Friday, November 30, 2007


For a short time during the early 1940s, Lake was considered one of the most reliable box office draws in Hollywood and was also known for her onscreen pairings with actor Alan Ladd. At first, the couple was teamed together merely out of physical necessity: Alan Ladd was just 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m) tall and the only actress then on the Paramount lot short enough to pair with him was Lake, who stood just 4 feet 11½ inches (1.51 m). They made four films together.

A stray lock of her shoulder-length blonde hair during a publicity photo shoot led to her iconic peekaboo hairstyle, which hid one eye, and was widely imitated. During World War II, she changed her trademark image to encourage women working in war industry factories to adopt more practical, safer hairstyles.

Although widely popular with the public, Lake had a complex personality and acquired a reputation for being difficult to work with. Eddie Bracken, her co-star in Star Spangled Rhythm was quoted as saying "[s]he was known as 'The Bitch' and she deserved the title." In that movie, Lake took part in a song lampooning her hair style, "A Sweater, A Sarong and a Peekaboo Bang", performed with Dorothy Lamour and Paulette Goddard, although some of Lake's vocals were dubbed.

Lake's career stumbled with her unsympathetic role as Nazi sympathizer Dora Bruckman in 1944's The Hour Before the Dawn. During filming, she tripped on a lighting cable and her second child, William, was born prematurely on July 8, 1943, dying a week later from uremic poisoning. By the end of 1943, her first marriage ended in divorce. Meanwhile, scathing reviews of The Hour Before Dawn included criticism of her unconvincing German accent, which was said to have interfered disastrously with her acting.

Nevertheless, Lake was making $4,500 per week under her contract with Paramount when she married director André de Toth in 1944. Their son, her third child, André Michael de Toth III, was born October 25, 1945. Lake is said to have begun drinking more heavily during this period and people began refusing to work with her. Paramount cast Lake in a string of mostly forgotten films. A notable exception was The Blue Dahlia (1946) in which she again co-starred with Alan Ladd (who reportedly was also less than fond of her). During filming, author Raymond Chandler referred to her as "Moronica Lake". Paramount decided not to renew her contract in 1948.

Her fourth child, Diana de Toth, was born October 16, 1948. Lake was also sued by her mother for support payments that year. After a single film for 20th Century Fox, her career collapsed. By the end of 1952, she had appeared in one last film (Stronghold, which she later described as "a dog"), filed for bankruptcy, and divorced de Toth. The IRS seized the remainder of her assets for unpaid taxes. Lake resorted to television and stage work, and in 1955, married songwriter Joseph A. McCarthy.

After breaking her ankle in 1959, Lake was unable to continue working as an actress. She and McCarthy divorced, and she drifted between cheap hotels in Brooklyn and New York City and was arrested several times for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct.

A reporter found her working as a barmaid at the all women's Martha Washington Hotel in Manhattan. At first, Veronica claimed that she was a guest at the hotel and covering for a friend. Soon afterward, she admitted that she was employed at the bar. The reporter's widely distributed story led to some television and stage appearances. In 1966, she had a brief stint as a TV hostess in Baltimore, Maryland, along with a largely ignored film role in Footsteps in the Snow.

Her physical and mental health declined steadily and by the late 1960s Lake was in Hollywood, Florida, apparently immobilized by paranoia (which included claims she was being stalked by the FBI).

She published her autobiography Veronica amid much publicity and positive reviews. With the proceeds, Lake co-produced and starred in her last film, Flesh Feast (1970), a very low budget horror movie with a Nazi-myth storyline.

She then moved to the UK, where she had a short-lived marriage with "English sea captain" Robert Carleton-Munro before returning to the U.S. in 1973, having filed for divorce. Lake was immediately hospitalized and although she is said to have made a cheerful and positive impression on the nurses who cared for her, she was apparently estranged from her three surviving children. She had no guests or visitors and was destitute again.

Lake was 53 when she died of hepatitis and acute renal failure (complications of her alcoholism) near Burlington, Vermont. Her ashes were scattered off the Virgin Islands. In 2004, some of Lake's ashes were reportedly found in a New York antique store.

Lake has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6918 Hollywood Boulevard for her contributions to the motion picture industry.

"I wasn't a sex symbol, I was a sex zombie."

Via Wiki.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The military copies art, again

In 1999 Australian performance artist Stelarc demonstrated modified bodily agency through his invention of the Exoskeleton, a mechanical hydraulic and electronic extension of his body, which changed the nature of his mobility and in various experiments, expanded the ability of his individual digits on his hands to grasp finer and smaller things through mini digits on the tips of each.

I'm not sure how long this video will be available, but CNN has a video report on a Utah company, Sarcos, which is manufacturing exoskeletons for military use, and the report is chock full of unqualified fascination and celebration for the developments. In the absence of Stelarc's uncanny emphases on the distortion of the human element in such hybrids, this report on Sarcos seems like a commercial for ED-209, the fictional robotic law enforcement robot that went awry with murderous malfunction in the film Robocop. Anyway, check out this link to the hyped-up next generation military technology for robotic hybrids for military use. No mention of cost, or the effect on the human operator over time, but something tells me a day spent in the exoskeleton leaves the operator somehow changed.

Here's Stelarc demonstrating his Exoskeleton in 1999. Keep in mind that he typically drives the legs and other attachments with voluntary muscles from unrelated places in his body. For example, his third hand, which he performs with often, is driven by abdominal and leg muscles, not by his arm or hand muscles.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sjöwall and Wahlöö

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö are a well-known husband-and-wife team of detective writers from Sweden. As a team they planned and wrote a series of ten novels (police procedurals) about the exploits of detectives from the homicide section of the Stockholm police department. They also wrote novels separately. For the Martin Beck series, they plotted and researched each book together, and then wrote alternate chapters.

From the beginning, the pair planned the series as a sequence of ten novels, collectively titled The Story of a Crime. The novels revolve around a team of police investigators, led by Martin Beck.

Roseanna (Roseanna, 1965)
The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (Mannen som gick upp i rök, 1966)
The Man on the Balcony (Mannen på balkongen, 1967)
The Laughing Policeman (Den skrattande polisen, 1968) (Edgar Award, Best Novel, 1971)
The Fire Engine That Disappeared (Brandbilen som försvann, 1969)
Murder at the Savoy (Polis, polis, potatismos!, 1970)
The Abominable Man (Den vedervärdige mannen från Säffle, 1971)
The Locked Room (Det slutna rummet, 1972)
Cop Killer (Polismördaren, 1974)
The Terrorists (Terroristerna, 1975)

Per Wahlöö described their goals for the series as to "use the crime novel as a scalpel cutting open the belly of the ideologically pauperized and morally debatable so-called welfare state of the bourgeois type."

The series is noteworthy for how the lives of its characters change over the books. Beck gets divorced, Kollberg quits the force, a third detective gets killed. The leitmotif of the series, written from the authors' clearly defined socialist viewpoint, is to indicate how Sweden, as a country which champions social democracy, nevertheless has the same problems of inequality and crime as other capitalist countries. The political events of the times often play a significant role as backdrop for the plots, such as the Greek dictatorship, the Vietnam War, and so on. Because the authors intended the books as a critique of capitalist society, all the titles in the original edition were given the subtitle "report of a crime"; on purpose an ambiguous phrase.

The final novel of the series,The Terrorists, was not finished when Per Wahlöö passed away in June 1975, so Maj Sjöwall had to finish it alone. During Wahlöö's illness, which eventually led to his death, he sat up writing day and night in order to finish the book before it was too late.

The above is lifted from the rather uninspiring Wiki entry here. The grand finale of the series is memorable: Beck and his paramour, at home playing Scrabble, as Beck spells out, for the final line of The Terrorists,

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Surveillance Camera Players

"At around 11 pm on Tuesday 10 December 1996, six members of the Surveillance Camera Players (Michael, Katie, Bill, Susan, Lisa, and Orrin) performed most of Art Toad's special adaption of Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi in front of a surveillance camera in Manhattan's Union Square subway station. At the same time, three other SCPers (Grrrt, Michelle and John), as well as several on-lookers, watched the play on one of the station's closed-circuit television monitors. Unfortunately, the SCP were unable to secure a video camera, and so the performance went undocumented.

Though the play contains only nine short scenes in Monsieur Toad's version, the Players were not able to perform it completely on that day -- which was the 100th anniversary of the very first public performance of Ubu the King -- because, at the conclusion of Scene Seven, they were asked to stop and to move along by two utterly humorless New York City policemen, who just did not care that Scene Eight was the one in which the Bear (Orrin with a funny hat) fights with and is killed by Ubu's Man.

Surveillance cameras, though obviously designed to monitor and relay what they "see," are not allowed by law to monitor and relay what they "hear." (Conversations are "truly private" or "more private" than visual appearance and behavior in the eyes of the law.) And so any performance by the Surveillance Camera Players has to be a silent one. By rendering -- reducing might be a better word -- all of the dialogue in Ubu the King to a few expressions that would be clearly visible if printed on hand-held cards designed to look like the speech bubbles in comic strips, M. Toad succeeded in creating a script that could be used by the SCPers. But no "violence" was done to Jarry's play, which is already filled with comic-strip moments in which two-dimensional elements take the place of three-dimensional ones (e.g., the stage direction that the Russian Army should be a single actor carrying a name-tag about his or her neck that says, "The Russian Army").

The SCPers who performed the night of 10 December carried with them bags stuffed with all the costumes, name-tags and printed speech balloons that they would need to play their roles (two or three per person). All of these props were either scavenged or created during the two work sessions that the Players held in advance of the actual performance, which was, incidentally, their very first. Unfortunately, there was no dress rehearsal, and so the first and only performance of the play took too long (long enough to draw the attention of the cops). None of the props were lost during or after the performance, so the play can be staged again at any time.

Perhaps needless to say, King Ubu himself -- or, rather, the SCPer who played him and was dressed in a tunic bearing a huge spiral on his big, fat belly and a green cone on his pear-shaped head -- walked the streets of Manhattan for hours before his appearance in front of the camera, the subway riding public of New York City, and the NYPD. In full attire, he attended a rather pointless talk given by Peter Lamborn Wilson, and made a comment during the discussion session afterward. Ubu even stopped to have dinner at the restaurant in Greenwich Village called the Paris Commune, at which he was recognized and toasted in his native French."

The above is from the Surveillance Camera Players homepage, via Ballardian.

Friday, November 16, 2007


It's hard not to identify with this song. It is sincere, intelligent, and original while capturing the zeitgeist all at the same time...but even still...I'd rather listen to N. Young's Barstool Blues...

Here's the guy who rapes him in the song:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

About the Weather

photo via

"The weather is variable
so are you;
but I can't do a thing
about the weather."
Howard Devoto/"About the Weather"

This post is a request for contributions to an informal, "alternative" biblography of non-fiction and fiction titles addressing nature/ecology/the environment.

Please post your recommendations (with notes if you'd like) in the comments, and I'll ammend this post as needed.

Just off the top of my head, I'm going to start with these titles:

The Burning World/J.G. Ballard
Ballard's vision (in slow motion) of a global drought, published in the early '60's.

The New Organic Grower/Eliot Coleman
The very well-written "bible" of organic farming; one could literally start their own farm based on the information here.

Typhoon/Josheph Conrad
A novella portraying the sea as implacable Other; do we really know nature differently today?

The Lives of Animals/J.M. Coetzee
An exploration of the ethical questions surrounding vegetarianism, with the emphasis on animal cruelty.

Stones of the Sky/Pablo Neruda
His final volume, written while he was dying of cancer, consists of these thirty love songs to the Earth. This book has stayed with me, over the years, in a way that few others have.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

La Rabbia

Writer John Berger is nearly 80 years old. He doesn’t have time to waste, and in his new collection, Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance, nothing is wasted. So when on page 85 Berger directs us to Pasolini’s obscure documentary montage La Rabbia (Rage), we follow…

"La Rabbia, I would say, is a film inspired by a fierce sense of endurance, not anger. Pasolini looks at what is happening in the world with unflinching lucidity. (There are angels drawn by Rembrandt who have the same gaze.) And he does so because reality is all we have to love. There’s nothing else.

His dismissal of the hypocrisies, half-truths and pretences of the greedy and powerful is total because they breed and foster ignorance, which is a form of blindness towards reality. Also because they shit on memory, including the memory of language itself, which is our first heritage.

Yet the reality he loved could not be simply endorsed, for at that moment it represented a too deep historical disappointment. The ancient hopes which flowered and opened out in 1945, after the defeat of Fascism, had been betrayed.
The USSR had invaded Hungary. France had begun its cowardly war against Algeria. The coming to independence of the former African colonies was a macabre charade. Lumumba had been liquidated by the puppets of the CIA. Neo-capitalism was already planning its global take-over.

Yet despite this, what had been bequeathed was far too precious and too tough to abandon, the ubiquitous demands of reality were impossible to ignore. The demand in the way a shawl was worn. In a young man’s face. In a street full of people demanding less injustice. In the laughter of their expectations and the recklessness of their jokes. From this came his rage of endurance."

At time when our media/political establishment is engaged in equivocations regarding the practice of waterboarding, it follows that narratives which mystify the fundamental injustices of the current, global dispensation (which are, as any Palestinian schoolchild can tell us social, political, economic and historical in nature) must be held to account, for we, like Berger, have no time to waste; we have only time for family and friends, for the for the children that suffer in innocence, for the poor, for the dispossessed, for animals harvested for food cruelly and wastefully, and for narratives that, in however small a way, resist the dominant culture. Many might disagree, but my feeling is that cinema (and fiction), at this historical juncture, must count for something.

I wonder whether we might still engage the films that matter, films like The Passenger, like La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, like Radio On, like Lombardi’s Ojos Que No Ven, like Chris Marker’s Le Jette, like anything by Bresson, like Roeg’s Walkabout, in terms that abide, rather than mystify.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Cat-Raphael

Gottfried Mind/"Katzen"

In the course of (Gottfried Mind's) narrow, indoors life, he had worked himself into an almost paternal relation with domestic animals, especially with cats. While he sat painting, a cat might generally be seen sitting on his back or on his shoulder; many times he kept, for hours, the most awkward postures, that he might not disturb it. Frequently there was a second cat sitting by him on the table, watching how the work went on; sometimes a kitten or two lay in his lap under the table. Frogs (in bottle) floated beside his easel; and with all these creatures he kept up a most playful, loving style of conversation; though, often enough, any human beings about him, or such even as came to see him, were growled or grunted at in no social fashion.

His chief diligence and most careful elegance he brought to work in the painting of his beloved cats. He had both the art to seize the general nature of this animal and to reflect the specific character of each. The sycophantic look full of falseness, the dainty movements of the kittens, several of which are sometimes painted sporting round their dam—all this, in the most multifarious postures, turns, groups, sports, and quarrels, is depicted with a true observance to nature.

On Sundays and winter nights, Mind, by way of pastime, used, out of dried, wild chestnuts, to carve little cats, bears, and other beasts, and this with so much art that these little dainty toys were shortly in no less request than his drawings. It is a pity that insects, such as frequently exist in the interior of chestnuts, have already destroyed so many of these carvings.

At the Barengraben (bear-yard) in Bern, where a few live bears are always to be seen, Mind passed many a happy hour. The moment he made his appearance, the bears hastened towards him with friendly grumbling, stationed themselves on their hind feet, and received, impartially, each a piece of bread or an apple out of his pocket. For this reason, bears, next to cats, were a favourite subject of his art; and he reckoned himself, not unjustly, better able to delineate these animals than even celebrated painters have been. Moreover, next to his intercourse with living cats and bears, Mind's greatest joy was in looking at objects of art, especially copper-plates, in which, too, animal figures gave him most satisfaction.

from a Wikipedia article on 18th century autistic savant artist Gottfried Mind, who was known as the Cat-Raphael.

Earthquakes, Cars and Architecture

Stephen Wiltshire

Wiltshire's "Times Square" (Oil on Canvas)

Stephen Wiltshire MBE, (born April 24, 1974) is an accomplished architectural artist who has been diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder. Stephen's interests are: earthquakes, cars, and architecture, in that order.

Stephen Wiltshire was born in London, England, to West Indian parents. He was mute and at the age of three was diagnosed as an autistic. The same year his father died in a motorcycle accident. At the age of four, Stephen was sent to Queensmill School in London where he expressed interest in drawing. He began to communicate through his drawings. At the age of 8, he began to draw imaginary post-earthquake cityscapes and cars.

Teacher Chris Marris began to encourage his drawing and with his aid Wiltshire also slowly learned to speak at the age of 9.

At the age of ten, Wiltshire drew a series of pictures he called a "London Alphabet", a sequence of drawings of London landmarks, one for each letter.

When Wiltshire was part of a BBC programme The Foolish Wise Ones in 1987, viewers phoned in, expressing interest to buy his work. A collection of his works, named Drawings, was published that year.

Wiltshire has become a popular artist. He can look at a target once and then draw a very accurate and very detailed picture of it. He once drew the whole of central London after a helicopter trip above it. He can also make imaginary scenes like St. Paul's Cathedral surrounded by flames.

In 2003, there was a major retrospective in the Orleans House gallery in Twickenham, London.

Stephen's work has since been the subject of many TV documentaries; neurologist Oliver Sacks writes about him in the chapter "Prodigies", in his book An Anthropologist on Mars.

His books include Drawings (1987), Cities (1989), Floating Cities (1991), and Stephen Wiltshire's American Dream (1993). His third book - Floating Cities (Michael Joseph, 1991) - was number one on the Sunday Times bestseller list.

In May 2005 Stephen produced his longest ever panoramic memory drawing of Tokyo[1] on a 10 meter long canvas within 7 days following a short helicopter ride over the city. Since then he has drawn Rome[2], Hong Kong[3] and Frankfurt[4] on giant canvasses.

In 2006, Stephen Wiltshire was awarded an MBE for services to art[5].

In September 2006 Stephen opened his permanent gallery in the Royal Opera Arcade[6], Pall Mall, London. He resides there two days a week working on commissions, chats to visitors or just draws for fun.

article via Wikipedia

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Clearing of the Northwest Passage

photo via BLDG BLOG

Faithfully supported by the Bush administration, corporations like Shell Oil were expediting plans to prospect and develop Alaska's continental shelf, littering the Beaufort Sea with drilling ships and wells, supply ships and barges, airplane and helicopter racket, blasted-out harbors, ice-fortified steel piers, and hundreds of miles of pipe—not only an immense increase in contamination and disturbance but an incalculably risky project that threatened to overwhelm the adaptive capacity of the indigenous sea hunters and an entire precious ecosystem already seriously under stress from Arctic warming.[2]

Environmentalists are quite aware that despite society's desperate need for clean energies, carbon fuels will drive the world economy for years to come, and political pressures for ocean drilling may be insurmountable. But the risks of ecological disaster from irreparable accidents such as oil spills in Arctic seas are truly enormous, which is why critics feel so strongly that the oil industry's ambitions are premature at best and at worst reckless. In addition to severe operating and maintenance difficulties in fierce Arctic conditions—never satisfactorily tamed even on land—any offshore drilling operation would have to deal with freezing ocean storms and shifting ice and four bitter months of winter darkness.

When one considers the more than four thousand spills--over one a day--recorded by the oil industry in its land operations in the last decade, and keeping in mind that offshore hazards are far greater, the inevitable accidents seem certain to accumulate into an ongoing and permanent calamity. A black effluvia of crude petroleum and drilling mud and chemical pollutants would spread inshore, suffocating plankton and invertebrates and bottom-dwelling fish and poisoning great stretches of Arctic coast with a viscous excrescence. The same toxic mixture will blacken the drifting ice, fouling the pristine habitat of Arctic birds, the Pacific walrus, four species of seals, and the beleaguered polar bear, while contaminating the migratory corridors of the white beluga and endangered bowhead whales—all this defilement made much worse by the grim fact that no technology has ever been developed for cleaning up spilled oil in icy waters. Even in spills in temperate waters, such as the Exxon Valdez disaster, only an average of less than 15 percent is ever removed.

via the NYRB, read the rest here.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Let's Get High, Together

James Chance/"I Can't Stand Myself"

David Bowie/"Stay"

Super Furry Animals/"Slow Life"

Mouse on Mars/Mycologics

My Bloody Valentine/"Soon"