Monday, January 18, 2016

David Bowie's Gone and We're Still Here (1947-2016)

Good morning!

Well, it's been a tough 2016 already, friends. 

Last Monday morning around six in the AM,  I was feeling a little under the weather and struggling to get my act together enough to get out the door to work at the correct time. As my fingers were forgetting how to lace my boots from sleep deprivation, Matthew came in from making the coffee and sat down on the bed with his serious face, which definitely is atypical for him at any time, much less at this ungodly hour.

"Listen, I need to tell you something and it's gonna be ok, but I wanted you to know before anybody else did."

Me internally: What is he even talking about did I sleep walk and knock over the tv or something? Is he mad at me? What is he talking about? Me outloud:"Yeah, fine, what is it, bibi."

"David Bowie died."

I replied almost nastily, looking at him like he'd hit me full in the face: "No....he's not....what are you talking about?!?"

"I mean, it was on Kotaku this morning, so it may...not be true....I don't know I just wanted to tell you before you saw it at work or whatever."

My hands started shaking as I reached for my phone. "He put out a record on Friday."

I googled "David Bowie" which immediately suggested "David Bowie dead" and as several reputable news sources came up on the browser, I literally burst into tears.

Now, something you should know about me-- I do not burst into tears in my own life for almost anything. While I cry to beat the band when Barbara Stanwyck gets her heart broken on screen or Hank Williams sings about dreaming about Mama last night or someone saves a baby on an old episode of Greys Anatomy, I'm not a big crier in terms of my own life. I'm usually too stressed or too focused on how to fix things to cry in real life over my day-to-day even when it's merited. So I think I was fairly as shocked as Matthew was that tears were streaming down my face as I just laid back down in my bed.

"I'm so sorry, little bean."

"EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE. WHY IS EVERYTHING SO HORRIBLE?" I said, almost laughing through my tears about the comically bad run of days I'd had in the last week. My best friend's going through a serious crisis, I'm sick as a dog, my job/commute/workplace is killing me, I need to lose about thirty pounds, when are we going to have a baby, I MUST stop drinking so much, I hate everything....and David Bowie is dead.


As the information fell into place, I realized the album release was Bowie's last, greatest publicity stunt, as cannily planned as any other in his fifty four years in the industry. Who ELSE would hide an eighteen month, reportedly ferocious battle with cancer behind a frenzy of professional activity, from the aforementioned record with accompanying short-film-style music videos to a Broadway play featuring a Bowie penned score. Before doing the real-world equivalent of disappearing behind a magician's cape, he made sure the two singles from what was to be his final record were rife with imagery related to his passing, which of course, his faithful audience, myself included, just took as regular Bowie subject material. I had listened to "Blackstar" in December and "Lazarus" on the 8th with a "Not bad, sir!" feeling of Outside meets Heathen, totally missing lines like "Something happened on the day he died/Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside", "Just like that bluebird, I'll be free/ Ain't that just like me?", "Look up here/I'm in heaven" that would become achingly prescient. I hate how good this last record is, only because it stands as a stark reminder of how much I'm going to miss the man.

My love affair with David Bowie began in 1998, when, as doofy thirteen year old already having passed through a few years of voracious reading and album consumption regarding the Beatles, I picked up a copy of Viktor Bokris's Andy Warhol biography, hoping to garner some info on his friendship with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Bowie was mentioned several times, and when I saw a cd single (!!) of "I'm Afraid of Americans" in the music department of Kmart (where my mom had parked me sometime earlier as she ran around looking for household items), I loved the weird, simple line drawing on the cover. "Are you sure you want this? It's $10," my mom tutted, as this was at least twice as expensive as any of the other singles in the bin. "YES," I said, emphatically, not knowing 'd taken the first step on the biggest musical obsession of my life.

You can imagine how my mom probably was into the hanging guy in the tree/possible lynch vicitm on the cover of the album her thirteen year old was asking for her to buy...
A listen or ten later, "Pretty good," I thought. A little more modern of a sound than I was used to, but something about it piqued my interest. The next time I was at Phonoluxe, a record store on Nolensville Road where I'd been slowly collecting Beatles albums over the last year and a half as my allowance allowed, I wandered over to the regular rock n roll bins (separate from the collectors/mint record bins) and flipped through a different section of the B's than I usually perused. Based on covers alone, I picked up Space Oddity and Fame and Fashion: David Bowie's All Time Greatest Hits. At the library, there was a single copy of Stardust: The David Bowie Story by Henry Edwards and Tony Zanetta that I dutifully checked out.

It all started here, kids
Aaaaand I was hooked. Hooked, hooked, hooked. The heady combination of book smarts, glamour, good looks, boundary pushing, and GREAT. MUSIC. was like nothing I'd ever heard before. I reread Stardust several times, taking copious notes of records to look for and important acquaintances like Lou Reed and Iggy Pop to research. Photocopied the photo inserts at the Madison branch library on an old, finicky xerox to make legal paper size homemade posters of Bowie in various stages of his career, learning to use to zoom and contrast features on the machine like a pro. I had just recently made friends with a girl the year ahead of me in my related arts class, and gave her a mixtape I think in return for her letting me borrow her copy of The Stand. In the way only pre-internet, too-smart pre-teens would have the time and energy for, Kelsey and I both launched headlong into a shared obsession and a friendship that's been going strong for eighteen years. For the all-important next five years, finishing out middle school and continuing on into high school, we lived and breathed David Bowie. There were so many books to read and movies to see and, all importantly, records to fall into. A millennial resurgence in 70s nostalgia served our analog curating tastes well, as there was lots of stuff on VH1 and late night tv to consume and digest. "David Bowie's the musical guest on this late night rerun of Saturday Night Live, I'm gonna set my VCR!" "Someone with the premium cable channels taped a copy of Ziggy Stardust the movie for me, we have to watch it!" I can remember sitting on the carpet in front of the turntable in the upstairs living room of my parents' suburban house, listening to Lodger and trying to figure out what in seven hells was going on. Who sounds like this? WHAT sounds like this? Flat on my stomach with my heels kicked together in the air, a copy of the liner notes spread out in front of me and a spiral notebook. "Brian Eno?" in ballpoint pen next to a few lines from "Fantastic Voyage". He wasn't just something I listened to, he was a huge part of who I was....and to my hopeful teenage heart, what I could be.

Two idols, one picture
In the midst of mourning last week, I pulled out as many Bowie records as I could from my collection to re-arrange them in chronological order and just flip through them for old time's sake. Look at this body of work just spread out on my living room floor, an embarrassment of riches:

The only one missing is Never Let Me Down....that is not uninentional...
And that's not even all of them! And doesn't count books/buttons/whatever else I could scrape up Bowie-related. Since 1998, I've been a Bowie devotee. Years of checking the record bins on every trip to Great Escape or Phonoluxe yielded the pile of albums you see above. And EVERY record reminds me of a different time in my life-- I could tell you when I bought most of them or who this or that song reminds me of. While Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane are two of his best albums, it was really Diamond Dogs that first introduced me to my favorite "form" of Bowie, the soul chanteur receiving transmissions from another planet. Dark, dangerous, gorgeous decadence. Diamond Dogs and the Eno trilogy are records I can listen to front to back, on repeat, forever. They're a major part of the fabric of what I would call "my musical taste". And isn't my life richer for that!

This Man Who Sold the World poster and the Space Oddity album cover poster used to hang on my bedroom wall in high school-- both of them came with copies of the album.
My love of David Bowie sustained me through dozens of other musical interests-- he was a gateway drug to the Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop, Television, William S. Burroughs...probably ones I can't even think of off the top of my head. I wouldn't think about him every day anymore, but any time anyone mentioned him, I thought, "There's my guy." When I was feeling bad, it was nice to pop in Low or Stage and just sit down with an old friend.

What I can't believe with this whole last week is how I'm actually grieving this loss. I never met the man. I don't know if it's being in a kind of adult crossroads here at 30 after the can't-wait-to-grow-up-ness of my teens and the just-spinning-your-wheels-trying-to-keep-moving feeling my 20's that is working as an emotional accelerant, but something is making this break my heart about a hundred times worse than if it was anybody else. It must have been similar for people in our parents' generation to lose Elvis or John Lennon-- not to co-opt those tragedies, each of them died far younger than David Bowie; but in terms of the impact he made in my life, he was, like Lennon and Elvis to that age group, the soundtrack to my life.

Earlier this week, trying to explain how upset I was to a friend, I legit started crying again realizing he was "there" for me. Growing up with parents that loved me but didn't always much understand me, here was something and someone I could pin all my hopes for a glittering future to. There are people out there who are like this, I told myself. Look at how big and outrageous and gorgeous and dramatic and grand the world can be. A little less so for loss of him, but I can't put into words well enough how much having that to hold on to meant to me then as it does now. Can you even imagine how it must feel to have had that much of an impact on one person, much less the legions of fans who are going through the same deep sorrow to lesser and greater degrees all over the world? I hope he knew how much he meant to everybody, not just as the "style chameleon" interviewers and journalists like to lean on as shorthand for his career and influence, but as a truly original and immensely talented artist.

So safe travels, Starman. I'm still too sad, I can't lie, but this tweet helps:



Anyway! I've been angry (Tarantino) and I've been sad (David Bowie) so far this year, hopefully I'll come back with some good news next time I update this spot! :) Lots of light to all of you, 'til next time.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

I Hate Hateful 8 (And Here's A Whole Lot of Why)

HAPpy new year, kiddlings!

How have ya been, what have ya been up to? It has been a busy holiday season-- I feel like I'm still saying "Oh man, what am I going to get so and so for Christmas" to myself in spite of the fact the 25th has come, been, and gone. Ditto New Years, which Matthew and I spent watching AbFab and swilling champ in the shadow of the Playmobil pyramid I received for xmas (it. is. SO. COOL). Both days seem like they half happened for how out-of-it all these at work/not at work starts and stops, I'm telling you! In spite of my dazed condition, I've been moved to pull up a chair at my own corner of the internet to update you on my very learnèd opinion on the new Quentin Tarantino movie. People of my long-term acquaintance know one of my party tricks in college used to be that you quote any line (ANY LINE, not just the memorable quotes) from the whole of Pulp Fiction to me and I could give you the next five, as if I were Richard Burton reciting passages from Shakespeare. That's how crazy I was/am about his first four-ish movies. I'm veering from my usual positive outlook on the world to respond to a number of people who asked me "But what didn't you like about Hateful 8? I thought it was pretty good!"

What didn't I HATE about Hateful 8 would be an easier question to answer succinctly (the costumes). And I'm here to tell you why.

Such promise! Such unfulfilled promise!

Just take a moment to put yourself in my over-sized loafers and think upon the beforehand knowledge I had regarding the former of the Kurt Russell winter double bill. Written and directed by one of my favorite living directors. Showing in a limited number of theaters in 70 mm (!!) and Panovision, reviving a dead film format last used in 1966. A REVENGE WESTERN featuring aforementioned beloved John Carpenter star and Samuel L. Jackson. I would even excuse the casting of Tim Roth (one of my least favorite actors of all time, an opinion I obviously do not share with QT) and Walter Goggins (am ALWAYS leery of actors known for television roles being put in major motion pictures) because look at that setup. I purposefully put aside my extreme disappointment in Tarantino's post-Kill Bill 1 output, because self-same movie may be the best new-at-the-time movie I've seen in a theater and consarn it, maybe he's pulled his act together finally in the ten plus years since he'd put out a movie I would watch more than once. All this dragged me out to Franklin on Christmas Day eve to stand in line with a bunch of other like-minded individuals hoping to score good seats to the 7 pm showing of, as a Stagecoach font on the front of the souvenir booklet reminded us was, "the eighth film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino". Here's a shot I took with popcorn bucket in balanced in the crook of my arm, brimming with bright eyed anticipation for the three plus hours to come.

Talk. About. A LET DOWN.

Where do I even start? From a purely technical standpoint, the "glorious 70mm once in a lifetime experience" I was promised was undercut by the fact that the theater did not project the film on a large-enough, Panovision sized screen. I know I don't exactly understand how projection works besides light and film and machine, but I am deeply confused as to why people in other cities saw a full 70 mm format screening (see a jubilant in-theater shot of the correct sized screen here ), and I saw a movie projected on a regular size screen with a generous FIFTH OF THE FIELD OF VISION BLACKED OUT TO ACCOMMODATE THE SCREENING RATIO. It felt like the emperor's clothes... was everyone else really impressed by this mindbogglingly poor decision on behalf of the exhibitors? I was honestly sitting in the theater up until the film actually started going..."So they're going to expand the screen, right? They're not going to just show this whole time like this, right?"

It was supposed to look like the top paint looked like the bottom at THE ONLY 70 MM SHOWING OF IT IN MIDDLE TENNESSEE.

Yeah, not the same thing.
Glorious my eye. I think I would have done better to just go see the movie in wide release and in a less generous ratio that was at least better-to-look-at. Or even in one of those horrible pan-and-scan 90s full format (words I never thought would escape my mouth). F- for presentation.

Even with that going on, I think I could have forgiven the horrible viewing experience if there was anything up on the screen to view. Tarantino to self: "How about we set a western, a genre known for showcasing the splendor of God's green earth, shot in wide format, special stock film of which much ballyhoo is made, in A SINGLE ROOM, guys? Indoors! Crazy, right? Whaddya think? NO ONE'S EVER DONE IT BEFORE." For a reason, my friend. Sweeping vistas? John Ford-like dollyshots of horses galloping across the open plain? Maybe a mountain? Not for 90% of the movie, I'm afraid. If you like looking up close at what could essentially be a television or very detailed dinner theater set, well, this is the movie set is for you.

"Wait, so the ENTIRE MOVIE is set in this room?" "Well, yeah, more or less. I'd say like 90%." [considers this]"You're the boss, applesauce."
SPEAKING OF, this is the least well written and acted of ALL...A-L-L...the Quentin Tarantino movies. I don't say that lightly. I say that with a heavy heart and a near tear-inducing level of frustration and disappointment. The whole picture felt like Tarantino wrote a very interesting one page treatment with each of the eight characters outlined in two to three sentences, sold the idea to the Weinsteins, sat back for eight months, and then stayed up all night the night before production began, freshman-year-term-paper-style, stretching forty five minutes of action and dialogue into THREE. FREAKING. HOURS. Three hours for a movie lover is no big deal, if it's done well. I was psyched to see some epic, Sergio Leone style narrative spill across the screen in the grand tradition of  spaghetti westerns, a genre in which I know QT has mastery-level understanding. Or hey, maybe he would do some Delmer Daves/Raoul Walsh/John Ford OLD SCHOOL Western. Another style he's referenced with great proficiency in past interviews and work. But oh hell no.

Problems (warning, spoilers ahead):
  • Provocativeness for the sake of provocativeness
    • Violence towards women: the FIRST time Kurt Russell hit Jennifer Jason Leigh's character in the mouth as hard as he would a man, even in the year 2015, I was shocked. Very effective, made you think twice about the characters, who was good and who was bad, etc, etc. The subsequent ten or fifteen times, I was also shocked, by how unshocking it was, based on sheer, meaningless repetition. How could the writing be so heavyhanded (no pun intended) as to assume this would continue being a "Oh my gosh!" moment for the ensuing million times it happened? I have questions but no answers, kids. Questions such as:
      • If Kurt Russell is "principled" enough to hang criminals for their offences to see justice served, how is he not above just clocking a woman in the face a comical number of times? For crimes (ostensibly committed with her brother's gang) that we are never really even made aware of...I know more about what Bruce Dern's character did to deserve to be killed than what she did to be repeatedly beaten while on her way to be hanged.
      • When Jennifer Jason Leigh's character was down to like no teeth and bathed in (hers, other people's) blood, there was a momentarily surreal shot of her broken mouth cracked wide in a laugh...but it was a thirty seconds of interesting counterbalanced by HOURS of waiting for something like that to happen. And it turned out to be an isolated incident. What was the point of her entire character other than as an impetus as to why the two factions of characters were all in the same place?
At least SLJ's costume was on point.
    • Race: QT ALWAYS gets flack for using racial epithets in his movies. And it's (almost) always undeserved. HOWEVER. Let's talk about:
      • Samuel L. Jackson's "big speech" about killing Bruce Dern's son. I think I was supposed to be jawdroppingly surprised by what happened to him....uh, except similar sex-as-an-act-of-degrading-someone was all the frank over A Brief History of Seven Killings or even one story arc of the police drama The Shield. How am I supposed to respect/root for his character after this? Yeah, what Bruce Dern did was some racist, horrible, inexcusable stuff-- but what SLJ did to his son wasn't so much "revenge" as it was just horrible and unfunny when I felt like Tarantino might think the overblown, over-the-top-ness of it would elevate the scene waaaay more than it did. The resonance or dawning horror I think I was supposed to feel as that story unfolded was instead just "is that all there iiiiiiis...? Is that all there issssss...."
      • Apparently the Lincoln letter was a later-draft addition to the screenplay-- the leaked version of the script doesn't include a scene I was trying to find from the final cut, where SLJ says something akin to "it's hard for a black man to be taken seriously in America today". Which is a sentiment I 100% respect and 100% feel is relevant to the year 2015/2016...and which I also feel just got airlifted into the script to be like "TOPICAL...amirite?" Show me, don't tell me-- and instruct me or enlighten me if you're going to try to get into big topics. You don't just get to reference a major issue and get points for having "discussed" it. WHICH BRINGS ME TO:
      • The use of the n-word over, and over, AND OVER, AND OVER, AND OVER. See also: writing problems.
Here's one page of the original script, which plays exactly like this in the film:

You can go, "Well, ANY Quentin Tarantino page of dialogue could have ten instances of the n word in around a minute and a half of screen time, right?" True. However, I've never been so acutely aware of him using it as lazy-shock-value/broadly telegraphing "SEE, THEY'RE RACISTS" instead of actually correct/true-to-the-character writing or nuanced dialogue. I know he wants us to think "Oh look, it's one racist talking to the other!" But let's pretend the offensive word wasn't offensive. Replace the n word in that conversation with "greengrocer" and you end up with something like this:
1: You know that greengrocer over there?
2: What greengrocer? You mean that greengrocer? The greengrocer sitting at the bar?
1: Yeah, that greengrocer. The greengrocer sitting at the bar!
2: I don't associate with greengrocers, even if he IS  a greengrocer sitting at the bar.
1: Well that greengrocer isn't just ANY greengrocer...that greengrocer...that greengrocer OVER THERE....
I know I'm exaggerating, but it was JUST. THAT. RIDICULOUS. Not "excessive" so much as actually foolish-sounding.

    • Showing and telling and showing and then telling again: Did we need to hear/see/see/hear/hear every FREAKING PLOT POINT ALREADY MADE FOUR TIMES in the movie FOUR ADDITIONAL TIMES. Examples:
      • SLJ essentially explains what must have happened to Minnie who runs the place and debunks the Mexican character's story that "they've gone visiting over the mountain" point. I mean, it was like a Sherlock Holmes/ murder mystery deconstruction of all the reasons this probably happened rather than that. "And so, it would follow that if x is true, and x is this, then it's not possible for y to be true. What I think probably occurred is....". Ok. Great. A little annoying, but ok. THEN THEY SPENT 10 MINUTES SHOWING US CHANNING TATUM AND FRIENDS DOING WHAT SLJ SAID THEY DID. [internal screaming] Should I have gone to get more popcorn during one of those parts? Because having both of them in the movie makes no sense.
      • Flashback with voiceover for the part where SLJ kills Bruce Dern's son as QT never misses an opportunity in this movie to treat the audience as if their substandard intelligence wouldn't pick up on the events unless it was both telegraphed AND shown. "See? It's cinema! You're hearing what happened but then you're also seeing it but then we're also telling you again for emphasis what happened."
      • Last scene where the "true identities" of each of the gang members are what end? For what purpose? Who cares? "I'm Sharky Sharkerson." "WELL! SHARKY SHARKESON! Did you know SHARKY SHARKESON killed eight men in a hold up? Sharky Sharkeson has a $10,000 bounty on his head. And you're him! The old Shark himself!" It was a lobotomy-patient-approach-to-dialogue call back to the n word situation I mentioned above 
    • Bad Directing Leading to Bad Acting
      • Why was Kurt Russell, a very strong, very experienced actor, doing THE BROADEST JOHN WAYNE IMPERSONATION known to man on every single line of his dialogue? I mean, a man who lived through ten plus Disney movies and a slew of mid sixties' and seventies' child actor tv appearances in his adolescence should pretty much be immune to being embarrassed for his onscreen work, but I was embarrassed FOR him. I think Tarantino is to blame, because I'm 98% this was HIS choice for the character rather than Kurt Russell's. So I am also mad at Tarantino for doing this to one of my favorite actors.
      • Why was Michael Madsen even in the movie? He had like six lines of dialogue-- all very well acted, but was QT just throwing his old friend some "exposure"? Did "The Hateful 7" as a title rankle with him to the point that he needed an additional character with almost no effect on the storyline? Ditto Jennifer Jason Leigh, a FINE dramatic actress, who was mostly just shrieking or cussing or singing that one ballad in the middle (which was actually pretty decent).
      • Why was Tim Roth pretending to be Christoph Waltz pretending to be whatever was supposed to be going on with his character? Waltz being one the few bright spots of the last two Tarantino pictures, I figured he must have had a scheduling conflict which the filmmaker solved by saying "Hey, Tim Roth, can you come and do two days of work on this new movie of mine? No, I'm excited to have you be here, too. Can you watch these two audition reels of Waltz from my last two movies and just do 'him'? Yeah, no, just however you think he would say it, you say it that way. FANTASTIC." Uhhhh, not so much.
      • Why was Samuel L Jackson, another great screen presence, given nothing to work with and yet expected to work in pretty much every scene for the whole movie. I can see Tarantino in his Kangol hat behind the camera calling out, "JUST YELL, SAM! Yeah! Just KEEP YELLING!"
There's so much more. Why was the much-hyped Ennio Morricone original score used to the least effectiveness at every opportunity?  I actually wrote out a page long list of other things I hated, but you can call me on my cell phone and ask me about it sometime if you have another hour to kill hearing me weeping bitter tears over what could have been.

Hateful 8: More like the Unenjoyable One Hundred and Eighty Seven (minutes of my life I won't get back)

Last point I'll make: how you REALLY KNOW this is a bad movie? I'm sitting there trying to make sense of nonsense character motivations/plot points just to give Tarantino the benefit of the doubt. I can't think of another movie where I've been mentally racing through a list of possibilities that never come to anything because it's not a brilliant written movie that I'll eventually discover has been fooling me the whole time (à la the ultimately ineffectual but at least imaginative Shutter Island) but instead, as said, a sham of a screenplay. At various times, I thought:
  • The character who shot SLJ was actually Bruce Dern's son-- the whole forced fellatio monologue was a ruse cooked up by SLJ to force Bruce Dern into drawing his gun so SLJ would be justified in killing him after he's put him through some heavy psychological trauma related to the (spurious) account of his child's death. Bruce Dern is related to both Channing Tatum and JJL, which is why he was there in the first place in cahoots with the gang.
    • Nope, sorry, didn't happen. Just two unrelated, stupid plot lines floating around in this janitor's mop bucket we're calling a narrative.
  • The Mexican character who talks like one of the banditos from Treasure of the Sierra Madre is actually perfectly fluent in English and using this "Oy, gringo" facade as a strategy against the others. At some point, we'll hear him drop character and really mess these guys up in the Queen's own English.
    • Nope, just a Mexican stereotype from the 1940s. Sorry.
  • Walt Goggin's character's BROOOOOAD, horrible performance in the whole of the movie has something to do with something HE'S hiding. Maybe he's been in cahoots with the others this whole time and is playing some kind of long con on Samuel L Jackson?
    • Uh, no, he's just not a good movie actor and being egged on by a director I'm beginning to believe is not-a-good-movie-drector.
  • All of this will make sense in the final 15 minutes of this torturously boring three hour experience.
    • Sorry, Charlie. At least that one scene with the under-the-floorboards shoot out was kind of cool....? #notnearlycoolenough
Well, I have let vent my spleen, people. I really can't tell you how almost on-edge I was part way through the movie knowing it would be another few years before I'll get maybe an even less impressive movie out of what was once one of the most promising working directors in Hollywood.

The Roy Orbison song that would have better fit my mood over the closing credits, btw:

How about you? Did you see the movie? Where do you stand in terms of Tarantino fandom? Have you seen any movies that did or didn't live up to your expectations this holiday season? Let's talk!

I have to get back to the grind, but I will talk to you again about something I am less mad about very soon, haha! Til then.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Grey Gardens Costumed Viewing Party (Blogger Meetup Success!)

Good morning!

Whew, what a weekend it was, this weekend past! What did you get into? I spent mine in a flurry of activity as I hosted my second blogger meetup on Saturday night. Watch out, Elsa Maxwell, I'm still vying for the title "hostess with the mostess." Themed parties are even more fun than regular wingdings, so I made good on a promise elicited several months ago between Kimmie, Rae, Eartha and myself to have everyone over for a showing of Grey Gardens. I am always down to watch this movie for the 1,000,001 time, and wouldn't it be fun to see all the girls for a good reason?

If you haven't seen the Maysles's seminal documentary of East Hampton eccentricity (or the HBO tv movie based on the real life characters, which is ok/not too bad), I strongly urge you to get to the library and grab a copy. Or if you have Hulu, both the original Grey Gardens and its semi-sequel The Beales of Grey Gardens are available through their Criterion collection. The movie is a must-see! It presents an indelible portrait of Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier Beale, Jackie Kennedy's aunt and first cousin, respectively, who live in relative isolation in a falling-down New England mansion filled with cats, raccoons, and memorabilia from their halcyon days as members of high society. The real star of the show is Little Edie, whose eye-grabbing improvised wardrobe choices are truly some of the strangest/most inspired things you'll see this side of a fashion runway or mental hospital. Edie wears a series of scarves/bathtowels as headwraps and combines swimsuits, upside-down-pinned-together-skirts, turtlenecks, and an iconic brooch into what she deems "the best costume for the day". 

I knew if I was going to do a viewing party, a big part of the hype should be the "come in costume" portion of the invitation. And yours truly did spend the better part of a whole evening a week or two ago throwing together tights with headwraps in an attempt to get as close to Edie as I could. Was my room ever a mess! My first attempt, which involved an actual-sweater-as-headgear in a gesture of true fidelity to the original, ended with me looking like some kind of hijab-wearing chorus girl. Fail. I eventually settled on this much less severe, hugely oversized kerchief, and finally figured out how 1970s girls tie those dadblasted things to look like Rhoda (tie two ends tightly at the back, shift gently to side, keep in place with a bobby pin or two). See below: muuuuch better on the second try.

From Sharif he don't like it  to a staunch character S-T-A-U-N-C-H
With the headwrap locked down, I added my Esther-Williams style actual main bathing suit, a wrap around skirt I purposefully gathered the bottom of and tied at the hip, a black turtleneck, black tights, and, for the kicker, white sandals for about as-close a Grey Gardens look as I could pull together from my own closet:

Cheesecake shot of me which only serves to remind me to eat less cheesecake :p
Next, I sent out invitations via email with this image:
My favorite Windows-paint created format: ransom note chic.

And started thinking of how I wanted to do the table. The most important party planning to me involves what the table will look like and what we'll actually do at the party. I get excited to try and pull in creative ideas that will make it memorable (and give me a challenge in the meantime of how to pull it off). In this case, I knew I wanted stacks of newspaper, empty cat food cans, and a raccoon of some kind, along with a portrait of Edie and maybe some tiny American flags in homage to her third-act Fourth of July dance. I put in a call to my cat-owner friend Kelsey to save clean cat food cans she would otherwise recycle and put on my thinking cap for what else I could do.

Voilà the finished product! I made a sign like the one of the two Edie had made for herself and her mother (her mom's says "The Great Singer Big Edie Bouvier Beale" and hers, as you see below, omits the "r" on "dancer" but touts her prowess at an old soft shoe or waltz), spread a parcel of ads I got in the mail earlier that week all across the table, printed off a life size raccoon on cardstock at Office Depot, and arranged the cans into a little pyramid about the faux critter's feet.

As for activities, I was stumped. I knew we were going to watch the movie, but in googling "Grey Gardens party", I couldn't find any suggested activities other than dressing up and watching the movie (both of which I had covered). So I went back to my teaching resource days and found a Bingo generator. The OTHER best part of the movie, besides Edie's clothes, is definitely how memorable a lot of the dialogue is. So I went through and copied down some of my favorite lines in the movie and made them into a series of unique bingo cards-- if you use a site like this, you can scramble the order of the spaces so each card is individual. Also, imagine if you haven't seen the movie before and you're reading through this card like, " this what I'm in for?" I was really happy with the finished result!

As before any social event held at my house, the biggest nail-biting part of the party-throwing is not making the devilled eggs and the cake and cleaning the house (which are practically rote at this point for me), but worrying about whether or not anyone will show up! Real talk: about an hour before any party, I'm always stricken with a pang of self-doubt and an internal monologue of "Oh, God, why did I plan a party, what if like two people show up, I should never do anything" before Matthew eventually talks me down from the ledge (or I get cheered up by my outfit, lol). A few people sent their regrets, and 14 people RSVP'd over the mass email chain I'd sent out to lady bloggers of Nashville. "Hm," says I, "I figure that means I should plan for 10 and actually expect about 8." Well, color me surprised/shame on me for being pessimistic, but each and every of those fourteen people showed up! I should have known with the caliber of kiddies I was talking about that they would come out in force!

Group shot minus Sarah and Rory and Quincy

I stole an idea from a friend of mine's Halloween party (shout-out, Kate McC!) and passed around a selfie-stick with Matthew's phone on it to ensure lots of (albeit blurry) photos! Cast of characters included:

Eartha from Ranch Dressing With Eartha Kitsch and Rae from Say It Ain't So... Eartha knocked it out of the park in her movie-quality Big Edie costume and Rae was part of the pantsless swimsuit and tights club with yours truly:

Jamie and Kimmie from That Girl in the Wheelchair, showing off some patriotic pride with a tiny flag-- Kimmie also wins the prize for "most brooches":

1) Aubrey from Adventures in Aubreyland, Amanda from Junebugs and Georgia Peaches, Jenna from Kitty Cat Stevens, and another appearance from Jamie and Kimmie; 2) the aforementioned minus Jenna, Jamie, and Kimmie but PLUS Quincy from Qsdayream (you can't see her polkadot skirt but it was super cute). Check out Aubrey's spot on headwrap and Amanda's magnifying glass (nice touch!). Jenna came from another event, so we can't hold it against her she didn't want to show up to a non-Edie-Beale-themed-party in Edie Beale attire, lol.

Lauren from and Devon from Miss Make, lookin' fabulous:

Rory and Sarah from (they should get a shout out for being so color coordinated/ adroit at taking selfie stick selfies):

And last but not least, Quincy gave Matthew her phone to take a few group shots, and ended up with Bub taking like 10 selfies after he took the desired group photo. He cracks me up.

Most everyone brought something to eat or drink, but a special shout out to Eartha, who brought this cake with a message. I about died. The quote is (duh) from the movie and perfect:

Verdict? We had a ball! At one point, I think every chair in the house was in the living room for the actual screening, but every one of the guests were real troupers and put up with the sea-of-people squeezed into my front room! The first three winners of Grey Gardens Bingo were Kimmie, Sarah, and Amanda, respectively, and there were some honorable mentions passed around along with certificates of achievement (who doesn't like to win?). We finished the movie and watched clips from Documentary Now!, where Fred Armisen and Bill Heder do a pretty accurate spoof of the Beale ladies (minus the New England accents! I don't know why they decided not to do them when they're such a big part of the movie!), and then just sat around and caught up. The cheerful, high decibel din of people having a good time is about the best you can ask for from a party, and overall, I thought it was a success! I'm so glad to know so many fun and interesting gals in the Nashville area and happy we could all get together even during this busy holiday season!

I bid my last guests good night around 11:30 and promptly went to bed, lol. But I still had cake and hummus to eat Sunday, and a clean house to enjoy, which is the SECOND best part about throwing a party. :)

The lady of the hour, Miss Beale
Thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate! And we need to do it again soon! (hint hint, nudge, cough, *karaoke party Rae* cough).

How about you? Are you a Grey Gardens fan? What would you wear for an Edie inspired costume? Had any great themed parties to attend lately? Let's talk!

That's all for today... but shame on me, I'm going to try to be better about updating this space! Have a fantastic week and I'll talk to you soon. Til then!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Weekend Finds: 1950's Australian Aborigine Tea Towel by John Rodriquez (Say THAT Five Times Fast)

Good morning!

Whew, boy, hasn't it been a rainy but productive week over here. I went to the flea market last weekend and while it threatened rain a good part of the time I was there, I did manage to make out like a bandit. My loot? Full length raccoon fur coat , a tv lamp shaped suspiciously like a Billy Haines design from the forties' (this one is its twin, except mine is a pale grey blue instead of yellow), a ceramic desk clock shaped like a rotary phone (!!), and this, my favorite of all of them, a framed tea towel featuring Australian aborigines in full, abstract attire. If you follow me on Instagram, you saw this same-day, but I've been too lazy to take more pictures, so here it is again in its full, slightly blurry glory:

I had spent a perfectly uneventful hour walking the fairgrounds being disappointed by either the dearth of things I wanted to buy or the prohibitively expensive cost of things I DID want to buy. See: a Victorian mourning/memento mori hair wreath [similar to this one] that was in a reasonable $10-$50 price range type booth under one of the sheds...when I asked the price, the guy quoted me $350 without batting an is definitely worth in a retail setting...but everything else in his booth COMBINED wasn't $350, probably (I walked off carrying my crushed hopes alond with me). In a Charlie Brown kicking-the-dirt type mood, I was passing by a large spread near one of the building that every month features a boatload of bargain-basement-priced vintage and antique furniture, when I saw this leaning up against the trailer. I stopped talking to my mom midsentence ("Hang on a second...") and wandered over to hover behind a couple that was trying to decide whether or not a large antique window was suitable for converting into a picture frame (I guess it wasn't, Pinterest be damned, as they walked off without it). The colors, patterns, and weird subject matter pulled me inexorably toward my inevitable purchase-- I just had to hope it was somewhere vaguely in my price range.

I mean...seriously....the one second from the right is my favorite.
When I walked up to a lady in a folding chair asking about the price, she just pointed mutely behind me. There was a gaggle of people standing near the concrete retaining wall and I looked back like, "Which one of these people are affiliated with you, please?" She pointed again, I looked again, and looked back again. Finally, she called out the guy's name and a single figure in a white t shirt and ball cap walked towards me, holding the picture against my chest like a sandwich board. 

"How much are you asking on this one?"

"Gotta have $15 on that."


While this even-less-than-the-$20-I-wanted-to-spend-on-it price should have been good enough, I couldn't resist trying to bargain down to $ never know when someone will knock another dollar or two off to meet you in the middle! He demurred, and after a proper period of hem and hawwing to intimate that I wasn't completely willing to pay the $15 out of the gate and am just a cheapskate (which was true, but you have to keep your pride intact), I set the picture against my knees to fish three fives out of my satchel. Success!! The man said as I was handing him his money that the picture had come out of a career Navy officer's estate and that there were more Asian drawings in a pile on one of the tables, but as the plywood-and-glass frame was a little ungainly to carry around the narrow rows, I threw a cursory glance over the table and rejoined my parents.

Dad: What is it? [looking picture over doubtfully]
Me : [cheerfully] I don't know, but I hope it's haunted!
Dad: Nice frame....
Me: I know I need another picture like I need an actual hole in my head, but look at it! [shrugging] I don't care, I wanted it.
Mom: Knowing you, you'll find the perfect place to put it and it'll look fabulous. Or you'll sell it on Craigslist and make some money. So don't worry about it! [possibly the nicest thing my mom has ever said to me, so I had to memorialize this conversation in blog form]
When I got home, I (naturally) googled my find in a fit of curiosity as to what exactly I had on my hands (and, obvs, to make sure I hadn't paid too much at $15). The cursive script at the bottom of the textile reads "Australian Aboriginal Boomerang Corraborra" and what I thought was the surname "Rodriguez". Turns out, it's RodriQuez, as in John Rodriquez, who ran an eponymous business down under, specializing in abstract, Australian-themed designs. I was able to find a number of examples of his work on the Museum Victoria website. The MV owns a large collection of locally produced historic textiles among its holdings, and maybe a hundred digital images there are of items by Rodriquez. 

Like this one!
Brothers to my group above...a little more subtle, but still great.
From the website's catalog entries:
John Rodriquez studied art and design at RMIT in the late 1940s and became well known for his screen-printed textile designs in the early 1950s. From 1950 to 1980 he was one of a handful of Australian textile designers who developed a new contemporary style with innovative use of colour. His designs in the early 1950s were mostly of Aboriginal or geometric style. Later he turned to more abstract designs in the Scandinavian style. Later still he made bold use of colour. Rodriquez introduced unique Australian styles which have been imitated often since. He always stressed the importance of innovation. Many homes in Australia and overseas still have his art works in the linen cupboard. 
John Rodriquez retired in 1988, handing the Rodriquez company to his son Rimian, who has computerised the screen printing and mostly employs other designers for the products, but still uses a few of his father's most popular designs. Rodriquez passed away in 2000.
And from tea towels to fabric calendars to upholstery fabric to greeting cards, the collection really runs the gamut of items you could buy from the textile house. I bet the Navy man mentioned by the flea market dealer bought this as a souvenir of his travels in Australia and brought it home framed to commemorate his trip. I LOVE. ALL THE WEIRD THINGS. YOU WILL FIND. WHILE ESTATE SALE/THRIFT STORE/ FLEA MARKETING. Sometimes I wonder how people shop for non-essentials at retail department stores when there are all these weird and wacky second hand goods to be had (and usually for a pittance). But, as you can imagine, I'm biased.

More designs from Rodriquez, including some fashion sketches for a triad of mid century marvelous circle skirts (I'll take one of each, please):

Place Mat - Human Figures With Headdresses & Spears, Blue on Cream, 1960

Greeting Card - Man With Tools, Blue & Red, No. A0076, circa 1954

Place Mat - Human Figures With Headdresses & Spears, Maroon & Red, circa 1950s

Greeting Card - Shields, Bark Painting & Men Dancing, Blue & Red, circa 1949-1955

Artwork - Fabric Design, John Rodriquez, 1950s

Aforementioned skirts...are they not perfect?

Greeting card

A commemorative fabric from the 1956 Summer Olympics, held in Melbourne 

Greeting Card - Human Figures & Shields, Green & Brown, circa 1949-1955

What I look like in my mind's eye (another greeting card)

Business card, circa 1970

I pause now to tell you that I've spent the past twenty minutes trying to find more information about Aboriginal dress, hats and ornamentation, as seen in the tea towel's illustration. In spite of my finely honed Googling skills, from years at the library's reference desk, I have not been able to find information on said topic. But I WILL share with your what I have found:

  • A Youtube video called "Aborigine hunt huge bats with boomerangs", which, in spite of my loyalty and love of bats, is possibly one of the most metal/amazingly weird things I have seen on the internet, and that is saying something.
  • A wikipedia article about Kotekas, which I will leave you to discover on your own if you dare click the link (but if you do, please let's discuss).
  • This 1939 Life article about Boomerangs becoming a novelty in the US, which contains the following (instructive) statement: "Catching an Australian boomerang is dangerous, may result in a broken head". 
Needless to say, I was not a very good factfinder with regards to this particular query, but I thought you might be interested in that information in spite of its lack of relevance to my original research goals. Another job for another day!

How about you? Found anything great out at the sales or the flea market lately? What kind of things trigger your impulse-buy impulse? Do you have any crazy textiles proudly framed and hung in your house? Where do some of the weirder/far flung items in your house come from? Let's talk!

That's all for today...have a great Wednesday and I'll talk you soon! :D

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Kitchen Update: Embrace the (Early) 70s

Hello, hello!

I'm not gone again, I just got tangled up in a work-related web of busy-ness which has kept from my own little corner of the internet. Mais, me voilà! Here I am, and the weekend has past with lightning speed. What have you guys been up to? The last week or so in estate sale/Goodwill hunting has made a noticeable difference in my kitchen, and I thought, why don't I show a couple additions made to the living area of yours truly? I love when style changes happen through some opportune chances of luck rather than a massive, online shopping spree-- I don't know if I could have thought of these things out of blue, but once I saw them, I knew they were had-to-haves for the house!

Let's take a look at what I'm talking about:

Ta-da! I'm in love with a kitchen, I'm talkin' about, I'm in love with a kitchen, I can't live withouuuut....

This kitchen dining nook/the kitchen in general has always been a problem area with me. Matthew and I decided earlier this year that we were going to count our blessings and stay in the house I grew up in/rent from my parents for at least another year or two, as both of us save money and try to bring another bab into the world. The area has JUST NOW started to become fashionable (houses getting flipped/new high end infill construction, etc, etc), so it just wouldn't make sense for us, with a great house/location provided for us, to spend a lot of our hard earned, buried in the yard savings on the red-hot, super-competitive housing market just as of yet (don't worry, I am still ALWAYS looking at real estate listings, just not as fervently ;) ). So! As I've said in earlier posts, I've been cleaning out and moving out a ton of stuff from deep storage, making hard decisions on what I love vs. what I just like, and ONLY BRINGING HOME THINGS THAT ARE TOO GOOD TO PASS UP in terms of picking. Which would include....this lighting fixture:

I was running around the Charlotte Goodwill, a little giddy over finding a crazy-good cardigan in the sweater section (it's a tiger textile thing, like this rug I still wish I'd bought when I'd seen it for ~$100), when I saw this light fixture. It was sitting, coiled up in a pile of chains, on top of a banged up filing cabinet in the home goods section. Matthew was trailing me and I handed it to him, drum shade and fifty feet of chain and all. "We're totally getting this." I hemmed and haw'd a little in the checkout line, but finally decided that if it didn't work, I could bring it back with the receipt. The shape I knew was spot on, but I was a little put off by the brown wood tiles, which look SO much better illuminated and in place than they did in my hands at the store. 

When I looked it over back at the homestead, I realized what was going on with this 70's/60's hybrid. The light started out in the late fifties'/early sixties' as a straight barrel-shade atomic light fixture (note the top and the bottom fixtures, and the shape of the shade itself, are very MCM). At some point in its life, the barrel shade became torn. Did the enterprising young homeowner throw the shade away? Heck no, let's get resourceful. Said previous owner added this tile detail by gluing wood tiles in the square design all around the shade, effectively hiding the tear and updating the shade from very-sixties' to very-seventies'. Oh, and does the tile part match the bamboo roman shade over the window? GIRL, YOU KNOW IT DOES.

I'm pleased as punch. For comparison, what it replaced:

This flowery chandelier (also in this post) has hung in my house almost since I've been living there-- it was gift from my mom, who thought it "looked like [me]". It does, but it will look much better and still like me in another room of the house. Here's another before...see where I have replaced the calendar and the Altman 3 Women poster with mid 70's textile art from this estate sale (and which looked lovely in the green room but is much better appreciated here in the kitchen).


And after:

Shout out also to my Curtis Jere leaves wall sculpture, which found a happy home on the door here.
Is it not truly restful to look upon? The more I clean and clear out extra goods from my vintage hoarding piles, the more impressed I am with/the more I get to enjoy the things I choose to keep as "the best of the best".

A blurry but servicable picture of the souvenirs-of-Africa midcentury pictures I picked up at the flea market a while back. The colors/abstract figures are SO. COOL.
I kept this movie poster and this kit kat clock, to the left of the kitchen cabinets, just as they were, because  I love them. I think it still works! Also, see how it looks like the cat clock is eyeballing Erland Josephson.

But that's not all! I also finally found a curtain to replace the pair of red and white cafe curtains that hang over the kitchen sink.


Matthew sent me this picture one day while he was off work and I was at work to show me how clean the kitchen was. He is very cute/industrious.

And after:

Still need to hang a magnetic knife rack for those Henckel knives, one of the best and most useful things in my kitchen. But I'll get around to it! How much do I love that Shawnee pig cookie jar inspite of its purely decorative purpose? How deep is the ocean, how high is the moon.

Not bad, huh? Somehow my tiny kitchen looks so SPACIOUS with this layout/decor!

These curtains were at an estate sale in West Meade where the homeowner must've really, really, REALLY liked this evidenced by the fact that she had wall sized ceiling-to-floor drapes, a couch, kitchen curtains and an accent wall in the kitchen all in the same pattern. I admire someone finding something they like and just really committing to it. "You know what...put it everywhere." "Everywhere?" "E-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e." I want to get a matching-to-the-other roman shade to go under it so you can't see directly into my kitchen at all hours of the day and night, and maybe hang the curtains closer to the ceiling once I have the aforementioned shade, but are we or are we not cooking with gas here:

So many tchotchkes. Exactly like I like it.

As with the light fixture, I got home fairly holding my breath hoping this would go with the other items in the room, and was so psyched to see that the orange and yellows PRACTICALLY MATCH the colors in the textile on the dining room wall. Kismet! 

While we're in the kitchen anyway, here's my gallery wall of lobby cards, which I recently switched out from Annie Hall to Lolita:

I would tell you which of these was my favorite but THEY'RE ALL MY FAVORITE. I found high resolution scans of the very expensive original set here, and (shamelessly) printed them out. Cards come in sets of 8 usually, so I grabbed another image for the iconic center card, and there you are. To the left of the set is this potholder hanger, with its woebegone, burnt oven mitt (I would replace it but it makes me laugh every time I see it to think I had bought it at Target earlier in the same day that Matthew caught it on fire):

My parents/landlords sprang for some stainless steel appliances earlier this year  in a fit of bonhomie and kindness that I dare not question, lol. Aren't they fancy! I told my mom at the time, "Get whatever the smallest. POSSIBLE. refrigerator that is still a full size refrigerator and not a dorm size one, because the one in there right now is TOO. BIG." Has anyone else in a 1970's or earlier house noticed that modern refrigerators are 40%-200% too big for their intended spaces in vintage homes? I like having a huge, overstocked freezer as much as the next gal, but the one that was in here previously barely fit under the cabinets. I need to get my act together and clear off the top of the refrigerator for a sleeker look, but I need to clean out cabinet space for that hand mixer and the other assorted odds and ends on top of it first. This ain't no House Beautiful...noticed unstaged coupons affixed by magnets to side of frigo, etc, etc, for evidence of this.

Above the stove is this vintage map of Opryland from this long ago weekend find post. As many oddities and wonders as I have in my house, this is one of the things that gets remarked upon the most-- people (yours truly included) miss this theme park like nobody's business. I love the colors in the map and the down-home theme of these opening day rides.

I was peacock-proud to have the Littons over the other day as the inagural dining-room dinner guests. Here's what the joint looked like all gussied up for company:

I need some new dish towels now that there's a solid orange/brown/green/seventies' color scheme going on, but one thing at a time. Instead, admire my salad, haha.
Having such a put-together instead of such a harried-looking kitchen/dining room area is SUCH. A RELIEF. I feel like in previous incarnations it's been so hodge-podge or piecemeal looking and now there's what the TLC people would call a "unifying theme" that really ties everything together. I think if I'd tried to buy, on purpose, a themed set of decor items, I couldn't have had them come together as nicely as it all did simply by luck (and yours truly using their decorating third eye, haha)!

And just because I haven't had an outfit post on here in a month of Sundays, here I am dressed up for a ladies' brunch last Sunday and representing the 70's with this disco sequined short sleeve top I found at Goodwill the other day. The more I can look like a back up dancer from a variety show in said era, the better. I found these military surplus boots in the same trip as the top, and I am ob.SESSED. Ankle support, steel reinforced toe, and serving Daria style late 90's realness? What more could a girl ask for.

How about you? What design challenges have you faced down lately? Found any great things that just happened to start to come together in a felicitous fashion? Which room in your house is your favorite right now? What else could I do to take my kitchen to "that next level"? I'm thinking about adding a pots and pans corkboard where the Opryland poster is, but that's still in the R & D stages, haha. Let's talk!! That's all for today, but I'll be back again soon with more things I've dragged home from estate sales. Have a great rest of the week! See you next time.


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