Monthly Archives: January 2006

Up late with Robert Montgomery

Insomnia struck again. So there I was, wide awake at 2AM, too late to take any kind of over-the-counter sleep aid, too early to call it a jump on the morning. Every channel in my extensive cable line up for which I pay a fortune was either showing infomercials or really bad sitcom reruns. All except for TCM which was in the middle of their last day of the Robert Montgomery showcase. Now I like Robert Montgomery; he’s a fine actor. One of my favorite films is Night Must Fall, where he plays against type with Rosalind Russell at her best. But the man could make mediocre films with the best of them. Of course, it being me and my insomnia, the movie in question was Live, Love and Learn. This is one of those films where although I’ve seen the middle and the end too many times to count, I’ve never seen the beginning. Not that I think it would make much of a difference.

Rosalind Russell is a bored debutante who takes up with starving artist Robert Montgomery. They are supposedly penniless but very happy. All is well except for the poverty thing until he becomes a sensation in the art world. Along comes nasty Helen Vinson who takes him up and trouble ensues.

It sounds better than it is. MGM was never a studio that wanted to embrace realism so its ideas of poverty and the romance of poverty are cringeworthy. Very uneven movie and so not what I needed last night.

Also seen: Only Yesterday, last in the Miyazaki festival on TCM. I loved this film, which was produced rather than directed by him. Beautifully animated, light touch all around, and poignant. It’s not on DVD either which is a terrible shame.

Also read: Jane Austen Bookclub which was readable, somewhat interesting, but ultimately harmless.

Keeping up with the resolutions

My bookclub picked My Antonia for its next read. I first read this back in college when it was one of the books we tackled for a 19th Century American Novels class. I’d forgotten just how much I love Willa Cather’s writing. It’s funny but after months of standing firm against books involving young people growing up in America’s heartland, I find myself falling in love with just such a story. That said, there’s a lyricism in Cather’s writing that not one of the other choices in this genre have had. She’s not in love with depression and darkness either in the same way that several other authors have seemed to be. It’s not that bad things don’t happen to the characters of My Antonia, but they’re part of the canvas just as the good things are without being overly dominant or Oprahesque.

Movie-wise, I’ve seen a couple of things. Saved! was funny and touching. The story seemed to get a bit confused at the end–the writer/director and producer’s remarks on the commentary seem to suggest that it was a tough film to get made and that there was a lot of anticipated fallout from the fundamentalist community–so I have to wonder if they compromised too much.

Continuing on my Hayao Miyazaki kick, I also have seen Castle in the Sky and My Neighbor Totoro. I love this man’s movies. The former is an adventure story and does indeed have–as the commentator on TCM noted–a really terrific opening sequence. I realize that Mark Hamill never exactly set the world on fire, but he does first class voice work. Beautiful visuals and great atmosphere.

My Neighbor Totoro is a much simpler story. Two young girls and their father move to a house in rural Japan. The mother is in the hospital with some undisclosed illness. The younger child (3 1/2) encounters a forest spirit named Totoro and adventures ensue. I was worried that the children would be too unrealistic and too cutesy, but they weren’t. They seemed quite natural actually. Charming in a completely different way from the other Miyazaki movie.

You know you’re a librarian

…when you move into a new apartment and realize that you own 20–count ’em–20 boxes of books.

I weed my collection pretty regularly. But I will say that I’m realizing that in some cases I really need to handle each book to determine if I’m going to keep it or not. In a library, of course, looking at individual catalog records will do the same thing for you, but I’m not that geeky about my personal collection. Okay, I am that geeky about my DVDs and tapes. We do a lot with EndNote at our library. EndNote is really meant to be used as a citation tool. You can export references from a particular database into the software and then when you’re writing a paper, insert those references into whatever citation style you like, which is wonderful. No worrying about what part of the citation needs to be italicized or where the periods go.

The software has some advanced features that I was working with about a year ago in preparation for a workshop. I ended up cataloging my DVDs and tapes. It was actually pretty easy. I searched WorldCat for most of the titles, exported the records to EndNote, and then managed to modify the fields in EndNote to add things that were important to me like extra actors, studios, genre types, etc. Taught me a ton about how to modify the reference types and search the software.

I’m not about to do that for 20 boxes of books though.

Taking the time

There’s a new cooking show on the Food Network. I wish I could say it was hosted by somebody who loved food and cooking,and who knew what she was doing, but sadly this is not the case for Robin Miller of Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller. The premise of the show is theoretically that by taking a couple of hours on the weekend, all her meals can be prepped in 15 minutes or less on weeknights, which is time management and not necessarily saving any time.

As someone who works a 9 to 5 week, I completely understand the appeal of being able to put dinner on the table quickly. But if you’re going to do that, then you still usually want the meal to be good. I’d be willing to bet that all of us would really like the meal to be sanitary too.

I don’t care how pressed for time you are, if you’re eating leeks nobody wants a mouthful of grit in their mouth. They have to be properly cleaned. Vegetables that have dirt visibly clinging to them need to be scrubbed.
It’s also good to understand just what cross-contamination is and how to handle chicken properly unless of course you want to spend hours in the ER.

Some things are worth taking the time to do.

No, we don’t have your textbooks

Money is tight and textbooks, particularly medical textbooks are not cheap. So it makes perfect sense that students try and borrow them from us. I get that; really, I do. What I don’t get are their reactions when you tell them we either don’t have the book or that it’s checked out.

It never seems to occur to the student that if he/she got the bright idea to borrow the class text from the library that it also occurred to the other 49 students in the class.

Sometimes they try and get the name of the person who’s borrowed the book. We never give that out of course, but I’d love to know exactly what the patron is thinking. Is there some sort of a stickup after class? “Let me tell you what’s going to happen. We’re going to walk down to the library right now and you’re going to return that book and I’m going to check it out. Play it my way and nobody gets hurt.” Or do they try appealing to the borrower’s better nature? “Look, I’m eating catfood. You have money. Please, buy your copy and let me borrow yours.” Perhaps they go for a mass violation of copyright and xerox the whole darn thing? Or is there no plan at all?

You have to wonder…

The Ginger Rogers Syndrome

My favorite reality show let me down yesterday. What sets Project Runway apart from a lot of the other programs I watch in this genre is the importance of talent over personality. It’s not really like Survivor or The Amazing Race or heck, even America’s Next Top Model. Sabotaging your colleagues gets you nowhere on this show. Strategy doesn’t really factor into either. The host and judges associated with the show have too much invested in the “real” world of fashion design. The emphasis is on the work product. I love that.

Except that in tiny print at the end of each episode’s credits about how the judges conferred with producers. This is how Wendy Pepper managed to get to Fashion Week. Her so-called strategy was useless, but as a polarizing person on the show, she generated a lot of feedback. Of course, when she got to Fashion Week, she was almost immediately discounted by the judges and you knew she didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.

This season’s Wendy is a guy named Santino. Don’t get me wrong. He’s significantly more talented, but he’s a camerawhore. He’s casually cruel and insecure. You can practically feel the producers salivating every time he speaks.

So this week’s episode had the remaining designers creating a dress for Sasha Cohen to wear at an exhibition performance. I don’t know a lot about figure skating but I do know that their costumes need to function. I’ve seen competitions where bits and bobs have fallen off of costumes; Dick Button and Peggy Fleming gasp and we watch anxiously hoping that the skater doesn’t hurt themselves.

The designers came up with some costumes that ranged in quality. The one that one did nothing for me personally, but it looked fairly skate friendly. The two bottom designers were the aforementioned Santino and a man named Emmett McCarthy. I can’t say that Emmett’s designs set my world on fire, but his creation seemed a lot better than Santino’s.

Santino’s outfit reminded a lot of that story they tell about Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in Top Hat. Reportedly Rogers told the costume designer what she wanted for one of the numbers. It was a lovely confection covered with ostrich feathers. Beautiful. Except that the feathers kept detaching and distracting Astaire. In another film she had a gown that had bell sleeves and was beaded. Again, beautiful to look at, but as she danced the heavy sleeves started swinging and whacking Astaire in the arms and chest.

Now Santino’s gown was ugly. At least the costumes in Rogers’ films were beautiful. But what figure skater wants to be risking injury and/or death to wear a horrific looking thing?

Guess who got eliminated? Heaven forfend the one who makes for better TV should be axed…

Film Literature Index

I was introduced to this by a circuitous route. Someone who’s doing research on classic film actually checked out my page on search strategies (it’s heartening to know it gets used; as a librarian I adore making pathfinders, but as a librarian I also know hardly anyone ever touches the things). I had something on there about the print version of the Film Literature Index. My correspondent evidently googled it and found that it is now available online. He had lost the link. Lo and behold, he was right!

  • Free
  • Covers 1976-2001
  • 700,000 citations
  • Easy-to-use interface with simple and advanced searches
  • Lots of hyperlinks

It’s a thing of beauty. Now granted I doubt I’m going to get many questions at the library that would have me using this little gem, but still, it made my day.

Capturing the spirit of a book

When it comes to Jane Austen, I tend to be a purist. I don’t generally care for revisionist retellings. Mansfield Park was a mess of a movie. The writer/director admitted to disliking the book. She didn’t care for what would have been accurate costumes or furnishings so she changed those to suit her (causing a friend of mine to wonder if the Bertrams had gone through bankruptcy proceedings). She didn’t seem to get the point of the story or the characters and the film reflects that. When I hear about filmmakers changing the source material around to make the story “accessible to a modern audience,” I tend to cringe. Does everything have to be dumbed down? There was a highly successful, very faithful miniseries of Pride and Prejudice that managed to reach the masses just fine without turning Elizabeth Bennett into a filthy, shouting wreck, thank you very much.

So it was with trepidation that I decided to watch Bride and Prejudice: a Bollywood style retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Darcy is an American hotel mogul. The Bennett sisters are the Bakshi sisters (Jaya, Lalita, Lakhi, and Maya) in India. There are song and dance numbers. Yes, it sounds horrible. No, it doesn’t capture the intricacies of the novel. Mr. Darcy is played by a rather uninspiring and untalented actor. Did I mention the song and dance numbers? But in its own odd way, it is pretty darn faithful to the spirit of the Austen novel. And that’s something to be commended.

What is a "classic movie" anyhow?

Turner Classic Movies is running two Hayao Miyazaki films every Thursday this month. Now I’ve come to really like Miyazaki’s movies. Spirited Away is a great film and so far I’ve loved everything else I’ve seen, but we’re talking flicks that have been made in the last ten years (well, mostly).

I should state that I’d much rather they air Miyazaki movies than start showing something inane like The Breakfast Club seven times a week, but I’m reminded of this AM radio station that I’m addicted to. They claim to only play “old time rock and roll,” by which they mean things like early Eddie Cochran and early Bill Haley. And sometimes they do. They also occasionally play the odd ELO number and things like Gloria. On Sunday mornings they do Polka music and there’s a hefty portion of the day devoted toward Spanish language (including Gloria in Spanish). As entertaining as all of this may be, I have to say that’s a really expansive version of “old time rock and roll.”

Okay getting back to TCM. After watching the downfall of AMC, I am constantly worried that it’s going to follow suit. Already they’ve been replaying a lot of the same movies on a weekly or monthly basis. Can commercials be far behind? I will say that I’ve been relieved to see them returning to showing some of the more obscure flicks. This morning they had an early talkie with Conrad Nagel. Okay, Loretta Young was in it and was really the reason they were airing it at all, but still, it’s not like they aired The Bishop’s Wife ten times in a row. Conrad Nagel would never, but never, make it onto AMC–not unless they brought him back from the dead or did CGI to add him to Some Kind of Wonderful.

Resolutions

One of my ten New Year’s Resolutions (yes, ten, it’s sort of a tradition) was to record all of the books and movies I saw in the New Year. On the movie front, I wish I could say I saw something very highbrow, but my first film of 2006 was a made-for-TV thing called The Glow. What is The Glow you ask? Well, it’s about married couple Portia de Rossi and Dean Cain who somehow get hooked up with a surprisingly spry group of senior citizens. They’re a healthy group, these geriatrics–Dina Merrill, Hal Linden, Joseph Campanella, Grace Zabriskie, and others–and they just happen to have an amazing apartment available dirt cheap in the building they own. In move Portia and Dean. The latter gets sucked into their fitness regimen, while Portia is quickly weirded out by their freaking out at her using butter, Dina Merrill’s skintight leather outfits (although I have to say the lady still has the figure for them), and a general creepiness they all exude. Let’s just say that these are not AARP’s finest. Not a particularly good film, but I had a lot of fun watching it.

First book of the year was at least not trash and not Sudoku puzzles. My best friend got me Julie & Julia for Christmas. Julie Powell created a blog called the Julie/Julia Project way back in 2002. She took Julia Child’s classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking and proceeded to cook her way through the whole darn thing. Not a great book (although a heck of a lot higher on the culture scale than The Glow), but extremely readable.