Sunday, September 23, 2018

BEAUTY: Painting--Belinda Eaton

The sumptuous, maximalist imagery in Belinda Eaton's paintings are engaging, fascinating... the juxtaposition of color and pattern is mesmerizing.

Top to bottom: Chinese Woman and Birdcage; Chrysanthemums and Beetles; Girl With the Orange Flower; Joshua; Man with Flowers; Man With Beard; Tattoo Man; Woman in Blue Dress; Young Cockeral

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Happy Birthday "Oh, By The Way" 2018!

Congratulations "Oh, By The Way," you are nine years old today!

Nine years ago, I had a dream in which I started a blog called “Oh, By The Way.” When I woke up that morning, I went to the computer and promptly started a blog called “Oh, By The Way.” Seriously--it was the first thing I did that morning, and yes, I often act out in waking life things I have dreamt.

"Oh, By The Way" is my digital scrap book of things I like, things I would share with a close friend and say: “Oh, by the way, do you know of this artist/ clothing or interior designer/ model/ singer/ actor/ gorgeous man… or, have you seen this video/ photo/ film... or heard (or do you remember) this song/ band... or, read this book/ poem/ inspiring quote... or, visited this place/ restaurant/ famous building... or, have you heard of this amazing new scientific discovery?”

And what have people responded to the most over the last nine years? Here are the Top Five posts ranked by individual pageviews:

1) A post about the sartorially splendid Nick Wooster is still king at a whopping 60,935

2) My essay about the spectacular sonic masterpiece "The Ninth Wave" by Kate Bush comes in at 28,475

3) 21,903 people have loved seeing Men In Make-Up

4) Photos of actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson have racked up 15,242 views

5) And gorgeous mature model Andy Lucchesi took over from last year's 5th place winner Jared Leto at 10,027 views Wait, Jared leto is still 5th place winner at 10,356 views. So close!

Huh. Who knew?

Followers and regular readers: thank you so much! I hope you find this blog fascinating, beautiful, interesting, moving, inspiring, informative, and uplifting. Welcome to the birthday party.

Because I am Italian (well, half), this year we are serving virtual cannoli and zeppoles! Enjoy!

Happy Autumnal Equinox 2018!

Today is the official start of autumn, when our planet begins to tilt the other direction, tipping the northern hemisphere away from the sun. The days grow shorter, nights grow longer, as we move indoors and into ourselves for hibernation and introspection. Autumn is a time of harvest as the earth moves into hibernation as well. It is a beautiful time, a spiritual transition, a doorway between summer and winter.


(And for our friends Down Under, Happy Spring!)

Friday, September 21, 2018

"The Carnival is Over" by Shirin Neshat featuring Cate Blanchett and Anohni

Apropos of yesterday's lovely video of female unity and power by Cher here, visual artist, filmmaker, and photographer Shirin Neshat has created an amazing video starring the always-powerful Cate Blanchett and the voice of transgender singer-songwriter Anohni.

“For a long time my work has focused on women and the ways in which they defy society’s repressive codes. I was interested in how female singers are universally treated as objects of desire. At first, Cate looks gorgeous, but when she sings it’s a transgender’s voice. The audience heckles her, and she becomes confrontational. When the music comes back on, she does a seductive dance but her face is evil. For her final act of subversion, she takes off her hair and makeup and walks away. That part was Cate’s idea. F**k the beauty.”

Neshat and Blanchett do not have sites.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

"SOS" by Cher

After her stint in the second film installation of "Mamma Mia" featuring the music of ABBA, Cher secretly embarked on a new record project covering nothing but ABBA songs. The result is her new album "Dancing Queen" featuring this delightful version of "SOS," one of my favorite ABBA songs (I really appreciate that she did not try to reinvent it, but let it sound like ABBA).

But it is the video that is truly special: while Cher is absent, the sense of empowerment and unity for women is a moving, beautiful message (witness all the different ages, sizes, shapes, and colors of beauty). It's no surprise that Cher created this message as she has always been a vocal critic of leaders and the Republican party who are anti-women and who look for ways to continually strip women of rights and equality. I do not follow people's social media accounts because I am a busy man, but please take a look at her Twitter feed because it is representative--sometimes hilariously so--of her no BS attitude while actually being quite a political voice of reason.

And if anyone is thinking "Why Cher?", I will let Mark Bego, Cher's biographer fill you in: "No one in the history of show business has had a career of the magnitude and scope of Cher's. She has been a teenage pop star, a television hostess, a fashion magazine model, a rock star, a pop singer, a Broadway actress, an Academy Award-winning movie star, a disco sensation, and the subject of a mountain of press coverage." I would like to point out that she has also won a Grammy Award, an Emmy Award, three Golden Globe Awards, a Cannes Film Festival Award, a special CFDA Fashion Award, and a Kennedy Center Honors prize, among several other honors. She has sold 100 million records worldwide to date, becoming one of the best-selling music artists in history. And get this: she is the only artist to date to have a number-one single on a Billboard chart in each decade from the 1960s to the 2010s.

So there.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Vild Vorld of Verner Panton

Verner Panton (1926 - 1998) was an amazing designer of furniture, lighting, textiles, rugs, and rooms. He created his major works in the 60s and 70s in a wildly colorful, psychedelic style. Panton was very  interested in psychotherapy and studied how color influenced people in their environments.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

BEAUTY: Photography and Film--Alex Prager

Photographer Alex Prager (previously here) created a truly ambitious photo and film project. Face In The Crowd features actress Elizabeth Banks, elaborate indoor sets (that look like they are outdoors), truck loads of costumes and props, and a crowd of 350 unique looking extras! She shot the photos while filming. Once edited, the footage became a 3-screen immersive art installation with a 10 minute run-time.

Look at this preview of the art installation that shows the pristine cinematography (reminding me of Gregory Crewdson and Cindy Sherman)...

...and then please do take the few minutes to watch this behind-the-scenes look at Face In the Crowd which shows the staggering scale of this work.

Monday, September 17, 2018

"Dead Boys" by Sam Fender

British singer-songwriter Sam Fender has made an incredibly touching, vital, urgent, and frightening song and accompanying video about the epidemic of male suicide.

“It’s a song about male suicide, particularly in my hometown,” Fender told NME. “I lost some friends very close to me because of that. This song came from that place, and I have been playing it to other people ever since. It’s raised a conversation and I realised how much of a present issue it is. Everybody that I spoke to from all different parts of the country have all got a connection to someone they’ve lost.

It really opened my eyes to how much of an issue it is. If it gets to one person and they feel like they should reach out and talk to somebody, then it has done a good job.

I genuinely think it’s toxic masculinity and the idea of what a man is supposed to be. This really archaic, out of date idea of how a man is supposed to conduct himself. I think that’s what kills men, genuinely. I have personally struggled with that, growing up and being a young lad in 2018 in Newcastle. I think everyone does. There are a lot of challenges we are facing; like how you are supposed to react to emotional stress. I’ve got no shame in it. I was told not to cry as a kid. It’s that sort of backwards attitude, so when we feel bad we feel ashamed or we feel like embarrassed.

I remember specifically for me as a kid growing up or as a young teenager if I ever cried or got upset in front of anybody, I would be so humiliated. I’d be so angry with myself for being upset and then it would just become this catch 22 situation. It’s that attitude that stops men from talking and stops men from being like able to turn to each other. Me and my mates are very, very close. We all talk about our problems – especially as we’ve got older. But I don’t think a lot of people have that. Men just need to be open and not emasculate one another.”

Sam Fender's perspective is naturally of his own experience but this happens regularly, daily, here in the United States (and, I guess, in most developed nations) and I agree with what Fender says. And I will go one further and say that toxic masculinity plays a huge part in the "angry white boy" syndrome that is fueling a current wave of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia here in the States. There is such anger and frustration and I believe it is connected to the ways men have been lied to about who they are, how they should behave, what they need to do and say or not do and say, all to be "male." It is misdirected rage. There is no support because there are no paradigms for an alternative way. Look at all these beautiful young men in this video, and imagine each of them ending their lives, because they can't figure out how to just be a human being in a world based on competitive sports, a rigid hierarchical way of relating to others, a reliance on physical violence, dominance over women (and anyone perceived as feminine, or by extension, "weak") and the expectation that they must be emotionally unavailable and personally estranged from any emotion that is not aggression. It's heartbreaking. And it's all so entrenched in culture--it is sanctioned and reinforced on television, in movies, in video games, in music, in sports stadiums, at work and at home. We can get out of it by ridding ourselves of these illusions and lies, but the irony and sadness is that toxic masculinity is threatened by that and the ideas get entrenched deeper and deeper, as Fender said. It is a deadly cycle.

But the only way we will make any headway is to point it out, talk about it, shine light on it. Kudos to Sam Fender for talking about it.

The anniversaries are short lived
But they come back around at break neck speed
My world spins so fast
The centrifugal force keep me stuck in the middle

We close our eyes
Blind our pain
Nobody ever could explain
All the dead boys in our hometown
We close our eyes
Blind our pain
Nobody ever could explain
All the dead boys in our hometown
All the dead boys in our hometown

Our tussle with the black dog
Some are loud and some are silent
Everybody 'round here just drinks
That's our culture

We close our eyes
Blind our pain
Nobody ever could explain
All the dead boys in our hometown
We close our eyes
Blind our pain
Nobody ever could explain
All the dead boys in our hometown
All the dead boys in our hometown

We close our eyes
Blind our pain
Nobody ever could explain
All the dead boys in our hometown
We close our eyes
Blind our pain
Nobody ever could explain
All the dead boys in our hometown

Sunday, September 16, 2018

BEAUTY: Photography--Michelle and Chris Gerard

For their series The Artist's Diet, photographer duo Michelle and Chris Gerard researched favorite food, snacks, and eating rituals of famous authors and artists, and then recreated beautiful still life images illustrating the preferred food along with a caption telling how and where--and sometimes when--the artist or writer partook. The art direction for each image truly captures the milieu of each artist or author. I particularly like the Polaroid camera and silver brick wall of The Factory for Warhol, and the sumptuous tapestry and tea set for Proust.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

"Slow Down" by Art Feynman

I love the hazy, gauzy feeling and slight early 70s funky vibe of "Slow Down" by Art Feynman (the nom de musique of Luke Temple), from last year's release "Blast Off Through the Wicker."

"Blast Off Through the Wicker documents Art Feynman looking for life in the lifeless, questioning what it means to be living. There is a calm, disciplined pocket to be felt in everything Feynman does; krautrock slink, staccato bounce, and pentatonic bursts of Nigerian Highlife fuzz pour on the temporal canvas with unquestionable ease, never falling in the wrong place. Even more admirable is, that his "canvas" is a four-track tape recorder, and that Blast Off features no loops or drum machines despite its aesthetically faithful motorik and afrobeat underpinnings. Nowhere is this fact more surprising than on album standout "Slow Down" which pulses along infectiously with a crunchy backbeat, and deftly arpeggiating bass lines that are so locked-in that it would be hard to fault an unknowing ear for assuming the whole thing is tediously programmed."

Slow down
Don't crush yourself to make a diamond

Friday, September 14, 2018

Just watched...

..."The VVitch,"a 2015 indie film written and directed by first-time director Robert Eggers.

Director Eggers won the 2015 Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival for this phenomenal feature. Set in 1630 New England, we follow a family who leave their colony under threat of banishment by the church, which is ironic considering that the original pilgrims did NOT come to what was to be the United States for their "religious freedom," NOT because they were being "persecuted" in England (they first went to Holland before trying it in The New World), but because they wanted to persecute those who did not agree with their own religious beliefs and live by their religious rules. They complained that the Church of England did not go far enough, and they left Holland because they felt there were no morals and the youth were "licentious." This is the same song that the Evangelicals bleat today--they confuse their "religious freedom" with imposing their religious views on others and forcing other people to live by Evangelical rules.

So our family set out on their own, find a patch of land outside a forest, build a house, plant a small crop of corn, and raise goats and chickens. But a series of odd circumstances, then misfortunes, then outright calamities befall the family, and they suspect the source of their disasters is a witch in the woods.

"The VVitch" (styled with double V's because Eggers saw it spelled that way in an authentic Jacobean pamphlet on witchcraft as well as other source material from that time period) is billed as a supernatural horror film which I found to be only partly true. There is clearly a supernatural element to the film but the poster and film titles mention folk tales. In fact, the film's official subtitle is "A New England Folk Tale." Eggers said that when he was writing the film, he wanted to show that for the people of this period, folk tales and mythology were as real as the tangible world in front of them, and that for them, the two realms were the same. To show that perspective, he had to include the reality of witches. That is something that was not in the fore of my mind--I simply accepted this reality within the story of the film. But what I did sense, beyond just a "horror" film, was that this is a slow-burning, claustrophobic psychological portrait of madness as we witness the literal disintegration of this family. It is almost more harrowing to watch for that reason than for the presence of any kind of supernatural being.

I've read other analyses of the film and a few sources have mentioned that the film is also anti-religious, and in a way, perhaps even an indictment against religion. I had to mull that one over before I came to the conclusion that was not the intent of Eggers, and it is not how it came across to me personally. While it is true that these people feel they are in their god's hands--they pray and speak of the Gospels often--the film lets their religious belief in something intangible and invisible, and indeed impotent to help them, coexist with the supernatural. So in a way, their religious leanings end up feeling like belief in folk tales and mythology as well. I think that is a by-product and not an intentional denigration of their religion. If anything, the presence of a supernatural being reinforces and supports the extreme religious perspective of the family. To believe one fairy tale, you have to believe them all. And the primary fairy tale they believe in features a god who is cruel, punishing, and whose threats of hell and damnation are something to be feared. It's just a stone's throw to an evil witch in the woods.

Anya Taylor-Joy is the oldest daughter Thomasin, and Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie play her parents William and Katherine. Taylor-Joy is a revelation in her first film role which is hard to imagine as she exhibits such mastery. Ineson and Dickie are fabulous as well, ratcheting up the anxiety and the tension by being the adults--the ones the children and we the audience depend on for guidance and structure--who are losing all emotional control. The children who play Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and the twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) are quite special as well. Particular kudos go to young Harvey Scrimshaw who performs a scene for this film that is well beyond his years and beyond the talent level of a child of his experience. Truly outstanding.

It's a beautifully photographed film as well. Eggers made a point of using only available natural light for outdoor shots, and only candlelight and firelight for indoor, evening shots. Extreme attention to period sets and costumes pays off as well: the production team worked extensively with British and American museums, as well as consulting experts on 17th-century British agriculture; costumes were authentically hand made using only wool, linen, and hemp; and the production even went so far as to bring in someone who knew how to hand work, in the method of the time, the wood siding used on the family cabin.

Recommend? Yes. It's a fascinating psychological study, as well as a tense and suspenseful tale, and finally a sly "horror" film as the horror is served on the side.