Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hot dog

Sleek, roomy and able to reach the speed of 90 mph, the wienermobile was first created in 1936 to promote Oscar Mayer products in the Midwest. There's now a fleet of seven wienermobiles, each designated to a specific region of the USA. Oscar Mayer headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin screen potential drivers, called 'hotdoggers', with the care and seriousness given to astronauts. The hotdogger position lasts one full year. Each wienermobile holds a team of two hotdoggers. Only college graduates or seniors who are about to graduate are eligible to apply for the hotdogger position. Of course, mad driving skills and a love of hot dogs are essential. Once a candidate has been selected, training begins at Hot Dog High for a crash course in products, public relations and manuevering the 27 foot wienermobile.

Images of people

Blexbolex is a French comic artist and illustrator. He received the 2009 “Best Book Design of the World” prize for L'Imagier des gens (released in 2008) at the Book Fair of Leipzig. Best...of the WORLD, don't you love that? These days, political correctness in the spirit of generosity has marginalized awards; you'll hear, "The Oscar goes to..." instead of, "The winner is..." There's plenty of room for mediocrity; what's the harm in having a pinnacle, an apex, a top-banana seat worth dreaming about?

The hardback book, complete with a dust jacket is just gorgeous! Every page could be framed; in fact, I'd love a wall filled with these graceful, graphic denizens.

You can order a copy here. Shipping to the USA will cost as much as the book itself, but it's the best of the world so it's truly worth every penny.

Friday, October 30, 2009

10 List: Death personified

In Orpheus Death becomes her.

Just in time for Halloween, the Grim Reaper! News flash: The black robe and scythe create just one signature look.

10 film versions of the shadowy spectre you don't want to meet:

The Seventh Seal-
Death wants to play a game of chess. Really, think this offer over carefully.

The Prophecy-
Christopher Walken as the Archangel Gabriel says, "I'm an angel. I kill firstborns while their Mamas watch." TMI!

Death Takes a Holiday-
Fredric March as Death wonders why humans fear him so.

Meet Joe Black-
A remake of Death Takes a Holiday. Brad Pitt as Death loves...peanut butter.

Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey-
Bill and Ted give Death a wedgie. Dude!

The Doors-
Jim Morrison meets Death (who is drunk) at an airport bar. Death says cryptically, "See you around Jim."

Love and Death-
Death says to Woody Allen as Boris, "We'll meet again." Boris, "Don't bother." Death, "It's no bother."
I walk through the valley of the shadow of Love and Death.

Matt Damon as Loki, once the Angel of Death but having renounced his calling has been exiled to Wisconsin.

Orpheus (Jean Cocteau)-
Death is an impeccably dressed, Rolls Royce driving French woman! Mon Dieu!

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen-
For years, the Baron has narrowly escaped (cheated) Death, who is a redhead-who knew?

The Seventh Seal Check mate.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

It's not the years, it's the cuteness.

The Nissan Figaro

The Nash Metropolitan

The Fiat Jolly

It's hard to imagine Yul Brynner and Elvis Presley tooling around in a Fiat Jolly (1958), but they were among the elite short list that owned the limited edition. It is estimated that only 100 Jollys have survived the passage of time. The 1953 release of the Nash Metropolitan received mixed reviews for driving performance but remained in production for seven years. The Nissan Figaro was introduced in Japan in 1989; only 20,000 were ever produced. That's surprising to me, considering how the Nissan brand would have assured strong sales in the UK and the USA had the car been exported. It's especially surprising when I take into account the reverence for cuteness in Japan.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

14 feet.

I met Marne at her first store, a tiny home furnishings shop on Robertson Blvd. in Los Angeles that is now a nail salon. She boldly mixed vintage furniture with refurbished industrial wares adding a liberal dose of humor. Inside the old metal waste bins she had powder coated in bright primary colors, she'd place a hand sewn toy snake, or mix school chairs from the 1960's with a snazzy modernist dining table. I'd visit the store often and discover stuff I never knew about as well as ways of mixing old and new seamlessly.

I had to work while attending college but unlike other students making fast cash as bartenders and waiters, I painted homes. I was really good at it. I wasn't afraid of climbing scaffolds, or intimidated by extensive moulding. I liked seeing the transformation and enjoyed the quiet and the rhythm. I share this back-story because there's usually a reason for feeling an affinity or connection when you meet a person; when Marne mentioned she painted homes as a student, that was the Aha! moment for me.

After relocating to a larger space in a trendier neighborhood, her business thrived. She still wore sneakers and jeans, drove a pickup truck and worked constantly. Eventually she sold her store when she moved out of Los Angeles. I assumed she was working as a designer or consultant somewhere but just this week, I discovered she opened a store in Healdsburg (northern) California, named 14 feet. Check it out: There's old and new furniture, and fun, one-of-a-kind objects. On her website she wrote, "If you see a sold item you like, give us a call...we might be able to find something similar!" Believe it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Coco Before Chanel

According to Debra Ollivier, an American writer who lived in France for a decade, married a French man and wrote the book What French Women Know, "It's not the shoes, the scarves, or the lipstick that gives French women their allure. It's this: French women don't give a damn. They don't expect men to understand them. They don't care about being liked or being like everyone else. They generally reject notions of packaged beauty. They accept the passage of time, celebrate the immediacy of pleasure, like to break rules, embrace ambiguity and imperfection, and prefer having a life to making a living. They are, in other words, completely unlike us." That sweep of description is an astute representation of Audrey Tatou playing Gabrielle Chanel in the new film Coco Before Chanel from writer/director Anne Fontaine.

As the title describes, the film depicts the life of Chanel before she became the infamous designer. A poor French girl raised in an orphanage, Coco as she was nicknamed, is determined to make something of herself-- something besides a mistress or cabaret singer, although she breezes through those phases early on.

She becomes the mistress of horse breeder/playboy Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde) who is amused when she raids his closet and tailors his crisp shirts and tweeds into unique fashions for herself. At first, her costumes elicit stares and chuckles, but soon she is commissioned by wealthy fashionistas for custom made hats and dresses. She rejects frills and corsets and heels, and favors flats and suits and simplicity. In short, the menswear she has adapted for herself represents the very thing she desires and admires most: freedom.

Through Balsan, Coco meets Arthur "Boy" Capel (Alessandro Nivola), a wealthy Briton who so believed in her work he financed her first Paris shop. The love story that follows, however true,is less interesting than the rags to haute couture story of Chanel becoming the indomitable fashion icon. She lived to be 87 years old and never retired. It wasn't about the money, like so many successful people, she loved her work.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Serious Man

Growing up, I knew the suburbs were out there, but never knew anyone from those places with the storybook names. In college, I made new friends and went to visit their families, many in those neighborhoods with homes that looked eerily alike. One home in particular, made a lasting impression; all of the furniture had custom made, clear plastic covers and even the lampshades had slip cases. I hadn't thought of that suburb or those plastic covers in a long time, but I did while watching the new Joel and Ethan Coen movie, A Serious Man.

A Serious Man opens with a quote attributed to Rashi, "Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you." This is followed by a grim prologue of an Eastern European couple bickering in Yiddish whether the man who helped fix their broken wagon is in fact an evil spirit. Finally, the main character is introduced and his story begins in a 1960's Minnesota setting during a routine medical exam.

Although he lives in a tidy, Jewish suburb with other families like his own, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a physics professor who has a full plate of aggravation. His grating wife wants a divorce, his shrill daughter wants a nose job, his son is fixated on F-Troop, his unemployed brother is staying on too long, his tenure is pending, his neighbor is a bully, a Columbia Records Club salesman pesters him for payment and a student he has failed has presented him with bribe money for a passing grade. Larry is mild mannered, and ineffectual in nearly every confrontation, even as the stress of his life escalates and he is forced to live at a nearby hotel, The Jolly Roger. Over the course of the movie, he visits three rabbis for guidance, but finds little comfort and no inspiration from their long-winded obscure allegories.

If there is humor in the misery of others or abject irony in the random nature of misfortune then A Serious Man manages to be both a comedy and tragedy. In all their films, the Coen brothers present a unique world, and ease their audience into understanding complex characters with equally complicated actions and impulses. While the writing is smart, and the performances are polished, A Serious Man was like that plastic covered room; uncomfortable, severe, and I could hardly wait to leave.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Located In the middle of the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris is one of the largest puppet theaters. I know, to think there are several to even compare is surprising, but there are at least 10 puppet theaters in Paris that remain active. Inside, you'll meet meet Guignol, the marionette that has been thrilling and chilling children since 1808 ! You don't need to speak French to enjoy Guignol's bawdy humor, his silly gags or the seasoned whacks he delivers to his unsuspecting adversaries. The kids cheer and shriek and stomp their feet. I love this place!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Plain sight

Bruno Munari and Charles and Ray Eames amassed large collections of what appeared to be ordinary objects. They were exciting, provocative artists and designers that recognized perfection and aesthetic pleasure in the commonplace.

Agelio Batle is a San Francisco based sculptor who finds inspiration in mundane materials, creating functional drawing tools of startling beauty. The graphite sculptures have a nice weight and have been devised to prevent smudging. Available here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

10 List: Villains

A truly memorable villain is a study in complexity. It's not enough to twirl a mustache and demand the rent or don a hockey mask and swing an axe. Not for me at least.

Ten you'll l-o-v-e to hate:

Henry Fonda/Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West -Just so you know he's really bad to the bone, he shoots a kid, in the BACK.

Rutger Hauer/John Ryder in The Hitcher- A bored sociopath thumbs a ride.

Dennis Hopper/Frank Booth in Blue Velvet- An inhalant addicted sadomasochist looks for romance.

Kathy Bates/Annie Wilkes in Misery- An avid reader who doesn't care for the ending of a series. Instead of a well worded letter, she opts to kidnap and terrorize the writer for revisions.

Javier Bardem/Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men- He's a hired killer, that occasionally offers a victim a 50/50 chance at freedom on a coin toss, just for fun.

Ian McDiarmid/ Supreme Chancellor Palpatine in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi- Darth Vader is considered black hearted, and this is his master. His sarcasm is especially cruel.

Arnold Schwarzenegger/Series 800 in The Terminator- Before he returned as a good guy/protector, who asked questions and cried, Arnold was fantastic as the relentless, lacking-any-social-skills Terminator.

Angela Lansbury/Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate- Ambitious, calculating, devious AND a Mom! When she plants a long kiss on the lips of her hapless son, it is perfectly creepy.

Joseph Cotten/Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt- When he returns to his small hometown and says to his niece that was named after him, "The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it?" you know bad things are coming.

Bette Davis/Baby Jane Hudson in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? - Some think that this film is campy but I think Bette Davis is truly menacing as Jane. When her wheelchair bound sister (played by Joan Crawford)complains, "You wouldn't be able to do these awful things to me if I weren't still in this chair." Jane responds, "But you are Blanche! You are in that chair!" Brrrrr!

I didn't include the obvious choices: Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch or Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter or Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates who top any Baddie list.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Edward del Rosario

Edward del Rosario

Edward del Rosario

The paintings of Edward del Rosario remind me of Latin American retablos--the devotional paintings found in home altars. His images are like windows into mysterious worlds. I like them so much!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Impossible Project

Considering a daunting project, Samuel Goldwyn the film executive remarked, "It's absolutely impossible, but it has possibilities."

Edwin Land (1909-1991) was the co-founder of the Polaroid Corporation. His invention, the 'instant camera', required specific polarizing film, which he also developed and manufactured. From 1948 until the close of the 20th century, Polaroid pictures represented fun, cool immediacy. If traditional film and cameras were considered necessary, Polaroid was more an infectious indulgence. Although most of us were content to take candid shots with the occasional attempt at altering the still-developing image, artists Andy Warhol and David Hockney used their Polaroids for sophisticated work.

Digital photography has progressively reduced the demand for all film and in 2008 Polaroid announced it would no longer produce instant film. Numerous websites sprang into action to reverse what seemed the end of an era, the most serious being The Impossible Project.

Austrian artist and businessman Florian Kaps, is dedicated to instant photography. He established, the biggest Polaroid gallery on the web, the first ever Polaroid-only art gallery in Vienna, and with the team of The Impossible Project, he aims to save instant film.

After purchasing existing machinery, signing a lease for Polaroid's former factory in the Netherlands and hiring original factory staff, the Impossible Project has begun work on a prototype. Their plan is not to rebuild the Polaroid format but create a new system complete with characteristics of its own, also with with its own unique brand. Worldwide sale of their new integral film is slated for 2010.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Leonore Klein/Saul Bass Henri's Walk to Paris

Leonore Klein/Saul Bass Henri's Walk to Paris

Ann and Paul Rand Listen! Listen!

Ann and Paul Rand Listen! Listen!

Out of print, extremely hard to find, and a price tag in the hundreds if you should get so lucky.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Masterpiece Theater

Wilhelm Staehle is a peculiar and amusing fellow who creates dastardly and delightful silhouettes which you can purchase here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Square America

Cake Love from Square America

Chicago, Illinois. View from Hancock Tower from Square America

Square America is a site with the transformative power of time travel. Displaying thousands of vintage snapshots dating back as far as the early part of the 20th Century, one can spend hours perusing the captured moments of exuberant, somber, silly, serious, black and white and saturated color lives we might have known. Who hasn't made faces in a photo booth or posed with a perfectly groomed date, or kid brother or a completed Thanksgiving dinner, or that rascal dog that was as smart as any human?

I especially enjoy the candid shots; what may be lacking in composition and lighting, is more than made up for in energy and sincerity. I could smell the cigar of that plump relative, hear the fifties music emanating from that walnut RCA cabinet, and taste that faded summer picnic. Clearly, an enormous amount of passion and an exhaustive effort fueled the completion of the site.

James Agee wrote, "How far we all come. How far we all come away from ourselves. You can never go home again." Perhaps, but we can at least visit, and remember.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

I wonder if Maurice Sendak knew when he wrote Where the Wild Things Are that it would have the lasting impact of a true classic. I wonder if he recognized the brevity of his writing (just 338 words) could stir profound emotion in both the reader and listener. First published in 1963, Where the Wild Things Are won Sendak the Caldecott Medal, the most prestigious award given annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. The story follows Max, sent to his room without dinner for acting up and acting out, and the frustration and isolation of his tantrum. What sounds so simple is in fact complex; rage, fantasy and escape have the tendency to run wild.

To build a 110 minute film on the fragile foundation of 338 words is the challenge met by Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers. What is the core of the story? Pure emotion. The glum reality is that becoming an adult is learning to control, or perhaps contrive all the excitement, anger, delerium and exhaustion of the human experience into something palatable and placid--to be civilized, I suppose.

Children's stories have long been a source for moviemakers. Sadly, so many of those original stories have been twisted and tweaked to the point of being unrecognizable. If you read the original books which the movies are based upon, you'd find Dorothy's slippers were made of diamonds, the flying monkeys were good guys, the Little Mermaid drowns, Mary Poppins is dour and mean and Pinnochio kills the cricket. Maybe changing those stories was done with good intention; to soften the moral tone and allow for a happy ending. Jonze and Eggers realized the vast fanship of Where the Wild Things Are and remained painstakingly true to the book.

Any reader of the book will recognize all the Wild Things/monsters in the film. The world they inhabit is spare and dreamlike; the desert is a short walk from the sea, and the forest is simultaneously barren and also in bloom. Similarly, Max and the Wild Things can love intensely yet feel overwhelming jealousy and anger; this captures so directly the erratic experience of childhood. As Max leaves the island of the Wild Things to return to his own home, Carol, the usually-vocal Wild Thing (voiced by James Gandolfini) is distraught; as he watches Max float away in his little boat, he is tearful, unable to talk, unable to even wave. To write and film such tender helplessness with depth and sincerity is a triumph. We have all experienced those moments of longing and regret and wordlessness, regardless whether we were children or fully grown. We recognize the frailty of human emotion, even when conveyed by a furry, horned monster.

Paranormal Activity

Katie (Katie Featherston) and boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat) live together in a roomy modern house while she completes her schooling and he works as a day trader. After hearing strange noises in the darkest hours before dawn, Micah sets up a camera with night vision hoping to uncover the mysterious source; Could it be prankster neighbors? Is the house haunted? The audience watches the footage; some mundane, some with creepy movement, all of which builds tension.

Katie reveals to Micah that she has experienced the disturbances before; when she was still a girl, at ages 8 and 13. It has nothing to do with the house. As the episodes escalate from annoyance to anguish, the couple lose sleep, bicker and alienate one another.

Made with a budget of $15,000, Paranormal Activity has been compared to The Blair Witch Project, which was also of the horror genre and also low budget. Both films and their box office success prove you don't need big stars or expensive special effects to induce shrieks and jumps from a willing audience. Although Paranormal Activity owes some of it's homespun approach to The Blair Witch Project, it borrows a bigger lesson from Jaws; what you don't see is way scarier.

Friday, October 16, 2009

10 List: Surreal Films

Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer

sur·real (sə rē′əl) having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream; unreal, bizarre; fantastic; grotesque

It's not unusual to notice the stunned silence after viewing a surreal film. Lots and lots and lots of silence. None of the, "I totally didn't expect that ending!" or "That was so much funnier than his last film!"

10 films to ponder, meditate on, and mull over. Oh, and at least one to hate.

1968- The Swimmer

Based on a John Cheever short story, Burt Lancaster stars as Ned Merrill who has taken it upon himself to swim across his neighborhood in Connecticut by dropping in on friends swimming pools. Initially, Ned appears robust and dynamic, although a bit eccentric. As he makes his way from pool to pool, the people he encounters and the conversations he has with them, reveal Ned is in very troubled waters.

1920-Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)

A traveling circus visits a small German village, with the hypnotist Dr. Caligari starring as one of the featured performers. A shocking murder and kidnapping occur, before locals realize the 'doctor' is much more sinister than talented.

By the light of the moon, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

1977- Eraserhead

The story of a new father told through the lens of his terror and panic. David Lynch wrote and directed this black and white film that is puzzling, bizarre and uncomfortable no matter how many times its viewed. If nothing else, it will change the way you see a roast chicken forever.

What's for dinner? Eraserhead

1980- The Tin Drum

On his third birthday, Oskar receives a shiny new tin drum. After observing the unhappiness of the grown-ups around him, he rejects adulthood and vows to stay a child. Oskar lives in rural Germany prior to WW2. As a reaction to the stress of his circumstances he beats his drum, screeching should anyone attempt to take it away. The audience experiences Oskar's many horrors before he decides to grow up.


Anyone who has suffered the misery of a desk job will relate to the main character of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), is a man working at a boring job, living in a tiny, awful apartment in a world that seems comprised of endless tubes and pipes leading nowhere. His one distraction is trying to find the woman who appears in his dreams.

Life is but a dream. Brazil

1995- After Life known in Japan as Wonderful Life (Wandafuru Raifu)

What if we've already experienced Heaven within our lifetime? At a rustic lodge, the spirits of the recently deceased are assigned to various social worker residents who interview them about their lives in an effort to determine their happiest memory. Afterwards, each worker spends the rest of the week making a short film, recreating the 'memory' which is carried into the individuals eternity.

1983- Liquid Sky

Possibly the worst film I've ever seen, it will leave most viewers in a state of utter dismay; how did this film make millions and sell out at theaters? Why did it receive awards of any kind? Degenerate, drug addicted, bisexual models are the unwitting subjects of a tiny, shapeless alien who extracts endorphins produced in the brain during orgasm. Fortunately, the extraction causes their untimely deaths.

1969- Satyricon

Set in Imperial Rome, where there are slaves, poets and insatiable appetites for debauchery, Satyricon defies linear storytelling. Fellini was nominated for an Oscar for Best Director. If you don't blink, you can catch an uncredited and still obese Richard Simmons during the famous food orgy scene.

2008- Synecdoche, New York

Caden Cotard is a theatre director and a depressive when he unexpectedly receives a MacArthur genius grant that affords him the time to create an artistic work of greatness. Caden spends the rest of his life gathering an ensemble cast in an enormous warehouse, directing them to live out their mundane existence. Fascinating and heartbreaking to watch, it is a reflection on life and death and randomness and failure and misinterpretation and the elusive nature of time.

1976-The Man Who Fell to Earth

David Bowie is cast as Thomas Jerome Newton, a humanoid alien who comes to Earth to find a way to bring water back to his home planet which is suffering a catastrophic drought. Newton uses the advanced technology of his home planet to patent many inventions on Earth, and rises to incredible wealth but is soon corrupted by television, alcohol, women and a devious government agency.

Bowie as the alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Children's Book World

Reading is Fun! Maurice Sendak poster 1979

The Los Angeles bookstore, Children's Book World, is celebrating their 23rd anniversary, helping parents, teachers and kids find just the right children's book to read, to gift or to lead a classroom exploration. That sounds ideal, but how exactly does a person find the right book?

The answer seems simple enough: great customer care. The staff loves to read and it shows. Unlike most small shops that have one or two employees, there is a generous group of assistants that will pull books, describe the authors and stories, and genuinely engage with you to find a perfect fit. Good thing, considering there are 80,000 titles!

A larger bookstore might have a dedicated children's book section, with all the bells and whistles like tiny seating and wooden standees of beloved characters. Still, that can't take the place of a person describing a story and what makes it especially wonderful; that sort of appreciation for writing, that excitement for storytelling, it inspires reading.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Un Chien Andalou 1929

Watch Un chien andalou (1929) in Entertainment  |  View More Free Videos Online at

Have you ever sat patiently listening as someone droned on and on about a dream or nightmare they had? If only there were visuals to illustrate the horror or magnificence! Un chien andalou is a sixteen minute silent surrealist film, the collborative effort of the Spanish director Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dalí. The fragmented chronology combined with shocking visual imagery (notably a woman's eye cut with a straight razor) is the stuff of hallucinatory dreams. The music, lively like a tango, is an incongruous choice.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Art and design can be overly serious and downright stuffy. It's great to see humor in the mix, and an artist or designer breaking the rules in a well crafted, playful way. Joshua Ben Longo offers a monster rug that climbed right onto my wish list. Really.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tell me a story

I have a lot of old children's books. Among my favorites are the foreign books; even if I'm unable to understand the text, they are mysterious and lovely. When I travel and find myself unable to read signs or billboards, it's like being in kindergarten; every letter is a symbol and together they make random patterns and designs...the desire to break the code and R-E-A-D is intense!

Pencil? check. Notebook? check. Blade? check.

The suit makes the frog.

That is one fast dog.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


(from the Sennelier website)

( from the Sennelier website)

Gustave Sennelier opened his art supply shop at 3 Quai Voltaire, in the Left Bank of Paris in 1887. It is still there today, just around the corner from the Ecole des Beaux Arts and is the likely place where some of the most celebrated names in history purchased their paint and charcoal. A short walk away, just along the Seine river, you'll find Notre Dame Cathedral, which Claude Monet painted obsessively in every season, in all sorts of weather. Monsieur Monet probably popped in to replenish his tubes of cadmium yellow and viridian green, perhaps even chatted with Monsieur Sennelier about painting the church despite the constant crowd attending services. Oh, that cathedral crowd is still there too.

If you visit Paris, even if you never draw or paint, do visit this shop. Stand still, breathe in deeply. Mmm, linseed oil, wood, handmade paper, what an aroma! You can purchase a handmade blank journal as a gift for a lucky someone or for yourself.