30 November 2009


It's officially "End of the Decade" time.  A time to reflect with lots and lots of lists.  Somewhere in my cultural upbringing, I was taught to despise The List.  "Best of..." lists are so addictive, they must be evil and/or middle to non-ironically lowbrow, right?

Well, sensibilities be damned, I am obsessed with The Onion A.V. Club's Best of the Decade feature.  Yes, I'm drawn in by curiosity and an unhealthy need to have A.V. Club validation of my tastes , but once they've been affirmed (ahem, "They Shoot Gilmores, Don't They?" really IS one of the Best Television Episodes of the decade, isn't it? And Wonderfalls? The 7th One-Season Wonder? Awesome.), I'll always read on.  They're smart, terrific writers, and often are able to uncover cultural oddities worth revisiting.  Hell, they even have lists of the best books and short stories

A Gilmore Girls Classic
thanks for the recognition, A.V. Club

Sadly, I think this was a November-only segment.  I'll be sure link to any other great lists that I come across, though. 

29 November 2009

Pretty Fantastic, Wes

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a joy to watch, and might just be one of Wes Anderson's best films to date.  But in spite of what you might have been sold, just like Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are, Fantastic Mr. Fox is not a film for children.  It's part of the now Hollywood approved nostalgia factory for me and my peers. 

The story begins with a heist.  Mr. and Mrs. Fox jump, flip, and twirl to steal some game, delighting each other and the audience at the same time, with the contagious Beach Boys song "Heroes and Villains" as the backdrop.  It's pretty simple - they are foxes, and this (stealing, sneaking, etc.) is what they do.  In a moment of curiosity and bravado, Mr. Fox inadvertently causes their own capture.  Inside the cage that has caught them, Mrs. Fox reveals that she is pregnant and, should they survive this, she needs Mr. Fox to take on a new line of work.  Responsibility can be such a kill joy.

The movie skips forward some years and re-enters the Foxs' lives in a moment of comfort and routines. Mr. Fox is now a newspaper man who expresses concern that no one actually reads his columns, Mrs. Fox contentedly makes home, and their teenage son Ash pouts around awkwardly, to the resigned bemusement of his father.  Normal, boring family stuff, really, but oddly compelling.

Things are apparently too boring, though.  Mr. Fox gets a midlife crisis itch, decides to buy an elaborate tree home and begins scheming another heist, with his targets being the three farms that his new home looks towards.  Things go well, and then they go wrong, and in the midst of all of this, Mr. Fox waxes poetic on his true purpose in life (Why a fox?).  Mr. Fox's selfishness ends up putting the entire community in danger and all are forced to fight for survival against the three farmers obsessed with destroying Mr. Fox and his friends.

The homemade, stop motion animation is quite possibly the only way Mr. Anderson could have made an "animated" film.  It reeks of 70s and 80s nostalgia, and a gritty realness that most directors gleefully abandoned with the advent of CGI and other more advanced was to animate films.  We know that this movie must have taken extraordinary efforts.  Consider any of the joyous dancing scenes and just how laborious it would be to move 40 limbs per take.  I imagine that Mr. Anderson and his band take great pleasure in knowing that we know that this movie was freaking hard to make.  Like a handwritten note or a bespoke suit, we can see and appreciate the craftsmanship in every take (unlike, say, a Pixar film which just sort of smoothly floats over the audience, never expecting them to consider the labor).  This could be a flaw.  Ballerinas are told to make their movements look effortless, and I'd imagine that Directors receive the same sort of guidance.  Regardless, as the movie progresses thanks to a compelling story and amusing dialogue, you begin to let the clunkiness wash over you as well, just as we did with those Christmas movies from the 70s and 80s.

In many ways, I don't think this film would have worked on it's own - audiences need to have an understanding of Mr. Anderson's strange dialogue, long pauses, and odd character dynamics in order to truly enjoy Fantastic Mr. Fox.  Oddly though, Mr. Anderson's style is more compelling to watch played out by characters restricted to stop motion animation - you're willing to buy it more since the animation is already so jilted and awkward, it makes sense that the dialogue would be as well.   And because his style is more digestible in Fantastic Mr. Fox, I found myself actually caring about the Mr. Fox, the community, the family.  In some of his more recent films I found myself merely basking in my own appreciation of the characters and their quirks, but not really giving a damn about them.  (Who and what were we supposed to root for in The Darjeerling Limited?)

Mr. Anderson and Mr. Fox

Mr. Anderson and Noah Baumbach have adapted the story to be a bit more existential than Mr. Dahl might have intended, but have emerged with a truly great tale about family, community, and agency.  And no, they didn't go the Dave Eggers route and decide it was also about depression.  Thank goodness.

27 November 2009

The Enclosed Mall

It being Black Friday in suburban Southwestern Pennsylvania, what better topic to consider than the death of the shopping mall?  I'd recommend a terrific article by Mark Dery in Change Observer on the landscape of dead malls and ideas for their future, and a Malcolm Gladwell piece from The New Yorker in 2004 on the original conception behind the mall.

That Was Then

A passage from the Architectural Record review of the Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota - the first mall in the country.
There is nothing suburban about Southdale except its location. It is an imaginative distillation of what makes downtown magnetic: the variety, the individuality, the lights, the color, even the crowds—for Southdale’s pedestrian-scale spaces insure a busyness and a bustle. Added to this essence of existing downtowns are all kinds of things that ought to be there if downtown weren’t so noisy and dirty and chaotic—sidewalk cafés, art, islands of planting, pretty paving. Other shopping centers, however pleasant, seem provincial in contrast with the real thing—the city downtown. But in Minneapolis, it is the downtown that appears pokey and provincial in contrast with Southdale’s metropolitan character.

This Is Now

Images of Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, Illinois.  Vacant since 1978, the mall continues to decay, and was recently voted the "Best Dead Mall."  Uplifting.

 Dixie Square Mall, Harvey, IL, 2009. Photo: Jon Revelle

Happy shopping.

26 November 2009

A note from my Grandfather

"We had three sets of clothes: school clothes, play clothes and Sunday clothes.  They didn't mix."

Sort of what these guys are talking about:

"That Sunday shine is a certain sign, that you feel as fine as you look! Beneath your parasol, the world is all a smile that makes you feel brand new down to your toes."

25 November 2009

Remember Your Pants (please)

The other day at an overpriced DC sandwich shop, I stood in line behind a girl wearing a biker jacket, sheer black tights and a black leotard.  Unless you're a dancer in the middle of a rehearsal or Edie Sedgwick, I don't care how thin you are, it's rather vulgar.  

Edie Sedgwick

23 November 2009

Dalliant & Dainty: Pittsburgh Edition

Heading off to Pittsburgh for a week to wander around the decaying downtown, consume mediocre beer in the suburbs, and play with the Silver Clouds.

Stay tuned.

22 November 2009

A Review of An Education

 Lots of spoilers.  Apparently I can't write a review without them.

I loved An Education before I even set foot in the theater.  I'd been seduced by the ubiquitous marketing, by my irrational adoration of Peter Sarsgaard, by the images of a waifish brunette running through Paris in fitted floral dresses, by the glamour Britain in the 1960s (both the stodgy plaid middle class towns and the swinging, smoky clubs).  I should have known better.  Did I learn nothing from Sylvia and Elizabethtown?  An Education is essentially an exercise in purposeless beauty.  

 Photo: Kerry Brown/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Carey Mulligan's Jenny is a precocious 16-year-old who has one goal in life: to read English at Oxford.  So she studies Latin, she plays the Cello, she is scolded for listening to frivolous French music, and she tolerates her overbearing parents who seem to exist only to continue pushing Jenny towards Oxford and/or the prospect of a future with a wealthy husband.  She peppers her speech with French, she exudes wide-eyed intellectual lust (I want to talk to people who know lots about lots!), and she is, in every sense, a very typical 16-year-old who fancies herself an old soul.  And she is very, very pretty. 

Photo: Kerry Brown/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Because all suburban teenagers think that they are missing out on life, Jenny gets immediately swept away when Peter Sarsgaard's charming swindler David takes an interest in her.   He takes her to fancy dinners with his attractive friends, auction houses to bid on favorite paintings, a soft-lit montage of a weekend in Paris.  And things progress very conventionally.  She falls for it - the dinners, the romanticism, the new clothes, the seductive ease of life with a suitor willfully footing the bill - and amidst all of this excitement, she's presented a choice between this perfume commercial of a life and the books, knowledge and faded beauty of her teacher and headmistress.  And in a strange and dismal 3rd act, she chooses marriage, realizes that David isn't who she thought he was, is deemed by most people a ruined girl and unable to re-enter her school.   She gets to Oxford eventually and we're to believe that she carries out the rest of her life hiding and denying the strange choices she made when she was 16 going on 17.

Meh.  In spite its beauty, its "shocking" older man/teenage girl affair (actually that was pretty unsettling), its exploration of class mobility and the laughable wisdom of teenage girls, I couldn't help but wonder WHY I was watching the film.   It was very well done loveliness, but Nick Hornby forgot to give us purpose.


NOTEWORTHY: The supporting performances are the best part of the film.  Alfred Molina as the priggish father.  Rosamund Pike as the dim playgirl.  I never realized how easy it is to overact when portraying the dumb blonde.  The wink, nudge, "I'm in on this" urge is too great to resist apparently.  But, in her wide eyed, earnest confusion, the gorgeous Miss Pike proves that acting like a real person conveys the unintentional humor of her character's idiocy in a much richer way than playing to the stereotype.  And, finally, of course Emma Thomson as the unforgiving headmistress.

19 November 2009

Like a Storybook

From The House that Lars Built, here's an image that just made my night.

When I'm old, wealthy, and eccentric, I plan to create this in my home. 

Androgyny is not the new black

Once again, The New York Times has published another of its "that's-not-a-trend, it's-just-life" stories.  Remember when they uncovered the high school hugging epidemic, and the subversively hip male potbelly?   Well, now they've latched on to androgynous dressing.  Kids these days. 

Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

The quotes from those on the front lines of this trend are embarrassing:
“My generation is more outside the box than the generation before me,” said Brandon Dailey, 26, a hairstylist in Manhattan. “Our minds are more open to different things, and that sometimes means mixing it up in what we wear.”
Oh yeah? How or why his mind is more open than someone his age 15 years ago is obviously besides the point.  Trend stories wouldn't be this delightfully absurd if they actually proved something.   

But remember, derivation is the new originality (according to a friend who has no linkable online presence), so let's not ignore the fact that dandies wore girdles, Rudolph Valentino wore eyeliner, Marlene Dietrich wore top hats, David Bowie wore leotards, Watts wore boys underwear, and Diesel has sold unisex jeans for the past 20 years.  Why pretend that gender-neutral styles began with the 70s glam-rockers and suddenly reappeared thanks to the aggressive marketing of American Apparel?

Now don't get me wrong.  It IS a cool look assuming you have the right lanky body type to pull it off.  Probably about 90% of the people featured on The Sartorialist adhere to the philosophy.  Here's a sampling of the styles from just this past week shown on the site: 



And even the J.Crew copywriters urge their customers to "shop the men's section, we do!"

But, once again, not worthy of a "what does this mean for society at large" type of article.  Especially when the sage wisdom is coming from 26-year-old hairstylists.  (As opposed to the always insightful comments of an almost 26-year-old amateur blogger....but, whatever.)

Furthermore, can we please stop condescending to Peoria?  What does an Oakland gender psychologist really know about where exactly an androgynous look will be accepted.  Besides, the fashions that this article is discussing are so neutral that they're almost dull.  I'd be suprised if anyone even noticed.  It's not as if the we're questioning whether the Dupont Drag Race would be embraced nationwide.  (Even though it totally should...because it's awesome.)

So why tell us that something so common is a "new thing" that "may be long term"?  Probably because it's the kind of article that gets emailed around.  It reinforces my old purchases from the Brooks Brothers boys department and everyone else who has been shopping and dressing like this for quite some time already, making it seem as though we were all on the cutting edge.  And it also sets the stage for them to wait a few weeks before they decide to write an "Ultra Feminine/Masculine styles for Winter 2010" article.  Because how does retail stay afloat?  By confusing us into submission and contradictory purchases. 

17 November 2009

She's gonna make it after all

Sophie  Théallet was named winner of the CDFA/Vogue Fashion Fund last evening.  So she'll get some press, $200,000, and a year of "mentoring."   For someone so established in her career and her own history of apprenticeships as I noted last year, I don't see what sort of help a mentor could provide (she's worked with Jean Paul Gaultier and Azzedine Alaïa for goodness sakes), and don't understand who exactly will be doing the mentoring.  

In practical terms the "silk bohemian" look that Théallet is known for isn't exactly something that works for most people.  She says that they are supposed to be clothes that you can work and travel in.   Perhaps.  I wish it was easier to see the construction of these garments though, because, for better or worse, many look relatively easy to knock off in a cheap way.

Photo: Marcio Madeira
Spring 2010 Ready to Wear, style.com

Photo: Marcio Madeira
Spring 2010 Ready to Wear, style.com

So this win will be nice exposure for Théallet, but remember that Michelle Obama was already a fan.   That's probably the only endorsement she'll ever need. 

Michelle Obama on April 28, 2009

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

15 November 2009

Timely Tees

Ok, so this is already kind of outdated, Relevant Now, but it amuses me.  

There's also a Gaga one.

$25 is kind of expensive for five minutes of relevance, though.

12 November 2009

Hooray For the Yé-Yé Girls

This week in euphoric sounds, here are a few songs composed and written by Serge Gainsbourg and performed by 17-year-old ingénue France Gall, one of the notable performers of the campy Yé-Yé movement (a poppy style of music that originated with young, female singers in Europe in the 1960).

The first, "Poupée de cire, Poupée de son" (Wax Doll, Sawdust Doll), won Gall the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest.  I love the hilarious production - Gall singing into the camera with no discernible enthusiasm and barely any movement at all. 

"Laisse Tomber les Filles" is the more recognizable, thanks to its place as the 181st best song of the 1960s according to Pitchfork, and Quentin Tarantino's use of the song in the opening sequence of Death Proof.  

All of the lyrics are so outlandishly coquettish, I wonder why we still made a big deal about Britney Spears' brand of teenage sexuality and innocence over three decades later.  But I suppose that 35-year-old men writing lyrics like "Am I better or worse than a fashion doll?" for 16-year-old girls is always a little creepy.

Sexual mores aside, the songs are really catchy and the clothes are great.  Who wouldn't want to look like a French girl in the 1960s?  If Gall's baby pop is a bit too much, Françoise Hardy is another great Yé-Yé singer of the same time with incredible style and a more subdued, folksy sound.  An influence for Carla Bruni?  It's hard to see how she couldn't be.

Hardy in 1967


Hardy, while filming Grand Prix

09 November 2009

Sophisticated Boom Boom

Gwyneth Paltrow has had some ups and downs nourishing the inner aspect of Goop subscribers.  (Need I rehash the William Joel incident?)  But I must offer some praise - the past few newsletters have been surprisingly accessible, tasteful, and even informative.  From her recommendations on where to eat in LA (Highland Park Taco Trucks and cool downtown speakeasys), to her finds at Topshop and Zara that mimic current Balmain and Lanvin, I'm really pleased with the new modesty of Goop. 

Daniela Kamiliotis, set/costume designer, and VP of Ralph Lauren womens collection 
by Goop recommended photographer The Selby

Now perhaps this shift from came at the urging of  her horrified assistants who, in realizing that no one can afford 18th century porcelain wash basins, and that no one wants to starve themselves on a macrobiotic detox, suggested she take a more pedestrian tone.   Or maybe Gwyneth is actually that teasingly diverse. 

Illustration by Garance Doré
Goop recommended artist/photographer

In any event, Goop is worth it right now.  I'd take a look before she reverts back to incomprehensible riffs on addiction, relationships and healing modalities.

05 November 2009


Mash ups of Sufjan Steven songs?  Why not?  They're catchy.  And free.   


04 November 2009

Moats & Boats & Waterfalls

It's been performed live on David Letterman and was an NPR song of the day in July...but somehow I've only just been made aware of this joyous anthem.  Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' "Home" is worth listening to a few times.  Kind of weird at first, but by the fourth listen, you'll be hooked.  "Kindness and Clamor" is how NPR described it.

The band is twee in a heartbreakingly sincere way.  Alex Ebert formed it in 2007 after a major label dropped Ima Robot.   Instead of diving into some sort of existential depression, he met a gal and just formed a formed a new one - drawing inspiration from his childhood and the spirit of the Southern Californian community of the late 60s (so essentially nostalgia for an era he wasn't exactly part of...but whatever.)

Of course, Rolling Stone's Jenny Eliscu points out that "there isn't an Edward Sharpe in the group...Ebert named the band after the characters in a novel he was writing about a boy who transcended his dismal world by tapping into some sort of universal music."  Think the story will be published on some re-released liner notes?

The music video is pretty great - folkies running about, sliding down dirt hills, walking through long, dry grass, being backlit by the afternoon sun....actually, it's pretty cheesy, but somehow not obnoxiously so.  Like a Coachella full of innocents. In other words, watch, but mostly listen.

Home - Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros


Most sites are attributing the buzz to their irresistible live performances.  There are some lower quality You Tube videos floating around, and there does seem to be a palpable enthusiasm...stomping, serenading, smiling, etc, that's not captured well in the official music video.  But, they happen to be playing at the Black Cat on November 16.  I think I'll have to go.  


03 November 2009

The Paris Review Interviews

Well, isn't this pretty. 

Apparently The Elegant Variation was giving away The Paris Review Interviews, Volumes I - IV.  We all missed it.  But no need to waste money on the books (mostly because the actual issues are more impressive as intellectual clutter if you're debating on apartment adornments), the online archives are pretty comprehensive.  If you ever have a week to waste, it's worth a look.

A Plimpton vanity project it may have been, but can we protest the results?

For Princesses Only!

Style names should never be taken all that seriously.  For the most part they are used only internally - by the designers, the merchants, the in store folks and for the catalogue copy.  That's not to say that a bit of thought doesn't go into them.  Look at the difference between the Abercrombie names and the J.Crew names. (J.Crew, for example, has the "Ruffled Celosia cardigan" and the "Pleated Paulette top," where Abercrombie has the "Kaylin sweater" and the "Skyler top.")   One going for the old lady/floral combination names and the other for obnoxiously named high schoolers born in the mid-90s.   

Anyway, I came across Gryphon's "Shine Princess Coat" today and couldn't help but laugh.  With a Peter-Pan collar, precious ivory color, and a large sequin runway down the middle front, I think it might even be a bit much for Blair Waldorf.   

02 November 2009

Common Vintage

I'm pretty sure I own Margaret Sterling's wedding earrings.

Margaret Sterling, sulking through her poorly timed wedding.
Mad Men, Season 3, Episode 12


Episode 12

I suppose it had to happen. My love affair with Mad Men has grown tense and uncertain, riddled with annoyances. Of course I will still watch it, but as a wise friend pointed out many episodes ago, the third season hasn’t been all that good. Though I’ll leave the broader analysis for the Slate editors, I do want to touch on a few points of last night’s episode.

Storylines revolved around the John F. Kennedy assignation. Surprisingly, the greatest moments in the episode were those that were entirely real and those that were entirely fake. Unfortunately the rest - the reaction shots, the in the moment comments, the tears, and the silences – all came across as stilted, clumsy, and anything but a true representation of what those moments might have been like in real life.

Since the first episode of the show, it seemed like we were all just waiting for this moment. The third season allusions were thick and obvious – Joan in the hospital with blood all over her dress from Guy’s shredded foot, the Aqua Net ad campaign set in the convertible, etc. The viewing population seemed obsessed with the when. And finally, the moment we’d all been told to wait for happened. The Sterling Cooper employees gathered around the television (technology update from that whole Missile Crisis on the radio thing), shocked and upset about the National Tragedy. Betty cried alongside Carla. The kids were concerned. Don was inconvenienced. And, well, Duck and Peggy were otherwise occupied.

I guess I'd been wondering how this particular show would treat the event. For someone who didn't live through the moment itself, I waver from one extreme to another. A tragedy, yes, but surely not the hysterical "national loss of innocence" that we hear about so much. Maybe American changed. Maybe it just continued on the same path. Or maybe I'm just skeptical because I happened to have written an essay on said loss of innocence in the 6th grade and I really hope that the result was more complicated than my 12-year-old mind could comprehend.

In any event, as Benjamin Schwartz notes in The Atlantic, though a well done show, Mad Men can be ever so slightly heavy handed as it tries to show things as they really were, but always through the enlightened lens of modern mores. Sometimes I feel like they should end the show with some variation of the change slogan. It's a comin'!

As I said, though, the greatest moments were captured in both the fiction and the non-fiction. I could watch Walter Cronkite remove his glasses and announce the death of the President on repeat for days. There is hardly a more moving moment in all of broadcast television for me. Later on in the episode, extensive screen time is given to Lee Harvey Oswald walking with escorts down various hallways. Watching the footage first hand helped to capture the moment better than any actors or plot lines could. It was actually difficult for me to move from the real emotion of Cronkite, and the real drama of Oswald's walk, back to Betty Draper's melodramatic "what is going on?!" shriek, or the inelegantly directed "phones go silent" scene in the Sterling Cooper offices.

Beyond the news footage playing on every television in the Mad Men universe, there were some terrific fictional moments as well – Roger Sterling’s whiny bride-to-be daughter weeping in her wedding dress, Pete and Trudy watching the coverage in near silence, first in their wedding best, and then hours later in lovely casual clothes, and Burt Cooper glued to the television in the kitchen area in the middle of Roger's wedding toast. Tolerable, maybe because they all seem like appropriate reactions to the news. And all of these understandable vignettes served to make Betty's sprint to Henry Francis seem all the more like a bad soap opera.

Actually, maybe my relationship can be mended, as long as Betty drifts back into the lovely and oppressed scenery. Her absurd antics and poorly developed character are hurting the show.

In the end, the blogs seemed pleased and a bit surprised that the assassination wasn't the season finale. But I don't know if I can bear another full episode of reflection and Kennedy worship. It'll play like an issue of Vanity Fair.


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