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“I believe in looseness”*…

 

Robert Greene as pictured in the frontispiece to John Dickenson’s Greene in Conceipt (1598)- the only known image of the dramatist, poet, pamphleteer

Known for his debauched lifestyle, his flirtations with criminality, and the sheer volume of his output, the Elizabethan writer Robert Greene was a fascinating figure.  Ed Simon explores the literary merits and bohemian traits of the man who penned the earliest known (and far from flattering) reference to Shakespeare as a playwright: “Robert Greene, the First Bohemian.”

* Willie Nelson

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As we frolic on the fringes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1750 that the first issue of the first college student magazine, Student, or the Oxford and Cambridge Miscellany, was published.

Cover of a 20th century collected reprint

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Written by LW

January 31, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I use a whole lot of half-assed semicolons; there was one of them just now; that was a semicolon after ‘semicolons,’ and another one after ‘now'”*…

 

What’s a novel without its words? Just punctuation. But when you take those lines of commas, periods, exclamation points, and quotes, then arrange them in a big spiral, you can still tell something of the character of the original work: the endlessly curious and expository quality of Ishmael’s narrative in Moby Dick, for example, or the titular wonder of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Between the Words by Chicago-based designer Nicholas Rougeux is a series of posters that takes the text of classic novels like Pride and Prejudice, Huckleberry Finn, The Christmas Carol, Peter Pan, The Time Machine, and more, then strips them of all their words until they are mere swirling vortices of punctuation. The project was inspired by Stefanie Posavec’s Writing without Words data visualizations, which colorfully chart the structure—but not the actual prose—of many classic novels…

See the charted novels in larger, zoomable form at “Between the Words“; more background at “8 Classic Novels Reduced To Their Punctuation.”

* Ursula K. Le Guin

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As we eat shoots and leaves, we might send insightful birthday greetings to Barbara Wertheim Tuchman; she was born on this date in 1912.  A historian, Tuchman wrote two books (The Guns of August and Stilwell and the American Experience in China) that won Pulitzer Prizes, and several others that could/probably should have: e.g., The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890–1914, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century, and The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam.)

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“I like physics, but I love cartoons”*…

 

From “Shitty New Yorker Cartoon Captions“…

“An imbecile desperately tries to win the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest”– many more at “Shitty New Yorker Cartoon Captions.”

* Stephen Hawking

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As we chortle, we might send scathingly funny birthday greetings to William Claude Dukenfield; he was born on this date in 1880.  Better known by his stage name, W.C. Fields, he was first a successful vaudeville juggler, then a film and radio comedy star famous for his misanthropic wit.  Instantly recognizable both visually (his face was one-of-a-kind) and audibly (his drawl and grandiloquent vocabulary were trademarks), he became everyone’s favorite scoundrel.

Check out a trio of his short films here; then the last feature film that he wrote and headlined, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.”

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Written by LW

January 29, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Movies are a fad. Audiences really want to see live actors on a stage.”*…

 

The lights begin to dim, ambient noises fade away, suddenly there is a burst of light overhead and you are transported… this is the premise of [photographer and one-time trial attorney Rick] Finkelstein‘s newest body of work: Sitting in the Dark with Strangers. In this latest series Finkelstein uses miniature figurines and meticulously fabricated sets to compose his images and explore the experience of the movies…

Sitting in the Dark with Strangers is on display at Robert Mann Gallery in New York City through the end of this month.

More images (and background) at “Artist Spotlight: Richard Finkelstein” (from whence these images), The Mann Gallery’s site, and “Photos of the Cinema-Going Experience Capture the Magic of Movies in Miniature.”

* Charles Chaplin (before he became famous as Charlie)

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As we salt our popcorn, we might that it was on this date in 1941 that Paramount Picture’s released Preston Sturges’  Sullivan’s Travels.  A picaresque satire that celebrates that movies, it has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, named one of the “Greatest Movies of All Time” by the American Film Institute.

The filmmaker was already on a roll. Not only had he been granted the honor of being one of Hollywood’s first writer/directors, but his last two films,The Great McGinty and The Lady Eve, were critical and commercial hits. Given as much creative freedom as a studio like Paramount could offer in 1941, Sturges crafted a smart, original fable about a comedy film director (Joel McCrea) who takes off to suffer in order to gain the experience necessary to make an “important” serious drama, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (a title later appropriated by the Coen brothers). Along the way, he teams up with “the Girl” (Veronica Lake), an aspiring actress who brings a dose of reality to the director’s noble aim. But just as soon as he learns his lesson, he’s robbed, thrown on a train, then arrested and put in prison in the Deep South. Sturges, who’d wanted to satirize contemporary high-toned depression dramas, was inspired by the tales of John Garfield living as a hobo in the 1930s. Towards the end of the film, Sullivan, who is taken with his prison chain gang to an African-American church, learns the real power of comedy when a Disney carton comes on the screen. This scene, often cited in reviews as demonstration of Sturges’ deft mix of social realism and mad comedy, in many ways accomplishes what Sullivan set off to do by paradoxically dismissing the importance of such social realistic filmmaking. What people in poverty and injustice need is a good laugh. But the scene has resonated for others in far different ways. The secretary of the NAACP wrote Sturges a letter praising his “dignified and decent treatment of Negroes in this scene.” On the other hand, the U.S. government’s Office of Censorship refused to approve the film for export, claiming that its portrayal of a chain gang, showing “the brutality and inhumanity with which the prisoners are treated” might serve as enemy propaganda. Most Americans, however, just found it hilarious, making the film Sturges’ next big hit.

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Written by LW

January 28, 2016 at 1:01 am

“To thine own self be true”*…

 

Readers may recall an earlier entry on what was thought to be the very first selfie… and indeed, it may be (at least insofar as that particular form of self-snap is concerned).  But as Susan Zalkind reports, self-portraits date back further…

My great-great-great-grandfather, Edward Linley Sambourne (1844–1910), known as “Sammy,” was the principal cartoonist for Punch. Sammy set up a studio at his home in Kensington, London, and photographed not only his servants and children, but also himself—thousands of times! “The Rhodes Colossus,” depicting British colonialist Cecil Rhodes with one foot in Cairo and the other in Cape Town, is his most iconic drawing.

More at “Grandfather of the Selfie.”

* William Shakespeare

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As we watch the birdie, we might recall that it was on this date in 1888 that the National Geographic Society was incorporated.  Two weeks earlier, the 33 founders of the Society had first met at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. to agree to plans; nine months later, the first issue of National Geographic Magazine was published.

This 1963 painting depicts the founders signing their names to the new organizations’s charter. The table in the painting is in use today in the Society’s Hubbard Hall.

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Written by LW

January 27, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I don’t understand how anyone can become a director without learning the craft of cinematography”*…

 

email readers click here for video

Because…

* Nicolas Roeg

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As we noodle on the nanny-cam, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that Samuel Goldwyn acquired the film rights to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  The novel, published in 1900, had become an instant classic, spawning sequels (that continued under the direction of Baum’s widow after his death in 1919), a long-running Broadway musical, and several silent films.  Goldwyn’s version, released in 1939, had modest success at the box office (though it did garner several Oscar nominations–including a Best Song win for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and a special award for Garland as Best Juvenile Performer). Then, in 1956, an estimated 45 million people tuned in to watch the movie’s television debut on the Ford Star Jubilee.  Countless TV airings later, The Wizard of Oz is one of the best-known– and most beloved– films of all time.

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Written by LW

January 26, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I’m not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb… and I also know that I’m not blonde”*…

 

– Dolly Parton helped bring the seminal and beloved TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer into existence. Her production company, Sandollar Productions, will be familiar to you from the end credits.

– The Ku Klux Klan sent Dolly Parton death threats in the mid-2000’s because Dollywood hosted an annual “Gay Day.” Dolly: “God tells us not to judge one another, no matter what anyone’s sexual preferences are or if they’re black, brown or purple. And if someone doesn’t believe what I believe, tough shit.”

– Dolly Parton once lost a Dolly Parton drag contest.

“I just over-exaggerated—made my beauty mark bigger, the eyes bigger, the hair bigger, everything. All these beautiful drag queens had worked for weeks and months getting their clothes. So I got in the line and I walked across, and they just thought I was some little short gay guy. I got the least applause.”

… just some of  The Awl‘s “Facts about Dolly Parton” (on the occasion of her 70th birthday).

* Dolly Parton

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As we swear our undying love,  we might also remark on Emmylou Harris.  A solo artist, bandleader, interpreter of other composers’ works, singer-songwriter, backing vocalist, and duet partner, she has collaborated with artists including Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan, John Denver, Linda Ronstadt, Roy Orbison, the Band, Patty Griffin, Mark Knopfler, Delbert McClinton, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, Bright Eyes, Rodney Crowell, John Prine, Neil Young, Steve Earle, Ryan Adams…. and of course, Dolly Parton.  Harris became a member of the Grand Ole Opry on this date in 1992.

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Written by LW

January 25, 2016 at 1:01 am

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