Jackson Pollock’s Mural


I apologize for the distortion cause by my effort to use the ‘panorama’ function on my iphone

I am only slightly ashamed to admit that I first learned about this mural from the Ed Harris biopic, Pollock (which also helped to promote the apparently misguided belief that Pollock painted the massive work nearly overnight – the exhibit makes clear that he had been working and making progress on it for a period of at least several weeks).

So it was awesome to finally see it in person… and disappointing.

This is the first time the mural has ever been displayed in DC. The decision was made to pair it with one of my favorite paintings from the National Gallery’s permanent collection, Number 1, 1950, better known as Lavender Mist.

I first encountered Lavender Mist in a college art textbook, but without seeing it’s scale (it’s extremely large, but less than enormous), it’s impossible to fully appreciate. Sometimes, I will visit the National Gallery for the sole purpose of spending twenty minutes sitting in front of it. I’ve done that at least a dozen times (besides shorter visits, or visits focused on other works) and I’ve never grown tired of the work.

And… Lavender Mist is better than Mural. It just is. And it kind of ruined Mural for me. I wish I could have seen it on it’s own. Surely it’s important enough to be placed where one can soak it in, undistracted by other large works?

Bad call, curator. Bad call.

 

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‘The Shrinking Man’ By Richard Matheson


If you’re a fan of the Charlton Heston classic, The Omega Man or the less classic, but more recent, I Am Legend, you have been exposed to the sci fi writer, Richard Matheson.

Some time ago, I read I Am Legend (the actual name of the novel; both movies are based on it) and while I wasn’t much interested in delving further into his oeuvre, this was in a four book collection of mid-fifties science fiction from the Library of America, so I read it.

And it ain’t bad.

Scott Carey is shrinking inexorably by approximately 1/7 of an inch a day. The narrative runs on two parallel tracks. First, when he is one inch tall (seven days to live!) and being stalked by a black widow spider in the basement in which he is trapped. This tales alternate with him shrinking over time and watching his life and family fall apart under it all. The tales converge when the second timeline reaches when he gets trapped in the cellar.

Half of it is exciting, survival fiction in what is, effectively, an alien environment. The other half is more thinking person’s sci fi, about the personal implications (finances; becoming shorter than one’s daughter; ceasing to be sexually attractive to one’s wife; being mistaken for a child by bullies).

‘The Long Tomorrow’ By Leigh Brackett


Leigh Brackett wrote heady, thinking person’s sci fi, pulpy space operas and planetary romances, and also worked on the script for The Empire Strikes Back. I’ve read a little of her pulp (one of her Eric John Stark novels/novellas – an homage to Burroughs’ Barsoom novels), but it’s more books like The Long Tomorrow that have made her important to the history of sci fi.

The Long Tomorrow is post apocalyptic, but more in a Canticle for Leibowtiz way than a Road Warrior way. The world is still around. She’s thought out some interesting implications (the new America is politically dominated by groups descended from Mennonites, because they were already reasonably self sufficient in the absence of much technology; and America still exists, but it’s a lot more low-tech).

The evolution of the main character, Len, is interesting. It’s not that he’s super smart, but he is a thinker. More, he can’t help thinking and can’t help taking his time when thinking, but then, in the end, acting on the implications of what he has figured out.

The ‘twist,’ if that’s what it is (and it just might be my interpretation) is that the secret colony of scientists may just be spinning their wheels and the answers may not exist. Which also might be the point of Len’s thinking.

‘Ex Machina’ & Ted Lieu


Ex Machina is an excellent, creepy, and faintly problematic movie. Ted Lieu is a congressman from Southern California. As a just meaningless side note and, arguably, a moment of pointless name dropping, I met him a dozen years ago when I canvassed for him when he ran in a special election for an open seat in the California General Assembly.

This was part of a series by a nonprofit called Future Tense. It’s one of many semi-political, semi-advocacy, vaguely but not quite thinktank-y orgs that exist all around DC.

Lieu spoke well and amusingly and amazingly non-partisanly about technology legislation around the hacking of driverless cars, cells, etc. But I’ve always liked him. He even mentioned universal basic income or UBI as something worth attaining.

This was the second time I’d seen Ex Machina and I was able to better appreciate parts of the performance, script, and direction better. Like watching a surprising mystery, it can be fun to go back and re-see things again, knowing what one knows. The manipulations of the sparse cast.

But… the nudity seems problematic. There’s not a lot, except, towards the very end, there is a scene with great deal of extended nudity (there was an earlier nude scene which felt less problematic, as well), all of women (and all, my better half noted, women of a certain body type). I can understand why the director did it, in one sense, and I can outline why, I expect, he felt needed and why he felt it was okay. The gaze was female, for example. It was about becoming a woman (and a human). More reasons, too. But even though it probably wasn’t more than a minute or two, it felt like it lingered and it’s hard to fully explain away voyeurism. I won’t truly condemn voyeurism (I’m a man who’s used the internet, so it would be disingenuous), but maybe this movie didn’t need it.

 

Beatriz At Dinner


The movie had gotten great reviews and while it wasn’t absolutely at the top of my ‘if you’re going to see a movie that’s out right now, it’s definitely this one’ list, it was on that list, so when a friend suggested we all see Beatriz at Dinner, I was one hundred percent down with it.

And it’s a really good movie. It’s a little too cinematic, though, not trusting in its actors (Salma Hayek is great and plays Beatriz’s subtle, aggressive power very well and John Lithgow makes a truly horrible person three dimensional, yet also sympathetic because he is a real, three dimensional human being, without shying away from the fact that he is an awful blight). I feel like it could have been a more politically and ecologically minded My Dinner with Andre (one of my all time favorite movies), if the director had trusted the audience to be able find the clash of ideas in conversation to be riveting.

Also: Chekhov’s gun appears.

If you don’t know what that means, don’t just look it up online. Read a book. Go to the library.

Crispin The Saint


Ostensibly, I bought this because my better half enjoys cider. But really, I bought it because of Kenneth Branagh.

For people of a certain age and certain bent, Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V was one of those things that changed the way you saw the world could be. Shakespeare was exciting. It was sexy and a little bit dangerous.

It introduced me to art house theaters (I saw Henry V at the Tampa Theatre).

And, in case you’re not making the connection, the climax of the play/movie is just before the Battle of Agincourt, when King Henry delivers the famed ‘Crispin’s Day Speech.’

The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000


Ever since I saw the documentary, Best of Enemies, at the E Street Cinema (I can’t recommend the documentary, nor that movie theater, highly enough), I’ve felt the urge to get to know Gore Vidal’s oeuvre better. Over a decade ago, I saw him at a West Hollywood book fair (he signed my copy of The Judgment of Paris).

So far, I’ve read Burr and now The Last Empire (and, of course, The Judgment of Paris).

My initial thoughts are that he repeats himself a lot in these essays. Phrases and anecdotes do double or triple duty throughout, which brings up the question of whether it would have been better to be more selective or else if it’s better to be comprehensive, repetition, be damned.

I also hadn’t realized how much Christopher Hitchens writes like Vidal, particularly on politics. The name dropping, of course (though you read Vidal, at least, in part to be taken under his gossipy wing, so name dropping is part of the point), but also the anger at certain figures, verging on falling into conspiracy-mongering (in Vidal’s case, Truman comes in for a lot of grief; if I’m honest, I’m not well-read enough on the haberdasher’s presidency to judge how fair Vidal is to him).