The lawn at Jasperwood at 5 PM: it's glorious.
And warm. Warmer tomorrow. Fifties return, then sixties again. Like you care! Well, it makes me happy, and that makes for Bleats that aren't long gaseous exhalations. But it's a column night, and I'm working on other things. So:
A few things recently watched, and passed along with recommendations or a warning:
“Blue Ruin” is one of those “written, directed, and produced” independent crime-type movies that usually try to make a case that the auteur is a new force in cinema, and has reworked a classic genre with a unique, individual stamp. The reviews are usually from people who heard nothing about it, expected nothing, and were mightily impressed, or people who had heard it was good and sit there with their arms crossed saying “I guess it’s okay, but unless there are scenes of absolute brilliance I can compare to a few obscure directors who should be regarded as true masters, I’m going to set myself up as the person who knows enough about cinema not to enjoy himself very much.”
You should watch it and see which one you are.
You also get to see this:
It's Jan Brady like you've never seen her before!
“High Anxiety” I saw when it came out, and probably on video or cable, but not in many years. I love the great three Mel Brooks movies - Producers, Saddles, Fronkenschtein - and “Silent Movie” has a ragged friendly charm. I guess. “High Anxiety” is a Hitchcock homage / pastiche, and terribly dated. I mention it only because there’s a scene towards the beginning where Cloris Leachman is discussing why the previous director of the Psychiatric Institute left, and she says there was a great argument over the drapes he wanted to put in the library.
This meant nothing to anyone in the audience, I suspect; it would have meant nothing to me a year ago, but since then I watched “The Cobweb,” a big-budget Minelli 50s melodrama about a psychiatric institute; the plot does indeed revolve around the drapes in the library. They’re a metaphor. Look at the imdb reviews; everyone is rather surprised that the matter of the drapes selection seems to form the spoke around which the plot revolves. It’s the kind of movie where two people have an affair and you think good, we’re done talking about the drapes, and when the camera returns to the shrouded room where they have spent their sin, he lights a cigarette and says “I hate to bring up the drapes, but . . .”
There’s a scene at a San Francisco hotel, one of those John Portman enclosed environments that gave the 70s a taste of the future. A horrible, horrible future. I stayed at a Portman-designed monstrosity in Times Square once, and it was a fortress that denied the existence of the world outside, and made you think “well, person who’s scouting for locations for Logan’s Run II, this ought to cover it.”
As soul-mincing machines go, it’s not the worst. What really gave me a shudder was this:
Those floors. They make me feel as if I’m wearing white stiff bell-bottoms with brown zig-zags and a two-inch cuff and shoes with thick crepe soles and a Quiana shirt. But that was the times. Even the floors were ugly.
The Last Days: hey, who’s up for a movie about a global plague whose most curious manifestation is the inability to go outside without suffering a fatal panic attack? So many hands! Who wonders whether it’ll be mostly tinted blue, like so many modern movies? Fear not. Anyone thinking “neat-o, pal, but it had better be in Spanish, with subtitles”? Step right up.
Really, step right up. It’s not perfect but it’s surprisingly good, small-scale with occasional eruptions of large-scale suspense and drama, and the end is unexpectedly affecting, for reasons you can’t possibly anticipate. A Netflix boon.
Peaky Blunders. Or Blinders. Or Bleakers, I don’t know; it’s a BBC show imported by Netflix as a Netflix Original. Which it isn’t. Birmingham 1919, adventures of a criminal syndicate with a handsome, calm, composed, calculating leader who has razor blades in the brim of his cap. I was looking forward to it, thinking it might be an English “Boardwalk Empire.” It annoyed me from the start, with its preternaturally composed hero riding a Symbolic Horse around the industrial docks, but what truly scotched it for me was the anachronistic score: modern instruments and rock-raucous bombast. Because otherwise modern audiences couldn’t relate, as the dreadful word has it.
To be fair, “Boardwalk” has a theme that shows the most lasting influence of Martin Scorcese on the project: mid-sixties Stones-style guitar, that being the be-all and end-all for Marty, bless his heart. But otherwise the show is characterized by period music or silence. I love that show so very, very much, and it’s partly because no one seems to be acting as if “hey, we’re in the Twenties! Let us behave according to standard received archetypes and preconceptions the audience might have. Everyone jitterbug and discuss Fitzgerald! ” Of all the HBO shows, it is the most visually ravishing, and visually diverse - and those who have no investment in the characters might find that scant recompense for a chilly and Olympian attitude towards the occupants of the salons and bars and apartments, but this show is not trying to make you fall in love with bad guys. It is not aiming for Myth; it is not trying to reveal shrouded truth behind ballyhoo history.
I don’t know what the point of it all is. I just know that the less concerned it seemed with making a point, the better it got.
On the continuing pumpkinification of everything, another item from the Hostess-Industrial Complex:
The phrase "product enlarged to show detail" shows more confidence in the details than the item itself may deserve. And it would be SCREAM filling only if it contained micropellets of corrosive acid that broke when you bit down.
Why? If you’re coming late to this or just showed up for the first time, you may ask: Why? Or perhaps “I bookmarked this site for some reason, and that was?” It’s because these are the ruins of the small towns, the emptied-out storefronts, the proud little pieces of civic architecture, the lost names, the retail history of the 20th century before the boxes camped on the edge of town. It’s pure nostalgia in the best and worst meanings of the term - it brings back recollections of childhood if you’re a certain age, when you went downtown to stores with Mom or Dad and all the ladies wore skirts and Tutwell’s was having a sale on hats, and all that. Worst: the outside world was slow to come to places like this, and when it arrived the shipments were small.
They just make me terribly sad, when they’re empty, and gladden me when they’re not.
These images usually require some fixing, and if you can’t tell then I’ve done my job. Now I’m getting cocky and adding some effects here and there, and if you notice them and approve, then good. If not, go make your own damn site.
Kidding. And so we go to . . .
There’s a lot to see here.
The Davey Furniture company registered its name in 1947, and last cropped up in business records in 1994. The owner was Robert J. Carey, and since Watertown records show a fellow with that name in his 90s, I assume he’s still kicking. Here’s the thing: an obit of his daughter shows that the mother’s maiden name was Davey. Makes you wonder if he married into the business.
You can stand on the street and stare at that sign all day long, and it’ll never tell you.
The sun in the alley falls on blind eyes:
What a beauty:
If it seems a peculiar style for a medical arts building - what, that’s all lobby? How much space for expired magazines do they need? - it’s because it was originally a bank, built in 1916.
Trees sometimes look surprised:
I’m not a big fan of large unkempt trees downtown. Sometimes they look like distractions intended to hide the cruel remodeling down to old citizens - as in this case, where the ground floor was punished with black brick, of all things. Like most of these alterations, it seemed to assume that no one ever raised their eyes to look at the second floor. Perhaps they’d trained themselves not to, because of the way the second floor was usually treated:
One, two, three. Of course the windows are ruined, but what was the third floor of the tallest structure used for? Meetings of a social group that believed walking around on your knees was the only true sign of repentance and humility? If so, they may have been good pious people but lousy shopkeepers. s
I snapped this just for the fixture on top of the sign, which has to go back to the early 60s, or some period in the Googie Heyday when everyone had a star to indicate their membership in the Rocket Age Future that was right around the corner. . Note also the glass in the adjacent storefront; that’s how they used to look. Big windows and light-admitting opaque glass above.
I’m guessing this building below - done in the high moments of the Elephant Man Style of architecture - had a turret. The upper-left corner looks like the Statue of Liberty’s hand without its torch.
It also looks as someone painted it with a gradiant brush.
Not every beating you take in a rough fight heals nicely:
The brickwork looks like they trapped a monster in there and bricked it up so it would die eventually.
Man, when the thrift store goes out of business:
Hidden Treasures indeed; you can glimpse the old facade behind the screen. The entire renovation is intact here - the windows, the angled entrance, the metal screen, the awnings, the tile work on the ground floor. It’s as perfect a piece of mid-century commercial modernism as you’ll find.
The ghost sign, restored, because someone must know these things are draws:
The inevitable forgotten name still facing the sun as it has for a hundred years:
J. W. Balsiger just happened to be the president of the South Dakota Master Bakers’ Association, he was. Googling his name comes up with obits of nice old ladies whose husband worked there. Googling some more brings up newspaper social notes from 100 years ago:
Mesdames D.M. Bannister and J.W. Balsiger entertained at a Kensington party Friday afternoon at the charming home of Mrs. Bannister. The home was prettily appointed with vases of pink roses. Miss Arleta Kirlin gave a very pleasing reading and Master Verlin Balsiger, in negro cos-tume, sang a lullaby, which was much enjoyed by the ladies.
Late in the afternoon an elaborate course luncheon was served by the hostesses assisted by Miss Bannister.
t’s vacant now, but the last tenant was . . . a bakery.
Way? Yes Way:
A renovation reveals a sign that has to go back to the 30s. What a find:
Dotty Dunn was a milinery chain in the upper Midwest. Has to be half a century since it's been seen.
Lots of Wolfs in the historical pages, but no idea what this was used for. Still: WOLF.
It’s the Space Age, Watertown! We’re going to the stars - in freshly laundered linens!
And then that all ended.
Stroll around, if you like - and give my regards to Watertown.
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Work blog around 12:30, maybe - big column & interview day tomorrow. Tumblr around noonish or so - see you then!