooks. Here’s another, older model.

More notebook sightings
All the King’s Men : Angels with Dirty Faces : The Bad and the Beautiful : 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

“Cheezit!! Th’ cops!!”

[“Lower East Slide.” Zippy, May 12, 2021.]

That’s the first panel. Today’s Zippy continues on a Boweryesque note.

I admire the Bowery Boys. Their cooperative spirit in fisticuffs (“Routine Nine!”) is a model for us all.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Norman Lloyd (1914–2021)

The actor Norman Lloyd has died at the age of 106. The New York Times has an obituary.

Here’s a short video profile from The Hollywood Profile: Norman Lloyd: Creative Until You Die.

My longest-standing memory of Lloyd: as Frank Fry in Hitchcock’s Saboteur. “The sleeve”: unforgettable.

[The Times description of Fry as “a chilly fascist sympathizer” is highly inaccurate. The obituary later comes closer: "a fifth columnist bent on attacking American targets during World War II.” But Fry isn’t bent on attacking targets: he does attack, and destroy, two.]

Tuesday, May 11, 2021


The pleasures of television: Hal Smith, Otis Campbell of The Andy Griffith Show, appears as a drunk driver in a 1969 episode of Adam-12.

Simple fixes for Big Sur’s menu bar

Looking for something to do, I updated my Mac to Big Sur yesterday. All seems well. But I take exception to the newly transparent menu bar. I like a dark wallpaper for the desktop, but a dark menu bar is too severe for my taste.

One fix: In System Preferences, go to Accessibility and check Reduce transparency. The wallpaper will no longer show through.

Another (inspired, I’d say) fix, from Mac user Railgun: Create a dark wallpaper with a lighter line across the top. For my MacBook Air (2880 × 1800), I made a 44-pixel light-gray line across the top of my preferred wallpaper (this one). I doubled Railgun’s 22 pixels to take my Mac’s Retina display into account.

There’s a more complicated fix that uses the Terminal, ChangeMenuBarColor, but it’s beyond my ability, or courage. Your ability or courage may vary.

The strange thing about Big Sur: its drop-down menus remind me so much of the ultra-minimalist, highly tweaked Windows 95 setup I used on a university computer all those years ago. Back to the future.

Separated at birth

  [Marcel Herrand as Pierre-Françoise Lacenaire, in Children of Paradise (1945). Pat Harrington Jr. as Dwayne Schneider, in One Day at a Time (c. 1975–1984).]

The resemblance is so strong: could it have been deliberate?

Also separated at birth
Claude Akins and Simon Oakland : Ernest Angley and Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán : Nicholson Baker and Lawrence Ferlinghetti : Bérénice Bejo and Paula Beer : Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop : David Bowie and Karl Held : Victor Buono and Dan Seymour : Ernie Bushmiller and Red Rodney : 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 : Adam Driver and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska : Charles Grassley and Abraham Jebediah Simpson II : Elaine Hansen (of Davey and Goliath) and Blanche Lincoln : Barbara Hale and Vivien Leigh : Harriet Sansom Harris and Phoebe Nicholls : Steven Isserlis and Pat Metheny : Colonel Wilhelm Klink and Rudy Giuliani : Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks : Steve Lacy and Myron McCormick : Don Lake and Andrew Tombes : Markku Luolajan-Mikkola and John Malkovich : William H. Macy and Michael A. Monahan : Fredric March and Tobey Maguire : Jean Renoir and Steve Wozniak : Molly Ringwald and Victoria Zinny

Current events

From Dark City (dir. William Dieterle, 1950). Danny Haley (Charlton Heston) buys a couple of newspapers and hands them to Fran Garland (Lizabeth Scott). He’s just not interested:

“Don’t you want to know what’s going on in the world?”

“What’s going on in the world stinks.”

Monday, May 10, 2021

Twelve movies

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. One slight spoiler for Morocco, but only if you have no idea how movies work.]

Dark City (dir. William Dieterle, 1950). A group of gamblers — Charlton Heston, Ed Begley, Jack Webb (and Harry Morgan as a go-fer) — take a gullible businessman (Don DeFore) for all he has, and catastrophe ensues, for the businessman and nearly everyone else. Some great camerawork (Victor Milner) during the poker scenes, which feel like they’re from a different movie. Far too much time goes to Lizabeth Scott’s singing. That and a ditzy ending mar what might have been a superior B noir. ★★


Of Human Bondage (dir. John Cromwell, 1934). A congenital disorder (a club foot), self-abasement, and the prospect of emotional freedom. Bette Davis steals the picture as Mildred Rogers, a cruel waitress who becomes the object of medical student Philip Carey’s (Leslie Howard) obsession. All these years later, Mildred’s descent into poverty and tuberculosis is still shocking to behold. You’ll have to watch to see if Philip can break free. ★★★★

[Bette Davis as Mildred. Click for a larger view.]


Our Town (dir. Sam Wood, 1940). I’ve never seen or read Thornton Wilder’s play, and I was not sure what to expect: I knew Grover’s Corners, stage manager, life and death, coffee, and that was about all. This adaptation, with a great cast, led by William Holden and Martha Scott, and a score by Aaron Copland, departs significantly from the play (as I now know), but it’s still enough to undo an audience. I’d think of it as a Norman Rockwell Christmas Carol. Daily life in a New Hampshire town, set against a backdrop of eternity. ★★★★


Our Very Own (dir. David Miller, 1950). Ann Blyth plays Gail Macaulay, a high-school senior with everything — doting parents (Donald Cook and Jane Wyatt, the latter of whom already seems to be in Father Knows Best), a sweet kid sister (Natalie Wood), a television-installing boyfriend Chuck (Farley Granger), and a best friend (Phyllis Kirk) with her own Cadillac convertible. But Gail also has a jealous sister (Joan Evans) who’s shameless in her plays for Chuck, and who discovers and reveals the truth about Gail’s identity: she’s adopted. That revelation takes Gail on a journey to the wrong side of the tracks (literally) to meet her birth mother Gert (Ann Dvorak). This movie is as much about the American caste system as it about adoption, and the brave line-crossing we see in, say, The Best Years of Our Lives (ex-soda jerk Fred and banker’s daughter Peggy) is not to be found here. ★★★


Morocco (dir. Josef von Sternberg, 1930). It’s the one in which Marlene Dietrich wears top hat, white tie, and tails, and kisses a woman. When loutish Foreign Legionnaire Gary Cooper tries on that top hat, is he cross-cross-dressing? Either way, it’s dapper Adolphe Menjou who ends up humiliated at the edge of the desert. I can admire the lavish interiors and the lengthy tracking shots, and I like the bizarre ending, but the erotica and exotica — no pun intended — drag. ★★★


Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (dir. Travis Wilkerson, 2017). A white filmmaker explores a piece of his family’s history: his great-grandfather’s point-blank and unpunished murder of a Black man in Dothan, Alabama in 1946, an incident that opens onto a larger narrative of racial, sexual, and domestic violence. In the hands of, say, PBS’s Frontline, this story would make for compelling storytelling. But this documentary is disappointing, with a ponderous, repetitive, whispered narration; odd, intrusive effects (a backwards recording of Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit,” solarized (?) footage from To Kill a Mockingbird, noises that the subtitles call “ominous clacking”); and digressions that seem designed as padding. I think this is the first documentary I’ve seen whose style has been influenced by true-crime podcasts — and not for the better. ★★


The Sandpiper (dir. Vincent Minnelli, 1965). Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton star: she as Laura Reynolds, a painter and non-believer living with her young son in Big Sur; he as Dr. Edward Hewitt, prim priest and headmaster of the Episcopalian boarding school for boys to which a judge sends Laura’s wild child. The suggestions of beat culture (galleries, guitars, Chianti) are amusing; the conversations between Laura and Edward may have once struck an audience as deep. Charles Bronson as a Kerouac type, Robert Webber as a jilted lover of Laura’s, Eva Marie Saint as Edward’s prim wife, and Big Sur as itself add some interest. My favorite line: “We made love, even in motels, God help me.” ★★


Children of Paradise (dir. Marcel Carné, 1945). Paris in the 1830s: one woman, Garance (Arletty), a courtesan and actress, and four men who love her: a mime, Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault); a dramatic actor, Frédérick (Pierre Brasseur); a criminal and playwright, Pierre-François (Marcel Herrand); and a noble, Édouard (Louis Salou). So it’s a story of loves and losses, set in a world of performance, spoken and silent, with the line between art and life breaking on more than one occasion. The greatest moments: Baptiste, Baptiste, Baptiste. With a screenplay by Jacques Prévert. ★★★★

[Jean-Louis Barrault as Baptiste. Click for a larger view.]


Once Upon a Time: Children of Paradise (dir. Julie Bonan, 2009). A short documentary with archival interviews and commentary from film historians. Of particular interest to me: sketches for the movie’s sets. The backstory — of a movie made during the Nazi occupation, and meant to be the first post-occupation hit — is at many points plainly bizarre. I don’t like faulting a film on technical grounds, but this one needs more legible subtitles and more frequent captions to identify speakers. ★★★


Caught (dir. Max Ophuls, 1949). Robert Ryan plays Smith Ohlrig, a maniacal tycoon (draw your own comparisons) whose wife Leonora, an aspiring model (Barbara Bel Geddes), has become an isolated prisoner in his Long Island mansion. When Leonora leaves and applies for a job as a receptionist on the Lower East Side, she meets Dr. Larry Quinada (James Mason) and finds new possibilities of self-determination. Excellent performances all around: Ryan (a most gentle man in real life) as a brutal spouse; Bel Geddes as a naïve young woman enamored of wealth; Mason as a decidedly awkward lover. An unexpectedly appropriate movie to see after reading Proust’s The Prisoner and The Fugitive. ★★★★


The Men (dir. Fred Zinneman, 1950). Marlon Brando and Teresa Wright star: he’s a paraplegic veteran struggling to come to terms with his disability; she’s the patient woman who hopes, still, that they’ll marry. Wright is one of my favorite actors, but she and Brando have little chemistry; Eva Marie Saint would have done far better in this role. The most compelling performance is by Everett Sloane as a hospital doctor who treats his patients and their disabilities with tough honesty. Watch for Arthur Jurado (a paraplegic veteran himself) as a son determined to get a house for his mother and siblings, and Jack Webb as an intellectual whose dim sense of his own worth leads him to take up with a dim carhop. ★★★★


The Library: A Family Affair (dir. Thomas Gilbert Brown, 1952). Bop records, dress patterns, magic tricks, government pamphlets, telephone directories, “books of all kinds,” and the Remington Rand Photocharger: the Brooklyn Public Library has them all. Watch as Mr. Green finally learns what the rest of his family knows: that a public library is a cultural treasure. As the poem “In Brooklyn Everybody Reads” puts it, “With reading for pleasure and reading for profit, / How can the people of Brooklyn lay off it?” It amazes me to see how much this Brooklyn looks like the Brooklyn of my early childhood a decade later, with kids dressed like little ladies and gentlemen and wearing winter hats with earflaps. ★★★★

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

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Field trips

On Saturday, fully vaccinated, we got on the interstate to visit a friend (also fully vaccinated) whom we hadn’t seen in person since January 2020. It was our first time on an interstate since a run to the beverage depot in November. A few miles in, at 70 mph, we both felt slightly carsick.

On Sunday, still fully vaccinated, we attended a small outdoor hundredth-birthday party with other fully vaccinated people. That was in town, top speed 35 mph.

Contra a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad skit from this past week’s SNL: talking with people in person felt wholly familiar and wholly wonderful. I think we talked about everything but our pandemic.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Florida, 1954

[My mom, not yet a mom, in Florida, 1954. Photo by my dad. A photograph seen this morning and shared with permission. See also this photograph.]