In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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College administrator and arts buff

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Architectural historian and arts buff

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Saturday, February 12, 2005

Barbara Leigh and The King
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A slim and beautiful, dark-haired icon of the '70s, Barbara Leigh is one of those popular-culture figures you know you know, but you aren't sure how. (She isn't Barbara Parkins, and she isn't Leigh Taylor-Young either.) Barbara Leigh grew up poor in the south; married young; was discovered and became a model; appeared in many ads; posed for Playboy; and at one point even had the beginnings of a movie career going, acting in Roger Vadim's "Pretty Maids All in a Row" and Sam Peckinpah's wonderful "Junior Bonner." She also conducted quite the love life, dating many high-powered men -- among them, MGM's James Aubrey (the inspiration for Jacqueline Susann's immortal Robin Stone in "The Love Machine"), Steve McQueen, and Elvis. At one point, both Elvis and McQueen were vying for her favors. Imagine being in that position, ladies -- talk about a peak experience. Leigh was on the pages and on the screens in front of us, and she was out there among the legendary figures too. I found exploring Barbara Leigh's website like taking a trip back to the '70s. (The fellas won't want to miss the site's "autographed nude photos" section, which brings the '70s back in a really vivid way.) I also enjoyed reading this q&a, where Leigh talks respectfully about her affair with Elvis Presley. I wonder if her book is fun. It has moved its way onto my Amazon Wish List in any case. Barbara Leigh eventually became identified in many people's minds with the comic book character Vampirella, for whom she was the first model. Leigh has always been a Dracula fan as well as an Egyptology fan; it makes a touching kind of sense that her great dream as an actress was to play Vampirella. At one point Leigh was under contract with Hammer to portray the character in six movies. Somehow, though, the deal fell through, so her dream came to naught. According to her website, Barbara Leigh these days works for Playboy magazine and also sells real estate in Los Angeles. Speaking of the King ... Did you realize that Lisa Marie was once deep, deep into the cocaine? And that she has since become a Scientologist? Heavens! I suppose that, as usual, I'm the last person on the planet to learn these facts. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 12, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments

Friday, February 11, 2005

More on Summers
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, Well, here's something that's likely to get Steve Sailer's blood pressure up. The presidents of MIT, Stanford and Princeton have issued a joint statement rebuking Larry Summers for his statement about women and science. (Article here). The Presidents, two of whom are women and all three of whom are scientists, write: ""The question we must ask as a society is not 'can women excel in math, science and engineering?' -- Marie Curie exploded that myth a century ago -- but 'how can we encourage more women with exceptional abilities to pursue careers in these fields?' " Funny, I thought the pursuit of scientific knowledge was primary and the instrumental/political issues secondary. But then I'm not a scientist, like these presidents, so I wouldn't know. At the top of Steve's wep page are three quotes: Live not by lies. - Solzhenitsyn To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle. - Orwell Knowledge is good. - Animal House And that of course is Steve's theme: better to see it all and act accordingly; big mistakes get made, and get compounded, when we refuse to recognize what is in front of us. I respect that view though I think it too has its limits. The creation of cultural values is in an of itself part of the natural selection process, and nowhere is it written that ideas conforming the closest to the truth will always be adaptive. I suppose that must be what the presidents had in mind: that we will all be better off if for the moment we pathologize the impartial pursuit of scientific knowledge and make it subsidiary to "where we need to go". Something like that anyway. Or it could be more prosaic. Shirley Tilghman, Princeton's president, recently announced that her institution would strive to be the "Ellis Island" for aspiring women scientists. If Harvard doesn't want 'em, send 'em here. Something like that anyway. Suggesting that the presidents' ringing statements of values (and Summers about-face too) may have a more than a note of institutional self-interest in them. Downright Darwinian. Best, Fenster P.S. If you didnt' see it, Megan O'Rourke in Slate mounts the most vigorous and credible assault on Summers' statement I've yet seen. But that's not saying all that much.... posted by Fenster at February 11, 2005 | perma-link | (23) comments

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Erma Bombeck
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I love humor writing, and consider it an artform on a level with poetry in terms both of the difficulty of its demands and the amount of pleasure it can deliver. Until her death in 1996, the humor columnist Erma Bombeck was a huge presence in American popular culture. (Funny: you don't hear feminists celebrating her accomplishment. Why not?) I wasn't much of a fan, but I did just now have an informative time surfing through this well-done website devoted to her work. And I loved learning that the University of Dayton sponsors, every other year, an Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop. Among the workshop's guest speakers: Art Buchwald. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 10, 2005 | perma-link | (10) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * La Coquette delivers an R-rated account of drinking some good Parisian hot chocolate. Tyler Cowen provides a list of his favorite French culture-things. No hot chocolate, but a nice mention of the immortal Serge Gainsbourg. * Fred confesses that he's only seen a few operas, and that there aren't many others that he's much interested in checking out. * Steve suspects that the Democrats want people to remain unmarried and childless. * Book agent Deborah Schneider tells Backspace that the book market is becoming like the movie market: "Itís about mass-market entertainment, high concepts, name brands and formulas. Publishers are looking to build franchises." * John thinks that New York City's most recently approved skyscraper will drag the city down a notch. * It's that time of year when I feel an obligation to link to my long-ago posting about the pros and cons of 10-Best lists. Funny that the world hasn't taken much note of it yet ... * Alan offers some tips on how to get yourself into the lotus position. Patience and hard work seem to play discouragingly big roles in his explanation. * Do you want to know what these women look like undressed? Click and find out. Almost as good a gizmo as those eyeglasses red-blooded boys used to imagine wearing, the ones that enabled you to see through girls' clothes. * Forager thinks that the filmmakers Jim Jarmusch, Wes Anderson and Guy Maddin are One-Note Wonders. * Murray McMillan, an artist who makes installations, talks about why live performers sometimes suit his needs better than videotape. * Robby dared to raise a conservative voice in a Boston grad-school classroom. Despite his foolhardiness, he somehow lived to tell the tale. * The Wall Street Journal takes note of the 75th anniversary of the publication of "The Maltese Falcon." My own wee posting on the topic is here. And don't I enjoy gloating whenever the MSM (mainstream media) are playing catchup to the blogosphere. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 10, 2005 | perma-link | (15) comments

Movie Posters 'R' Us
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yesterday I asked visitors to volunteer a movie poster or two that really marked their imaginations, and I promised to put images of these posters up in a blog posting. A fun, if movie-addled, way to get to know each other! As well as a dandy excuse to liven the blog up with some visuals. (By the way, clicking on some of these images will bring up bigger versions of the posters.) So far, two brave takers. Ricpic admits that he found this Saul Bass classic "very powerful": Annette confesses to having been stirred by these hunky images: Style and chic also speak to Annette, who still recalls this poster: And I can testify that Annette isn't alone in remembering the campaign for "Blow Up" fondly: What are those sexy, chic "Blow Up" people doing? And why wasn't I invited to their party? UPDATE: Blowhard Francis Morrone writes that he had this alienated beauty on his bachelor-pad wall and then one dumb day "unaccountably" gave it away. Bridget goes downhome, remembering a lusty Burt Reynolds special: ANOTHER UPDATE: I haven't heard from Friedrich von Blowhard in a few days, so I'm going to treat myself to the liberty of putting up a few posters that I know perfectly well once rocked his world: Steve Sailer dug the poster for "Pulp Fiction," which he says "looked far more glamorous than the actual movie, which looked an awful lot like what you'd expect for only $8 million bucks": Tatyana saw a poster for Saura's "Carmen" when she was 17 and hasn't gotten over it yet. No finding that specific image online, alas. But it looked something like this poster for a Fellini picture: The psychedelic vibes given off by these images (one a record jacket that looks like the poster for the movie) spoke dark volumes to George Wallace: Brian cites some Saul Bass masterworks. Is Brian confessing to what once moved him deeply? Or is he showing off his current (and very good) taste? No matter. These are amazing images: Searchblog 'fesses up to having this Ed Wood treat on her refrigerator. "They'll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands," she writes with her characteristic combo of wryness and extravagance. And guess who designed the great "Bonjour Tristesse" poster that made Searchblog's heart sing? Hint: his initials are "S.B." I'm beginning to wonder if Saul Bass' influence on the Boomer imagination might not rival Elvis': Being a proprietor of this blog, I'm going to treat myself to another beauty. (What's the point of having power if you can't abuse it just a little?) This elegant poster for the movie of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" came along too late in my life to have the character-shaping impact on me that images seen in childhood and adolescence can have. But it certainly suited my already-formed taste-set to a T: ANOTHER UPDATE: Tatyana did some heroic websweeping and finally located the poster that so struck... posted by Michael at February 10, 2005 | perma-link | (17) comments

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Rohmer Posters
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Francis' recent mention of Eric Rohmer brought back memories of my early foreign-filmgoing years. Ah, what those films meant to me ... And what their posters meant to me too -- in some cases, more than the films themselves. I've never been anything like the Rohmer fan many are. But the posters for some of his films -- now those I really, really liked. Paris; art; les vacances; l'amour ... Whatever the hell that was all about, I was eager to know more. Not long after, I went off to spend a schoolboy year in France. Coincidence? Je pense que non. I wonder if my parents suspected ... Sadly, I have no idea who created these great, great posters. I'd like to credit him/her but can't. Sadly, too, the publicity piece for "Chloe" isn't the original poster but is instead the cover of the film's DVD box. But the poster was similar, I'm sure: I remember the girl (one of those French actrices who goes by one name, in this case Zouzou); I remember her nakedness and delight; and I remember that bed ... in the corner ... of that small apartment. Hey, could it really be that someone had rented an apartment strictly to have a place for making zee luvvv!?!?! Whew: Gettin' mighty sophisticated around here! I own a couple of visual books on the theme of film posters: this one devoted to film posters of the '60s, and this one devoted to film posters from the '70s. They're well-done browses, and so evocative that you can almost hear the films' theme music, or at least the music that was used in their trailers. Were your imaginations marked by any movie posters? Were the imaginations of any visitors? If anyone should care to send me reasonable-size jpg's (say, a maximum of 300 pixels high) of movie posters that made an impact on him/her, I'd get a kick out of putting the images up on the blog. The address to use is michael at 2blowhards dot you-know-what. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 9, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Robert Siodmak
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Robert Siodmak These days, my appetite for blow-the-roof-off, one-of-a-kind works of filmmaking stupendiosity is occasional at best. What I'm more often in the mood for is storytelling done with crispness and economy. (All due acknowledgment paid to the fact that, if you're going to be a longterm filmgoer, you have to be grateful for whatever of worth happens to come along.) I haven't watched a Welles in years, for instance. Good god but many of his movies look like an awful lot of unnecessary carrying-on to me now. Yet I'm happily exploring the work of Robert Siodmak. Do you know Siodmak's movies? An amazing talent: one of the guys who was reponsible for establishing and developing the film noir style of the 1940s, one of Hollywood's greatest achievements. Born into a banking family, Siodmak was a German Jew who found his way into the moviebiz, where he began as an editor and a writer of title cards for silent movies. He worked with the likes of Edgar Ulmer, Fred Zinneman, and Billy Wilder; fled Germany in 1933; and wound up in Hollywood in 1940. Robert's brother Curt Siodmak landed in Hollywood too, where he made a name for himself as a screenwriter, with "The Wolf Man" and "I Walked With a Zombie" among his credits. Don't laugh: both are first-rate movies. Three of the Siodmak movies I've seen from the '40s -- "Phantom Lady," "The Killers," and "Criss Cross" -- are real gems. Siodmak was one of the exiled filmmakers who brought the style and mood of German Expressionism to bear on Hollywood genre stories, one of movie history's happier merging of elements. "Phantom Lady" "Phantom Lady," from a Cornell Woolrich story, is a small, early film noir about a man convicted of murder and the woman who tries to prove him innocent. The film's narrative is as compact and elegantly-turned as "Laura"'s, but the film's visual style (which is comparable to Fritz Lang's) is something else entirely. It's a knockout combo. "The Killers" (from a Hemingway short story) and "Criss Cross" -- both of which star the charismatic young Burt Lancaster -- are intense and enjoyable crime pictures. Both are legendary for their pacing, their moodiness, and their spectacular action sequences. But they're remarkable as well for blending a focus on psychology with extraverted action stories. We often imagine a psychological story to be one thing and an action story to be another. ("About Schmidt" is all psychology with very little action; "Die Hard 3" has mucho action but its psychological dimension is minimal, to be kind.) And often attempts at joining the two leave viewers feeling that the two sides are at war with each other. "Criss Cross" and "The Killers" show that that doesn't have to be the case. Both films are fast-moving yet moody; suspenseful yet full of depth -- shadows, geometry, and ambiguity. And, like "Phantom Lady," they also have a sophisticated erotic awareness that's unusual in American pictures... posted by Michael at February 9, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Personal Reflections
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Friedrich's musings on being a boss got me thinking about blogs. Great vehicles though they are for blowing off steam about the morning headlines, they're just as fabulous for reflections about personal experience. I'm generally annoyed by book-length memoirs, on the grounds of "If I know you, sure, maybe I'll be interested. But otherwise your life better make for a mighty good story, otherwise why exactly should you expect me to care?" These days, though, I often find myself fascinated by bloggers who pause to think out loud about some of what they've lived through. Honesty, the personal touch, modesty -- what's not to enjoy? (And what's not to respect?) The one-of-a-kind OuterLife may be the premier personal-reflections-blogger out there; he's got his own distinctive -- quirky and eccentric -- voice and vision, and he uses blogging like no one else around. So these days, I find myself thinking that maybe my aversion to book-length memoirs has more to do with their book-length than it does with their being memoirs. Hey, an art-and-culture discovery, at least for me. I've run across some powerful and very personal blog postings recently that I imagine other blogsurfers would enjoy. Alexandra Ceely writes about what it was like to lose her mom. John Emerson thinks out loud about what it's like to be one of life's marginal people. And Lynn Sislo yaks -- in her sweet and frank way -- about that dicey topic, race. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 9, 2005 | perma-link | (18) comments