Web Sites »Andre Studios 1930 – 1941

from New York Public Library

Whoever’s in charge the New York Public Library online stuff deserves a big kiss from me.

First I flipped over the menu archives now I’ve found an amazing collection of fashion sketches from the Andre Studios.

While much of the business information about Andres is gone, their drawings remain.

They were extensively employed by big fashion houses who used these detailed sketches as reference material (much like European shopping trips or trend services of today that help everyone knock off each other .)

If you love fashion you could get lost in here for weeks.

Thank you NYPL for making these which were once only available to researchers online for all of us to view and fawn over.

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Posted on March 30, 2012

TV Shows »Upstairs Downstairs

on PBS

Great grandmothers and I rejoice! A new Upstairs Downstairs! I’ve only seen a portion of the epic first series (I mean, there are only several thousand DVDs to go through) but enough to be excited that it’s come back.

Taking place a few years after the last season ends, it reunites house keeper Rose (played by Jean Marsh, who along with co-star Dame Eileen Atkins, created the series) and 165 Eaton Place. Joining her downstairs are a mischievous maid, a brawl happy footman, a cocky handsome chauffeur, and a tee totalling butler.

Upstairs are Sir and Lady Holland who look good but so far seem drab and the eccentric, well dressed world traveling Lady Maud who brings along a monkey and an Indian secretary.

All the costumes (though Maud’s in particular) are amazing and the decor is grand and lush. There was more than one color scheme already that have me re thinking my apartment.

I am so glad you can still find stuff like this on TV. Somewhere along the way Arts and Entertainment changed from Horatio Hornblower to Pregnant Moms on Drugs. Let’s hope PBS, if it manages to survive the Republicans, never goes down the same road.

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Posted on April 13, 2011

Movies »Coup de Torchon

directed by Bertrand Tavernier (1981)

If nihilists believed in heroes then Lucien, the small town sheriff in Coup de Torchon could be the man for them. He comes by way of Jim Thompson, darkest noirest extraordinaire and his novel, Pop. 1280. That book is set in 1917 Texas but the movie is cleverly moved to 1930s West French Africa, Senegal.

I haven’t read the book to compare it to (though it’s definitely making my list), but I think director Bertrand Tavernier has captured the weird, almost surreal darkness of Thompson’s work most effectively on film. (P.S. – other notable adaptations: Serie Noir, After Dark My Sweet).

To say Lucien is disrespected is an understatement. He’s called ass licker and turd more than by name, he is kicked by other policemen, pushed around by the local pimps, mocked by his own wife – and for good reason. As a policemen he never arrests anyone and ignores crime as much as possible, even when own mistress is being abused publicly.

He seems to initially be a gentle and simple sort who detests violence and has more respect for natives than most. Which is why you are almost on his side when he begins to take action against the “trash” of the city by committing righteous murder.

But, as the film progresses and his motives become less about justice than his selfishness, any semblance of morality is blown. Played with just right amount of pathos and underlying insanity by Philippe Noiret, the sheriff, if I had to imagine him cast today, could be pulled off by a bitter little Patton Oswald and his unassuming baby face.

Scrounging around in the mud of human depravity with him are his scheming wife played by the always amazing Stephane Audran, her “brother”/secret lover – a half witted brute (I’d cast John C Rielly in my remake), his mistress, Rose, a piece of amoral work with a naive lust for violence and chaos played by the also always amazing Isabelle Huppert.

The cast is astounding, turning almost cartoonish physical comedy into something dimensional. Not that it’s cartoonish due to sloppy film making, quite the opposite, Tavernier manages the tough balance of darkest comedy only to reveal something very sinister.

The totally bizarre alternate ending, featuring dancing man apes, is worth a look on the Criterion Collection release. The only way this low profile masterpiece could have better is if it had stayed in.

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Posted on February 12, 2011

Movies »March of the Wooden Soldiers

directed by Hal Roach (1934)

Because of their rotation of Holiday films, we had TMC on in the background of our Christmas morning festivities, but when the Laurel and Hardy spectacle March of the Wooden Soldiers came on, we couldn’t help but become enthralled with surely one of the most visually bizarre and arresting movies I’ve seen lately.

I was so taken with the crazy human cat costumes, the midgets as beefy pigs, and the monkey playing a mouse that I actually bought the DVD – something I haven’t done in ages (and was promptly reminded of the unessecary annoyance of opening one of those things).

The plot centers around Little Bo Peep and the evil Silas Barnaby – Toyland’s cruelest resident who plans to make her his – even if it means framing her boyfriend for eating one of the three pigs! A journey to boogeyland brings on the evil… well, I’m not sure what they are except loads of extras in furry pants and truly grotesque masks who along with a thwarted Silas proceed to bring terror to Toyland for revenge.

Defending the joyful town are the toy soldiers – single minded wrecking machines that will stop at nothing (even a decapitated head) to destroy what they are after.Weird colorized animals, songs, an appearance from Santa and the hi-jinx of Laurel and the always shockingly styled (Hitler mustache and a page boy bob) Hardy round out the movie.

I am super excited for this oddball gem to become a new Christmas tradition – as long as the bizarre imagery doesn’t terrify our little one.

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Posted on January 14, 2011

Songs »I Can’t Give You Anything But Love

by Fats Waller and Una Mae Carlisle (1939)

The jazzy standard, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby gained popularity in Blackbirds of 1928, a popular music review. It’s the Fats Waller (who is debated to be the true original author of the song) and Una Mae Carlisle version that I love to listen to. Waller reportedly hated music that was too sentimental and would goof around in recordings so that he wasn’t asked to do them anymore. He’s plenty goofy and endearing in this one.

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Posted on October 18, 2010

Movies »Footlight Parade

directed by Lloyd Bacon (1933)

The Golddiggers of 1933 is our gold standard for golden era musicals, and while Footlight Parade doesn’t quit reach the magnificence of that film, it’s an engaging fun romp. Bolstered by an uber charming cast, all of which you notice made other categories this week including a fast talking, lithe dancing James Cagney, the wide eyed sass with a good head on her shoulders, Joan Blondell, the ultimate “juvenile” and nice guy Dick Powell, and the petite sweetheart Ruby Keeler.

Of course, the real centerpiece of are the over the top Busby Berkeley musical numbers that among other wonders include: men and women dressed as giant cats, a waterfall full of lady godivas, a hotel where women get busy on their wedding nights, an opium den populated by women in incredible costumes, and that man/child thing dressed as a mouse.

The film moves along at a breakneck pace, it’s at least twenty minutes before there’s even a pause between action and dialogue. The plot, that rushes by you, involves the arrival of “talkies” which pushes musical producer Cagney into the new business of creating live performance “prologues” for the new fangled movie theaters. It’s all a build up to the back to back musical numbers though.

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Posted on August 15, 2010

Books »The Seven Lady Godivas

by Dr. Seuss (1939)

The charming Dr Seuss oddity, The Seven Lady Godivas, was actually a failure when it was published in 1939 and in fact, it’s failure led Seuss to turn to writing for children full time. But the years have been kind to this quirky tale of the Godiva family of women, pursued by the Peeping brothers and going about their lives as naked as they were born. The book is currently out of print, my sister got an older edition for her husband for Christmas, but it’s worth seeking out for fans of Seuss’ rhymes and illustrations.

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Posted on March 7, 2010

Songs »Aquarela do Brasil

by Ary Barroso (1939)

Aquarela do Brasil, which is the most famous song from the namesake country, most vividly calls to mind the disutopia of Terry Gilliam’s psycho baby mask, plastic surgery, and radically bombed vision. However its been adopted, covered, and used so many places by so many people you might be more familiar with it from the Disney goes Latin animation Saludos Amigos or the discofied version by this week’s style icons The Ritchie Family. No matter the version you listen to though, you feel the strong urge to sway your hips and take a plane to warmer climates (accompanied creepy images of squashed bugs and huge golden Samurais if you still can’t get the Gilliam association out of your head).

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Posted on March 7, 2010

Books »somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond

by E.E. Cummings (1931)

There are few poems that I’ll carry with me through my entire life and somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond by ee cummings is one of them.

I can recall copying this down in a junior high journal (“nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands” still makes me sigh inside). I was very, very romantic back then, as I’m sure most girls were at that age. Strangely, now that I live with the love of my life, my interest in things romantic has dwindled… I guess reality is just too good to compare to fiction. The poem was published in the collection Viva.

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

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Posted on February 7, 2010

Movies »Gold Diggers of 1933 (Best Movie)

Here's what I said way back on December 15th:

Gold Diggers of 1933 is a classic musical with a goofy, funny charm anchored by several lavish Busby Berkeley numbers and a lively story. The film opens on Gingers Rogers's beaming face as she sings “We're in the Money” while a trail of chorus girls in tiny coin costumes tap dance behind her. The irony (we quickly discover when the rehearsal gets shut down by the coppers) is that no one is really in the money at all – it's the Depression, darling, and Barney, the show's producer, hasn't paid his bills.

This leaves our four little actresses: innocent Polly (Ruby Keeler), sultry Fay (Rogers), sassy Carol (Joan Blondell), and the magnificently named Trixie Lorraine (Aline MacMahon) who's wise and funny (she remarks to a portly dance partner, “Why, you're as light as a heifer,”) out of work until Barney can come up with the money for a new show. Enter Dick Powell as Brad Roberts, the seemingly hard up neighbor and songwriter who comes to their rescue. But how? Did he rob a bank to impress his sweetheart, Polly? Or is there some other secret he's been hiding?

We find out soon enough (though I won't spoil it for you here), but the story roller-coasters through mistaken identity, star crossed love affairs, and more than one topsy turvy romance. Chorus girls and high society men mix even though the upper class considers our heroines to be “parasites”, “chiselers”, and “gold diggers”. While much of the story, despite its considerable age, is still relevant and surprisingly fresh, humorously enough the one bit of life that's changed the most is high society's aversion to fame and entertainment. Nowadays the rich can't wait to be splashed all over TV and date celebrities.

Also, even in a Depression, the clothing is spectacular here – even a “bad dress” sports amazing sleeve details and tailoring, while more fun frocks (particularly worn by the statuesque Blondell) are wild and stunning. In one scene two of the girls, in a ruse to fool a couple of Boston high society men, insist on new adorable hats and refuse to leave the apartment with out corsages – corsages, I might add that sit prettily atop fur stoles at lavish night clubs.

The cast is wonderful and I was particularly taken with Warren William's leading man snob (see this week's hunk), but the musical numbers are the real show stealers. The first, “Petting in the Park” features: kissing monkeys, dapper singing cops, roller-skating girls, a freaky man-baby on roller-skates, an on-stage blizzard and rainstorms, a strip tease in silhouette, innumerable garter belts, and bathing suits made of tin!

Another number “The Shadow Waltz” is kind of a boring song, but it's saved by discus skirts and neon violins! The final number, “Remember My Forgotten Man” is the best song and Joan Blondell's spoken lament reminds us of the actual pains the Depression brought so many.

This popular film spawned three sequels that I haven't seen yet.

Happy Go Lucky
The Room
Aguirre: The Wrath of God
Inglourious Basterds
Anvil: The Story of Anvil
The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant

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Posted on November 2, 2009

Movies »Gold Diggers of 1935

I'll start by getting the unfair comparisons out of the way: Gold Diggers of 1935 is no Gold Diggers of 1933. Spending time with sassy chorus girls is far more fun than passing a couple of hours with a miserly rich family and, despite impressive large scale unison tapping, meat cleaver-based choreography, and oscillating pianos, none of the grand Busby Berkeley numbers here quite compare to the mythical Pettin' in the Park or Remember My Forgotten Man – though Lullaby of Broadway is pretty fantastic.

But comparisons are unfair – Gold Diggers of 1933 is a perfect movie, my favorite of the era's genre and impossible to match, but that doesn't mean that the (kind of, sort of) sequel isn't great fun.

1935 holds almost no resemblance to the first movie except that we see Dick Powell again, only instead of a wealthy 'juvenile' with big song and dance dreams, he's a summers-only hotel clerk on his way to becoming a doctor. He falls in love with Ann Prentiss, the buttoned-up daughter of a stingy millionairess who is unhappily engaged to the film's most confusing and intriguing character, T. Mosely Thorpe III.

Also extremely wealthy, Thorpe is a happy-looking, Ben Gazzara type and exactly what's wrong with him is unclear. He rides around in a chauffeured car with an emblem of his face surrounded by thorns, he's obsessed, seemingly to an autistic degree, with snuff, and at time appears either mentally handicapped or amnesiac – sometimes both.

Musical shopping sprees and charityshows take center stage, which is more than alright with me, in this breezy, wacky, fun-loving musical. Watch for the amazing outfits worn by Thorpe's scheming typist.

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Posted on October 5, 2009

Books »Nightmare Town

Like anything that it oft duplicated, it can be sometimes almost disappointing to see the original influence. Dashiell Hammett, who penned, among the many short pulp fiction stories in Nightmare Town, Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon is the grandfather of noir and this early collection, Nightmare Town,?took me a few stories to become enamored.

This collection is deceptively simple but the the hard boiled shorts, often with a twisty who dun it, has become a true joy for me to read. Each story is a brief (they were originally published in pulp magazines like Black Mask) escape from my subway ride to seedy motels, private detective agencies, back alleys, and gambling halls.

There is something ironically soothing about these tales of murder and deception, though I suppose its not unlike today's Law and Orders or CSIs – opiates for the masses (myself included) based on the darker side of life. The collection was compiled a few years back from Hammett's early career in the 20's and 30's. They show a young mind full of ideas with a quick hard hitting voice. His influence on the mystery genre is undeniable and this collection proves it.

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Posted on July 27, 2009

Movies »The Thin Man

The Thin Man Extremely charming, pleasurable, and clever mystery comedy
starring Myrna Loy and William Powell as witty, carefree, martini-soaked aristocratic sleuths. The entire collection (six movies in all) was just released on DVD. All are good, and they are movies “you can watch with the whole family” this holiday and actually enjoy it.

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Posted on December 18, 2005