Oscar Wilde

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He was a flamboyant fop, a man ahead of his time, a brilliant playwright and rebel of the Victorian period. He was a staple in the Western literary tradition since I’ve been alive, so I was amazed the other day when a few younger colleagues had never heard of him.

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FOP: a man who is concerned with his clothes and appearance in an affected and excessive way; a dandy.

Oscar Wilde was born in 1854 and died at the age of 46. He was raised by intellectual parents from Dublin. He was a scholar from Trinity College and Oxford College, and he was an advocate for the rising literary movement called aestheticism. He rubbed elbows with the wealthy. He was popular and funny. Because he was a homosexual, he was sent to prison for hard labor and exiled from both London and Dublin. Sadly, he died destitute in Paris from an ear infection and meningitis.

His epigrams and aphorisms abound with wit and sarcasm. Which one resonates with you?

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.

The heart was made to be broken.

Twenty years of romance makes a woman look like a ruin; but twenty years of marriage make her something like a public building.

Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.

There is only one thing in the world that is worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

I never put off till tomorrow what I can do the day after.

The only way a woman can ever reform her husband is by boring him so completely that he loses all possible interest in life.

Religion is the fashionable substitute for belief.

Men always want to be a woman`s first love – women like to be a man`s last romance.

No man is rich enough to buy back his past.

The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.

Every saint has a past and every sinner a future.

In the world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

The biography of Wilde by Richard Ellmann, is a staple even though controversy surrounds his account of Oscar’s demise. Ellmann suggests Oscar died of syphilis instead of meningitis. I’d like to read about other Irish writers like Yeats and James Joyce by Ellmann, too.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). It’s the manual for aestheticism.  He worshiped the Romantic poets of the 18th century. In the prelude, Oscar described the tenants of aestheticism. Natural beauty, created by God, and conceived beauty by humans are linked. To surround oneself with beauty is essential for happiness. The artist strives to reveal beauty, and in doing so, the artist’s profession is elevated. “Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated.”  Ah, well, cultivation has problematic side effects. Taken to extremes, surrounding oneself with luxury could create a pompous and shallow personality. It is a spooky classic–the book and the 1945 film contains a great cast: Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray, George Sanders as Lord Henry Wotton, Lowell Gilmore as Basil Hallward, Donna Reed as Gladys Hallward, Angela Lansbury as Sibyl Vane, Peter Lawford as David Stone, Richard Fraser as James Vane, and Douglas Walton as Alan Campbell.

 

The Importance of Being Ernest (1895)His famous play is lighthearted fun and full of witticisms and puns. It was a favorite choice for high schools and colleges productions for a hundred years. If you liked the recent 2016 Jane Austen film,  Love & Friendship,  you would enjoy the 2002 period comedy adaptation starring: Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench, and Frances O’Connor. 

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I few years ago when I visited Paris, I had to visit the tomb of Oscar Wilde at Père Lachaise cemetery. Marked on a pane of glass in front of his tomb was my favorite epigram:

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Unconventional and smart, he was an entertaining character.

Are You Not Entertained?

How many times a day do you seek to be entertained? It is elusive. It is dangerous. The rush of stimulus bombards us. The mob mentality of pop culture is easily distracting and much is nonsense. Yet, I love music and books and movies and have no intention of stopping my search for fine entertainment. Here continues a monthly series of the entertainment that has occupied my time, for better or worse.

MUSIC 

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Former member Don Felder, who complained about his place in the hierarchy as an Eagle, including this documentary from 2013 in which he co-starred, was a constant thorn in the side of Glenn Frey, but that’s only one element of the long, complicated marriage, divorce, and reconciliation of the 1970s band, The Eagles, explained by everyone in the band. The birth of classic rock stations erupted to carry their songs forward after The Eagles disbanded in 1980, and when they reunited in 1994 for their Hell Freezes Over tour, fans were ecstatic. Even if you don’t care for their harmonies or musicianship (Really?), I find it hard to think about the 1970s without them. In the 1980s, Glenn Frey and Don Henley pursued single careers, but I respect their work more as group members of The Eagles whose success and influence in the history of Rock and Roll are undeniable. We’ve all heard “Hotel California” probably 300 times, but when I’m alone in my car with the windows down, and the sun is thinking about setting, the guitar harmonies of Joe Walsh and Felder still resonate and transport me back to the pleasure and pain of younger days. I highly recommend it for those who know little about them, forgot a little, or have loved them for decades. RIP Glenn. What a collection of beloved celebrities who have passed in 2016!  5/5.

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As an American history buff, I love social history, so what could be more fun than looking at our great-grandparents values and feelings through the lens of music? Therefore, The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes and the Course of Country Music captured my imagination. Many are aware that Rock and Roll has been heavily influenced by Gospel and Country, which fused the chords and set the seeds to influence future giants like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and a host of British invaders who appreciated the musicianship and heartfelt songs. I can’t say I’m a big country music fan, but I respect its place, its singers, and I admire the pluck of “Big Daddy” Brinkley who created a national audience from a “border town of Del Rio, Texas, (and) set up a new radio station across the river in Mexico. With 500 kilowatts of broadcasting power, XERA was ten times as powerful as the biggest American stations, which were forced to live within the federal ceiling of 50 kilowatts. Its signal easily reached all forty-eight states, not to mention much of Canada, and within a few years spawned a slew of copycat border stations.” Read more about the Carter Family and XERA found here:  PBS.ORG, THE CARTER FAMILY

Or, rent and watch Beth Harrington‘s 2014 informative documentary.  4/5. 

Speaking of Documentaries…

People criticize the attention and profits made by the discovery of photographer, Vivian Maier. The questions raised in the 2014 documentary Finding Vivian Maier cannot compete with the woman and her captivating photography. There is a mystery surrounding this nanny-recluse who played a life-long game as a secret observer of people and treasure hoarder. When she died in 2009, obscure and alone in Chicago, director John Maloof and Charlie Siskel pulled the threads and discovered an amazing story about this 20th Century version of Emily Dickinson. Both were shy, atypical, prolific artists caught in the moment of creating poems and pictures than selling themselves. Posthumously, their art soared in popularity. In Vivian’s case, right or wrong, her work is admired around the world. It’s the complexity of Vivian that makes the documentary compelling. I disliked the directors filming themselves in the narrative. Their inclusion was offputting. The people who employed her and the children she nannied have warm as well as alarming stories that create a haunting portrayal of a very talented woman who was fiercely independent and bizarre. Would she mind the hoopla surrounding her work? She lives through her work as a ghost, garnering admiration without intimacy, and somehow I think she would like that.  4.5/5 

Check out her photography at http://www.vivianmaier.com

BOOKS 

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David McCullough‘s easy style is graceful, well-researched, and entertaining. He’s my go-to historian regarding all things U.S. History. The Wright Brothers(2015) continues Professor McCullough’s elite reputation for portraying the human side of famous Americans. Orville and Wilbur are two boys from Ohio who are armchair scholars and possessed a drive to achieve flight. Their family helped shape them. Their father was a minister and their sister a Latin teacher. They shared the same house, and they shared the trait of inquisitiveness. All were all productive and supportive. It’s the Wright Brothers who attain the fame and the patents. Their trials at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, surviving mosquito swarms, and wind storms while they practiced their contraptions was my favorite section. Once they flew, you would think the story was over. But their involvement with the French and the U.S. military adds depth to their plane story as it gave flight to the First World War. 4/5

TELEVISION 

Game of Thrones Seasons 1 – 4. 

(Spoilers) Now here’s  a guilty pleasure. I love the cinematography and the developed characters. I love the Magical Realism. Yay for Giants and three-eyed crows. Was I glad when Joffrey died? You bet. Was I troubled when Khaleesi frees the slaves only to chain up her dragons? Yep. Was I sad John Snow’s red-headed wildling died in battle? Yes!  If I had a broadsword would I stab Ramsey Bolton for torturing Theon? In a second. I will miss The Hound. Which character would I be in the series?  Gwendoline Christy’s Brienne of Tarth. I love everything about her.  Obviously, I’m hooked with the Medieval soap-opera which must find room to show a bum and boob in every episode. Thankfully, they have also included chunks of dialogue to develop the characters (i.e., brothers Jaime & Tyrion in the cell, bonding over the simpleton who beat the beetles). They all have good qualities and disgusting qualities which make them very human. Tyrion is an original character you don’t often get to see on television. His smarts and kindness and retribution are very interesting to watch. What’s there not to like? Probably the violence. And if you have something against boobs and buns. However, it’s more than a junior high video game. It’s wonderfully done with characters I care about and root for. Now on to season 5. Don’t tell me what happens. 4.5/5  

A Dozen Perfect Films

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How would you define a perfect film? I would argue there’s something worth remembering about every film if you focus on its parts. When I size up a film, I concentrate on thirteen aspects. Some films have several qualifiers; however, it is rare that a film consists of the following thirteen factors:

1. The line.  Here’s Looking at You Kid. 

2. The scene.  Ada gets her finger chopped off in The Piano. 

3. A smart script.  Dogma

4. A satisfying ending.  Papillon

5. The character transcends the actor.  Lincoln

6. Sound effects affect or the score inspires.  The Birds.  The Magnificent Seven

7. The production design/setting transports.  Lord of the Rings.  Out of Africa

8. The cinematography is innovative or artistic.  Inception.  Citizen Kane

9. Costumes are exquisite or perfectly show the culture.  The Aviator

10. Suspension of disbelief. I am “in” the movie.  The Science of the Lambs

11. The climax is clearly evident and startling.  Psycho

12. The ensemble cast around the major character is a blended microcosm. The Deer Hunter

13. The opening and ending shot. The Searchers

There are many good films to choose from, but are they perfect?  In no particular order, here are my dozen: 

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Apocalypse Now, “The horror, the horror.” 

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Black Swan, Natalie Portman’s performance was supreme. 

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Dances with Wolves, the flip from soldier to warrior. 2099_tn

Alicia: There’s nothing like a love song to give you a good laugh.

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On the Waterfront, Father Barry’s homily as he rises up out of the ship. 

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Survival story bar none. The sound of the water becomes an adversary. Who can forget the dueling banjos? 

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Cold Mountain, a great example of an ensemble cast. 

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Elizabeth, a perfect period film with breathtaking costumes. 

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The Matrix is still a fun mind-bender. 

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Impressive set design and Brad Pitt’s best performance. 

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Joel Gray. Liza Minnelli. Great opening and closing sequence.  

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My favorite Film Noir. 

Is your definition of perfection different from mine? Maybe you would have added editing? If scores aren’t important to you, your list will be quite different. Also, Pixar’s Finding Nemo is a perfect film even though they aren’t wearing costumes, their animated scales and skin are exquisite.

Ten Best Movie Posters

Original movie posters are a hot commodity and some are very valuable. Imagine Rocky, E.T., or Jaws framed on your wall.  They are time stamps speaking volumes about our culture, and old school illustrators and graphic artists have my utmost respect. My choices are not a list of my favorite movies but rather a list of admiration for the design and the emotional reaction I have when I see the poster. In no particular order, here are ten favorites:

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The red lips belong to Magenta played by Patricia Quinn.

Perhaps the most quotable film ever? Certainly the most interactive with its audience.

Lips: Michael Rennie was ill The Day the Earth Stood Still / But he told us where we stand / And Flash Gordon was there in silver underwear / Claude Rains was The Invisible Man…

A Saul Bass famous  design.
1958. A Saul Bass famous design.
1927. Designer Heinz Schulz-Neudamm's masterpiece is a worth a million.
1927. Designer Heinz Schulz-Neudamm’s masterpiece is a worth a million.

I liked this article of “The 10 most expensive movie posters in pictures” printed in THE GUARDIAN

Can’t get enough of James Bond movie posters? You can read more about Dr. No HERE

The original poster is the upturned helmet designed by Bill Gold. Oliver Stone apparently maximized the Willem Defoe martyrdom shot into a new poster. It was a brush stroke of genius.

Hildebrandt Brothers
Hildebrandt Brothers

I have a fondness for Hildebrandt Brothers’ illustrations. Maybe you missed my post devoted to their artwork? It’s right here:  Hildebrandt Brothers.

2006, English movie poster
2006, English movie poster

I loved this Spanish, Alice in Wonderland adaptation and how it functioned as a social allegory. How creepy is that entrance? 

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According to IMDb, Jeff Bridges was considered for the role of Travis Bickle. Could he have acted the part as well as Robert DeNiro?  

Bill Gold's  1956 US theatrical release poster
Bill Gold’s 1956 US theatrical release poster

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Thanks to my friend ALEX RAPHAEL who got me thinking yesterday about movie posters. If you could own one, original movie poster, which would it be? 

Masochism

Georgia O'Keefe, Jack-in-the-Pulpit IV, 1930
Georgia O’Keeffe, Jack-in-the-Pulpit IV, 1930

There’s a secret spot in the brain, an endorphin-rich place many humans try to enter. It is a dangerous location dividing two sides of psychological states: drive and fortitude on the sunny side and the murky, ruinous side of masochism and martyrdom. Whether you are a writer or reader or observer of films, these characters who are on a quest for the ultimate mental escape, catch us, and pull us along for the ride. They have something to share about the human condition. Will they triumph or will they fall? The pleasure/pain principle is human nature’s most fascinating oxymoron. Some live it; almost all of us are entertained by it.

The Artist  
Natalie Portman, The Black Swan, 2010
Natalie Portman in The Black Swan, 2010

I admire the performing arts. The symmetry, the composition, and the spectacular lengths artists make it look and sound effortless garners awe. What’s the price an artist will pay to be the best? The rigors of practice and the dedicated focus to be perfect requires an atypical lifestyle where time and schedule are aligned for one purpose–to exist only for art. The Black Swan is one of my favorite psychological thrillers. The stress Nina Sayers struggles with as she strives to be perfect is an example of masochism. How does she achieve perfection? She has to let go of her bodily self and transcend to that secret spot where she becomes the black swan, Odile, and is no longer Nina, the good white swan, Odette.  Darren Aronofsky told a similar story–opposite societal arena–starring Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (2008). Both films depict the extent to which an artist will transcend to the art form they worship.

Damien Chazelle's Whiplash (2014)
Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash (2014)

Whiplash (2014) is a tale about the sadomasochistic relationship of character Miles Teller and his mentor, Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons who won the Oscar as his manipulative old-school instructor. Miles needed the task-master to push him to greatness. He couldn’t be the next Buddy Rich without the abuse. By the end of the story, the boy transcends into a man and the power struggle shifts to an exciting conclusion. The dynamic duo and the gorgeous jazz easily made Whiplash one of my favorite films of the year.

Transcendence via Sex
Lars Von Trier, 1996,  Breaking the Waves
Lars von Trier, 1996, Breaking the Waves

Breaking the Waves (1996) is an odd film set in Scotland starring Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgård. Bess is Calvinist and pure of heart while Jan is an atheist oil-rigger. Her love for her husband extends to great limits most of us wouldn’t venture, for he becomes incapacitated and wants her to have sex with others and describe the details to keep their union whole. Her devout relationship with God affects her rationale, and she concedes, convinced it is God’s will to cure Jan. Bess eventually overcomes her repulsion with lovers and transcends to the special spot via sex to a symbolic state of purity by martyrdom. Visionary director Lars von Trier incorporated ten rules in his Dogme 95. The remote Scottish landscape is ancient and stimulating and perfect extension to the film. You can learn more about Lars von Trier’s technique HERE.

Dangerous Jobs 
The Hurt Locker directed by Kathy Bigelow, 2008.
The Hurt Locker directed by Kathryn Bigelow, 2008.

The threat of imminent death causes an adrenaline surge to create the complete escape. This altered state is foreign to normalcy. War puts you in that heightened state seen in films like The Hurt Locker and American Sniper.  How ironic that only when faced with death, do some people feel alive.  

LEOs and FF/EMTs
Ron Howard 1991 film starring Kurt Russell
Ron Howard 1991 film starring Kurt Russell

The ER nurse or doctor. The ambulance driver. The firefighter, and the police officer. Surrounded by the threat of death to others and themselves requires control and steady hands. The exposure releases the chemical surge and the instinct for survival kicks in; they are in the zone. They commit to a lifestyle that few of us could stomach. These heroes are in a voluntary, dangerous career, and they take the abuse. It’s their identity.

The Athlete 

Similar to the skater, the dancer, and the musician, the focus to excel and perfect their sport requires one visit the sweet spot in the brain. Extreme sports, extreme results.

The Actor 

What about the craft of the actor? How far will an actor go to alter their state of being? There are few actors who come to mind who are willing to transform their bodies for the sake of their art, but Christian Bale probably does it better than anyone.

Extreme sleep deprivation is as close to the sweet spot as I’ve ever been. This altered state of torpidness is fascinating and dangerous. In the sweet spot, pain is not felt, the world does not hurt. Nothing can touch you. Does pain brings pleasure?

Birdman and Notions about Art

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Morning conversations today linked the creative process with the definition of art whether the medium was painting, dancing, writing, acting, filmmaking, or even blogging. I enjoy movie buff critic, Dave Crewe, who posted a review and grappled with the theme of art in the film Birdman. I encourage you to read Dave Crewe’s review.  Another conversation occurred with Diana who writes on A Holistic Journey where we chatted about the topic of artist as writer. She recited Katharine Hepburn’s quote, “Today everyone is a star – they’re all billed as ‘starring’ or ‘also starring’. In my day, we earned that recognition.”  To which Diana added, “Gee, she’d have a cow if she saw this truism taken over the top in the digital age of self-publishing…and blogging!”

We’re all bloggers of our passions. Our need to create posts and self-express our personalities with hopes an audience will reciprocate with a reaction and the gratification which comes with the exchange suggests we are artists. Who would of thought ten years ago we’d have virtual friends, and we’d be sharing our creative efforts via photographs, stories, and articles? Is blogging a new art form? Maybe Andy Warhol was right when he said, “Art is whatever you can get away with.” 

Oh, too many questions abound. For instance, what is a work of art? A shiny red Porsche convertible? The Taj Mahal? A dress designed by Coco Chanel? Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch? Now consider Edward Norton’s electrifying performance and line by his character Mike Shiner, “popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.”  Does art have a hierarchy? Is Citizen Kane better than 12 Years a Slave? Who decides what is art and why are they right? What about blogging–do you feel like an artist? When followers comment, do you feel like you have a platform? Let’s extend this to TED videos, you-tube videos and self-published books.  My friend Diana remarked about the powerful potential of blogging and commented, “A recent guest writer said she felt like a celebrity on my board, amazed at the response.”

If art is about eliciting a response and your efforts have created a discussion, perhaps you have crossed over into the nebulous world of the artist. Finally, are bloggers, self-published authors, unrecognized actors, filmmakers without a screen, painters without a gallery, bottom-feeders?

Birdman has a great shot at winning top awards this season because of the issues raised about popularity vs. prestige. Everyone creates something and everyone needs validation. It’s what humans do best. Create. Birdman is a film one could watch many times and find something new to appreciate. That’s art.

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