Monday, September 15, 2014

The short films of Wes Anderson

Are you a fan of film director Wes Anderson? See what you think of his Jules et Jim-esque video ad for Prada's "Candy" fragrance! (It's his second short for Prada, after Castello Cavalcanti, which  debuted at the Rome Film Festival, starred Jason Schwartzman, and paid tribute to the films of Federico Fellini.)
You also might enjoy Hotel Chevalier, in which lovesick hotel patron Jason Schwartzman  is visited by the woman (Natalie Portman) who pushed him into his Parisian hideaway.
We currently have a discounted copy of Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited for sale. What's your favorite of his films? DarjeelingRushmore? Moonrise Kingdom? The Fantastic Mr. Fox?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Edmund Morris on the many sides of Teddy Roosevelt: blessed with a phenomenal memory, a voracious reader, and "one of the funniest men who ever lived."

He was an explorer, a hunter, a historian, a rancher, a soldier, New York City Police Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, Vice President of the United States, and ultimately its President. When Theodore Roosevelt took office, Booker T. Washington was the first person he asked to come to Washington to consult with him. He created a national scandal by having a Black man to dinner in the White House, something that had never been done before. And as detailed in Edmund Morris's The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, it wasn't the first time T.R. bucked protocol. Morris's biography is the first in a trilogy that has been showered with awards (the others being Theodore Rex, which covers his presidential years; 1901 to 1909, and Colonel Roosevelt, which explores the final 10 years of T.R.’s life; 1909 to 1919).
"There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to 'mean' horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid."—T.R., An Autobiography, 1913
Edmund Morris was born in Nairobi, Kenya, but came to the the US in 1968, later becoming an American citizen. "Wanting to learn about my country of adoption, I couldn’t think of a better way to learn all about America, its character and its history and its essential principles than by studying the life of Theodore Roosevelt" he told host Brian Lamb on on C-Span's program Q&A. "There was a preliminary apprehension of him when I was a small boy in Kenya. At the age of ten, I looked in the civic history of Nairobi, which was published to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the city. And it had this historic photograph of President Theodore Roosevelt coming to Nairobi, Kenya in 1909 on his great safari for the Smithsonian. And I remember identifying, as a small boy, with that picture; the smile, the snarl, the spectacles. There was something about him that attracted me. And quarter of a century later, I ended up writing his biography."
This interview was so fascinating to me in regard to the writing of all three biographies that I've excerpted portions of it below.
Roosevelt stumping, 1910
BRIAN LAMB: I want to go back to the first words you wrote about Theodore Roosevelt in 1979 in your first of three books. And you started it off in a prologue, "New Year’s Day, 1907 at 11 o’clock precisely, the sound of trumpets echoes within the White House and floats through open windows out into the sunny morning." Do you remember what mood you were in when you had to write those first words?
EDMUND MORRIS: Yes, it was a mood of complete despair. I’d been trying for months to get the book started. I knew in my head that I was going to start with New Year’s Day of 1907 because I’d found out quite by accident, browsing the Guinness Book of World Records that on January the 1st, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt shook more hands than any other person in history. And I thought I could see the book growing out of that reception, when he received the American people.
And for months I researched the day; discovering to my amazement, how dense and detailed newspaper records were in those days. People didn’t have television, so they needed details, visual detail and olfactory details, all sorts of atmospheric stuff. So I absorbed all this mass of material and then I had to sit down and write a prologue, in which the reader, as it were, meets the President, as though the reader’s in that line.

LAMB: As you look back on your process of getting to know Theodore Roosevelt, how did you do it? Where did you go? Where did you start to see what he was all about?
MORRIS: I began to get a physical feel for him, which is important for a biographer; one must have the ability to imagine this person in the room or at – within visible distance. One must have a palpable feeling for the subject or it’s impossible to write about them. I began to get that feeling after about two years of research; after I’d been out to the Badlands of Dakota where he was a young ranchman in the 1880s, after I’d been out to Sagamore Hill and I’d held in my hand this gold lock of hair from the head of his dead young wife, Alice Lee, after I’d read his diaries written at Harvard and had turned over the pages that his hand had turned over.
I remember coming across one page describing his honeymoon night with this beautiful Alice Lee and I was naturally interested to see what he wrote about that night. In his handwriting, he said our sacred happiness cannot be written about and I had the distinct feeling that I, posterity, future biographer, was being addressed by him. This is private; stay out of my life. So that’s when the consciousness of him began.
ROOSEVELT'S INTELLECT
LAMB: How have you changed your mind about Theodore Roosevelt in the last 30-plus years?
MORRIS: I’ve been increasingly impressed by the quality of his intellect. It was always obvious to me, right from the start, he was a superbly bright man, but I thought his smarts were primarily political. And indeed they were through most of his middle years, but after he left the White House in March of 1909 and began a life of journalism and book-writing, the quality of his mind deepened and broadened to an astonishing degree.
Some of the essays that he wrote about the conflict between science and religion and imagery in medieval literature and subjects like that and it the year 1911, when he was completely out of political power. These essays are truly impressive. They reflect reading in three languages; English, German and French, some Italian too, enormous Catholic intelligence and erudition. And to think that this man was also a superbly successful President of the United States is to realize that he was – he was a, as somebody once said, a polygon; a man of many, many dimensions.
POSSIBILITY OF T.R. RUNNING FOR THIRD TERM; THIRD PARTY
LAMB: Given what’s going on in the country right now in the United States, what can we learn from this final book about what happens in a country where people are unhappy or, in his case, he was the third party candidate? What can we learn about third parties and when did he run as a third party candidate and why?
MORRIS: He ran as a third party candidate in 1912, but exactly a century ago, in 1910, shortly after he’d come back to the country after having been a year away, T.R. became the spokesman, the oracle of this new force arising in America called progressivism. It was a largely middle class movement whose common denominator, apart from passion, was a mounting dissatisfaction with government and federal government, a feeling of exclusion from the tight relationship between Congress and corporations and capitalistic privilege.
So this white middle class passionate movement developed in the later years of T.R.’s presidency, largely inspired by his own gradual swing to the left. And it more or less asked him; drafted him back into politics as its spokesman in the summer of 1910. So the midterm elections that subsequently took place exactly 100 years ago marked the emergence of this new progressive party. It wasn’t quite a party yet; it didn’t have a capital P, but it was a formidable movement, which in two short years after that election mutated into a real party, the third party, the Progressive Bull Moose Party of 1912 and fought the most successful third party candidacy in our history.
LAMB: Why did he not run in 1908?
MORRIS: Well at the end of his very successful presidency, he was full of smarts and young. He was not yet 50. But he sort of knew, in his heart of hearts, that if he had another term, which he could have had on a silver platter; if he served another four years he would begin to be corrupt, begin to be too self-righteous, too domineering. It was never a question of financial or political corruption with T.R., but he sensed he’d had too much power too long and he deeply believed that an American President should serve only a finite time and follow the example of George Washington and retire after two terms....
T.R.'S HUMOR
MORRIS: He was one of the funniest men who ever lived. His humor was like Mark Twain’s. It came pouring out all the time. And unfortunately, transcriptions of these speeches tend to be from the actual typed script that he would hand out to reporters, so his improvisations, his witticisms, the jokes he would tell are not there in the transcripts. But there is – there is so much testimony from people who knew him that he was hilariously funny.
And when he wanted to be funny on paper, as in the long letters he wrote describing his grand tour of Europe in 1909 and his participation in King Edward the VII’s funeral; these letters are so funny that they could have been written by Charles Dickens or Mark Twain. They have in fact been published as a book, ”Cowboys and Kings.” So one of the delights about working on him all these years has been to write about somebody who was so funny.
*****
In conjunction with the Ken Burns PBS film The Roosevelts, An Intimate History, we are running a new "Forum" filled with books and DVDs relating to the personal lives and public careers of Teddy, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Check back often for new features. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The legacy of Laura Nyro: 'a message so beautiful you want to share it with everybody'

Photo by Nancy Levine

"She was the whole package."—Diane Reeves

 "It took forever for everybody to get inside and sit down, because people kept going downstairs to the gym to give her flowers . . . Then she was there, in the deafening roar of applause from her worshippers, a baby-skinned zaftig beauty with a penchant for thrift-shop attire."—Rex Reed, writing about a Laura Nyro concert in Stereo Review

"Her songs reached the depth of despair but never lost a glorious ecstasy in the singing. Like all great artists she wrestled with mortality at a young age – she wrote 'And When I Die' when she was 19. (Bundle up my coffin cause it’s cold way down there.)"—Suzanne Vega, Reflections on Laura Nyro 

"It’s like an ice cream soda and I love anybody who records my music . . . I’m very flattered.”—Laura Nyro  

Sometimes when I get advance notice of a new CD we'll be carrying I get a delightful frisson of anticipation, and such was the case with composer, pianist, and arranger Billy Childs' brilliant brainchild, Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro. I imagine she would just adore its eclectic spirit. The album "brims with subtle yet striking moments," as Jim Fusilli observed yesterday in The Wall Street Journal.
Delicately applied piano and acoustic guitar by Mr. Childs and Dean Parks, respectively, and the orchestral strings form the supple spine of a suspenseful title track featuring vocalist Lisa Fischer. Supported by saxophonist Steve Wilson and featuring a knotty, gorgeous interlude by Mr. Childs, "Gibsom Street" is sung with dark fire by Susan Tedeschi. On "New York Tendaberry," Ms. Fleming's voice, Mr. Ma's cello and Mr. Childs's piano welcome the listener with beauty and purpose. Mr. Childs said those three compositions were elemental to his understanding of Nyro's essence as an artist…. "I knew it couldn't be a single singer," he said. "Her songs are so varied. Her output is like one long interconnected opera. Each song is a chapter in a book. She creates a world through symbolism and metaphor. Once you're in, it's an incredible world."
Though Mr. Childs dug deep into the Nyro catalog, he also included new readings of a few familiar tunes. Shelving the Copland-like gallop of the Nyro and Blood, Sweat and Tears versions, Mr. Childs's minor-key arrangement of "And When I Die" allows Ms. Krauss to expose a different meaning to the lyric. His bluesy interpretation of "Save the Country," written by Nyro in the aftermath of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, features Mr. Botti's mournful trumpet. Nyro's reading was angry yet upbeat; in their interpretation some four decades later, Mr. Childs and vocalist Shawn Colvin seem to question whether faith and optimism are still characteristics that define America.
In an era when so-called classic rock celebrates rubbish just because it's familiar, Mr. Childs has rediscovered and polished genuine gems from a long time ago. "It's not only characteristic of a certain generation or a certain time," he said of Nyro's music. "Her music and her beauty: It's not a mission for popularity. There's a message that's beautiful that you want to share with everybody."
Friends described Nyro as sweet, playful, and funny; she called songwriting "a happy profession."
Nyro was a poetic songwriter with a beautiful gift for language. She looked on herself as a rebel and cherished the freedom to write about whatever she wanted to: “I was always interested in the social consciousness of certain songs. My mother and grandfather were progressive thinkers, so I felt at home in the peace movement and the women’s movement, and that has influenced my music.”
In high school, she sang with friends in subway stations and on street corners: “I would go out singing, as a teenager, to a party or out on the street, because there were harmony groups there, and that was one of the joys of my youth.” Some of her favorite musicians were John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Pete Seeger, Curtis Mayfield, Van Morrison, Miles Davis (seen below), and girl groups such as The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, and the Shirelles.
This excerpt from a 1970 Down Beat interview shows how Nyro fought to maintain the integrity of her musical vision.
“I wasn’t interested in singing my music,” she says, “but I thought maybe I wanted other people to do it. I didn’t see very daring people . . . they counted me out because my material was different—that’s silly. One man told me to go home and write What Kind of Fool Am I? If anybody could be miscast, it’s me—that’s been my problem, because, if you put my music in the wrong place, it becomes a freak. I don’t fall into categories and people constantly want to put me in categories, but I refuse....
The Verve/Forecast album (originally entitled More Than a New Discovery but later renamed The First Songs … is not wholly bad, but Miss Nyro likes to ignore it by referring to her initial Columbia effort as her first. “They (Verve) picked the arranger and producer for me,” she complains, “they picked them and said ‘This is whom you must record with.’ And so my arranger (Herb Bernstein) went home and wrote about six arrangements in three hours. I mean, I work months and hours and years and a lifetime on my songs, and if something was a bit difficult, he’d just chop it right out . . . like if one of my changes was a bit difficult. They really kind of brought down my music. There was no balance at the beginning of me . . . there was no peace, there was no comfort, there was certainly no joy, there was no understanding and there was no sensitivity. Just incredible fights, and I was always crying—I mean, that’s the way all those old people really know me.”
Obviously, she prevailed, becoming so beloved that she could sell out Carnegie Hall in an hour.
This excerpt from Nyro's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction is not a great recording in terms of sound quality, but it's an absolutely stellar, right on, and heartfelt tribute by Bette Midler.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Snippets from New York's Fall Fashion Week 2014

Wraithlike and pale (except for the occasional woman of color), the zombie-esque high fashion models glide and pose in tantalizingly brief glimpses of the season's hottest (and coolest) fashion looks. So far, idioms spotted in New York's Fall Fashion Week 2014 include a return to tasteful classics and '60s attire, accompanied by the usual quota of sternum baring. (Above and left, designs by Jason Wu. Oh how those bones stick out! Below, outfits by Ralph Rucci and Marc Jacobs.)
"Rucci’s spring collection was filled with experiments in texture and transparency, the tension between good taste and tawdriness" writes Robin Givhan of The Washington Post. "A floor-length satin skirt in an abstract chocolate print is worn with a transparent chiffon shirt and an embroidered bra. An ivory pantsuit looks utterly simple until the model turns away to reveal a tiny keyhole opening in the jacket’s back seam just below the nape of the neck – a wink to an incorrigible voyeur."
At right is a lovely Belle Époque evocation by Monique L'Huillier. Below, Marchesa seemed to have mined the past as well.
Downton Abbey actress Michelle Dockery seems a bit like a little girl lost at the Marc Jacobs show. And Uma Thurman looks pretty devastatin' at the Carolina Herrera do, wouldn't you say?
Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour is a fixture at the toniest events. Here she sits with retired soccer star David Beckham and son Brooklyn at the Victoria Beckham Spring/Summer 2015 show. (AP Photo/Richard Drew.) Below are some of the former Spice Girl's creations.
If you couldn't toddle off to New York and yearn to contemplate fashion in historical perspective, we have some beautifully illustrated books on the subject—including ones on the styles of Paris and Berlin; the singular artistry of Jean Muir; the high-fashion footwear of Beth Levine, Mabel Julianelli, and Salvatore Ferragamo; a life of the influential and colorful tastemaker Diana Vreeland; Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations (from the Met's superb show contrasting their work); Roberto Capucci: Timeless Creativity (stunning and extravagant creations by "the father of Italian fashion"); an overview of designer bags (The Handbag: To Have & to Hold); historical books such as Fashion in the 1920s, The Victorian Tailor: An Introduction to Period Tailoring and Fashion in the Time of The Great Gatstby; and many how-to books on sewing or knitting your own couture.
Above, an artsy dress by Alexander Wang. "Wang’s collections exude frenetic energy – a gulping down of life’s daily stimuli. Watching one of his shows is a bit like mainlining the Internet…. Nicki Minaj, Miguel and Rihanna sit in the front row keeping the crowd happily gawking until show time."—Robin Givhan, Washington Post

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"J'ai deux amours": the eternal delights of Parisian food, fashion, art, music, books & more

Detail from La Vie de Monseigneur Saint Denis, 1517, depicting Parisian people at leisure. Love the dancing bear and the wine-drinking party on the Seine!
“Il n’y a que deux endroits au monde où l’on puisse vivre heureux: chez soi et à Paris. ("There are only two places in the world where one can live happy: at home and in Paris.”)—Hemingway
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”―Hemingway
A game of bocce. From the Chansonnier de Paris, c.1280—1315. (The British Library Board)
“Everything ends this way in France—everything. Weddings, christenings, duels, burials, swindlings, diplomatic affairs—everything is a pretext for a good dinner.”—Jean Anouilh
These quotes and the lovely images above and below put me in mind of a recent Spotlight feature we did called Paris in the Springtime. The illuminations are from a new Folio Society edition of Paris in the Middle Ages by Simone Roux.
Shop-lined Paris streets. From Le livre du gouvernement des princes by Gilles Romain.
We always maintain a particularly deep collection of great titles relating to Paris and its history, as well ones reflecting its importance as a capitol of art and design (with books on Matisse, Picasso, Chagall, Fabergé, Lalique, et al.); as a longtime nexus of fashion innovation; as a center of superior food and music; and as a source of marvelous films, novels, and poetry. Click here to peruse our current offerings. At right: Andre Lhote, Expressive Head, 1920-24. From Matisse, Picasso, and Modern Art in Paris: The T. Catesby Jones Collections at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the University of Virginia Art Museum.
Selected Paris-related titles in stock now:
  • The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France
  • The Louvre and the Masterpiece
  • The Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the '50s, New York in the '60s: A Memoir of Publishing's Golden Age
  • The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft, and Detection
  • Jacques Offenbach and the Paris of His Time
  • The Harlequin Years: Music in Paris 1917-1929
  • The Food Lover's Guide to Paris: The Best Restaurants, Bistros, Cafes, Markets, Bakeries, and More City Fashion Paris 
  • The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916
  • The Montmarte Investigation: A Victor Legris Mystery
  • the Elizabeth Taylor movie Paris When It Sizzles
  • the CD anthology Cafe De Paris: 50 Grands Succes Francais, with Piaf, Trenet, Chevalier, Grappelli, Montand, Josephine Baker, and more.
As Baker sang, "J'ai deux amours": Paris et toi.