"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: October 2011

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Afternoon Art

Photographs by Andreas Heumann.

Taster’s Cherce

I have never been to The Meatball Shop.

But that is something I aim to change.

[Photo Credit: truth.travel]

Wait, What Happened?

Over at Grantland, Jonah Keri recaps the 21 top moments of a crazy Game Five.

[Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images]

Trick or Treat?

Over at Esquire, you’ll find an excerpt from Scott Raab’s new book about Lebron James:

It turns out the Heat have printed three covers of tonight’s program — one with Wade, one with Bosh, one with James. I take one of each.

On his cover, LeBron glares into the camera, head lowered, eyes hooded, tight-lipped, his thick white headband riding ever higher on his forehead as his hairline approaches oblivion. He stands with his hands on his hips, with his shoulders thrust forward, the visual embodiment of his summertime tweet:

“Don’t think for one min that I haven’t been taking mental notes of everyone taking shots at me this summer. And I mean everyone!”

He’s ready to wreak havoc upon the NBA. No prisoners. Blood on the hardwood. Mano a mano. If your name’s on Bron-Bron’s list, you’re going down hard as a motherfucker.

That’s the pose. I think back to a game his rookie season, against the Indiana Pacers, when NBA tough guy Ron Artest was mugging James as he fought for position to take an inbounds pass. Artest had an arm across LeBron’s upper chest and neck and a leg planted between James’s knees bowing him forward. Paul Silas was coaching the Cavs, and Silas came up off the bench screaming — first at the nearest referee for not calling a foul on Artest, and then at LeBron for letting Artest unman him.

James has grown stronger and smarter over his seven seasons in the league, but he still tries to finesse defenders like Artest. His game has never hungered for a battle, much less marked him as the cruel-eyed enforcer who glares out from the program’s cover.

You can pre-order “The Whore of Akron,” here.

Million Dollar Movie

Check out this good list of film criticism 101 from Matt Zoller Seitz.

Here’s one I’d include:

Beat of the Day

Today’s record is being brought to you by one of our own, Eric Sanders, aka thelarmis.

Eric has a new CD out. You can check it out here. Represent!

I Gotta See a Joker and I’ll Be Right Back

 Here’s an excerpt from James Wolcott’s new memoir about New York back in the ’70s:

How lucky I was, arriving in New York just as everything was about to go to hell. I had no idea how fortunate I was at the time, eaten up as I was by my own present-tense concerns and taking for granted the lively decay, the intense dissonance, that seemed like normality. Only F. Scott Fitzgerald characters (those charmed particles) feel the warm gold of nostalgia even while something’s unfolding before their enraptured doll eyes. For the rest of us, it’s only later, when the haze burns off, that you can look back and see what you were handed, the opportunities hidden like Easter eggs that are no longer there for anybody, completely trampled. To start out as a writer then was to set out under a higher, wider, filthier, more window-lit sky. A writer could still dream of climbing to the top, or at least getting close enough to the top to see who was up there enjoying themselves.

[Photograph’s via Only NY Lives]

New York Minute

It was dark when I got up to write this morning. Before I got started, I checked my e-mail and learned about Hunter S. Thompson, last night’s game, and that my friend’s dog died yesterday. Later, I heard my wife get up and go to the bathroom and when she was finished, I got up and followed her into the bedroom. She called after our cat, Moe Green, who usually joins her in the morning, but it was me instead and I leaned down and hugged her after she got back in bed and under the covers.

When I got to the subway station I talked about the game with the token booth clerk. He’s my friend and he told me that in January he is switching stations. “You’re the only one I’ve told so far,” he said. I learned about the best stations (238 and 215) and the worst stations (242 and 231) to work uptown.  On the way downtown, I read about Wild Bill Hickok and wagon trains, a man whore and whisky. The story was interrupted by a mother sitting next to me. She scolded her daughter about using pen instead of pencil in a school workbook. “You should never, ever use a pen, ever.” Then she read airfare rates from the newspaper and asked her kid where she’d like to this winter.

It was cool in midtown when I got off the train and my eyes followed a woman with short blond hair, a long, beige skirt and red shoes, as I walked up to the street. On Broadway, I saw a family standing on the corner looking confused and speaking in French. I asked them if they needed any help and gave them directions to Central Park and spoke a few words in French and felt good about that. I thought about everything I’d already read or seen already as I walked to work to begin the day.

Best of Three

Wilson vs. Carpenter and a big game five.

From Tyler Kepner:

[Chris] Carpenter rejected the idea that postseason results should define a pitcher.

“I think what defines who you are is, one, the consistency you put in day in and day out as a professional, and two, how you go about your business on and off the field,” he said. “That defines who you are.

“Postseason is just at a different level. I think the guys that are successful, maybe, might be a little more relaxed and able to deal with the distractions a little better, because there is a lot of them. But if you scuffle in the postseason, it shouldn’t define what type of player you are. That could just be that series. There’s times throughout the year where guys go through slumps or don’t pitch well.”

Let’s Go Base-ball.

[Photo Credit: Kaleb Marshall]

Don’t You Need Somebody to Love?

The wife wants a bulldog. I want a Bernese mountain dog. Instead, we have two cats.

But here is a beautiful little essay about a bulldog by John Ed Bradley.

[Photo Credit: Funny Pet Wallpaper]

Afternoon Art

Photography by Cassoday Harder.

Taster’s Cherce

Saveur’s got the root down.

[Photo Credit: Christopher Hirsheimer]

New York Minute

Everything you thought you wanted to know about the subway system but were afraid to ask.


From Ali to Xena: 45

The Original Creator

By John Schulian

No matter how well Kevin Sorbo played Hercules, rarely giving off sparks but always earnestly Midwestern, he could only gape along with the rest of us as Lucy Lawless’ Xena rocketed past him in the pop culture sweepstakes. Once the warrior princess was spun off into a series of her own, we found ourselves with a star who had something for everybody. She gave little girls an assertive role model, guys a finer appreciation of leather bustiers, and lesbians someone to drool over. On the New York Post’s Page Six, if there was a story about lesbian doings, the headline was likely to refer to “The Xena Crowd.” How was a big galoot from Minnesota supposed to compete with that?

Sorbo sulked, no doubt remembering the days when “Hercules’s” ratings in New York were so good that streetwalkers must have been watching between assignations. Lucy, to whom the Xena experience must have felt like a dream, never stopped laughing about her good fortune. She showed up expecting nothing more than a paycheck for the 13 episodes she was guaranteed on “Xena,” and she got six seasons of stardom and increasingly fat paychecks that, when you got right down to it, were completely attributable to her.

Much as I hate to say it, forget the scripts I wrote to launch Xena as a character. Forget the hole in the ozone layer that gave our New Zealand locations the golden glow that was so perfect for “Xena” as well as “Hercules.” Forget the other actors, writers, producers, and directors. Forget the kind hearts and gentle people who took care of the special effects and costumes and music and everything else that went into making the series. They were all wonderful, but they never – no, never – would have had a chance to be if it weren’t for Lucy.

She inhabited Xena. It wasn’t just that she was beautiful, strapping, and athletic. It was that there was always something going on in her startling blue eyes. They suggested wit and intelligence that went far beyond her station as the world’s reigning female TV action star. This entire exercise was more than a testament to outrageous good fortune. It was a colossal cosmic joke, and Lucy got it, as only the truly smart ones do. She embraced the experience without letting it change her into a monster. She took the work seriously, only rarely herself. She could be counted on to apologize to the stuntmen she regularly clocked by accident. (Oh, the stitches.) She read books that had nothing to do with show business and relished good conversation. Best of all, she maintained her sense of perspective. True, she ended up marrying my sparring partner, Rob Tapert, but who am I to question what the heart dictates? All I know is that the lady was a champ.

For a while, Tapert talked about having me run the writing staffs of both “Xena” and “Hercules,” which probably would have put us both in an early grave. If I’d been better at reading tealeaves, I would have volunteered to go with the warrior princess. But “Xena” had yet to prove itself while “Hercules” had a solid track record, so I stuck with what I thought was a sure thing. Big mistake for me, but a good break for “Xena.” To serve as the show’s head writer, Tapert hired R.J. Stewart, who had been around the block in movies and TV and possessed a more flexible imagination and a less combustible personality than yours truly. R.J. and Tapert combined to give the show a darker sensibility than “Hercules” without robbing it of its in inherent fun. All I did for the rest of its run was cash residual checks.

If there was anything I didn’t like about “Xena,” it was sharing the Created By credit with Tapert. He hadn’t been with me in the room when I came up with Xena’s name or wrote the first script or laid the foundation for the kickass babe who would become one of TV Guide’s 50 most memorable characters. But he thought that since he had suggested a female warrior, he was entitled to share the credit. As things stood, he was going to make a pile of money for executive producing the show if it succeeded, but he was greedy enough to want to snatch some of my money, too. It’s a Hollywood tradition.

I could feel a shudder run through the Tapert-Sam Raimi camp when I decided to stick up for myself instead of rolling over and playing dead. By now I didn’t give a damn for either of them or for my job security, so what did I have to lose? We went to arbitration with the Writers Guild of America and I received sole credit as “Xena’s” creator. But wait – there was a glitch in the voting process, something the Guild thought swayed the panelists’ opinion in my favor. So we had to go through the arbitration process again. When I walked into the lobby after telling my side of the story to the second panel, there was Tapert with a stack of papers under his arm and a lawyer at his side. I’ve often wondered what those papers contained and if he told the panel they contained my marching orders for the first Xena script. I received no such orders, of course, and if Tapert said I did, the panel never called me to ask about them. All I heard was that it had decreed that Tapert and I would share the Created By credit, 60 percent for me, 40 for him. There would be no third arbitration. I know. I asked.

When the final episode of “Xena” aired, Tapert and Lucy threw a party at their San Fernando Valley home and I got a last-minute invitation. It was the first time I’d been invited to anything involving the show. I think I made Tapert nervous, if you can imagine that. Anyway, I went and the evening was lovely and the people were, too. I hadn’t met a great many of them, and at least once, when Lucy was introducing me to someone, she said, “This is John Schulian -– he’s the original creator of the show.” I wish I’d brought her in to tell it to the Writers Guild.

Click here for the full “From Ali to Xena” archives.

Beat of the Day


More Wayne.

Million Dollar Movie

Two weeks ago, I went to a panel discussion at Lincoln Center to celebrate two new books on the late, great Pauline Kael–a biography, and a new compilation. Camille Paglia was one of the panelists. She was smart and funny. I e-mailed her a question about P. Kael and  she was kind enough to respond.

Dig it:

Kael is sometimes criticized as being anti-intellectual,when in fact she was often anti-academia. She trusted her responsiveness to things and understood that those responses exist beyond logic. Why is this such a valuable quality for a critic to have? Can you talk about why Kael’s writing is still vital and relevant today?

Camille Paglia: One of the things I most loved in Brian Kellow’s terrific new biography of Pauline Kael was her open contempt for professors of English and film studies! Although she was very well-read, before and after her college years at Berkeley, she rightly detested pretension and pomposity. It was a revelation to me, thanks to Kellow’s ace research, that Kael (who had been born on a chicken farm in Petaluma) emerged from a bohemian San Francisco milieu suffused with Beat radicalism.

As I told Kellow on a recent panel on Kael at the New York Film Festival, this helped explain for me Kael’s emphatic use of the colloquial American voice—which I have also striven to do in my writing on popular culture. I despise the phony, fancy-pants rhetoric of professors aping jargon-filled European locutions—which have blighted academic film criticism for over 30 years. Kael socialized with poets in San Francisco. On the same panel, film critic David Edelstein called Kael’s writing “jazzy”—which is exactly right. It must be remembered that the Beats were heavily influenced by be-bop and cool jazz. Kael often uses abrupt, surprising syncopations in her writing that I would classify as Beat. I remain stubbornly attached to the Beat movement, which hugely influenced me in college. It’s one reason I ruffled so many feathers (to continue the chicken-farm trope) by my book on poetry, Break, Blow, Burn, which promoted the Beat style and rejected the cringingly artificial, pseudo-philosophical meanderings of grossly over-praised contemporary poets like John Ashbery.

Browsing through the Library of America’s massive new collection of her writing (called The Age of Movies), I was stunned at Kael’s range and power. Her voice, shaped by the American idiom, is still utterly fresh and dynamic. She is a superb role model for young writers. She has a keen eye for crisp detail and a lust for both attack and celebration. This is a perfect moment for the release of the Kellow and Library of America books. Cultural criticism is in the dumps. Nothing important is coming out of academe, and the “serious” general magazines are insular and verbose. Film criticism has waned, and the Web is overrun with gassy, sniggering, solipsistic snark.

As I said at the panel, the two new Kael books struck me with special force because I have just completed over four years of work on a book on the visual arts for Pantheon. In the process of my research, I was horrified by the degeneration of arts criticism in the past four decades. What excited me anew about Kael’s work is that, even though she was writing solely about movies, she was constantly inventing fascinating paradigms and templates for talking about the creative process as well as the audience’s imaginative experience of performance. Because most of my career in the classroom has been at art schools (beginning at Bennington in the 1970s), I am hyper-aware of the often grotesque disconnect between commentary on the arts and the actual practice or production of the arts. Kael had phenomenal intuition and gut instinct about so many things—the inner lives of directors and actors, the tangible world of a given film, the energy of film editing.

I find Kael stimulating and provocative even when I disagree with her. That’s the entire point of good writing!—to force the reader to think independently. For example, I loved the decadent European art films that she mocked—above all, La Dolce Vita. But her scathing satire of those films was hilarious and persuasive in its own way. I am also very fond of Rich and Famous, George Cukor’s last film, over which Kael got in big trouble because gay activists thought her review homophobic. Preparing for the panel, I viewed that film again via Netflix and was startled to see that YES, there is indeed a glaring male-hustler moment in there that makes no sense whatever in heterosexual terms. So Kael was right about that. But I can’t understand why she failed to appreciate how well Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen work together as a quarreling comic duo. They are fabulous!

And then there is Kael’s hostility to Alfred Hitchcock, which seems inexplicable in a major film critic—particularly since she was so enthusiastic about Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, which is a Hitchcock tribute. Because Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors (I wrote a book on The Birds for the British Film Institute’s Film Classics Series), I have always been mystified by Kael’s attitude. When I raised this issue at the Film Festival, it led, I think, to a breakthrough. On the panel, director and screenwriter James Toback replied that Kael loved De Palma’s active camera and that she tended not to like static, long-held shots, such as Hitchcock was known for. Eureka! One of the main reasons I am so drawn to Hitchcock is that he planned his shots way in advance on story-boards, which he designed like classic paintings (he was an art connoisseur). It’s why he found shooting on set boring—because he had already composed the film in his head.

Then at the Film Festival dinner afterward, David Edelstein, who like Toback was a close friend of Kael’s, told me in passing how he had often tried to get her to appreciate Mahler and Bruckner, whom she actively disliked. (Kellow describes how her memorial service ended with her favorite Baroque music.) Second eureka of the night! I instantly said to Edelstein that this must be another reason Kael disliked Hitchcock—because of Bernard Herrmann’s lush, insistent, immersive, Mahler-like scores, which I adore and would describe as ecstatic and visionary. Edelstein remarked that, in general, Kael was not interested in the transcendent. This is just one example of the exhilarating train of associations triggered by a daring, opinionated, and sometimes cantankerous writer like Kael. We are in desperate need of original minds and voices like hers!

The Answer Man

Derek Holland, owner of one of the worst mustache’s in the game, pitched into the ninth inning last night and stopped the Cardinals’ offense. The Rangers won, 4-0, and now the Serious is tied.

This is good. Rooting for seven games.

[Photo Credit: NYC Awesome]

Sunday Night Serious

The Rangers must to win this one or the whole thing could get away from them.

Let’s see if they can even-up the Serious of if the Cards take a 3-1 lead.

Let’s Go Base-ball.

Sundazed Soul

No reason to stop now, here’s more Wayne Shorter.

Three Times Dope (Bow Down Edition)

Babe, Reggie, Albert.

Goodness, gracious me.

Here’s Tom Boswell.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver