Friday, November 29, 2013

How to Fry a Thanksgiving Turkey

I can't believe this video has been on YouTube for over a year and I've never seen it. But, then again, I never wanted to fry a turkey. 

So here's a day-after-Thanksgiving gift for everyone who loves turkey and/or loves William Shatner!

"Eat, Fry, Love: a Cautionary Remix"

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering JFK

My aunt's campaign button

One of my earliest childhood memories is of me keeping a running tally of state-by-state presidential nominations during the 1960 Democratic convention. Not only was this a good math exercise for an intellectually precocious 6-year-old, it also indoctrinated me early into my family’s political beliefs.

My family adored John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He was young and charismatic. But most importantly, he was a Democrat.

I was in fifth grade the day Kennedy was shot, 50 years ago. I no longer remember how my classmates and I were told the sad news; but I do remember fetching my sister, who was in third grade, so we could walk home early together. We were both very worried about our grandmother, who had heart problems and would, we feared, be very upset by the president’s death.

In those days, our family treated death very respectfully and somberly. There was no play or music that weekend until after the funeral on Monday. We mourned JFK’s passing as if he was one of our own.

The world changed that day and I still can’t think about it without crying.

P.S. I asked my sister what she remembers of that day and this is what she said:

I don't remember much.  However, I think the announcement may have been made while I was on the playground because I remember standing there frozen while numerous people broke into tears.  I now think I was too young to realize what it all meant, other than the fact that Gramma, especially, would be affected.
What I learned this week from watching the clips was that Jackie stood by the Johnsons as he was sworn into office, wearing the same blood-splattered pink suit she had on earlier that day.  I had probably noticed that before, but this time, to me, that is just ominous and a glaring testimony of how rapidly all the events took place.  Such a life-altering day.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

L.A. Arts District Tour

Murals and graffiti in L.A.'s Arts District

The L.A. Arts District is located directly east of downtown and west of the Los Angeles River, along 3rd and 4th Streets. Agricultural land when the city was first developed in the mid-19th century, before becoming industrial throughout most of the 20th century, this area is now home to budding artists and architects. It's a part of town we know nothing about, so we were thrilled to take today's L.A. Conservancy Arts District tour and learn more. Here's what we saw:

Interior of the former Santa Fe railroad
freight house (1906) renovated
of Architecture (SCI-Arc) campus (2001)

Amazing modular conference table in the
SCI-Arc library

Conference table detail

The Pickle Works: one of the last surviving L.A. 
Victorian-era warehouses (1888) that eventually 
became home to several artists in the 1970s

Sign used to designate an artist's barely legal residence: 
red = fire hazard; blue = unsafe conditions; 
yellow = unstable masonry; A = artist-in-residence

Looking down on the Pickle Works 
from the 1st St. bridge

Graffiti and stairs up to the 1st St. bridge

Old street lamp

Old and new: looking west towards 
downtown L.A.

The American Hotel (1905), originally built 
as housing for African Americans, many of
whom worked as Pullman car porters on
nearby trains

American Hotel detail: ground-floor used to be the site
of Al's Bar, home to one of L.A.'s most famous punk
rock and grunge scenes

warehouse  (1913),where wire cables were made for the 
Brooklyn Bridge

Roebling warehouse is now the site of Angel City

We also saw lots and lots of phenomenal murals:

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library & Archives

As a part-time lecturer at UCLA’s library school, I occasionally get to go on library field trips, usually arranged by the students themselves. Yesterday we toured the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that awards the Oscars every year.

For me, the Academy library has always been my dream job, surrounded by movie memorabilia and answering reference questions all day about film production. But, needless to say, people rarely leave the Herrick once they’re in, so I never even got a chance to apply. Still, touring the facility is better than nothing, especially since the building—a renovated 1920s water plant—is so beautiful.

Amazingly, the Academy’s library and archives are open to the public—scholars and fans alike—though few people get to go behind-the-scenes like we did. Our first stop was the open stacks reading room, where thousands of movie-related books and magazines are shelved for public use. From there we visited the department where clipping files are compiled and kept. Thousands of preservation-quality folders contain ephemera on every movie made or not made, including the fake 1970s film “Argo,” which, of course, served as the basis for last year’s Oscar-winning “best picture” of the same name.

We next toured the special collections, where we saw a fan’s scrapbook about Marlene Dietrich, Christmas cards from Princess Grace and her family, and Alfred Hitchcock’s notes and snapshots of the famous crop-duster scene in North by Northwest. The most exciting piece, by far, was the mane (i.e., wig) Bert Lahr wore as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. The Academy also owns a pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers, but they’re—understandably—kept under strict lock-and-key.

The Roddy McDowell Photograph Archive was next. Examples from the collection were laid-out on a table for our pleasure, including: a close-up of Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge!; the climactic scene from Reservoir Dogs; a young Elizabeth Taylor, when she was the most beautiful woman in Hollywood; and a photo album opened to a series of Polaroids taken of a buff young man posing in jeans, various cowboy hats, and (sometimes) a shirt. Upon closer inspection, I realized these were snaps of Brad Pitt trying on different outfits for his extremely memorable role in Thelma and Louise. (OMG!) Even more surprising: many, if not most, of the Academy’s 10+ million photos are available for purchase through the library’s photocopying service. Indeed, an enormous black-and-white picture of an evening-gowned woman was slowly being reproduced on a huge photocopy machine while we stood there watching.

Our last stop was the poster room, where some 80 thousand posters, costume designs and concept drawings are kept. We were treated to an artist’s rendering of Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life, a fantastical set design from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and a drawing of actress-swimmer Esther Williams on water-skis, wearing a yellow one-piece bathing suit and black arm’s-length gloves, while clutching a purse (!). Ah, Hollywood.

At the end of the tour, I asked the librarians who's responsible for compiling the information given to the media during the Oscar awards season.

“We all are!” they exclaimed.

Apparently everyone is impacted by the nominations and awards process. Reference librarians gather data about the films and actors, while the photo archivists choose the best images to represent the nominees. Even the poster department is involved, pulling posters for the numerous screenings Academy members attend before submitting their votes.

“Do you all get together, at the end, to watch the Academy Awards show on TV?” one student asked.

“Well . . .” one of the librarians admitted, slyly glancing at her coworkers. “We all actually go to the ceremony.”

Damn! I knew this was the best job on earth!

The dramatic 1920s tower atop 
the Academy library

Friday, November 01, 2013

Danny Elfman & Tim Burton

I was all ready to spend last night handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, when Tim called. A friend at work had two tickets to the Danny Elfman concert at the Nokia Theatre. The concert, which sold-out in 12 minutes, was featuring Elfman’s often eerie scores to Tim Burton’s movies—the perfect complement to Halloween. We decided to go.

Burton famously grew-up in Burbank, around the same time I did, and went on to study animation at Cal Arts. He worked as a storyboard artist for Disney, in the early 1980s, but his quirky, often macabre style didn’t quite fit in and so he left and began making movies on his own. His break-through film was Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, for which Danny Elfman composed the score. They have collaborated on all but two of Burton’s films since.

We are big Tim Burton fans, but obviously not as rabid as many of the people who attended last night’s concert. Halloween seemed just an excuse for them to dress as their favorite Burton characters. We saw several corpse brides (from the animated film Corpse Bride, starring Burton’s other frequent collaborators, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter), several Beetlejuices (from the movie of the same name), quite a few Sallys (from The Nightmare Before Christmas), and an excellent Sweeney Todd, as well as an assortment of non-Burton costumes, including two Marie-Antoinettes, an Elvis with a rubber wig, and two bananas (!). I wore the same Jack Skellington t-shirt I’ve worn every Halloween for the past ten years or so. The unofficial uniform for most of the audience was anything in black.

Me wearing Jack

The Nokia Theatre was designed specifically as a concert venue, so there are no bad seats, even though we were in a private “box,” above the floor and to the right of the stage. The Hollywood Symphony Orchestra played under the direction of John Mauceri, the founding director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Slides of Burton’s conceptual art and clips of the various films accompanied each segment of the concert. The opening bar of the more popular movies, like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, and my favorite, Edward Scissorhands, were greeted with screams and a roar of applause, overwhelming those of us sitting two stories above the audience. But nothing prepared us for the sound of sheer adoration when Elfman, himself, walked out onto the stage to sing songs from The Nightmare Before Christmas. He was Jack Skellington, all bluster and bones and highly animated. It was absolutely wonderful!

The evening ended with an encore of Elfman singing Oogie’s song from Nightmare. Certainly it couldn’t get any better than this. But then a man entered from stage right and the noise became deafening.

“Who is it?” I asked my husband.

“TIM BURTON!” he yelled, applauding madly.

I screamed like a teeny-bopper! Burton then took the mic and said there was no one he’d rather spend Halloween with than Danny Elfman.

A very Happy All Hallow’s Eve, indeed!