Thursday, May 31, 2012

Happy Birthday, Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892)

Walt Whitman

Today is the birth date of Walt Whitman, poet. He was born in Huntington, Long Island in 1819 and is remembered today as the most American of poets. His magnum opus: the expansive and emotion-rich LEAVES OF GRASS, which he went on revising and editing until the end of his life.

The literary critic, Harold Bloom wrote, as the introduction for the 150th  anniversary edition of LEAVES OF GRASS:

If you are American, then Walt Whitman is your imaginative father and mother, even if, like myself you have never composed a line of verse. You can nominate a fair number of works as candidates for the Secular scripture of the United States. They might include Melville's MOBY DICK, Twain's ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, and Emerson's two series of essays and THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. None of those, not even Emerson's, are as central as the first edition of LEAVES OF GRASS.




Flood-tide below me! I watch you face to face;
Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I see you also face to face.

Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes! how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats, the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose;
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to me, and more in my meditations than you might suppose.


The impalpable sustenance of me from all things, at all hours of the day;
The simple compact well-join'd scheme - myself disintegrated, everyone disintegrated yet part of the scheme:

The similitudes of the past, and those of the future; 
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings - on the walk in the street and the passage over the river.
The current rushing so swiftly, and swimming with me far away;
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them;
The certainty of others - the life, love, sight, hearing of others.

Others will enter the gates of the ferry, and cross from shore to shore;
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide;
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan, north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east;
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high;
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them, 
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring in of the flood-tide, the falling back to the sea of the ebb-tide.


It avails not, neither time or place - distance avails not;
I am with you, you men and women of a generation or ever so many generations hence;
I project myself - also I return - I am with you and know how it is.

To read the rest of CROSSING BROOKLYN FERRY, please use this link.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film (or Whatnot): Hercule Poirot Gets A Toothache and the Sniffles.

Today is Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film (or Whatnot) Day. I add the 'whatnot' because today I don't have a film, I have 'whatnot'. Two episodes of the Agatha Christie Poirot PBS series from the 80's which are actually (dare I say it?) better than the short stories on which they were based. Of course this very rarely happens with Christie and you know how I feel about altering Dame Agatha's work. But every rule was made to be broken so here we are.

Oh, before I forget, don't you forget to head on over to Todd Mason's blog, SWEET FREEDOM - he is our genial host when it comes to the Overlooked and Forgotten. Other bloggers will be posting their entries today and Todd has the links. It's a Tuesday ritual.

May 2nd was David Suchet's birthday (he's 66) and since - scandalously - I overlooked the date, I'm declaring that May is David Suchet Month retroactively. Ta-da!

The oh-so-charming David Suchet as Hercule Poirot

We begin the general celebration with two episodes which remain among my favorites - though there are others in those first two years that I liked enormously - really it's hard to go wrong with those early episodes.

Poirot is at his most human here since in the first he is plagued by a toothache and in the second by a clinging head cold. Which just goes to show that the great man is not impervious to life's little annoyances.

FOUR AND TWENTY BLACKBIRDS - 5th episode in the first batch which appeared in 1989. Directed by Renny Rye.

To both Captain Hastings' and Miss Lemon's bewilderment, Poirot is off to have dinner with his dentist, who has recently done work on a Poirot bicuspid. Poirot maintains that out of the office, Mr. Bonnington (played by a jovial Denys Hawthorne) is charming.

Denys Hawthorne as Bonnington

The small restaurant they pick is known for it's 'English fare' and Poirot puts himself 'unreservedly' in Bonnington's hands when it comes to ordering. (We know that Poirot is not a big fan of English food.)

I could watch these first few minutes in the restaurant over and over, enjoying myself along with the two actors who simply ooze charm and amiability as they sit down to a cozy dinner marred only by a tiny Poirot tooth twinge.

It is at this restaurant that they first notice an old man - the artist Henry Gascoigne who regularly eats there twice a week on very specific days ordering only specific foods. They are so informed by Molly the chatty waitress (Cheryl Hall) whose chatter about blackberry cobbler and 'thick soup' intrigues Poirot.

Later, while at the dentist's for more more work on his 'twinge-y tooth' Poirot finds out aht the old man was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in his London flat.

The police, in the form of the ascerbic Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) label the death an accident. But Poirot thinks otherwise. He has an 'idea' that things are not what they seem.

Now, the interesting thing for me is that all this is not in the short story at all. Oh, Gascoigne dies in his flat after dinner at a restaurant and Poirot investigates, but the 'trimmings' added to the story are not there. As usual, in the PBS show, the story is visually fleshed out (as it would have to be) and we are not only in London, but also, later at the seashore. The locations are varied, interesting, occasionally beautiful and add much to the story as does the fact that Gascoigne was a famed artist - something which is not in the original story.

When I re-read this I missed the colorful additions made by writer Russell Murray.

Well, it turns out that Gascoigne had an equally elderly brother from whom he was estranged for over twenty years and both have both died within days of each other - one of natural causes, the other in the suspicious fall. The fact that there is no will is particularly important to the supposed heir, a nephew, George Lorrimer, a music hall manager - played in a perfectly unctuous manner by Richard Howard.

Look at Hasting's body language. Love him.

As Poirot and Captain Hastings begin their investigation, they meet Gascoigne's model and muse, Dulcie Lang, (the wonderful Holly De Jong), a flashy dresser wise to the ways of artists and men. Captain Hastings is immediately 'at attention' in her presence and her all-knowing, half-smile speaks volumes, especially later when the two men must interview Dulcie just after a nude modeling session at what appears to be an art school.. "As you can see, " she says, "I have nothing to hide." 

Holly De Jong

Poirot is sophisticated and suave about these encounters, Hastings is all googly. I love Hugh Fraser as the cricket-obsessed confidant and sidekick of Poirot. He can be such an innocent.

The very engaging Hugh Fraser as Hastings.

As the plot unfolds, an old family feud, a nefarious impersonation and missing blueberry stains lead Poirot to the cunning murderer.

The story is made particularly memorable by the lively visual additions and intriguing story angles added to the television script. One instance in which 'tinkering' paid off handsomely. Hey, it happens.

Oh, almost forgot: this is the episode in which Poirot cooks rabbit stew for Hastings. Done in the Belgian way, of course. With juniper berries.


The second show I'm talking about today is THE THIRD FLOOR FLAT directed by Edward Bennett - the 6th episode in that 1989 series. Here, Poirot has a head cold that won't quit and obviously he needs the medicinal relaxation of a good murder to cure what ails him. Three weeks since his last case and Poirot is bored as well as suffering the sniffles, worried that the 'little gray cells' might be slowing down.

In this episode, as opposed to the first in this post, most of the action takes place at Whitehaven Mansions, the art deco building in which Poirot has his spacious flat. (The gorgeous building we're all familiar with is, in reality, Florin Court in Charterhouse Square.)

Poirot under a towel inhaling steam.

This time out there's a murder two floors down from Poirot's flat. A woman is found shot to death and Poirot and Hastings get mixed up with some bright 'young things' - two of whom discovered the body after stumbling out of the dumb-waiter apparatus and into the wrong apartment. You hadda' be there.

Hugh Fraser, Suchet and Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon.

It all has to do with a missing key, a non-functioning light, blood on a tablecloth, an inconvenient marriage and a murderer's quick thinking. I like the 'claustrophobic' quality at play in this episode as the bright young things and Poirot skulk up and down stairs, in and out of apartments and hallways, have midnight dinner in a cramped kitchen and Poirot, especially, tries to help the cause of true love.

Not to mention that Poirot comes under the spell of the blond leading lady (Suzanne Burden) whose affections are at the heart of the murder. The look of wistfulness on his face in one scene is a joy to behold. What a wonderful actor. What utter charisma.

On the right, Philip Jackson as Chief Inspector Japp.

There are variations in this story which flesh out the written words of Agatha Christie and several changes which only enhance things.

The incomparable David Suchet.


You know, I always thought I was the only quirky person who'd ever fallen in love with Hercule Poirot. But guess what - WRONG! Read this post: 'I CONFESS, I AM IN LOVE WITH HERCULE POIROT and you'll see what I mean. There's also a very interesting clip of David Suchet talking about the inherent humor in the stories and shows and a bit about how he physically became Poirot.


Hercule Poirot needle felted doll by Sarah at Little Kumquat

Then check out this blog post about how a blogger needle-felted an adorable Hercule Poirot doll for her mother for Christmas. Helped along by a signed photo from David Suchet.

Again, my apologies for the very wonky spacing. Google-Blogger is still acting up.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Good Wishes

I spotted this gorgeous vintage Memorial Day postcard at Rosemary's blog, Content in a Cottage, and loved the look of it so much I decided to post it here as well. 

Have a good one. (I'm waiting for the parade to begin in town.)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Salon: Art of Remembrance

For Memorial Day Weekend, I'm featuring several artists who painted the horrors of WWI.  A war in which much of the death and destruction appears to have been caused by the callous blundering of generals - old men still living in the past, World War One strikes a particular note with me because so many millions of valiant young men were apparently slaughtered for very little reason.

And in its end, this first 'war to end all wars' laid the seeds for WWII just a little over twenty years later.

'We Are Making a New World' by John Nash - Source

'Over the Top' by John Nash - Source

'The Ypres Salient at Night' by Paul Nash - Source

'Menin Road' by John Nash - Source

'French Troops Resting" by Christopher Nevinson - Source

 'La Mitrailleuse' by Christopher Nevinson - Source

'Gassed and Wounded' by Eric Kennington - Source

'La Guerre' by Marcel Gromaire - Source

Unknown German artist. Can't find original source.

Check the above link to read about the courageous rescue of the famed 'Lost Battlion' and the posthumous Medals of Honor which were awarded. Only four Army Air Service pilots received Medals of Honor for service in WWI. Two of them went to servicemen concerned in this gallant episode.

Also wanted to mention the 1980's PBS series, TESTAMENT OF YOUTH based on the 1933 autobiography of Vera Brittain (1893 - 1970), author, journalist, pacifist and feminist, a young woman who volunteered as a nurse during WWI and who lost her brother, her fiance, and two best friends on the killing grounds of France and Italy.

Vera Brittain

The five episode series chronicles Brittain's life and work as a nurse and stars Cheryl Campbell a wonderful and very underrated British actress.

If you can find a DVD, by all means don't miss this stirring adaptation. I've never been able to bring myself to read the book because I suppose I am, basically, an emotional coward. But watching the series back then brought to light the life of this remarkable woman - someone I'd never heard of before. But someone I've never forgotten.

To read more about Vera Brittain, please go to this link.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Horse-A-Thon: THE BLACK STALLION (1979) starring Kelly Reno, Terri Garr and Mickey Rooney

The gorgeous film poster.

This is my entry in the first film Horse-A-Thon (first I ever heard of, anyway) hosted by Page over at her blog, MY LOVE OF OLD HOLLYWOOD. Many movie mavens will be contributing over the next three days to this unique blog-a-thon, so please check in and see what other terrific 'horse movies' other participating bloggers will be lovingly showcasing.

Going in, I admit that my post today is nothing less than an unabashed fan letter. I am a total Black Stallion fan-girl.


THE BLACK STALLION (1979), directed by Carroll Ballard from a script by Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg and William D. Wittliff, is based on the popular books by Walter Farley. Transferred to the screen, the production was blessed to have the talents of cinematographer Caleb Deschanel who turns the entire film into a visual work of art. It was doubly blessed to have a perfectly realized and unobtrusive musical score by Carmine Coppola.

When I think of THE BLACK STALLION, the only word that comes to mind is 'exquisite'. It is truly an exquisite film from the rather stark opening scenes until the final credits. I've seen the movie many times and I still cry at the end while the credits roll - no sadness or tragedy, just the allure and effect of overwhelming beauty which is almost too much to bear.

The plot:

It is 1946. A young boy named Alec Ramsey (played naturally and effectively by Kelly Reno) and his father are traveling by ship off the coast of North Africa. It appears to be a freighter more than a luxury passenger liner. There are moody, dramatic, slightly disorienting shots of the ship moving along the gray, roiling water -  just enough to set the lonely atmospherics. The ship is all white, gray and black, the railings and floors of the passageways, gleaming dark wood. We know almost immediately, from these first few camera shots that we're in for something special.

From what I understand,  Deschanel used natural light as much as possible while filming. That accounts for the romantic realism (I suppose you'd call it) which heightens events and paradoxically makes the horse appear to be more a creature of myth than reality.

The father is never named and we only see him in a few scenes. We learn that he is probably a gambler by trade - this from his crafty play at a high stakes poker game, where, surrounded by several ominous characters of various colorful nationalities, he triumphs.

Played by a wonderfully sagacious Hoyt Axton (who I understand was known more for his country/western singing than his acting) - it's a small jewel of a performance and Axton should have been nominated along with Mickey Rooney. But as usual, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Once back in their cabin, father checks his winnings and picks out a small metal figure of a horse which he gives to Alec. He tells the boy the story of Alexander the Great and his magical horse, Bucephalus. The boy is not totally taken in by his dad's fanciful story, but he holds on to his little treasure. Clearly father and son dote on each other.

There is a black horse being transported on the ship (with a ruthless minder, a sinister Arab, ready with a whip and a sneer) who has taken the boy's interest. In fact Alec sneaks little sugar cubes to the animal and places them in a row on the open port-hole ledge. We get a close-up of the horse's muzzle as he sniffs then gobbles each sugar cube daintily. But the Arab shows up and chases the boy away, then grabs the remaining sugar cube for himself. We hear the horse's outraged noises.

Sometime during that night there is a fire in the ship's hold and an explosion rocks the ship. These harrowing scenes are cut quickly, shot from assorted angles giving the impression of chaotic movement as the fire grows, the ship lists, takes on water and begins to sink - no music, just the awful noises of frenzied desperation and the ship's horn ineffectually sounding.

Panicked passengers and crew grab whatever life jackets they can. The horse manages to break free and still harnessed and trailing retaining ropes, jumps a railing into the water. Father and son are separated and the boy, crazed with fear, tumbles head long into the water as well.

In the black, hellish night of sinking ship, oil-slick water, fire and screaming boy, we see the horse frantically trying to stay afloat - his head and neck being pulled sideways - ropes tangled in the ship's propeller.

Alec has held onto a small army knife. He dives underwater and frees the horse, saving the animal's life as well as his own, for the horse then swims furiously away, the boy hanging on for dear life.

A critic at the time, I think maybe, Pauline Kael (not sure) said that the first half of this movie was  breathtaking fantasy or fairy tale and photographed in just that way. The second half is more down to earth and the photography, art direction and story take on a much different tone. I agree with this assessment.

The boy (Kelly Reno) realizes he still has the little metal horse his father gave him.
Alec washes up on an idyllically beautiful island. Dazed and exhausted, he realizes he must now fend for himself. While looking around for the horse, he hears cries of distress and comes across the stallion lying in the sand, trapped, his remaining harness and ropes entangled among the rocks. The horse avoids death a second time because of the boy who inches in warily and cuts him loose. Finally the entire harness pulls free and clearly exuberant, the horse runs off.

Later in some of the most idealistically beautiful photography I've ever seen, they are reunited and Alec must work hard to earn the horse's full trust. The boy is canny and smart beyond his years and eventually figures out a very clever way to ride the horse, first approaching him while both are in the water. During this entire process, boy and horse form a mythic bond.

Some of the more glorious camera shots are from overhead - breathtaking scenes at twilight, shadowy and sepia toned, other times stark black, gold and red/orange. You will never see a horse more exquisitely or elegantly photographed.

Three scenes I remember best: one of the horse, earlier, standing alone on a cliff high above the water almost in silhouette, looking every bit the wild master of his domain. Then there's a remarkable close-up later (in natural fading light) of part of the horse's head blending into the night, his eye fluttering closed in almost complete darkness as he falls asleep. The boy nestled next to him.

A third moment of movie magic occurs as the boy puts the small metal horse given him by his father on top of a boulder. The camera closes in and we see the small stationary figure of myth up close, while in the far distance, we see the black stallion running along the edge of the coastline. On the soundtrack a theme which evokes all things Arabic - or at least, the Arabia of the imagination - a theme which becomes the horse's own as the movie progresses. A dazzling sequence.

Now most of the scenes on the island are, necessarily done in silence accompanied only by occasional soundtrack and natural background noises. So, except for the few scenes on the boat, the first half of the movie is almost dialogue free which only adds to its mystique.

There is no voice-over, no boy talking to himself or to the horse, no sentimentality or cutesy stuff. There is just scene after scene of haunting beauty. Horse and boy joyous in their companionship.

Of course it cannot last.

Alec and the horse are eventually rescued and reality resumes in the second half of the movie. Gone is the island. Back home in an industrial type town outlined in dark, menacing factories, Alec must find a way to keep his horse. The differences between this existence with all its inherent boundaries and limitations and the freedom of the island could not be more pronounced than in the scene of the nervous horse absurdly surrounded by a white picket fence.

Alec's mother (Terri Garr) is thrilled that her boy has been found safe, but uneasy and confused about the horse in her back yard. One morning 'The Black (as he is now called) runs off when he is frightened by the garbage men, making for one of the more frantic, heart-pounding sequences in the second half of the film.

As The Black flees, Alec chases after him. The horse now races through an unfriendly, unfamiliar, obstacle-laden landscape risking encounters with automobiles and startled humans, disrupting the ordinary day to day life of a busy town. The camera work is brilliant as we follow The Black on this bleak journey. The bright colors of the island have given way to dull brown, black and smokey gray.

Eventually, by several strokes of good fortune, the horse will be safely stabled at a small farm outside of town owned by Henry Dailey, a washed up old jockey - played by Mickey Rooney.
The last section of the film is made up of the intense training and preparation for an improbable three-way race between The Black and two thoroughbred champions. An event which the bitter Henry Dailey hopes will make up for his past failures.

The race, when it comes, is nail-bitingly thrilling as The Black (ridden by Alec) must come from behind to win. There is no music to accompany the mesmerizing camera work, just the horses' loud, rapid breathing and the pounding of their hooves. I remember sitting in the theater spellbound, caught up in the visuals, transported.

In the end, when the credits roll, there is a new musical theme (not heard during the film) as more scenes between Alec and The Black on the island are unveiled in slow motion. I am usually moved to tears.

To classify this brilliant film as just another children's movie is to do it an injustice.


The outrage for me is that not only did Caleb Deschanel NOT win an Academy Award for his absolutely incredible cinematography, he wasn't even nominated. That's when I began to realize that most award givers are clueless when it comes to art. The hell with 'em.

Here's a link to the original trailer with an overwrought voice-over which you should ignore. This is what happens when money people get hold of art and trample all over it to make sure that the audience isn't too stupid to understand what they're seeing.

And finally, a link to the theme played during the end credits.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Bob Tarte Revisited

Since Kathy is SO enthusiastic about my Bob Tarte recommendation, I thought it would be a good time to remind everyone about Bob's often hilarious, often touching and altogether enchanting books.

Bob Tarte chronicles the life he and his wife lead with their battalion of quirky animals, all of whom have their own various personalities (well, maybe except for the turkeys) and eccentricities, not to mention, being possessed of very demanding natures. Thankfully, Bob and his wife are the most gentle and accepting of human beings.

Bob, too, is a wonderfully talented writer and photographer.

ENSLAVED BY DUCKS was my introduction to the wacky world of Bob and Linda and their feathered, furried minions. I've got his other two books lined up.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Happy Birthday, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle!

Today is the birth date of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 - 1930), creator of Sherlock Holmes, the greatest detective the world has ever known (sorry Nero Wolfe).  Of course Doyle created other characters and other stories, but it's for giving birth (literary-ly speaking) to Holmes, that he is remembered most today - something which might or might not have pleased him.

Though generally regarded as an English writer, Doyle was born, spent his early life and studied medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I am pleased to note the epitapth on his gravestone: Steel true - Blade straight - Arthur Conan Doyle - Knight - Patriot, Physician and Man of Letters. 

Sherlock Holmes