Tag Archives: I Don’t Care if It’s Old It’s Awesome

In Praise of Prevarication

In Praise of Prevarication

Lying is universal—we all do it. Therefore, the wise thing is for us diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others’ advantage, and not our own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firm, frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of our high calling. Then we shall be rid of the rank and pestilent truth that is rotting the land; then shall we be great and good and beautiful, and worthy dwellers in a world where even benign Nature habitually lies, except when she promises execrable weather.

 

—from Mark Twain’s essay On the Decay of the Art of Lying (1880)

 

 

Side Comments of the Month XII

Side Comments of the Month XII

I can’t believe it’s almost been a month since my last post. Bad blogger. Bad, bad, blogger. The weeks have been tough, with me getting a bad case of strep throat. Before I fully recovered from that, I got rear-ended in my first accident in three years. I could say more about this but I feel oddly reticent. I also don’t want to harp on the horrible things. So onwards with the good:

1. I got free books again, and lo, none of them are romance novels: The Moon Sisters and Your Perfect Life are YA; Dark Eden and Fiend are science fiction; Numbercruncher is a graphic novel; The Art of Castlevania is a companion book to a video game; and The Luminaries is an award-winning literary novel.

To be perfectly honest I don’t know where I’m going to find the time to read these texts! If I made time for all the books I wanted to read, I would live forever and never get any sleep.

 

2. Remember the time when I said I only cared about Doctor Who when it affects my friends? I swallow my pride and take it all back. As much as I hate to appear inconsistent, yeah, I pretty much like Doctor Who now, or at least I like it enough to try watching the episodes in order. I used to watch half an episode all the time, mostly when David Tennant’s crazy eyes would get a close-up.

My eleven-year old nephew (ever the completist) recently borrowed the 1996 TV movie and I found Paul McGann adorable. So now I find myself binge-watching Christopher Ecceleston’s episodes, and suddenly all the stuff that I didn’t understand in the 50th anniversary episode makes sense. Yup, my nephew dragged me to watch that at the cinema too.

Perhaps this is a case of fandom by Stockholm syndrome. It’s okay. At least it’s not Pokemon or Twilight. There are just some bandwagons that should never be boarded.

 

3. Speaking of bandwagons, I’d comment on the latest episode of Game of Thrones except I have nothing new to add to that conversation, except a gleeful die Joffrey die

I also have to say, I was quite underwhelmed with Margaery’s necklace. Is that the best King’s Landing had to offer? I don’t think much of their jewelry shops, then. Sansa and Cersei had better bling. Maybe there’s a missing scene where Cersei hoards all the good jewelry for herself?

 

4. Since Space Brothers is on hiatus, I’ve returned to my roots and I’m now on my biennial Honey and Clover kick.

I first watched this series in 2007 and it’s been a perennial favorite for me to re-watch and re-read. With only twenty-four episodes and ten comic book volumes, Honey and Clover may seem like an easy read, but it’s full of unfulfilled longing, with equal parts of humor and melancholy.

Of course it’s about five friends in art school who don’t know what they are doing with their lives.

Honey and Clover helped me discover Spitz, my favorite J-rock band. It also made me aware of the sub-genre of josei manga, which are comic books written for an older female audience.

When I was in university, everyone was reading Banana Yoshimoto. Looking back, Kitchen, N.P., and Lizard could have easily been written and serialized as a josei manga.

I always worry that Hollywood will discover Honey and Clover and think of making an American adaptation—it’s been a popular franchise in Asia over the past decade, with both film and television adaptations, so I think it’s a matter of time before that happens.

Aside from a live-action Evangelion, this is my anime nerd nightmare because I don’t think the dynamic between the main characters will translate well to another culture. I look at the American remakes of Shall We Dance? and Dragon Ball Z and I just cringe.

So, yeah. Honey and Clover. Don’t let the theme song of the first season throw you off. (It’s the only annoying song on the soundtrack.) This series is brilliant.

Henry Tilney as a Grammar Nazi

Henry Tilney as a Grammar Nazi

Presenting Mr. Henry Tilney, snark master and Grammar Nazi.

In this passage, my favorite Austen hero teases our dim-witted heroine, Katherine Morland:

 

“But now, really, do not you think Udolpho the nicest book in the world?”

“The nicest; by which I suppose you mean the neatest. That must depend on the binding.”

“Henry,” said Miss Tilney, “You are very impertinent. Miss Morland, he is treating you exactly as he does his sister. He is for ever finding fault with me for some incorrectness of language, and now he is taking the same liberty with you. The word ‘nicest,’ as you used it, did not suit him; and you had better change it as soon as you can, or we shall be overpowered with Johnson and Blair all the rest of the way.”

“I am sure,” cried Catherine, “I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should not I call it so?”

“Very true,” said Henry, “And this is a very nice day; and we are taking a very nice walk; and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! it is a very nice word, indeed! It does for everything. Originally, perhaps, it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement; people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.”

 

— from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1817)

 

 

Chris Answers the Great Question

Chris Answers the Great Question

I once bought a John Corbett poster from Universal Studios and hand-carried it from L.A. to Manila. My sister was stoked to receive it. The poster hung in our shared bedroom for years. So this line fills my little heart with nostalgic delight.

 

“What do women want? Same things we do. Only in prettier colors.”

— Chris Stevens quoted in Chris-In-The-Morning: Love, Life, and the Whole Cosmic Enchilada (1993)

 

 

A Man and his Muse: James Tissot and Mrs. Newton

A Man and his Muse: James Tissot and Mrs. Newton

Art books are awesome. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Serendipity led me to a book on James Tissot in the Berkeley Library. If you’ve never heard of him, it’s okay, because he’s not exactly a superstar of nineteenth century art.

I first encountered Tissot in one of my mother’s art books, Edward Lucie-Smith and Celestine Dars’s How the Rich Lived: The Painter as Witness 1870-1914 (1976). That title is incredibly snooty and I suspect that’s why my mother owned it.

As a child, all the reproductions in that book fascinated me. It was only when I was older that I actually read the accompanying essays on the incomes, manners, and scandals of the period.

How the Rich Lived furnished me with some basic education about the class divide in nineteenth century Europe. When I started reading Charlotte Brontë and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a girl, it helped me understand the social context of these works. Why both Mr. Rochester’s marriages were shocking and why Irene Adler was an unsuitable match for a royal personage became clear to me.

Yes, I was always an arts-and-culture nerd.

Going back to Tissot, though, I found his paintings compelling because of the repetition of the same female figure in all of them. How the Rich Lived gave scant details on Tissot, merely noting that the woman was his lover and she died young.

My inability to find out more—remember, this was the age before the internet and public libraries in Manila are in a woeful state—really frustrated me, teased as I was with this idea of a painter’s great love affair that ended in tragedy.

In any case, I simply filed the visual information away in my head and forgot about it for years.

As an adult, my interest in Tissot was rekindled when I saw one of his works at the Auckland Art Gallery. I recognized its style immediately, which included Tissot’s signature ruffled frocks and “that woman.”

It was a graceful, flighty thing that the museum was understandably proud of. One of their monographs detailed how the painting was restored after it was damaged in a botched art heist back in 1998.

Belated as it is, I’m really glad I found James Tissot, as edited by Krystyna Matyjaszkiewicz (1984). After all these years I found out the identity of the mysterious woman.

 

"Too Early" by Tissot. This is one of my many favorites of 19th century art. I believe Mrs. Newton is the model for the central figure (in profile). Guildhall Art Gallery, London.

II.

Her name was Mrs. Kathleen Newton and she was described as “a hauntingly pretty Irish divorcée.” Born Kathleen Kelly, Tissot’s great love led a very interesting life even before she met him in 1876. Apparently she was sent to India to meet her fiancé, in a match set up by her family. On the trip out, however, she fell in love with another officer. Despite her feelings, Kathleen was still married off. She was only seventeen years old.

When her husband discovered the situation, scandal erupted and he sought a divorce.

It’s unclear whether Kathleen Kelly Newton was a victim of circumstance, youthful indiscretion, or even the patriarchal attitudes of the time. Online sources suggest different ideas from the essays in the Matyjaszkiewicz book. It’s all quite confusing. What’s definite is that by the time Tissot met her in England, Kathleen was a twenty-two-year-old divorcée with an illegitimate child. She would give birth to another, whom many believe was fathered by Tissot.

Despite their relationship, Mrs. Newton and Tissot lived in separate households, living across the street from each other in St. John’s Wood. (Again, some online sources state differently.) The book itself never states why they never married.

Kathleen Newton died of tuberculosis at age twenty-eight. Even after her death, Tissot continued to draw and paint her likeness. There’s no indication that he had another serious relationship again.

 

III.

Tissot was an odd man. He seemed to be a calculating sort of guy: equal parts artist, hustler, and businessman.

I’m pretty sure his contemporaries didn’t know what to make of him. He was known to backbite some of his friends, like the printmaker Marcellin Desboutin and Edgar Degas. On the other hand, he was on good terms with Édouard Manet and Camille Pissarro. He received some high-profile visitors at his English home, including Berthe Morisot, who was not very impressed with anything. (To quote a caveat from the book: “Everyone probably seemed a little vulgar next to Berthe Morisot.”)

"Kathleen Newton in an Armchair" by Tissot. It's not my favorite portrait of her but it's a typical representation. All languor and illness!

As an addition to his known social weirdness, it’s been posited that Tissot was attracted to Kathleen’s sickly nature. After all, several of his paintings deal with fleeting seasons and ephemera. Tissot was definitely not bothered by depicting his muse covered in blankets, whether nursing a cold or merely looking frail.

I did not think deeply about these portrayals of Mrs. Newton before reading the Matyjaszkiewicz book. After more information on the nature of their relationship, in hindsight it all seems rather weird. Why would anyone want to capture their lover’s worst moments and romanticize them? I’m not sure what to make of it. Perhaps some Art History graduate student can make much of it for a thesis. This is going to be one of those trivial bits of history that I will turn over in my mind, time and again, in fruitless speculation regarding motive and artistic intent.

I suppose the goal of most artists is to be remembered after they are gone. In this way, Tissot succeeded, at least with me.

If you are in the Bay Area, you can check out some Tissot etchings and mezzotints at the Legion of Honor. If you are rolling in dough and wish to add to your art collection, you can buy some Tissots from the Christopher-Clark Fine Art Gallery near Union Square. Adam and I had stumbled upon this find in yet another moment of serendipity. I have a way of just chancing upon Tissot; even after this post is done, I am sure I haven’t seen the last of him yet.

The Unspeakable Horror of the Literary Life

The Unspeakable Horror of the Literary Life

The night before returning home to Mortshire, Mr. Earbrass allows himself to be taken to a literary dinner in a private dining room of Le Trottoir Imbécile. Among his fellow-authors, few of whom he recognizes and none of whom he knows, are Lawk, Sangwidge, Ha’p’orth, Avuncular, and Lord Legbail. The unwell-looking gentleman wrapped in a greatcoat is an obscure essayist named Frowst. The talk deals with disappointing sales, inadequate publicity, worse than inadequate royalties, idiotic or criminal reviews, others’ declining talent, and the unspeakable horror of the literary life.

— from Edward Gorey’s The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel  (1953)

Review: Dumbledore as a Detective

Review: Dumbledore as a Detective

While going through the DVD section of the Berkeley Public Library, I lucked out and found Michael Gambon in ITV’s Maigret (1992-1993). Since the mental image of Dumbledore as a detective earlier captured my imagination, I just had to borrow it.

I’ve been watching the twelve episodes all out-of-order since not all of the DVDs are available at the same time. Still, I have to say that the series is a perfectly corking bit of work. Gambon’s expressive voice is crisp even if the video quality (alas!) is not.

Gambon makes an excellent Jules Maigret, whether he’s chasing criminals or the freshest seafood and local wines. Gambon just makes it seem natural that a French Chief Inspector should speak so authoritatively in English.

Screen captures from the first episode. Images from Granada Television.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading some Simenon, but not enough to make me a hardcore fan. This adaptation brings to life all the minor officers in the books, from Sergeant Lucas to all the young detectives who flock to Maigret for mentoring. Madame Maigret was cast a bit younger than how I mentally pictured her, but the actress does well so I have no complaints.

From the six episodes I’ve seen, my favorite is currently “Maigret’s Boyhood Friend.” Edward Petherbridge is excellent as the sleazy Leon Florentin, whose been living off his mistress and the cash gifts of her four other lovers. Of course when the woman is murdered, Maigret spends a lot of time wondering if his loser buddy is the real killer!

I know Petherbridge mostly from his romantic portrayal of one of my favorite detectives—Lord Peter Wimsey—so I couldn’t help from sniggering with joy with his character in this episode. He’s such a good, solid British actor, I hope I can dig out more of his work.

Hitting two birds with one stone—surveillance work and eating well.

Now, some mystery lovers insist there are only two types of fans: the hardboiled and the cozies, and never shall the two types mingle. It’s rather silly, seeing how much I love the genre.

In my mind, the Maigret books represent the beginnings of contemporary police procedurals. Here’s a guy who’s not an amateur genius, but an honest, working man of the official police. He’s not a Golden Age silly ass with arcane habits and hobbies. Yet he’s also not a cynical private eye who boozes up in speakeasies with double-crossers and corrupt cops.

Upright but not uptight, Maigret is the kind of police officer whom you’d actually want to live across your street. Michael Gambon plays the character so well, I almost wish he hunted out bad guys for real—especially when the bad guys turn out to be murderous little grannies.