Reinvention: The Journal of a Dog-Lover, Book-Reader, Moviegoer, and Writer: 02/01/2011 - 03/01/2011

Monday, February 28, 2011

Final Thoughts About Oscar 2010: A Personal Journal for Monday

Thank you all in advance for reading.....

Well, a couple of my dreams came true during the 2010 Oscars...


During last night's Oscars, I found that I might not have been as successful in managing my anxiety as I thought I had been.  No longer a dispassionate outside observer, I had reverted to my old Oscar passion, and became emotionally invested to the point of jitters. 

Fortunately, there were some personal bright spots, so I avoided that horrible feeling of being left-out, like after 2005's "Brokeback-Crash".  Still, I felt an almost irrational protectiveness of my favorites, and of my own reputation as a relevant movie-lover and self-styled cineaste.  

It was an odd show.  I felt bored through the early awards, and felt foreboding during Aaron Sorkin's victory speech, and then David Seidler's name was called...

During Seidler's appearance, as I watched this elderly man alone on stage in the biggest moment of his career, a man I felt I had grown close to over the last few months (as a fellow writer and dreamer of Oscar glory), I started to get hopeful, and teary-eyed.

(Mark and I cried during the Memorials, many of the departed were ones we connected with in our formative years: Lynn Redgrave ("Georgy Girl"), Dennis Hopper ("Easy Rider"), composer John Barry, film editor Dede Allen ("Bonnie and Clyde"), producer Robert Radnitz ("Sounder"), director Blake Edwards, Patricia Neal, producer Dino DiLaurentis...)


When your favorites go on to win, it is a buoyant feeling, and the success or failure of the telecast hardly matters. When films you dislike are recognized, it makes for a dreary evening. I experienced a little of both.

--Of course, I felt personal vindication after "The King's Speech" prevailed in major categories. I was actually stunned when Tom Hooper's name was called...and I was still anticipating the big prize would go to "Social Network".  Colin Firth brought to the stage a touch of class.  His speech was eloquent, humorous, and generous.

--"Black Swan" will some day be rediscovered as the overwhelming work of art that it is.  Natalie Portman worked awfully hard to realize the beautiful and horrific vision that was this film, and gave a wonderfully emotional and mature speech.

--I have rarely liked Sandra Bullock or Jeff Bridges more than I did in their introductions to the Acting nominees. It almost made it worthwhile to me that both of them won in their respective categories last year.

--"Inception", to me, was a wall of I suppose the Sound awards were appropriate. Not sure yet how I feel about its Cinematography win.  (Glad its overwrought score was left offense intended to its fans....)

--I suppose "Alice in Wonderland" was a triumph of imagination, but its design wins left me apathetic. 

--Melissa Leo and Christian Bale captured the hearts of audiences, and received a lot of good will for their strong work in "The Fighter".  I can't help wonder if their work will hold up in the popular imagination a year from now.  Leo may not need to worry about a future acceptance speech (she has alienated many).  And did Bale forget his wife's name?  I'll concede him the benefit of the doubt, and assume he just got choked up.

--Right on!:  Director Charles Ferguson of the winning Feature Documentary  "Inside Job," remarked: "Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that's wrong." 

Right on, too! One of the producers of "The King's Speech", Iain Canning, thanked his boyfriend from the stage.  A nice moment!


I hope to stop reading about how older audiences cannot fully appreciate "The Social Network", while "The King's Speech" is old- fashioned and not innovative enough for Oscar recognition. It not only diminishes the merits of "Social Network", but unfairly denigrates the beauty of "The King's Speech". 

True, there may be individual Academy members who voted "generationally".  But  there is a core of Oscar voters who engaged in a full-blown love affair with the movies in the 1960's and 70's, when Hollywood  had its biggest creative ferment since 1939.  Oscar voters in this demographic may have a unique ability to study and assess the subtelties and strengths of each film.  To me, "Network" and "Speech" were each justly rewarded for their achievements in their winning categories.

Variety wrote last Fall that "Social Network" may actually have done better box-office with older rather than younger audiences.  The New York Times just published a piece about the untapped strength of a mature audience.  This demographic, similar to a majority of the Academy, has remained dormant in the last twenty years, but has shown will come out en masse for richer films that are intended for enjoyment across generational lines.  That may bode well for more movies like "King's Speech" AND "Social Network".

I was excited about the team of Hathaway and Franco. The promotional ads looked fun, and I enjoy the work of both of these performers, and admire their versatility.

I love James Franco (and he looked amazing in his white ballet tights in the opening montage)...although he seemed far-away, like the light hurt his eyes. Perhaps he dreaded the  writing, which was awful, leaving these two stranded in lame shtick.  (Franco reportedly took a picture on his iPhone of veteran writer Bruce Vilanch asleep backstage.)  

And Anne Hathaway will be wonderful if and when she ever shoots the Judy Garland biopic. She carried the show......Some thought she was too "perky"... she seemed fine to me....given what she was asked to do. 

The Producers of the Academy Awards should stop fretting about courting younger viewers.  Movie lovers come in every age range, and, young or old, will always follow the Oscars.

Billy Crystal's ovation was like a slap in the face to "Frathaway".

It is probably not a good thing to ask a nominee (like Franco) to host for the entire evening...the anticipation, and possible disappointment, make it an unfair proposition....professionals though they are, these people are still human after all...right?    
I think a few years of perspective will show that good choices were made overall in the Major categories...Annette Bening will have her day....perhaps I can write her Oscar-winning screenplay for her (Seidler is not the ONLY late-bloomer!)   A screen biography of Joni Mitchell, maybe, with Bening as a mature Joni???
"The Kids Are All Right", one of my three all-time favorites from this year (with "King's Speech and "Black Swan") went home empty-handed.  And you know?  For some incredible reason, I have taken some odd comfort in that.  In spite of its losses at the hands of the Academy, I know, as an objective movie-lover with a special, biased interest in this film's subject matter, I know in my heart that it still is, and always will be, a great film.  To me, it is all that matters.

"The Kids Are All Right" did not need the validation of the Academy to convince me of its greatness.  I calmly accept that it is not an Oscar-Winner, and that it exists in a world beyond the need for Academy accolades.
Hmmm...maybe I managed my emotions well enough, after all!
Time now to really enjoy movies again, for a while.  SHOCKING NEWS: I plan to watch "The Social Network" again.  In a funny way, now that it is no longer a contender in some heated "contest", it doesn't feel so threatening to me or to the recognition of a more classically-made and lovely film. So now, I think I can relax and find more to appreciate in it.
I hope we movie-lovers will all go back to being fans and students of the art and entertainment of film, and leave our prognostications and elbowing for position behind for a while.....No point in assessing David Fincher's odds next year, or creating our nominee predictions, or ANY of that, before we have a chance to enjoy the films purely, objectively, passionately, the way we did when we first fell in love with the movies.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar Moments I'd Like To See:

In my fantasy of how tonight's Oscar Show will unfold, these are my most anticipated moments: 

*   *   *

James Franco comments on his Best Actor nomination--"I'd give my left arm for an Oscar!"

*   *   *

73-year-old David Seidler gets a standing ovation, in recognition of his life, and labor of love, encapsulated in one marvelous screenplay.

*   *   *

An upset in the Animated Feature category

*   *   *

"Black Swan" wows the Academy with it's awesome Cinematography and Editing..

*   *   *

Overcome with emotion, Colin Firth goes speechless at the podium

*   *   *

A deserved show of love for Goffrey Rush

*   *   *

Helena Bonham-Carter bringing down the house and stealing the show with her acceptance speech.

*   *   *

A gasp from the crowd as Annette Bening is called to the stage

*   *   *
A poetic follow-up to the final sequence in their film, as the producers of "The Social Network" wait for a reply to a friend request that will never be answered....

*   *   *

Friendship, as relevant today as it ever was, will triumph...

"Forget everything else and just say it to me. Say it to me, as a friend."

As I said, it's just my fantasy...but then, especially in Hollywood, some dreams do come true!  Enjoy...

(And check out the results below for this Journal's Shocking Best picture Oscar Quiz)

Shocking Best Picture Oscar Quiz Results

The suspense is over!   No, not of Oscar night, but the more excruciating suspense created by the Shocking Best Picture Quiz (Feb, 24).  Thank you to Luke and to Ben for responding on the site--you both did an exemplary job--and to anyone else who gave it a whirl on their own.

I hope it provided some fun, and a rather unusual way to revisit Oscar Films Past.

By the way, regarding the horrendous moments in Best Pictures (#10), it made me gasp in amusement at the disturbing images my delicate sensibilities have been exposed to since an early age, in movies on which Hollywood bestows its highest honor.  Just a gentle reminder that Oscar is unpredictable, and doesn't always play safe.  Finally, many of the films I selected for dubious recognition are all-time favorites of, I hope no criticism of these pictures was inferred.

Now...for the Shocking Results!  (Cite these facts at your Oscar parties to impress your guests/hosts!)

1. Which of the following Actors/Actresses has NEVER appeared in an Oscar-Winning Best Picture?
___Katherine Hepburn
___Spencer Tracy
___Susan Sarandon
___Heath Ledger
___Jeff Bridges
___Helena Bonham-Carter
___Glenn Close
___Denzel Washington
___Nicole Kidman
Sadly, none of the above has ever appeared in a movie that has won an Oscar as Best Picture. (That might change tonight, Helena or Jeff!...We'll see...4 hours 'til show time.)

2. Which of the following performers, all of whom became famous from their TV appearances, went on to appear in an Oscar-Winning Best Picture?
___Mary Tyler Moore--"Ordinary People"
___Tony Danza--"Crash"
___Danny DeVito--"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" AND "Terms of Endearment"
___Woody Harrelson--"No Country for Old Men"
___Sally Field--"Forrest Gump"
___Donna Reed--"From Here to Eternity" (1953) for which she herself won for Best Supporting Actress

3. What is the only Oscar-Winning best Picture with no speaking parts for women? Thanks to Luke for pointing out my bad wording here...I did not intend to include the one silent film ("Wings", 1928)...the answer I was looking for was "Lawrence of Arabia".

4. Which Best Picture Winner features a scene in which the lead characters appear briefly as animated cartoons?  "Annie Hall"...only a picture here will do!

5. I counted 3 Best Pictures in which one man kisses another man on the mouth. Name the films.  "American Beauty", "The Godfather Part II", and the very first winner, the silent film "Wings".  Another unfortunate thing in common:  all three men who got kissed died violently in each film.

6. What was the first year that all (5) Best Picture nominees were in color?  1956: "Around the World in 80 Days" (winner), "Friendly Persuasion", "The King and I", "Giant", and "The Ten Commandments"

7. What was the last year that more than one black-and-white film competed for Best Picture? As recently as 1980, Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bill" and David Lynch's "The Elephant Man", both shot in black-and-white, competed with color films "Coal Miner's Daughter", "Tess", and the winner, "Ordinary People".

8. The late John Cazale, a well-known actor from the 1970's, appeared in only five (5) movies before his untimely death at age 43 in 1978. What do these films have in common?  All five of Cazale's entire film resume were nominated for Best Picture: "The Godfather", "The Godfather Part II", and "The Deer Hunter" all won the prize; "Dog Day Afternoon" and "The Conversation" were contenders.

9. After 1932 only one film has won for Best Picture whose Director was not nominated. Name the film (and the Director for meaningless extra credit!) 1989, "Driving Miss Daisy", which must have directed itself while Bruce Beresford negotiated for screen credit.

10. Name the Oscar-Winning Best Films in which these intense images and sequences have appeared.....
A--The title character smashes his pet mouse against a wall--"The Last Emperor" 1987
B--An old man is beaten and has a telephone receiver stuffed into his toothless mouth-- "Midnight Cowboy" 1969
C--The lead character is drawn and quartered--"Braveheart", 1995 (most of it off camera thank goodness)
D--A woman's face is disfigured with a knife--"Unforgiven", 1992
E--The leading lady is bludgeoned to death while the killer's dog looks on (HINT: this was actually the last G-rated Best Picture winner!) -- "Oliver!", 1968.  I was traumatized as a child by this...
F--The protagonist is attacked and almost eaten by an enormous spider--"Lord of the Rings: Return of the King", 2003
G--The heroine attempts a suicidal pill overdose on Christmas Eve--"The Apartment", 1960. (It occurred off-camera, but the incident, and its aftermath, resulted in one of moviedom's most sudden changes of tone.)
H--A man's thumbs are cut off, without anesthesia, by a nurse--Willem DaFoe was the victim in "The English Patient", 1996
I--A wife beater is strangled to death--he kicks in a car windshield during the struggle--"The Godfather", 1972. (The violent domestic quarrel, and the garroting later on, were both very graphic.) 
J--The hero's eyelid wound is lanced, as blood spurts--Sylvester Stallone in the ring in "Rocky", 1976
K--The leading lady attempts to chew out her own tongue--Hillary Swank in "Million Dollar Baby", 2004
L--While the hero pleads with him to come home, the hero's best friend shoots himself in the head--"The Deer Hunter", 1978.  (Rober DeNiro and Christoper Walken still break my heart in this one.)
M--To settle an old score, the main character slices an old man's stomach with a knife--"The Godfather, Part II", 1974
N--The romantic lead drowns in an icy ocean--"Titanic", 1997
O--The protagonist, weak from a bloody gunshot wound, turns toward the camera and vomits--"No Country for Old Men", 2007
P--A mobster casually waves a corpse's severed hand--"The Departed", 2006
Q--A little boy jumps into and swims through a pile of excrement--"Slumdog Millionaire", 2008 (all to get a celebrity autograph!)
R--Another little boy hides in a latrine chest-deep in excrement--Schindler's List", 1993.

Tonight, the possible best-picture winner will offer nothing more traumatic than a King yelling "!@#*#@!"

Thank you for playing!!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Leaving Oscar For A Moment..To Look At The World...

Oscar Madness has provided a nice diversion, an escape from continued images and news of turmoil and uncertainty all over the world.  I am enjoying the predictions of my fellow movie-bloggers, their personal choices, and friendly debates.

Results from the Shocking Best Picture Oscar Quiz will be posted tomorrow (Sunday) before the show, so readers can impress their friends with unusual facts from the rich and wacky history of the Academy Awards. (Luke at Journalistic Skepticism did amazingly well....hope a few others will give it a go...!

But for now, I must briefly turn away from Hollywood artifice and comment briefly on some world events that have caught my attention, and occupied my thoughts, and troubled me.  These are brief impressions...nothing in-depth yet, just s snapshot of my reactions at this particular moment.

*     *     *

Egypt:  The world watched as Egyptians toppled a reviled leader and leaders of the West scrambled to understand the ramifications and how to position themselves.  (Bahrain did not fare so well in their attempts at regime change.) But the "heroism" of the revolutionaries was tainted after CBS reporter Lara Logan was assaulted during a mob "celebration".  Since then it seems that Egypt is being sort of ignored in the daily media coverage.  It could be partly due to the bad taste left by that incident; and  partly due to the way coverage is always pointed at the "flavor of the moment", which for now seems to be Libya.

Libya:  It's hard to isolate the turmoil to one country in this region, because it's complicated to assess how things like tribal loyalty, western influence, and global big business can be contained within the somewhat artificial boundaries of an individual "nation".  What is alarming is how gas prices fluctuate so wildly during times of crisis.  It's a terrible reminder at how much our economy is dependent on hateful regimes.

Wisconsin: It is ironic that workers in Wisconsin are staging demonstrations to preserve their rights, only to see them being stripped away, while demonstrators on the other side of the world are demonstrating to successfully earn their rights.  Perhaps, when citizens in places like Egypt finally achieve Democracy, the Global corporations who pull the strings can strip their workers of collective bargaining rights as well.

Border's Bookstores Closing:  They simply built too many stores at a time when electronic delivery of reading material, and a general falling off of serious reading, was only beginning to take their toll.  I remember the first Borders I visited over 10 years ago in Schaumburg Illinois became my "second home", providing a comfortable and welcoming place to browse books and films, read hungrily, and feel safe as a gay person in suburbia.  Soon it got too big.  Oddly, their rewards program did not save on purchases at the register, but was good for coupons you would find in your e-mail; unlike Barnes and Noble, which resulted in instant discounts.   Reading is a paradoxical activity---you do it alone, but are stimulated into it by the presence of others.  I think small bookstores, which allow for intimacy surrounded by a community of other book-lovers, may soon prevail in a dwindling market for the lovely endangered species known as the book.

DOMA will not be defended:  This past Wednesday,  the Justice Department announced it would no longer be defending the Defense of Marriage Act.  In a story I found on the Huffington Post, Attorney General Eric Holder said President Obama has concluded that the administration cannot defend the federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.
This is a sudden and very good piece of news, in spite of threats from Republicans that Congress will more ardently defend DOMA.  I have to wonder why it took so long to reach this conclusion, other than the obvious and cynical suggestion that it is the politically expedient thing to do now that the 2012 Presidential campaign is looming.  Mr. Obama is still wrestling with his "evolving" attitudes about same-sex marriage, instead of taking an objective view based on the interpretation of law.  Let's see how this plays out in some pending high-profile cases. 

Hateful language at a Town Hall Meeting: At a Georgia Town Hall Meeting last Tuesday, Republican Rep Paul Broun was asked: "When is someone going to shoot President Obama?"  Broun's lame-ass response:
"The thing is, I know there's a lot of frustration with this president. We're going to have an election next year. Hopefully, we'll elect somebody that's going to be a conservative, limited-government president that will take a smaller, who will sign a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare."  This kind of threatening question should not get the dignity of a response...and it seems some politicians are still tacitly encouraging this type of attitude from unbalanced supporters...ANYthing for political support...
Have some people learned NOTHING from Tucson, January 8?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Shocking Best Picture Oscar Quiz!

This is an original Oscar Trivia Quiz that's all about Best Picture.  There's so much fiendishly good history in this category that this is far from a complete representation.

Maybe I'll make this an annual game.  This year, it's the Best Picture Shockers!  (Much of that is tongue-in-cheek...)

We'll look at incredible choices, snubs, a few fun facts, and finally a gruesome look at the images some Best Picture Winners have offered their viewers.  Who said the Academy was a group of intellectual snobs?

I'll post the results in an upcoming post.  Feel free to put your guesses in the comments, or send them to me via e-mail (on my Full Profile).


1. Which of the following Actors/Actresses has NEVER appeared in an Oscar-Winning Best Picture?
___Katherine Hepburn
___Spencer Tracy
___Susan Sarandon
___Heath Ledger
___Jeff Bridges
___Helena Bonham-Carter
___Glenn Close
___Denzel Washington
___Nicole Kidman

2. Which of the following performers, all of whom became famous from their TV appearances, went on to appear in an Oscar-Winning Best Picture?
___Mary Tyler Moore
___Tony Danza
___Danny DeVito
___Woody Harrelson
___Sally Field
___Donna Reed

3. What is the only Oscar-Winning best Picture with no speaking parts for women?

4. Which Best Picture Winner features a scene in which the lead characters appear briefly as animated cartoons?

5. I counted 3 Best Pictures in which one man kisses another man on the mouth.  Name the films. 

6. What was the first year that all (5) Best Picture nominees were in color?

7. What was the last year that more than one black-and-white film competed for Best Picture?

8. The late John Cazale, a well-known actor from the 1970's, appeared in only five (5) movies before his untimely death at age 43 in 1978.  What do these films have in common?

9. After 1932 only one film has won for Best Picture whose Director was not nominated.  Name the film (and the Director for meaningless extra credit!)

(The following is not for the faint-hearted.)

10. And now....For those who cite this year's Best Picture race as evidence that Oscar is always too genteel, I disagree.  Especially in the last few decades, the Motion Picture Academy has shown itself to have a rabid appetite for the Grand Guignol! 

To prove that Oscar does not always go for  "feel-good" ,  I have compiled a list of horrendous, or just plain gross, images that have been dished up by Best Picture winners for the delectation of Oscar fans the world over.  We Oscar-film devotees have been subjected to cumulative trauma!  Name the Oscar-Winning Best Films in which these intense images and sequences have appeared..... 

A--The title character smashes his pet mouse against a wall
B--An old man is beaten and has a telephone receiver stuffed into his toothless mouth
C--The lead character is drawn and quartered
D--A woman's face is disfigured with a knife
E--The leading lady is bludgeoned to death while the killer's dog looks on (HINT: this was actually the last 
       G-rated Best Picture winner!)
F--The protagonist is attacked and almost eaten by an enormous spider
G--The heroine attempts a suicidal pill overdose on Christmas Eve
H--A man's thumbs are cut off, without anesthesia, by a nurse
I--A wife beater is strangled to death--he kicks in a car windshield during the struggle
J--The hero's eyelid wound is lanced, as blood spurts
K--The leading lady attempts to chew out her own tongue
L--While the hero pleads with him to come home, the hero's best friend shoots himself in the head
M--To settle an old score, the main character slices an old man's stomach with a knife
N--The romantic lead drowns in an icy ocean
O--The protagonist, weak from a bloody gunshot wound, turns toward the camera and vomits
P--A mobster casually waves a corpse's severed hand
Q--A little boy jumps into and swims through a pile of excrement
R--Another little boy hides in a latrine chest-deep in excrement

...Is it any wonder that Oscar may embrace something more comforting this year? 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Oscar's Most Beautifully Unusual Win

A film is defined as feature-length if it has a running time of 40 minutes or longer.  That is according to the Motion Picture Academy, and both the American and British Film Institutes.

In 1956 a fanciful children's film with a running time of only 34 minutes was imported from France and released on U.S. screens.  It told a simple story of a 5-year-old boy exploring the streets of Paris with his new friend, having adventures, encountering prejudice, enduring tragedy, and achieving ultimate freedom. 

The film featured beautiful photography of its Parisian locations (many of which no longer exist due to decay and demolition). It had a stirring and lovely musical score.  Not a silent film, it had ambient location sound.

It had no dialog.  And it won the 1956 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Of course, I am talking about Albert Lamorisse's "The Red Balloon."

TCM featured this classic film as part of its "31 Days of Oscar". I knew I had my topic for tonight.

Never before, nor since, has a short subject, or a film without dialog, won an Oscar for Screenplay.  What was it about this movie that inspired such enthusiasm for its writing? 

I tried to find a copy of the screenplay (written, I would assume, in French) and was not successful.  I would expect that it reads soaringly, like a philosophical children's story.

In spite of not having dialog, the film tells a simple but symbolic story about coming of age, about kindness given (and returned), and about mindless hate.  It ends in an image of such benevolence and poetry that I can hardly describe why it affected me so powerfully.

"The Red Balloon" has much action and incident, and it really moves.  The film requires complex transitions between scenes, and some incredibly difficult technical challenges: that balloon is not a computer-generated image.  All of that complexity had to be conceived first and foremost on the page.

In the Screenplay category that year, "The Red Balloon" triumphed over the following nominated films: "The Bold and the Brave" (a WWII battle drama); "Julie" (a thriller starring Doris Day); "The Ladykillers" (an Ealing comedy with Alec Guinness); and "La Strada" (the classic circus tale by Federico Fellini).  An uneven slate to be sure;  but "The Red Balloon" was so charming, so moving and unforgettable, that Oscar had to recognize it.

In the course of the film, little Albert rescues the Red Balloon from where it is tied to a lamp post.  Soon the Balloon follows the boy, exhibiting a "mind" of its own and the mischief of a little dog.  They bond, as they go to Albert's home (the Red Balloon waits, floating loyally, outside the boy's balcony), ride the streetcar "together", meet a little girl with a romantic Blue Balloon, get in trouble at school, get thrown out of a church, and encounter a cruel mob of boys with slingshots. 

What follows is an incredible extended shot, as heartbreaking as the dying swan; and a final, extraordinary image that reduced me to sobs of joy and regret. 

For a long time, I was so mixed in my emotions by the film's finale, that I was not entirely sure what caused this reaction.  I concluded that it was a deep sadness at the end of innocence, the loss of a faithful friend, and the escape from the world of cruelty to that of beauty and grace.  It is the same primal emotion I feel at "The Yearling", or even "Black Swan".

What an extraordinary final image.

I can't recommend this more. 

For those who have seen "The Red Balloon", did the climactic flight seem as profound to you?  

What, in your view, is the most unusual Oscar victory ever?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Westminster Dog Show--The Big Winner; and a Well-Balanced Bassett

The gentle, dignified Scottish Deerhound won Best in Show earlier this week at the Westminster Dog Show. The Deerhound is not a household name among dog owners in America, but now with the spotlight on this good-natured sight-hound, more people will want to bring one of these friendly creatures into their homes. 

Deerhounds are bred to run after rabbits and red deer.  They are happiest with a yard where they can run, and once they have had sufficient exercise, they are content to stretch out on the floor, happy to just sleep.

These dogs, which resemble wire-haired greyhounds, are docile and eager to please.  And, being dogs, they are refreshingly honest...Case in point, Hickory, the five-year-old who was the surprise winner at Madison Square Garden.

At this time of year, we are surrounded by images of celebrities inundated by countless interviews, photographers, and scrutiny, and we hold our breath for our favorites lest they stumble, or appear tired. 

So it was great fun to learn that, after the Dog Show when Hickory was the subject of post-victory news conferences, she finally had enough, and simply walked off the stage, to the secret delight of Angela Lloyd, Hickory's handler.

Westminster contestant Nicole, a Basset Hound from Chehalis, Washington, poses for a photograph in the lobby of the Hotel Pennsylvania Saturday Feb. 12,  in New York.

This is a difficult trick for these comically unbalanced dogs.  And I love the protective ear-gear, which would be a hit on any red carpet.

One may reinvent his purpose in life, or adjust to the changes in technology to remain relevant, or completely change the course of his career or residence.  But I can promise you, that in spite of all of the changes, I am grateful that dogs are so wonderfully predictable, that I have no choice but to love these creatures forever.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Some Favorite Paintings at the Art Institute

If any of you make it to Chicago, we would be proud to have you as our guest to the Art Institute.  As a follow-up to yesterday's photo album of a Chicago Sunday afternoon, here's a look at a few paintings in the Art Institute's collection that captured my imagination, and inspired me to better creative effort.

There is one gallery on the top (third) floor, "European Modern Art, 1900-1950".  These include some of the Impressionists, the Cubists, and Surrealists, artists like Picasso, Dali, Magritte, and others less familiar to me.  I can't wait to keep on as a student of this period, the paintings of which I love on a basic level, which give me a feeling of pleasure and balance.  

As with any form of art, knowing more about it, its construction, its intent, its place in history, can explain why I feel so happy in the company of these artists in this magical and remote gallery of the Art Institute.

FRANZ MARC, "The Bewitched Mill", 1913

A quote next to the painting reads: "Is there a more mysterious idea than to imagine how nature is reflected in the eyes of animals?" Is there a more perfect reason for me to connect with this work?  Notice the deer drinking and a variety of birds. 

GEORGES BRAQUES, "The Little Harbor in Normandy," 1909

I am less familiar with Braque than with Picasso, even though they worked closely together and together established the Cubist style.  I like his work, and this one is especially interesting to me.

PABLO PICASSO, "The Old Guitarist", 1903-04

The Art Institute has a huge collection of Picasso, including a miniature rendering of his famous sculpture in Daley Plaza.  This is a wonderful portrait of a homeless man from Picasso's "blue period".

SALVADOR DALI, "Inventions of the Monsters", 1937

Dali fascinates me with his extremely clear images, that sometimes appear to be melting or bending. His subjects often are brightly lit with long shadows that emphasize their desolated isolation. An unnatural combination of objects and parts of the human anatomy are startling. The pictures always seem to be on the verge of burning. Here is Dali's mysterious interpretation of impending war: the artist and his wife are seated at the table on the left.

RENE MAGRITTE, "Time Transfixed", 1938

This is the painting that inspired me to visit the wonderful third floor gallery. I enjoy the clarity of images that are placed together incongruously, violating the rules of space.  Magritte wanted to "stab" the viewer with the train. 

JOAN MIRO, "Personages With Star", 1933

One of a large collection of Miro, who I find a child's rendering of Dali.

In later journal entries, I will also offer some favorites by Paul Klee, Juan Gris, and many others...  While my quest for reinvention may not include taking up the brush myself, you never know how enthusiasm, borne of a love of any art form, may manifest itself! For now, I will try to paint with words, and learn enough to teach others some day, perhaps.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Spring Promise on a Chicago Sunday--Friday Photo Journal

Last Sunday was perfect for an excursion to the city for creative renewal and to emerge from winter hibernation.

The early part of our afternoon was spent at the Chicago Art Institute.  Regular visitors to this Journal have accompanied me here, to one of my favorite places in the city.  It was quiet in the galleries until later in the day. 

A lack of winter tourists to Chicago ensures that local folks like Mark and me have leisurely access to the Art Institute's beauty, and plenty of space to quietly immerse ourselves in the warm embrace of the various rooms, which are themselves works of art, with their carefully selected pedestals and frames, and much natural light.

Possibly the museum was quieter than usual because it seemed like everyone who lived downtown was outside.  Compared to the crushing snows and bitter cold of just over a week ago,  the near-40-degree day was like a promise of spring, an invitation to hoard all of the fresh air your lungs could take in, and enjoy the wonder of the lakefront and the architecture once again.

Of course there was still plenty of snow, but over half of the blizzard-dump had melted. What remained made for some amusing images.

After the museum we joined the throngs at Millennium Park on the lakefront.  Ice skaters entertained onlookers while the loudspeakers played '80's music for nostalgic adults. 

In the background, past the rink, is the Chicago Cultural Center, a grand old building whose interior walls are covered with beautiful mosaics.  This is where the Governor of Illinois signed the Civil Unions Bill into law. On Sunday, a classical concert was performed in the upstairs auditorium.

One of the marvels of the Park is "The Bean", the name given by Chicagoans to sculptor Anish Kapoor's three-story reflective-steel piece called CloudGate.  Made of 168 steel plates welded together, there are no visible seams, and the curves of the surface produce compelling and provocative reflections.  The privately-funded piece cost about 23 million dollars, and posed some challenges in its year-long construction.  It awakened my long-dormant photographic muse.

Coming up, some of my favorite paintings from the 3rd Floor Gallery of European Art...among them, the Cubists, and the Surrealists.