Furious Sky

This is the evening sky at sunset, and it looks worse than it actually was. The moon is a bright blur near the center, and I almost think it looks like a dragon. Something like that.

Mary Tyler Moore 1936-2017

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It would appear that 2017 is going to be just as much of an asshole as 2016:

Mary Tyler Moore, the Oscar-nominated actress best known for her roles in the television sitcoms "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show," has died. She was 80.
"Today, beloved icon, Mary Tyler Moore, passed away at the age of 80 in the company of friends and her loving husband of over 33 years, Dr. S. Robert Levine," her publicist, Mara Buxbaum, told ABC News. "A groundbreaking actress, producer, and passionate advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Mary will be remembered as a fearless visionary who turned the world on with her smile."
Moore's portrayal of the single career woman Mary Richards in her eponymous 1970s show arrived alongside the Women's Movement, making her a role model for generations of women, even though Moore didn't consider herself a feminist. The show, which centered on Richards' work as a producer in a fictional Minneapolis newsroom and her life as a single woman, earned 29 Emmy Awards, the most for any scripted series until "Frasier" won its 30th Emmy.

I grew up in Minnesota, and the iconic image of Moore throwing her beret into the air on the Nicollet Mall is a timeless piece of television history. 

Hollywood Doesn't Care About American Audiences

This question is easy to answer:

Will Hollywood Learn From Hidden Figures’s Success?

Nope!

Hidden Figures has been the breakout film of 2017 thus far. Starring three African American women (played by Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, and Octavia Spencer), it focuses on an unheralded piece of American history: the work of black female mathematicians and engineers at NASA in the 1960s. Released to strong reviewsHidden Figures seems destined for a few Academy Award nominations next week. Since it expanded nationwide, it has spent two weeks at the top of the box office, ahead of big-budget films like Monster TrucksPatriots DayLive By Night, and Oscar frontrunner La La Land. Made for a comparatively small $25 million, the film is essentially guaranteed to gross at least $100 million in the United States alone, posting a very healthy profit for its studio, 20th Century Fox. The viewing public’s desire for a film like Hidden Figures is indisputable. So why does Hollywood make so few of them?
In 2015, only 32 of the top 100 films at the box office featured a female lead or co-lead; only three of those leads were women of color, and almost half of them did not feature a black female character in any capacity. After having an all-white slate of acting nominees for two years in a row (spurring the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite), the Academy is trying to diversify its voting body with the hope of rewarding a broader selection of films. But Hollywood at large is showing few traces of change. Last year’s most successful films, largely superhero sequels and animated blockbusters, lack for variety in their storytelling. The slow nature of film production means it can take years to really reflect a shift in studio thinking, but Hidden Figures still feels (disappointingly) like an anomaly rather than a sign of a real transformation.

Hollywood is happy to turn out a handful of small, independent pictures like this but, really, the whole thing is built around larger movies with special effects that will appeal to global audiences. The economics are such that, if they were to shift everything, lay off thousands of special effects people, and try to make movies like this, it would bankrupt the industry faster than it's going bankrupt now.

In short, they want to make movies Chinese teenage boys will want to see, own, and watch repeatedly. They don't want to empower a generation of African-American actors and then start having to pay them what they're worth. The only way they can survive is to keep making superhero films that don't suck. They don't care about filmmaking or art anymore--it's not 1970. The biggest directors are not visionaries--they're successful project managers who can work for months on end and produce content. 

Who's the new Robert Altman and why isn't he making movies?

Octavia Spencer alone is one of the greatest actors of her generation. She's not just an actress. She's not just a black actress. She's a fucking actor. They don't treat her like Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender, or Tom Hanks because they think she's not a movie star. Put her in a movie with five or six other people who can act, make her the lead, and she'll blow the fucking doors off of people. Do you think there's a Hollywood producer out there ready to sell that to a studio? Who's going to give her $10 million to start in a film and have her as the top billed actor?

Nobody. And that's a crying goddamned shame. She's amazing. And she's undervalued and under appreciated.

A New Factory in Manchester

It's not any old factory, either:

Manchester’s proposed £110m arts centre, the Factory, has moved a step closer to being built after city councillors gave planning permission for the Rem Koolhaas-designed building.

The Factory will be erected on the site of the former Granada Studios and is seen by the city council as a game changer, one which the authority’s leader, Sir Richard Leese, has said would “make Manchester and the wider region a genuine cultural counterbalance to London”.

It is a central part of the northern powerhouse project, championed by the former chancellor George Osborne, who pledged £78m of government money in 2014, a sum which was confirmed this week following a Treasury review of the full business case.

The enormous and striking glass cube construction will be the first major public building in the UK by Dutch architect Koolhaas and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) practice.

I still can't figure out how they got through this whole article without paying homage to Tony Wilson's Factory music label, which essentially defined the music scene in Manchester.

 

 

Creation Stories

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Creation Stories is a book I enjoyed reading, but it did leave me wanting more.

I should state, up front, this review of the book is not a normal one. The book came out two years ago, and I just got around to it recently. I do recommend this for fans of the British music genre known as "Britpop" because you'll get a fair amount of background information from the book. You'll want to view it as a historical look at British independent music from the early Eighties until the end of the Nineties. It is not comprehensive, but there are a fair amount of good anecdotes to give you a superficial understanding of where Creation Records and Alan McGee fit into everything.

McGee downplays himself throughout the book. He could rightly call himself a genius at several things, but specifically he was enormously gifted when it came to spotting talent. This is a combination of knowing how to size up people, evaluate their skills, hear what they could do on stage, and make a business judgment about them relative to the music industry. Many people have done this and done quite well; McGee found the biggest band since U2 and a dozen other bands that were both commercially and artistically successful. He found Oasis, the Jesus & Mary Chain, Primal Scream, and a slew of other bands. He made millions for himself and for the artists that he worked with. He had his finger on the pulse and built a successful company.

Now, the fact that he did all of that while out of his mind on drugs is neither here nor there. The book details his prowess finding artists and it reveals the failures he had both professionally and personally. This is an honest book, through and through.

McGee could have been more specific and he could have researched dates and times and really looked at how Creation Records moved and shaped the culture. He could have done one book separately on Oasis and one on the company; it all blends together after a while. He is probably on the hook for another telling of these stories, and that's all right--there's so much more happening that you miss out on. I would have liked more focus on the business side of things, just to get more of a feel for how he ran things. What I came away with was an understanding that this wasn't a madcap laugh or a lucky break. Building Creation Records wasn't just what he did while on drug holiday or while sleeping on trains. He bridged the music scenes from Manchester, Glasgow, and London and made local acts global stars. He put music in the hands of people who never would have discovered it. He spent millions on records that otherwise would have never been heard. 

I do think it was a good read. I do wish there were specific year by year breakdowns and summaries of how big the company got, how big was the roster, why bands would come and go, and how it all compared to other labels in the same business. He breezes through some of these details and you don't really get the whole story of what happened when Oasis dwarfed the rest of their roster of bands and why some acts broke out and why some faded away. I don't know if he's trying to be even-handed or spare feelings, but he's relentlessly hard on himself and honest about his failings. In and of itself, McGee's harrowing descriptions of life at home and his health scares makes this a worthy read.

If McGee gets around to writing about more of the things I've outlined above, then all the better.

Simon and Schuster is Making Hate Safe For the Mainstream

I think a boycott of CBS as a whole would be more appropriate, but what do I know?

Yiannopoulos’s payday was met with calls for a boycott of Simon and Schuster’s entire catalogue, which spans 35 imprints, including a call by a literary journal to not review any of the company’s books in 2017.

A representative for the company did not confirm the reported financial advance amount and said they do not comment on those figures. The literary agent working with Yiannopoulos has not responded to a request for comment from The Daily Beast either.

In response to the announcement, The Chicago Review of Books vowed not to review a single Simon & Schuster book in 2017 due to the new book deal. The company typically publishes about 2,000 books per year.

“In response to this disgusting validation of hate, we will not cover a single @simonschuster book in 2017,” the journal announced on its Twitter account.

Some Simon & Schuster authors struggled with the boycott of their own publisher, noting that they don’t agree with Yiannopoulos’ views, but still need to sell books.

“(That face when your) publisher signs a hate troll & people call for a boycott & you’re like well yeah but um,” Simon & Schuster author Michael Robbins wrote on Twitter. “(It’s the) same imprint (that) published Trump’s ‘Crippled America.”

If you're going to take a racist hate monger, and give him a publishing deal, then you have to accept the fact that people are not going to stand for it. If that hurts Les Moonves and the CBS media empire, so be it. Making hate a mainstream product you can buy in stores is not a marketing plan I would want to be a part of. I have no idea what the management at that particular imprint of Simon and Schuster was thinking when they gave this Milo character a quarter of a million dollars. Perhaps they weren't thinking at all.

Everyone and everything surrounding the "Alt Right" is so toxic right now that for a major American media company to lavish money on someone with those ties is absolutely reprehensible. Clearly, this is never going to be acceptable.

There already is a vast "wingnut welfare" infrastructure that publishes this material and puts it into the marketplace. Anti-liberal books were all the rage for years until they stopped selling in adequate numbers. No one is censoring these ideas, but they should be subjected to the marketplace. Whatever a boycott of Simon and Schuster accomplishes is fine by me. You cannot and should not mainstream hate in America and not pay a significant price for it at the cash register.

Sing is a Better Movie Than Some Would Have You Believe

Really, what are the standards for an animated film to be considered "good?"

Despite some bad reviews here and here, I actually saw Sing and I thought it was a good movie. I liked it about as much as I liked Zootopia, so if you didn't like that, well, I don't know what to say. This film does not avoid sadness and it does not insult the intelligence of children. Yes, it is fun and upbeat and has some slapstick to it, but it does not avoid telling you that show business sucks most of the time. If I had to point to one thing that allows the film to succeed it is that it arrives without assuming you haven't already seen what goes on behind the scenes at talent shows. It assumes you know that there's going to be conflict and drama.

Sing owes a lot to the animation esthetic at Illumination (the Minion movie, whatever else) and you can easily be dazzled by what you see. It's a rich, diverse tapestry and, a few stereotypes aside, it works very well on the screen. So, relax. You're not going to be ripped off.

Now, having said that, the plot is a mile wide and an inch deep. You know that down on his luck Buster Moon is going to take a fall and climb right back up. You know how the movie will end when the whole thing kicks off, but it's the journey that works. You will not mind the episodic format and you will want to see more of certain characters. There's so much happening in this film that the plot will not bother you at all because you're already seeing all the different ways these characters are looking for some sort of validation.

Somehow, they made Matthew McConaughey lose every bit of Texas from his voice. Somehow, they managed to make Scarlett Johansson not sound exactly like herself but like a teenaged girl instead. Reese Witherspoon and Seth McFarlane are part of a broadly drawn cast of weirdos and misfits and it all somehow works. McFarlane in particular fits into the whole thing like a completely square peg being dropped through the other side of a round hole. He's not even really part of the team, he just kind of floats through this thing like comic relief. And, as always, you're going to wonder why Jennifer Hudson doesn't already have her own damned franchise already.

There's an especially weird diversion towards the end of the second act that involves washing cars and acting loopy and it's absolutely worth the price of admission. The rest I'm not giving away.

 

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde returns to England:

A portrait of the writer Oscar Wilde, which had to be sold off after he was accused of gross indecency, is to return from America for the first time in nearly a century. It will be displayed at Tate Britain, in an exhibition called Queer British Art 1861-1967, which opens in April.

Robert Harper Pennington, an American artist who painted the full-length portrait (1881), gave it to Wilde and his wife Constance as a wedding present in 1884. It was the couple’s most prized possession, hung above the fireplace in their London home. But in 1895 Wilde was arrested and later sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for his homosexual relationship with Alfred Douglas. 

Wilde’s legal expenses led to him being declared bankrupt, and the Pennington portrait had to be sold. Later, in the 1920s, it was bought by a US collector and the portrait was subsequently acquired by the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Are we any more enlightened now than we were in Wilde's time? You can be broken by the law and rendered destitute for less than loving someone nowadays. I think what has changed is that it can happen before Piers Morgan has a chance to open up his puke funnel and comment.

The Throng Below the Eiffel Tower

This is still one of my favorite photos.

In my opinion, the Eiffel Tower is plenty high enough. This was taken looking down from the first platform. At this time of the year, which was roughly November of 2011, there was a skating rink and some food vendors on that level. We then went up to the second platform. You would think, oh, that's not very high and of course, you have to go to the top.

Nope.

If you go up to the second platform, that's plenty high enough. You do not need to go to the top. I did not go to the top. Oh, hell no.

Abstract Number 109

This is the first set of abstract paintings that I have done in months and I wanted to kick things off with number 109. I'm going to reorganize the abstract painting series into a numerical sequence and really see what I can do to enhance the ones that are out there. It makes sense to offer these for download and for purchase on Society6 and Fine Art America, but don't worry--they're still here and they'll all be available.