Friday, July 24, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Apparently, it was one of Hitchcock's favorites, as well, although there are lots of people who have never seen it. It is not as famous as other of Hitch's films, like Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window, or To Catch a Thief. Each of those had bigger names or, in the case of Psycho, overtly more famous scenes (Janet Leigh's slashing murder in the shower, combining sex and blood, mmmm).
I have always found Shadow of a Doubt terrifying, creepy, and a fine mix of comedy and skin-crawling suspense.
The scriptwriters are worth noting. One was Alma Reville, Hitchock's wife. She was his editor and assistant director, but one of the writers not only on this film but on Secret Agent, Suspicion and The Paradine Case for Hitch. The other two are more intersting to me, personally. One was Sally Benson, the author of Junior Miss (a novel that became a successful play and radio program, one of my period favorites when I was a pre-teen, about the wholesome experiences of a young girl in high school....), as well as the filmscripts for Anna and the King of Siam, Little Women, The Singing Nun, Come to the Stable, and (hilariously!) Viva Las Vegas, yes--the Elvis film! If you know these films, you recognize them as generally wholesome, optimistic, upbeat films. Her most famous filmscript is undoubtedly Meet Me in St. Louis, the Judy Garland/Margaret O'Brien musical.
...and Shadow of a Doubt? Her first film credit.
The other writer is Thornton Wilder--yes, the author of Our Town. Only five years after writing Our Town and winning the Pulitzer Prize for it, Wilder co-pens this disturbing view into the emotional corruption of a happy suburban girl.
The participation of Benson and Wilder in this film actually intrigues me and freaks me out.
Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright are marvelous as the central duo, young Charlotte, known as Charlie, and her maternal Uncle Charlie. This is one of Hitchcock's films based on visual/metaphorical duets, like Strangers on a Train or Vertigo, where two characters mirror each other's emotional, psychological, or physical acts. Charlie is a young woman from a nice middle-class family who lives in Santa Rosa, California; she has no job, seems to have graduated from high school, and appears to drift without direction or purpose--in the most pleasant and charming manner. Uncle Charlie, in his niece's eyes, is a sophisticated, handsome man-of-the-world for whom she has been named and in whom she seems to see a kind of shadow self (male, older, wealthy, unattached) who can do the things and go all the places she fantasizes about. In reality, however, Uncle Charlie is the Merry Widow Murderer who marries and strangles wealthy widows, using all that charm, all those good looks, all his focus to seduce and kill.
The script opens with a remarkable dual sequence showing, first, Uncle Charlie in ugly East Coast Philadelphia, living in a tenement, pursued by government agents, and apparently sick to death of life. The rooming house with its gossipy landlady, the slum streets, and the overhead angles make the city look as filled with exhausted, as broken down, and as empty as Uncle Charlie does. Then we fly to Santa Rosa, young Charlie's city, where everyone smiles, the town sparkles, and golly, there are trees and big houses with shady porches. But Charlie is bored, distracted, and irritable with her lovely, simple family.
The problem is that once young Charlie and Uncle Charlie get into the same house, something's got to give. Charlie sets out to learn her uncle's secret--not knowing there is one and how bad it is. She simply wants to know more about the man she admires and emulates.
The film follows both of them, young Charlie as she discovers the ugliness behind her uncle's handsome facade and Uncle Charlie as he tries to evade government agents and his niece's questions. He tries to kill her three times--unsuccessfully. He reveals the nastiness inside himself--but only to her. He takes her to a bar, where she has obviously never been; this is a great scene, a kind of spiritual initiation for young Charlie into Uncle Charlie's world.
I love this film for its creepiness, for its weird mix of the obliviously happy/normal Santa Rosa folks and the self-aware/transformed people (like young Charlie, the government agent who is our romantic hero, and Uncle Charlie himself) who have been infected by the negative stuff of the 20th century (serial killing, consumer envy, urban blight). There is a scene that suggests that Uncle Charlie's "disease" comes from a fall he took on a bicycle when he was six or so, smacking his head and nearly dying. As his sister, young Charlie's mother, notes, "After that there was no holding him." Before, Uncle Charlie had been a bookworm, a reader, a quiet, well-behaved boy; after, an adventurer, a rover, a physically active boy who detached himself from their household. I like that this is hinted at but not some easy Freudian explanation of where a serial killer comes from; the scary thing is that Charlie himself doesn't seem to have any kind of conscience or guilt about his murders, simply the desire to enjoy its fruits and to stay out of jail... which seems more about freedom and preserving his reputation than fear of authority, either civil or religious. Uncle Charlie is almost, nearly a prophet: he looks at the modern world and seems corruption rather than progress, disease rather than stout health, and self-absorption rather than optimism. But he is, of course, corrupt himself, and murdering silly, lazy women isn't actually justifiable because they're, well, silly and lazy.
Wilder's participation in this is most interesting to me, because this seems the flip side of the simple optimism and flag-waving patriotism most people see in Our Town, without looking more deeply into the playwright's message. I have always thought that Wilder used that play to send a message about complacency and knee-jerk self-satisfaction; I think he does the same here.
It is a brilliant, chilling film with many individually fine performances, including and especially Patricia Collinge as young Charlie's mum and Uncle Charlie's older sister. The sequence in which she bakes a cake for the government agents is marvelous, highlighting the character's obliviousness to what is happening in her house under her nose. Because it is so "normal" Uncle Charlie's performance is scarier, in many ways, than the one-off horror of Psycho.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I love it. The architectural details--windows, doors, angles--interest me. It is empty now, but used to be a bar called Louie's.
I took these pix during one of the hot, clear, surface-of-the-sun days here in DFW this week. This building, like my little cafe, is part of a neighborhood undergoing revival: lots of restaurants and bars so far, but not too many other kinds of shops. A new natural foods market I like very much is just around the corner, as well.
It is a bike destination, as well, given that it is a little farther than I've been thus far, as well and on and over some busy car-traffic streets.
Great to see this neighborhood becoming livelier, despite the economy, because it is a mixed area for Hispanic families and young artists, kind of an eclectic mix of residents who seem to be getting along (thus far) pretty well.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
I am in love with it. Obviously, it needs some work: a new handle on the third drawer, some adjustment in the lower left rear, and I do plan to paint it (come Labor Day). But it fits perfectly in this spot, it is reasonably clean prior to final repair and painting, and the drawers pull in and out smoothly.
It also has a smaller footprint than the two-level table I previously had in this space.
Wow! Does this mean my apartment is actually falling into place? Finally?
Monday, July 6, 2009
Directed by Stephen Frears, screenplay by Christopher Hampton from two novels by Colette, and starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathy Bates, and Rupert Friend, I have not been able to stop thinking about the film. Reviewers have been somewhat less than kind, seeing only the surface bubbles rather than the depth of character revealed by director and performers.
First of all, the film is beautifully shot. The sets, costumes, and entire look of it is gorgeous, evoking France's Belle Epoque in an absolutely authentic, meticulously researched, and stunningly replicated manner (damn, I want her bed!). For this alone, I loved it.
But there was more!
Frears is the director of The Queen, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Dirty Pretty Things, and High Fidelity, as well as one of my all-time favorite films, The Grifters. He must be brilliant with actors, given the performances he gets out of male and female performers alike. In this film, in Cheri, Michelle Pfeiffer really shows why she is a star and a fine actress--for which she's never gotten enough credit. As if "star" is completely exclusive of "actress."
The camera is unrelenting, clealy showing that Pfeiffer is 50+. And while she has taken such good care of herself that she remains radiant, she is, indeed, well within middle age.
And her lover, played by Rupert Friend, is less than half her age... in the script. Friend is actually 27, but he plays a character who ages from 19 to 25, and he is believable at that age. Friend is youthful, foxily bright-eyed and lean, stunningly gorgeous in his period clothing. He is pettish, spoiled, and sexy, surprisingly both comic and heartbreaking.
The film documents the love affair between Lea (Pfeiffer), a courtesan contemplating retirement, and Cheri, the son of her rival. In one of the first scenes, they kiss... and the love affair is on. After six years, Cheri's mother (Bates, in a brilliant character role) finds the perfect wife for Cheri, the virginal daughter of another rival; Cheri leaves Lea and marries the daughter, leaving both lovers miserable.
One of the elements I love about the film is that it doesn't attempt to justify the love of a 40-some year-old woman for a 20-some year-old boy. Hampton and Frears present scenes of the interaction and sexuality between Lea and Cheri, and that must be enough... and it is, especially when we see them with others, with Cheri's ridiculously needy, selfish wife, Lea's new young musclebound lover, Cheri's manipulative mother, and the circle of sadly aging courtesans with whom Lea passes her time.
Lea has surrounded herself with beauty and luxury: her houses, her clothing, and all the material objects she can buy. Giving up her business--not taking on any more "lovers"--means her time and bed are empty. She has no hobbies, no skills, no interests beyond her former employment... except Cheri, who is her great passion and her first, true love. Surprisingly, he engages her as she engages him emotionally, intellectually, and physically. When the lovers part for his marriage, we know it is a mistake.
When they part for reasons less easily overcome, it is unsettling in the deepest way, calling into question all our philosophy and prejudices about romantic love, sophisticated sexuality, men and women, and even, somehow, human purpose.
As in The Grifters, Frears plays on the deepest human relationships, love and fear, our vulnerabilities, and the manner in which we deceive ourselves and, simultaneously, relentlessly reveal our own truths. It seems he is fearless, and enables his actors and actresses to be equally fearless: the final shot of Pfeiffer staring at herself in her own mirror is stunning, and revealing, and terrifying.
In an age when comedy panders to 13-year-old boys' wet dreams, film in general panders to directors' limited "graphic novel" obsessions, and while romantic comedies pander to "chick lit" fantasies of boringly domesticated (and dull) Prince Charmings, Cheri suggests that salvation is located... somewhere else, somewhere less safe and far more challenging.
See it, and pay attention to the layers beneath the froth.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
The drive was, well, an adventure. For part of the trip we drove a county road that was graveled but unpaved (Rte 121 west): do not choose this route. Scenic, but a little unnerving. Instead, use Rte. 380 to 377, then go north.
My friends, after about 90 minutes of driving, including over 10 miles of unpaved road, were understandably hungry and crabby. Clark's storefront looks unimpressive, and pulling into the unpaved gravel parking lot, with all windows closed so the a.c. can blast against the orange pollution ozone alert and 102 degree heat, does not impress.
And then one opens the car door, steps out... and smells the barbecue cookin'.
From there we floated to the front door.
I had carefully made reservations--since it was a Friday evening--but most tables were empty. A surprise to me. I recommend ALWAYS making reservations.
The three of us sat, ate, and--damn!--enjoyed.
We ordered appetizers: onion rings and fully loaded potato skins. Both were delicious, but I especially love the rings. The coating is thick, crunchy, chewy and the rings are substantial.
To order alcohol, one must join the club, a Texas tradition of dry towns, where only members can drink legally. We ordered Shiners, naturally, and one Negro Modelo.
One friend ordered the brisket beef/smoked turkey combination plate, including the collard greens and jalapeno black-eyed peas. The other ordered the brisket/sausage combo, with potato salad and fried zucchini. I ordered the beef/pork ribs combo, with red beans and cole slaw. The plates arrive fast--always--and at first glance, it doesn't look like much food. And in fact for a regular barbecue joint, it is a smaller serving... but then one starts to eat.
The beef is so tender, beautifully smoked on-site over three days, one doesn't even need a knife to cut it. It is so delicious, so tender, that it is a work of art. The ribs--ditto. Smallish, but tasty, succulent, plump. Bones do not dominate. Eaten with the dark sauce that comes bottled in old Grolsch beer bottles: be still my heart! The sausage, from a Dallas maker, are spicy, while the turkey breast--also smoked at Clark's--is mellow and, again, so tender it can be nudged into pieces with a fork.
Usually, I ignore the sides in favor of the main course, so as not to waste time or space. In this case that would be a mistake. All of our sides were superb seconds: my red beans and cole slaw were so good, I actually ate most of them.
Each plate comes with two slices of Texas toast, an onion slab (not slice), and half of a canned cling peach.
For dessert, one friend ordered the Dutch apple pie with vanilla ice cream, while I had the bread pudding with hard sauce. I recommend the pie--crunchy, complex, and overall delicious--and not the bread pudding. I am a huge fan of b.p., but this one was soaked in brandy and nutmeg. It was absolutely tasty, but so rich and overwhelmingly alcoholic, I wa afraid to be near the open candle on our tabletop. Wow! I ate about 1/3 of the total slab, which again was not over-sized or grotesque, but too much for me.
My friends, fans of Southern cooking, Tex-Mex cooking, and Texas food, were impressed. Me, too, but I was not surprised. What I love most about Clark's is that it is not out to impress: neither the decor, the wait staff (who are friendly and efficient, but not hanging over the table, thank God!), or the prices are out to stun you. It is, simply, good food that doesn't want to be the favorite baby of foodies and wanna-be gourmands. What for?
If you love it, you can order off their website, which also shows their menu and hours. Take my advice: if you're in the area, visit. If you aren't, order something by mail. You'll be very happy.
Friday, July 3, 2009
They have published two books, one of mornings and one of evenings, and a poster set as well.
I find their blog inspirational, both in its object and in the pictures they share. Their photography gives me a lot of pleasure and challenges me to look differently at my own photos and picture taking.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
It's been a great year, but a long one. Here's a photo from Oxford, of the building at University College where my rooms were.
Given the heat and nasty air here in DFW, I'd rather be there... but then what about the bike?
A CUP OF JO: NYCity Bike Types
GWADZILLA: D.C. guy who rides bikes and writes philosophy about riding bikes....
ECOVELO: I love this blog for its style as well as its commitment to green living.
VELIBE: Paris's system of rent your own bikes, available all over town for short term rentals.
FAT CYCLIST: Funny guy, interesting blog.
COPENHAGEN CYCLE CHIC: Wonderful pictures, and not all "spandex" stuff, for riders lite like me.
NEW YORK TIMES: Urban cycling and the gender gap.
CHANGE YOUR LIFE. RIDE A BIKE: A great blog about people across the country riding bikes for lots of reasons.
BIKE SKIRT: Girls and bikes.
SHE RIDES A BIKE: Flagstaff, Arizona woman writes about biking and style. My kind of blog.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
The gallery runs in a circle around the hall, leading off to two wings.
This particular window gives a great view of both the campus and downtown Big D.
Here's a better view.
Pretty, isn't it? From here, you can really ignore the blazing heat of early evening.