Saturday, September 24, 2016


You guys!

Okay, I was too late to review The Light Between Oceans (I was out of town when it opened) but you should still run out and see it. Like, now!

I never read the M. L. Stedman novel, but I was completely entranced by the sophisticated storytelling of Derek Cianfrance's film adaptation. Cianfrance takes his time to tell the story with all the depth of feeling he needs to make an impact.

Michael Fassbender is terrific as Tom, a stoic WWI vet with no family ties who takes a job as lighthouse keeper on a lonely rock off the Australian coast where two oceans meet. After the horrors of war, he's looking forward to the solitude.

Fassbender and Vikander: back to life.

The remarkable Alicia Vikander is Isabel, the spirited daughter of Tom's new boss, head of the Commonwealth that employs him. She eases past Tom's defenses and changes his plans; they marry, and she moves into his cottage on the island.

Gradually, we see all the ways that loving her brings Tom back to life.

And the always excellent Rachel Weisz co-stars as Hannah, a woman of the town with sorrows of her own to contend with, whose life and destiny becomes inexorably knotted up with Tom and Isabel's.

Fassbender and Vikander: to the lighthouse.
Any further detailing of the plot might make it sound schmaltzy. But trust me, it's not. This emotional story is told without an ounce of sentimentality.

It all revolves around what Art Boy and I call "the film noir moment," when characters make that one regrettable choice that will have wrenching repercussions throughout the rest of the movie, and their lives.

And the pivotal moment here when that choice is made is utterly persuasive. Even as the viewer thinks, "No, no! Don't do it!," we can see exactly what it means to the character advocating so desperately for it, and exactly why the co-conspirator is powerless to say no.

This is movie-making for grown-ups, thoughtfully conceived and beautifully shot.

Why are you still sitting there?

Monday, September 19, 2016


A vintage fairy tale book can be as enchanting as the ageless stories that inspire it. Imagine our deight to find this one squirreled away in our stuff!

First, some backstory: Once upon a time, Art Boy used to go to the flea market every Sunday to buy old books.

Most were fantasy/sci-fi paperbacks, picked up for a dime to re-sell in his comic shop (preferably with gorgeous covers by Frazetta or Boris)— an outgrowth of his previous business selling books to collectors through the mail.

Untold cartons of these old books had been taking up space in the rafters of our garage for eons. But last year, when he decided to start recycling them back into circulation, we discovered two things.

One: eBay and its ilk have taken a huge bite out of the collectible book biz; you can get anything you want online. So there's not the same thrill Art Boy used to get from finding that one weird book he knew was on some collector's wish-list.

And two: a dwindling sector of people consider books worth collecting at all. People read on the run, on devices (like they do everything else), or listen to audiotapes. Who wants to clutter up their busy lives with actual, physical books?

Oh, but look what you miss out on!

While preparing a box of old hardcovers for Logos, Art Boy found this lovely volume: Wonder Tales Retold, a collection of folk and fary tales from around the world.

It was written and illustrated by Katharine Pyle (1863-1938), sister of legendary artist Howard Pyle.

Although she is lesser-known today, Katharine Pyle was a prolific and a successful illustrator in her own right.  Besides poems and magazine stories, she wrote, illustrated, compiled, edited, and/or adapted more than 50 books for children.

Wonder Tales Retold features stories from the French, German, Russian, Norse, and English, to Bohemian, French Creole, Persian, "Hindoo," Korean, and American Indian. Some are familiar, like Baba Yaga, or Tam Lin (here called "Tamlane"), but most were new to me.

The minute we flipped open the book, I knew we had to keep it!

It may not the most elaborate fairy tale book ever, by modern standards. But even though it's only a four-color printing process, look how lovely and sinuous these illustrations are! They were done in the Golden Age of Illustration, that decorative era right around the turn of the last century that I love so much.

A lot more women have made their living as artists or illustrators than history records, especially around this era of artistic and social ferment. I'm always thrilled to discover a new one!

What else is serendipitous about finding this buried treasure of a book? It was published in September, 1916 — making it 100 years old this month!

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Jewel Theatre Company on-track with season opener 'Streetcar Named Desire'

These days, Tennessee Williams' groundbreaking drama, A Streetcar Named Desire could seem as quaint and mannered as the fading, delusional Southern belle at its center.

But the old girl holds up surprisingly well in the smart new production of Streetcar that launches the twelfth season of Jewel Theatre Company.

First produced onstage in 1947, the play was controversial for daring to whisper (obliquely) about taboo subjects like homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, and rape. It examines the erosion of Southern gentility, in the hothouse flower that is Blanche DuBois, exposed in the merciless glare of the postwar modern world represented by her rough-hewn working-class brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski.

But Williams knew that the perceived elegance of the Old South — built on generations of slavery and repression — was as much an illusion as Blanche's fragile image of herself as a genteel lady.

Schindele and James: culture clash
These are no longer considered scandalous, or particularly new ideas. But director Susan Myer Silton sets them up vividly in her JTC production. The story is set in the French quarter of New Orleans, and one of Silton's coolest innovations is to place a three-man jazz combo on a wrought-iron balcony overlooking the stage; they play the actors in and out of scenes, subtly punctuating the action, but never overwhelming it.

Stanley Kowalski is played by Brent Schindele, previously seen in a dinner jacket, tinkling the ivories as the lounge pianist in JTC's delightful film noir musical, Gunmetal Blues. His performance here is a pretty nifty about-face. Erika Schindele (she and Brent are married in real life) plays his wife, Stella, with strength and compassion. The Kowalskis  enjoy a strong physical, if sometimes volatile, relationship.

Stanley and Stella: volatile
But their marriage is strained when Stella's older sister, Blanche (Julie James), arrives. A spinsterish onetime high school English teacher, Blanche spins a tale of woe about how the family home (a Mississippi plantation called Belle Reve), has been "lost," as the elder generation died out.

Alternately reproaching Stella for "abandoning" the family that Blanche had to care for, and buttering her up as her "precious baby sister," Blanche has nowhere to go, and her travel plans are indefinite.

Blanche deplores what she considers the Kowalski's miserable living conditions in their two-room apartment, and finds Stanley crude and common. Stanley suspects her of cheating Stella out of the family inheritance; he loathes her superior attitude, her interference in his marriage, and her pretense to gentility, which he considers a phony act.

And the clash of wills between them only intensifies. (Read more)

All photos ©2016 Steve DiBartolomeo-Westside Studio Images

Thursday, September 8, 2016


The Inconstant Traveler goes to Sweden!

The next time you're in Sweden visit Millesgarden, a fabulous home, art environment, terraced sculpture garden, and gallery space overlooking Stockhom Harbor.

It was created by and for sculptor Carl Milles (who studied with Rodin) and his wife, Austrian-born painter Olga Granner Milles, in the artistically simmering early decades of the last century.

This object to the left is a actually a (very thin) sponge, purchased in the gift shop, but I won't be mopping up spilled champagne with it anytime soon. I love the way its Wiener Werkstatte-inspired design and colors look on my aqua-green kitchen wall!

The graphic in the upper corner of the sponge replicates the design of this wrought-iron gate on the grounds. My Swedish is too rusty (okay; nonexistent) to translate the words, but I can read the date well enough: 1920.

This was right around the time the intricate, floral Art Nouveau aesthetic was starting to segue into the clean, machine-made design motifs of Art Deco.

Milles' bronze sculptures are monumental, mostly figures taken from Greek, Roman, and Christian mythology. On the grounds of Millesgarden, they are made even more imposing by their gravity-defying placement on tall, thin pedestals.

(For scale, see the tiny figures huddled at the low wall to the left, between the huge statue in the foreground, and the little spritz of water bubbling out of the fountain to its right? Those are actual people; that's how gigantic these sculptures are!)

Carl Milles' sculpture garden: monumental.
Each irregular paving stone in the terraces was placed by hand. Construction lasted for decades!

Austrian-born architect and textile designer, Josef Frank, who relocated to Sweden in the second half of his life, had a hand in some of the building on the Millesgarden grounds.

When we were there, the Millesgarden gallery was hosting an exhibition of Frank textiles, created by the Swedish design group,  Svenskt Tenn, with which Frank had a long association.

These are modern textiles based on Frank designs, shown alongside Franks' original watercolor sketches of each pattern. The colors are bold, the attitude playful, and the images abstract and amorphous, or wonderfully curvy, inspired by the fecund shapes of flowers, fruits, and leaves in nature.

Josef Frank: "Terrazzo."

Wall tapestries of Frank's designs were hung amid pieces of furniture  upholstered in these same patterns, ebulliently padded and poofy sofas, pillows, and chairs.

(Frank's dislike of hard, sharp corners is thought to have inspired Apple designer Jonathan Ive, a Frank fan, in his creation of the original blue iMac.)

I loved the designs for "Terrazzo," inspired by Italian mosaics. I also liked the starry, cloudlike silhouettes of "Zodiac," and a design based on images of historical sailing ships.

But for me, Best in Show was this whimsical riff on the classic bearskin rug (displayed only a couple of inches off the floor). The best thing about this life-sized accent piece is that it doesn't require the death of an actual animal to produce!

Oh, and the title of this piece? "Beast."