"Then my photography started to shift; everything had to be very clean and Republican, straight and perfect... Everything is staged and controlled... It's the complete opposite of war photography."
War photographer Christopher Morris's new exhibit and book: "My America".
War photographer Christopher Morris's new exhibit and book: "My America".
"Everything is foggy. Everything is not clear. He was alive when we got to the other side. And now I have brought him back dead. Whatever hopes we had, that's where they ended." The Summer of the Death of Hilario Guzman (BugMeNot)
Teenage Hoboes in the Great Depression. During the Great Depression over 250,000 young people left home and began riding freight trains or hitchhiking across America. Most of them were between 16 and 25 years of age. Many finally found work and shelter through the Civilian Conservation Corps, a government relief project that Franklin D. Roosevelt established in 1933 as part of the New Deal. From 1933 to 1942, CCC enrollees built new roads, strung telephone wires, erected fire towers, and planted approximately 3 billion trees. By 1935, the program was providing employment for more than 500,000 young men.
"If I allow the fact that I am a Negro to checkmate my will to do, now, I will inevitably form the habit of being defeated".
The Jackie Robinson of architecture. An orphaned African American boy from downtown Los Angeles, Paul Revere Williams wanted to be an architect, and when he mentioned his career goal the high school guidance counselor ”stared at me with as much astonishment as he would have had I proposed a rocket flight to Mars... Whoever heard of a Negro being an architect?”. Therefore, Williams learned to read and draw upside down -- he knew that white clients would not sit next to him -- graduated from USC and in 1924 became the first certified African American architect west of the Mississippi. In a 50-year long extraordinary career, he designed landmarks like the Theme restaurant at Los Angeles International Airport (with Welton Becket), the LA County Courthouse, the Hollywood YMCA, Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, restored the Beverly Hills Hotel. Some of his most interesting buildings, like the La Concha Motel in Las Vegas have either been razed to the ground or, like the "Batman house", aka 160 S San Rafael mansion in Pasadena, have been destroyed by fire. Now, Williams' historic Morris Landau House has been cut into 21 separate pieces and sits in a Santa Clarita storage yard, rotting away. More inside.
The Goats of West Point ”...though only about twenty years of age, had the appearance of being much older. He had a worn, weary, discontented look, not easily forgotten by those who were intimate with him.” A new book tells the story of Sergeant Major Edgar Allan Poe, Battery H (.pdf), First Artillery Washout, West Point, Class of 1834. And of other famous cadets.
Forty-nine published plays. Four Pulitzer Prizes. Three marriages. A suicide attempt. A celebrity for a father. A drug-addicted mother who blamed her habit on her son. A daughter estranged, a son who committed suicide. A Nobel Prize, the only ever awarded to an American playwright. Eugene O'Neill from inside out: a documentary film for American Experience. More inside.
America's First Superstar. He was the highest paid actor in the world, beloved by fans so passionate about his performances that a riot (23 people killed, more than a hundred wounded) ensued when a rival dared to perform the role that had made him famous. He enjoyed all the trappings of a superstar's life: portraits taken by America's most famous photographer, a large mansion (now a historic landmark), and of course a scandalous divorce trial (he lost). He was also one of the most prominent book collectors in the country. Edwin Forrest was born 200 years ago.
Jefferson has his Monticello; Washington, Mount Vernon. Now, Benjamin Franklin's only surviving residence, Number 36 Craven Street, London, opened its doors to the public. More inside.
Jerry Lewis at 80 (more inside)
Beyond the Playing Field: Jackie Robinson, Civil Rights Advocate. (more inside)
"One could go on, and one will -- praising (...) the National Center for Jewish Film for releasing all four of Edgar Ulmer's Yiddish films in restored editions. But the DVD player is beckoning, and I think it is time for me to get back to the couch". The National Center for Jewish Film (NCJF) is a unique nonprofit motion picture archive, distributor and resource center housing the largest, most comprehensive collection of Jewish-theme film and video in the world. In their archives you can discover the works of Leo Fuchs, the "Yiddish Fred Astaire", restored gems (scroll down) like "Motl the Operator" and re-releases like "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg". (More on Greenberg, the Jewish kid who challenged Babe Ruth’s homerun record here, more on the NCJF inside).
Miracle on 57th Street. Thomas Wolfe said that America is not only the place where miracles happen, but where they happen all the time. This is the story of a miracle, a true-life fairy tale, and appropriately enough it begins with the intervention of the Almighty. Artur Rodzinski, music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1943 to 1947, was an eccentric, a health nut who drank only milk from goats he raised himself and who kept a loaded revolver in his back pocket whenever he conducted. Rodzinski said that God told him to hire 24 year old Leonard Bernstein, to be his assistant conductor. In the fall of 1943 Rodzinski decided to take a vacation, spend a little time with his goats, and called in Bruno Walter to conduct seven concerts in ten days. Only hours before one of those concerts (in the program, works by Schumann, Rosza, Strauss and Wagner) Walter fell ill. Rodzinski was only four hours away, in his farm. But he declined to come back to Carnegie Hall: "Call Bernstein. That's why we hired him." The concert was broadcast over radio and a review appeared on page 1 of The New York Times the next day: "Young Aide Leads Philharmonic; Steps in When Bruno Walter is Ill". In the same size type as another that read, "Japanese Plane Transport Sunk." More inside.
"It is absurd to talk about a Judeo-Christian tradition". I had been born in the United States but didn't know any English because none was spoken at home or in the streets. We were a solid enclave of some 600,000 Eastern European, Yiddish-speaking Jews. But I still remember one day that a missionary came to the door with what I still have my copy of: a Yiddish translation of the New Testament. There's a kind of grim joke in that, isn't there? In the mere existence of it. Harold Bloom on religion in America, God smoking a cigar, and who really is the King of the Jews.
"I am at war with the obvious", photographer William Eggleston once said, explaining his attraction to a ceiling lightbulb engulfed in a shock of red or an old Gulf gasoline sign sprouting like a giant weed against a rural skyline. Attempting to understand that battle, filmmaker Michael Almereyda trailed the photographer in action and in repose over a period of five years. The resulting film is "William Eggleston in the Real World". More inside.,
The Peleliu Project. The tiny Micronesian island of Peleliu was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. The U.S. invasion of the Japanese occupied island began in September of 1944, and was expected to last only a matter of days. Casualties on this 5 square mile island reached 20,000 by the end of the two-month struggle. U.S. soldiers were forced to pour aviation fuel into caves and ignite them in order to end the standoff of those who refused to surrender. One determined group of 34 Japanese soldiers remained in hiding until they were discovered in April of 1947. Pharmacist Mate 3rd Class Russell Fee returned from Peleliu with a fierce, uncompromising vision of America which would have a profound impact on the life and work of his son. Fifty-three years later, armed with his father's snapshots and diary which he had just uncovered, James Fee went to Peleliu to see with his own eyes the place where his father's vision had taken shape. The result of his five year quest is The Peleliu Project. more inside
Fazal Sheikh's photographs have documented the plight of refugees in camps across Central and East Africa and the Middle East. However, his photographs are distinctly different from the images of refugees we commonly see in printed news articles. Sheikh's photographs implicitly assert that the individual refugees share humanity with their oppressive rulers. He does so by depicting the individuals in portraits rather than as victims of a social and political drama. Sheikh, an American citizen, was just awarded the Grand Prix International Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Little visual miracles. For more than forty years that most American of photographers, Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters Lee Friedlander, has recorded modern American urban life -- with its jumble of people, signs, buildings, and cars, and television sets. He likes to turn a common blunder of amateurs -- photographing something nearby with one's back to the sun -- into a leitmotif. His shadow plays the role of alter ego, sticking to the back of a woman's fur collar, clinging to a lamppost as a parade of drum majorettes passes by, reclining like a stuffed doll on a chair. Clever jigsaw puzzles, his pictures frequently reveal themselves to be laconic, austere poems to what Friedlander has termed "the American social landscape',' meaning mostly ordinary places and affairs. "Friedlander," an exhibition of more than 480 photographs and 25 books covering decades of work, runs at MoMA through Aug. 29, before traveling to Europe until 2007. More inside.
"I am an American, so that is why I make films about America. America is sitting on our world, I am making films that have to do with America (because) 60% of my life is America. So I am in fact an American, but I can't go there to vote, I can't change anything. We are a nation under influence and under a very bad influence… because Mr. Bush is an asshole and doing very idiotic things." Lars Von Trier introduces his new film at the Cannes Film Festival: «Manderlay» picks up where «Dogville» left off, with the character originated by Nicole Kidman -- now played by Bryce Dallas Howard -- stumbling onto a plantation that time forgot, where slavery still operates in the 1930s. The film (5 MB .pdf file, official pressbook) ends, as Dogville did, with David Bowie’s Young Americans played over a photomontage of images that range from a Ku Klux Klan meeting to the Rodney King beating, George Bush at prayer and Martin Luther King at his final rest, American soldiers in Vietnam and the Gulf, the Twin Towers. More inside.
What Was True. From the mid 1950s through the early 1980s, William Gedney (1932-1989) photographed throughout the United States, in India, and in Europe, and filling notebook after notebook with his observations. From the commerce of the street outside his Brooklyn apartment to the daily chores of unemployed coal miners, from the lifestyle of hippies in Haight-Ashbury to the sacred rituals of Hindu worshippers, Gedney was able to record the lives of others with clarity and poignancy. Gedney's America is a nation of averted eyes, and broken automobiles, and restlessness, a place Edward Hopper would recognize, but so, also, Walt Whitman.
Aparicioñes. Somewhere along the back roads of small towns dotting the Louisiana and Mississippi and Mexico landscape is Jack Spencer, a self-taught photographer, searching for beauty. More inside.
The Reader of Gentlemen's Mail In the spring of 1919, when the father of American cryptography, Herbert O. Yardley, drew up a plan for a permanent State Department codebreaking organization — a "black chamber — he estimated that a modest $100,000 a year would buy a chief (Yardley) and fifty clerks and cryptanalysts. Yardley rented a three-story building in New York City: on East 38th Street just off Fifth Avenue, he put two dozen people to work under civilian cover—as the Code Compiling Company. His summary dismissal happened in 1929 at the hand of incoming Secretary of State Henry Stimson, who closed down the Cipher Bureau with the casual observation that "gentlemen do not read each other's mail". The son of a railroad telegrapher, a man with a lively Jazz Age interest in money, good-looking women, and drinks at five, Yardley not only taught his country how to read other people's mail but wrote two of the enduring American books—the memoir The American Black Chamber (1931), and The Education of a Poker Player (1957).
"Calling it a museum is really a misnomer". The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum opens today in Springfield, Ill., with a silicone Lincoln posing in the rotunda and Tim Russert introducing mock TV attack ads from the campaign of 1860. In the Union Theater, an abolitionist roars "Lincoln was no friend of the black man" as hologram cannons boom to signal the start of the Civil War. Strobe lights flash; the plush seats jerk and rumble like a ride at Universal Studios. When Atlanta burns, the air feels hot. This is history, Hollywood style: A $90-million look at Honest Abe's life and times — with special effects created by the "Jurassic Park" and "Terminator 3" team of Stan Winston Studios (link with sound).
Sarah Roberts vs. Boston In 1848, five-year-old Sarah Roberts was barred from the local primary school because she was black. Her father sued the City (.pdf file). The lawsuit was part of an organized effort by the African-American community to end racially segregated schools. The book "Sarah's Long Walk: The Free Blacks of Boston and How Their Struggle for Equality Changed America" tells the story of the case of Roberts v. City of Boston, that remains a little-known landmark in the civil rights movement.
Call her Madame. Among the old-timers, the story went like this: a woman known to everyone as Madame came to California from Kentucky with her children and her husband. But once they were in the Gold Rush State, her husband left her. Desperate to find work, she introduced herself to a movie director named D. W. Griffith. He not only cast her in his movie, but the two became friends for life. And with this woman, called Madame Sul-Te-Wan, what we now call Black Hollywood began -- as a new book by historian Donald Bogle explains. (more inside)
"Rose . . . is as close to us as family". Rose Mary Woods, who died Saturday at 87, was Richard Nixon's private secretary. In 1973 Woods was transcribing secretly recorded audiotapes of Oval Office conversations , working on a June 20, 1972, tape of a conversation between President Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, that might have shed light on whether Nixon knew about the Watergate break-in three days earlier. While she was performing her duties (.rtf file), she said, the phone rang. As she reached for it, she said she inadvertently struck the erase key on the tape recorder and kept her foot on the machine's pedal, forwarding the tape. More inside.
In search of lost time It was Jack Kerouac who first defined Robert Frank's genius, who found in it some echo of his own vision of a vast, broken-down, but still epic, America, peopled with restless and lonely dreamers. 'Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice,' wrote Kerouac in his now famous introduction to Frank's collection The Americans , 'with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America on to film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world'. Frank's exhibition, Storylines, opens this week at the Tate Modern in London.
"Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear." He is one of America's great novelists, but you don't expect Philip Roth to be barreling up the best-seller list with a book that hasn't even been published yet. And yet "The Plot Against America" is in the top 3 at amazon.com. It spins a what-if scenario in which the isolationist and anti-Semitic hero Charles Lindbergh runs for president as a Republican in 1940 and defeats F.D.R. "Keep America Out of the Jewish War", reads a button worn by Lindbergh supporters rallying at Madison Square Garden. And so he does: he signs nonaggression pacts with Germany and Japan that will keep America at peace while the rest of the world burns. The Lindbergh administration hatches a nice plan to prod assimilation of the Jews. Innocuously called Just Folks, it's a relocation program for urban Jews, administered by an Office of American Absorption fronted by an obliging and pompous rabbi of radio celebrity. The teenage Roth character is shipped off to a Kentucky tobacco farm, to finally live among Christians. The book is about American Fascism, but while Roth is no fan of President Bush ("a man unfit to run a hardware store let alone a nation like this one"), he points out that he conceived this book (LATimes registration: sparklebottom/sparklebottom) in December 2000, and that it would be "a mistake" to read it "as a roman à clef to the present moment in America." (more inside)
"Whadyawant, motherf*ck?" These are the first words Charles Bukowski speaks in John Dullaghan's documentary about the poet and novelist, famous for his writing and infamous for his drinking and brawling and screwing. The audience member might respond, "To hear your story, Hank, that's what I want." The movie opens with friends (Sean Penn, Harry Dean Stanton, Bono) and colleagues and lovers and fans recounting the myth; theirs are stories of blades pulled on the maitre d' of the swanky Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills, of dangling dicks revealed in public, of a drunk who'd just as soon crack his bottle over your head than share its contents. (more inside)
"Hubert Selby died often. But he always came back, smiling that beautiful smile of his, and those blue eyes of his... This time he will not be back. My saints have always come from hell, and now, with his passing, there are no more saints". Selby is the author of Last Exit to Brooklyn, (tried for obscenity in England and supported by, among many others, Samuel Beckett and Anthony Burgess), Requiem For a Dream, Song of the Silent Snow. He is being eulogized in the USA and UK, but also, massively (I've just watched a fantastic TV special) in France, where he is much more popular than in his native land (Selby's death was the cover story -- plus pages 2, 3 and 4 -- in the daily Libération today -- .pdf file): Dernière sortie vers la rédemption, L'extase de la dévastation. What makes all this kind of ironic -- in a very Selbyesque way -- is that Selby himself used to say, "I started to die 36 hours before I was born..." (more inside)
"The people of Dogville are proud, hypocritical and never more dangerous than when they are convinced of the righteousness of their actions" (NYT link) "The movie is, of course, an attack on America—its innocence, its conformity, its savagery—though von Trier is interested not in the life of this country (he’s never been here) but in the ways he can exploit European disdain for it." (The New Yorker). Lars Von Trier's new movie, Dogville, is under attack from critics who consider it anti-American. Von Trier, of course, has never been to the US but he counters that he knows more about U.S. culture through modern media than, say, the makers of "Casablanca' knew about Morocco. Kafka hadn't been to Amerika either. Should non US-ian artists leave America alone if they've never been there? Von Trier says that "in my own country, I'm considered anti-Danish - again, that's more about politics than issues of nationality." (more inside)
The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard M. Helms, former CIA director, is dead. "We're not in the Boy Scouts," Richard Helms was fond of saying when he ran the Central Intelligence Agency. He was involved in many suspicious covert operations -- in 1970's Chile for example -- and JFK consipracy nuts even linked him to the president's assasination. George Tenet now calls Helms "a great patriot". He was fired by President Nixon when he refused to block an FBI probe into the Watergate scandal. Want to know more about the man? Check out Thomas Powers excellent story in "The Atlantic" Oh, and his niece was the semi-official Taliban ambassador to the USA
Fla. OKs Election System Overhaul "Florida's governor was eager to change the state's maligned election system after recounts delayed his brother's election for 36 days and left many Democrats believing Al Gore had won".