Recherché, n'est-ce pas?

I’ve been looking forward to Todd Haynes remake of Mildred Pierce on HBO. It promised to be closer to the original James Cain novel. The new version has realism similar to 1970s and 1980s movies that were set in the 1930s: The Day of the Locust, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and The Last Tycoon. It all sounds swell. The problem I have is that it’s just rather boring. If I’d never seen the 1945 Joan Crawford version, I’d be all over it like white on rice.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to top the 1945 extreme film noir drama of Mildred’s spoiled daughter Vida’s dialogue:

“If you mean Mrs. Biederhof, I must say my sympathy is all with you. She's distinctly middle class.”

“I mean, that would have been dreadfully recherché, n'est-ce pas?”

“With this money, I can get away from you. From you and your chickens, pies and kitchens. Everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack and its cheap furniture. And this town.... Its women that wear uniforms. Its men that wear overalls.”

“You think just because you made money, you can turn yourself into a lady. But you can't. You'll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a store and whose mother took in washing. With this money l can get away from every rotten thing that makes me think of this place or you!”

The next time you find yourself in a disagreement with your own mother, try some of these. For example your mother may say, “Betty, I just don’t know if I feel like Chinese tonight, how about Sizzler?” And then you can respond, “Sizzler? Sizzler. Well, you've never spoken of your people, where you came from, so perhaps it's natural.”

 

C'est le ton qui fait la musique

For those of you too young to remember life before iPhoto and the picture books, there once was a time photographs were physical objects, and went into a shoebox. If you wanted to make a book for your friends, you needed to stick the photos into ugly Holly Hobbie “photo-books” with plastic and waxy boards. Of course, now we can simply order a book of our personal images from Apple and, except for the “crayon” theme, make something tasteful.

One of my favorite publications is Alexey Brodovitch’s Ballet. For years, Brodovitch took snapshots at the ballet. He didn’t hire Richard Avedon to shoot them. He didn’t use a flash or worry about perfect lighting. The result is often a blur of motion and light. In 1945, this was not “real” photography. Using the standards of the time, these are simply amateur snapshots. Fortunately, this rigid definition didn’t deter Brodovitch. The blurred motion and full bleed images create the sensation of the ballet, as opposed to simply documenting it. The ornamental typography doesn’t attempt to be international style, modernist, or “high-design”. It is exuberantly about the ballet.

As I’ve said before, I truly admire work that has the courage to be about joy and delight. Ballet is a masterpiece. While we look at the book now as “high design,” it is, in fact, about something frivolous and transitory. But, aren’t those the things in life that are the most wonderful?

The Color of Light

I have a stack of prints that I inherited sitting in my flat files at home. Once in awhile I’ll go through them, and consider framing one and putting it up. But I don’t have room, so they stay in the drawer. There are a couple of Maxfield Parrish (1870 - 1966) prints that I love, but can’t get past the image of one hanging in the den at the ranch. It just seems to “little old lady” to put one up. Nevertheless, they are beautiful. I could do without the lounging androgynous characters in Greek temples, but the landscapes are remarkable.

Both Ansel Adams and Maxfield Parrish worked through the beginning of the 20th-century. They shared the idea of creating images that went beyond traditional landscapes. Adams didn’t photograph the landscape; he photographed the weather. Parrish didn’t paint the landscape; he painted the light. The colors are iridescent. I’ve been told that he painted in layers, much like a printer lays one color on top of another, and the translucency of the paint produces a richer, more complex effect. Parrish also had a sense of narrative. The house in New Moon has a warm glow of a light inside, creating a sense of security, comfort, and warmth.