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  1. Q&A With George Hunka, Part Two
  2. Elsewhere
  3. Q&A With George Hunka, Part One
  4. More on Digital Cinema
  5. Recommendations
  6. "Hopeless Pictures"
  7. Asia Minor
  8. Housekeeping
  9. Pigeon Guy
  10. Peripheral Artists (1): Albert Edelfelt

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Saturday, November 5, 2005

Q&A With George Hunka, Part Two
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today we continue our conversation with the playwright George Hunka. George is the author of the elegant and moving paired plays "In Private / In Public," which recently received a jewelbox production at Manhattantheatresource in Greenwich Village. In Part One of our chat, George told us about how he became a playwright, and he also sketched out what the lay-of-the-theatrical-land looks like from a playwright's point of view. Today, we talk more specifically about writing "In Private / In Public," and about putting the show up on its feet. *** 2Blowhards: When and how did you write "In Private / In Public"? George Hunka: I wrote both "In Private" and "In Public," as a pair of plays with some thematic if not formal connections, in August and September of this year. "In Public" is probably the most accessible, realistic play I've ever written, though I didn't mean to write it that way. There wasn't any attempt to be accessible or realistic, but the content finds its form eventually. In fact my last play, "Sustaining," was probably the most abstract piece I'd ever written. Obviously, I've been toying a lot with ideas about sensuality and eroticism, and especially the extent to which language and society can contain these. Not to mention the thoughts I have about culture and society and marriage. After nearly twenty years of this last, I suppose I have some tentative opinions about the institution, opinions that have evolved over time. Let me take this opportunity to say that the play isn't in any way autobiographical, at least in the traditional sense. Let me also say that it's a very deeply personal play for me, probably the most personal. As is "In Private," which is far more explicit in its sensuality, in many ways, than "In Public." It constitutes more of a stretch. Because it was the ten-minute curtain-raiser to the much longer, more accessible "In Public," it hasn't gotten as much attention and I haven't received as much feedback about it -- but this play probably better represents the formal linguistic direction my future work will go in, rather than "In Public." 2B: How about the production? How did it come about? GH: I've been volunteering at the Manhattantheatresource, where the play was workshopped, for a few years now, and they've had a unique development series in which they'll give me the space for free for a few nights. They get to keep the box office. Isaac Butler, who directed, and I first met when we started our theater blogs a few years ago. We're fortunately each of us early enough in our careers to have the time and leisure to work together. We share some similar concerns, but we've also got our differences, and I think that's all to the good. I knew Jennifer and Sasha from hanging out at the source. I've seen them both work before, and it was very gratifying to me when they agreed to do... posted by Michael at November 5, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, November 4, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A fast-paced workday has gotten in the way of pulling together Part Two of our q&a with George Hunka. But my chopped-up brain has managed to stumble across some good links anyway: * Thanks to Sluggo, who found this fascinating David Hinckley piece about Alex Steinweiss, the man who single-handedly invented album-cover art. Essential popular-culture history. Here's another page about Steinweiss and the history of album-cover art. * Amanda Brooks brought a provocative book idea to some publishing people, and was met with winces. Polly Frost told a fellow author that she writes erotica, and was shown an upturned nose. Can you spell p-r-i-s-s-y? And the publishing business wonders why book sales continue to decline. * I love it when the brainiacs and geeks who hang at GNXP talk about who's hot and who's not. * Here's a resourceful, cheery, and NSFW way to make use of an overhead map. * Arts and Letters Daily linked to a typically-sizzling interview with Camille Paglia. Hear her roar. * So much for the idea that the world's only racially-unpleasant people are colored white. * This is one of the most effective optical illusions I've ever looked at. * Alice sees some virtues in Martha's "Apprentice" show. * The British academic Christopher Frayling was the man who persuaded filmbuffs to take seriously the films of Sergio ("The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly") Leone. Here's a fun long interview with Frayling. Nice quote: "All of [Leone's] films are about a European's relations with the American dream." * ChaiTeaLatte visits India and finds herself craving pizza -- another of MD's wonderfully evocative postings. Tomorrow, George Hunka tells us what it was like to put on his show. The arts, as they are really lived. Don't miss it. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 4, 2005 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Q&A With George Hunka, Part One
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I wrote recently about seeing and enjoying "In Private / In Public," an evening of George Hunka plays that The Wife and I attended. We both found the show -- which was staged by Isaac Butler at Manhattantheatresource -- funny, moving, spare, and elegant. George's work got me wondering about many things -- love, betrayal, eroticism, art. But the evening also got me wondering about the theater more generally. How does writing for actors compare to writing for the page? And what is the playwriting life like? So I asked George, who I know slightly, if he'd mind answering some questions about his experiences as a playwright, and about what it was like putting "In Private / In Public" up on its feet. I was pleased when he graciously agreed. George and I have edited our e-chat into a two-part q&a. Today, George talks about how he got into playwriting, and what the world of the theater is like. *** 2Blowhards: How long have you been writing plays? George Hunka: I've been writing plays since I was 14 or so. 2B: How did you get started? GH: I grew up in a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania, where there weren't many opportunities to see live theater. Thank god for television -- not an exclamation you expect to hear when you're talking about theater. Around 1975, HBO had just started and was running Ely Landau's American Film Theatre series at the time. I managed to see the AFT's versions of Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming," David Storey's "In Celebration," Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh" and Bertolt Brecht's "Galileo." I guess something in me said, "Well, I could do this, too." At that time, PBS also ran a production of Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," with Ralph Waite, the paterfamilias of that legendary mid-1970s family "The Waltons," as Pozzo. If you had cable then, it was easier to keep abreast of contemporary theater than it is today! [Editor's note: DVDs of the AFT shows can be bought here and here.] 2B: When did you first make it to the big city? GH: A year later I started going to New York City once in a while. That was the first time I went to the Public Theater -- on one stage was Sam Shepard's "Curse of the Starving Class"; on another, George Dzundza, Jeffrey DeMunn and Laurence Luckinbill were starring in Thomas Babe's extraordinary "A Prayer for My Daughter." I saw them both in one day. And on Broadway? On another visit, I went to an afternoon matinee of Harold Pinter's "No Man's Land," starring John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, then that night at the Beaumont I saw Richard Foreman's production of "The Threepenny Opera" with Philip Bosco, Caroline Kava and Blair Brown. Now that's a Broadway I would visit again. You'd be insane if you didn't want to be a playwright after that. 2B: What was the first time you saw and heard your own words spoken... posted by Michael at November 3, 2005 | perma-link | (10) comments

More on Digital Cinema
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just noticed that Tyler Cowen linked to my recent piece about digital movie projection. (Thanks, Tyler!) Moviebuffs should enjoy the commentsfest that follows. Some commenters think I'm an arty pseud; others agree that movies projected digitally lack a certain je ne sais quoi. But they're all funny and/or interesting. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 3, 2005 | perma-link | (0) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Gary Giddins wants us to appreciate the swing jazz era. Happy music and good social times -- what's wrong with that combo? * Alan Little -- a scholar as well as a student of yoga -- recommends a few books about India. * Rachel Howard found the Montreal-based dance outfit Compagnie Marie Chouinard chic and provocative. The Wife and I caught them in New York a few years back and couldn't agree more. * Rick Darby tells us why he thinks one of Diana Krall's DVDs is so good. Since I adore the kind of sultry-sophisticated, concert-cocktail jazz that Krall does, I've ordered my copy already. * J.G. Ballard thinks "A History of Violence" is one of David Cronenberg's best. * Fred Himebaugh thinks that Longfellow deserves a second look. * Stefan Beck wants to get more people reading Theodore Dalrymple. Here's a good q&a with the amazing Dalrymple. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 3, 2005 | perma-link | (5) comments

"Hopeless Pictures"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I recently caught up with our first episode of the Bob Balaban-created IFC series "Hopeless Pictures," and we both thought it was terrific. An animated show for adults, the series is a satire set in the film business and is centered on the head of a small Hollywood movie studio. He's saddled with an idiot nephew ... An out-of-control director ... A nagging wife ... An unhelpful shrink ... Oy! "Hopeless Pictures" is a little like "The Player," in other words, only even more uninhibited, and with slyly childlike, cheery-nightmare visuals in the style of Maira Kalman. The vocal performances -- by such wits as Michael McKean, Lisa Kudrow, Jonathan Katz, and Jennifer Coolidge -- are, every one of them, wild and brilliant. I'd have loved to be present as the vocal tracks were taped. The creativity-dial was clearly turned to Extra-High that day. Balaban, who is best-known as an actor, has also turned out to be a very gifted, and often very far-out, creator-director. He worked behind the scenes with Robert Altman on "Gosford Park"; his black-hearted 1989 horror-comedy "Parents" has a well-deserved cult reputation; and The Wife and I loved a hilariously demented, scary-funny-touching, off-off-Broadway theater production that Balaban directed back in the '90s. Here's IFC's page for "Hopeless Pictures." IFC has posted episode one of "Hopeless Pictures" on its site, so you can watch it on your computer. The colors may not sing as vibrantly as they do on cable, but that's still pretty cool. You can search through the series' airtimes here. I notice that you can rent the entire series from Netflix too ... Interesting. As the traditional movie business continues to crumble, places like IFC and Netflix are beginning to partner up to produce entertainment. And as the action-adventure, teen-centric formula of the last 30 years loses its mojo, sophisticated and innovative hybrids -- for adults! -- like "Hopeless Pictures" are beginning to emerge from the new-media flux. The king is dead/Long live the king, I guess. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 3, 2005 | perma-link | (1) comments

Asia Minor
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just finished the final tape of Kenneth Harl's lecture series "Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor," which qualifies as one of my Teaching Company favorites. The series is a history of the region we now think of as Turkey, from prehistoric times to around 1400. Talk about a crossroads of civilizations: Asia, Greece and Rome, the empires of the Middle East, the Tigris-Euphrates civilizations, and whoever was calling Asia Minor home collided and collaborated in the area. I was very happy to learn something about the Persian Empire, which to me had never been anything but the mysterious bully that was always threatening and failing to crush Greece. In fact, according to Harl, Persia was one of the most benign and appealing of the major empires; part of the reason the Persians were flummoxed by the Greeks was that the Persians simply weren't used to subjects chafing under their rule. And I was especially intrigued to learn that the Turks themselves aren't native to Turkey. In fact, they invaded and settled the area, in the same way that Europeans invaded the Americas. Harl is terrific at delivering scads of facts while keeping the big picture in helpful focus; he's an enthusiastic and likable presenter; and he's refreshingly modest about what can and can't be known definitively. I notice that the series is now on sale. At its current price, it's a sensational bargain. I plan to treat myself to Harl's other series, too. Hmm, which will be next: "Byzantium," or "Rome and the Barbarians" ...? I recommend some other Teaching Company lecture sets here. Mark, one of our visitors, does a Guest Posting about his favorite Teaching Company courses here. In the commentsfest on his posting, many visitors volunteer suggestions too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 3, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: A brief pause in the usual flow of things to point out a few housekeeping upgrades. Email contacts for all Blowhards are now up to date. The buttons are at the top of the blog's left-hand column. Contact a Blowhard by clicking on his name -- it's as easy as that. A brand-new feature is also to be found in the left-hand column. Scroll down a bit. Just below "Recent Entries" you'll see a list of "Recent Comments." When a visitor leaves a comment on a posting, a link to it automatically pops up at the top of this list. Magic! Well, even if it isn't magic, it's still a convenient way to keep up-to-date with our many blog conversations. Which ones are ongoing? Without this feature, I might have missed some wonderfully evocative and informative comments by Tatyana, Peter, Dwight, and Deb on Donald's posting about growing up deprived. Many thanks to Paul S. for suggesting that we supply this feature. Using the archives has become a little easier too. Take a look at the top of the blog, just under the 2Blowhards masthead. That horizontal strip -- the gray bar that includes "Blog," "Best-of," "Interviews," and "Links"? It's a navigation bar. "Best-of" is a drop-down menu that enables you to riffle through postings that we've chosen as our most provocative and entertaining. (Have no fear: Donald's list will grow longer as he continues to post.) "Interviews" will take you to a page where we link to q&a's that we've done with interesting and substantial people. Check 'em out: Some high-class, unusual, and highly-useful information and thinking is to be found there. The "Blog" button will always return you to the main blog page. "Links"? Well, I'm still working on that one. (Email me if you have suggestions.) I urge you in any case to make use of the interviews and the best-ofs. There's good writin' to be enjoyed in them-thar hills. Because of spam-comment-management challenges, I've had to introduce a small change that might be a little annoying. From now on, comments can only be left on postings that are less than a week old. Postings older than that will be closed to comments. Apologies -- I hope that doesn't seem rude. But attending to the spam-comments that were accumulating on older postings had become too much of a trial. All this wizardry has been accomplished by our terrific blog-guy Daniel, of Westgate Necromantic. If you want some web-things done for you, I urge you to get in touch with Daniel. He has done much to make 2Blowhards the attractive and easy-to-use web-place that it is. He's an excellent designer, his rates are very reasonable, his webwork is supersolid, and he's a joy to work with. He can be reached at westgate-at-westgatenecromantic-dot-com. Daniel and his wife Leilah live in New Orleans, by the way, and their email since the flood has made horrifying -- if also gallant and funny -- reading. Thanks for your attention.... posted by Michael at November 3, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Pigeon Guy
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In my former neighborhood lives an osteopathic doctor who used to put on his running togs and jog four or five or however-many miles every morning before going to work. All this running must have caused some sort of damage, because now he puts on his running togs and just goes for a walk. Often, I see him carrying a bag of food for a flock a pigeons that hangs out at a freeway overpass not far from the housing development. Depending on when he's on his walk and when I happen to be driving by, I sometimes see him actually feeding the birds. Occasionally I see him with a push-broom brushing away dried droppings below where the pigeons perch on the freeway supports. He really takes good care of those birds. Why? I have no idea why he does this. Perhaps he really, really loves pigeons. Or maybe he isn't especially fond of them, but figures what he's doing is good for the surrounding area which includes a large supermarket where crumbs from Starbucks' cookies and other bits of food of potential pigeon-interest drop onto the parking lot. The idea being to keep the pigeons close to that overpass and not roaming the parking lot or, worse, the nearly neighborhood where he lives. The straightforward way to satisfy my curiosity would simply be to pull over and just ask him why he babies those birds. But it would be a little embarrassing to do this, and the payoff isn't quite worth it. Plus I kinda relish the ongoing oddness and mystery of it all. Can any of you offer some theories? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 2, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Peripheral Artists (1): Albert Edelfelt
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The words "Peripheral Artists" in this posting's title have a double meaning. This is the first in an occasional series dealing with artists who (1) came from Europe's geographical periphery and (2) are considered peripheral to the currently-accepted narrative of the history of art. For these reasons alone they are probably unknown, even to many college-educated Americans having an art history or art appreciation class under their belt. My hope is to help make them better known. (By the way, I encountered these artists largely because I recently visited many of the countries bordering the Baltic Sea. Guide books sometimes mentioned important local artists, so I tried to visit museums to view their work.) Albert Edelfelt (1854-1905) was Finnish even though his name doesn't seem Finnish and Finland was not a country during his lifetime. Maybe I'd better explain this. Prior to 1809, Sweden ruled Finland, but had to cede it to Russia following defeat in their 1808-9 war. Finland became an autonomous grand duchy in the Russian Empire, the Grand Duke being the Czar himself. Finland gained independence in 1917 following the disintegration of the czarist regime. Thanks to proximity to Sweden and centuries of Swedish rule, Swedes comprised a significant minority in Finland and Swedish is an official language along with Finnish (today the proportion of the population using Swedish as their native tongue has declined to the 5-10 percent range). Biographical Sketch Albert Edelfelt Edelfelt was of Swedish stock and spoke Swedish. His father was an architect whose family had been raised to the Swedish nobility in the 17th Century. His mother came from a wealthy merchant family. But his father gotten into financial trouble and died when Edelfelt was about 15, his mother then tidying up the money situation and giving encouragement to Albert's artistic efforts. Following a short stay at university and a couple art schools, Edelfelt headed to Antwerp to study art on a government scholarship. Seven months after arriving, in May 1874 he bolted to Paris where he studied at the studio of Jean-Léon Gérôme at the École des Beaux Arts. He was also influenced by the rising artist Jules Bastien-Lepage, an artist little-known today, but important in the early 1880s. Like many young artists of the time, he produced paintings with historical subjects -- history paintings were (metaphor alert!) the top rung of the subject hierarchy in the days when academies ruled the artistic roost. His best-known historical painting is "Duke Karl Insulting the Corpse of Klas Fleming" which won a salon prize and brought welcome recognition. "Duke Karl Insulting the Corpse of Klas Fleming" 1878 Around this time Edelfelt soured on historical subjects for a number of years, turning to the everyday-life genre. An important result was "A Child's Funeral" (scroll to botton of linked page) which won a 3rd-class medal at the 1880 Paris Salon. (Apparently, the scene that inspired him was actually a boat ride to a child's christening. He altered the event... posted by Donald at November 1, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, October 31, 2005

Holy Crap!
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't know about anyone else, but sewer engineers and sewer workers get my vote as civilization's most undersung heroes. Prior to good sewer systems, city and town life was far too often a miasma of typhoid, cholera, and mucky mud -- and, as a practical fact, good sewer systems in our modern sense didn't even begin to be created until the 19th century. That ain't so long ago! Before that time, pedestrians had to hope for fair warnings from above, and a city's sewage flowed untreated into the nearest body of water, which was usually the city's only source of drinking water. Heavy rainfall could be counted on to create boot-sucking, stinky misery, as well as waves of disease. The brilliant thinkers of the French Enlightenment? The wits of 18th century London? They were all living amidst what all of us would consider unimaginable filth. Amusing story: When the British government moved into the Houses of Parliament in the mid-1800s, the stench from the nearby Thames was so bad that the MPs couldn't get any work done. Indeed, it was this fact that finally moved Parliament to arrange for good sewers to be constructed in London. Politicians, eh? Only when an issue affects them personally ... And, lordy, the scale of the project that is modern sewage disposal ... A nifty fact that I picked up from a recent Modern Marvels episode concerns Los Angeles' Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant, located on the Pacific near LAX. It's a gigantic facility, as well as one of the world's most up-to-date. The amount of raw sewage that arrives at Hyperion every minute of every day, 365 days a year? 300,000 gallons. That's per minute. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 31, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments

Subway Musicians
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't often ride subways simply because we don't have them here in the Pacific Northwest. But I like riding them, and do it a fair amount when traveling in Europe and even in the U.S. where and when I feel it's safe to do so. For some reason (such as the presence of a captive audience) subways seem to attract musicians. In the London Underground system, musicians tend to be found in the passageways between stations. It's my understanding that they are tolerated by the authorities, being allowed to perform at agreed-upon times and places. The Paris Metro is another matter. You can be clutching a handbar, swaying with the coach, and then the train stops at a station. A slightly seedy-looking young man carrying an accordian steps into your coach. Once the doors are closed and the train gets underway he starts to play, slowly making his way down to aisle, eyes flitting from side to side scanning for les flics. You either avert his eyes and let him pass or, if you feel a wee bit generous, slip him a 50 Euro-cent coin. Some folks like these corridor-based or train-sneaking musicians. I don't, because they add noise and maybe a whiff of stress to an already noisy and sometimes stressful experience. Your reaction might well differ. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 31, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments