Tag Archives: entertainment

A TICKET TO RIDE

The average YouTube viewer spends about 15 minutes at a time on the site, a fact that YouTube is trying to correct by creating better algorithms that will produce more relevant associations, in the hope the user will be enticed to stay longer. I must have broken all YouTube viewing records on my last day off, clocking in excess of two hours on the site – it’s a lot of 3 minute clips.

It was entirely the fault of a certain Diego De Silva, whose latest book, “I am against emotions”, is a disquisition on broken hearts, psychotherapy and Italian songs from the ’70’s. A “Melancholy audio” list is even provided as an addendum for readers like me who decide to fritter an afternoon away taking a long jog down memory lane. Way easier than dusting off old 45’s in the attic, not to mention more comprehensive than any record collection I might have accumulated from that time.

Jumping from song to song (those algorithms were working very well for me), from grainy black and white tv clip to bad audio live recordings, what struck me, and what Mr. De Silva points out in his hilarious book where he is capable of writing three whole pages on the most inane song and making it read as if he were reviewing a Bach cantata, is that double entendres were simply not done in those days and the sexual meanings of the most innocuous songs were devoid of any metaphor.

We know that Italian males are supposedly Latin lovers and that Italian women are consummate flirts, and that prime time Italian tv is populated by scantily dressed girls, with sex and nudity  par for the course when watching most Italian tv but I never noticed how much sex was exalted  in those “ancient” times of my childhood. Let’s take Raffaella Carra’s hit “Tanti Auguri”, the theme of which is the celebration of those who have many lovers and “if one doesn’t work out, who cares? I will take another”. This is from the blonde next door who conducted family shows on Saturday night. And in a country where divorce wasn’t even legal – or maybe because divorce wasn’t legal, it concocted ways of working around bad marriages. I wonder if the Church was throwing daggers or turning a blind eye.

From the mindless hits I then moved on to the suicide love songs of Mia Martini (who did indeed commit suicide) and Riccardo Cocciante I  loved so much. I was barely 13. What did I know of “being ravaged for a whole night by a bastard who will not call in the morning?” (the essence of “Minuetto”). For that matter, what did I know about broken hearts and being abandoned and endless anguish other than what I had gleaned from “Little Women”?

On approaching hour two of this  downhill run, I finally found the strength to hit the off switch – I was close to suicide myself or, at least,  to a good cry for all those unhappy souls who were the soundtrack of my childhood. At 13, I discovered the Beatles and it was on to British and American rock from there, by way of punk. I never looked back until now and who knew that those inoffensive looking performers I admiringly watched on Saturday night were as unself-conscious about sex as Mick Jagger?

  Watch until the end for a little surprise

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TV IS GETTING GOOD AGAIN

Despite the pleasure that I draw from my Netflix account, both on-line and old school dvd’s in the red envelope, I am finding myself drawn to my neglected telly thanks to a bunch of outstanding or irreverent or just plain funny shows that have caught my attention.

Downton Abbey is back for its second season on PBS/Masterpiece (Sunday – 9pm but if you can’t be bothered to tune in I believe the entire series, that already aired in England, is available on DVD). Sucker as I am for anything English and period, this mini-series that was not destined to have a continuation ended up being so wildly successful that its creator, Julian Fellowes, resumed writing it. Set against the backdrop of World War I, the story unfolds within the walls of Downton Abbey, the residence of the titled Crawley family and it is a mix of “The Remains of the Day” and “Upstairs Downstairs”, covering the travails and joys of both nobility and servants. It just doesn’t get any better and Maggie Smith has lines so good, it makes you look forward to getting old.

I just read that Mistresses is back on Wednesday (BBC – 10pm). I had given up hope of ever seeing this group of girlfriends ever again. Set in London in contemporary times, these smart and attractive women that could indeed be your girlfriends, lead interesting yet ordinary lives – the married woman who is a sex addict and betrays her husband with nameless men in casual encounters, the doctor who helps euthanize her lover and then embarks on an affair with his son, the home maker whose husband re-appears after nearly 10 years….ok, maybe my girlfriends don’t live such outlandish lives (god have mercy if they did) but these women have credible dialogues, are spotted actually doing work for a living and don’t have closets filled with couture a la Sex and the City. Guilty pleasure at its best.

Staying in England, The Hour, one of the best shows of the year, will also be back on BBC. Taking place in the ’50’s, it depicts the rise of independent reporting in the midst of political life changing events, peppered with a wonderful female producer figure and espionage twists and turns. If you haven’t seen the first series, rent it while waiting for the second.

Poised to start in February on HBO, Life’s too Short is Ricky Gervais’ new tv venture. I find this man extremely funny: vulgar, caustic, dry, his humour rubs Americans the wrong way and, yes, nothing, I mean, absolutely nothing is sacred to Mr. Gervais, making many people uncomfortable. But The Office was a groundbreaking comedic show – still better than the Steve Carrell’s version – and Extras was downright funny. Life’s too short is again shot documentary style and follows the life of a dwarf actor (or little person, in a more p.c. fashion). Can’t wait.

At this point, you can accuse me of a bad case of “Anglophilia” and you would be right but, when it comes to tv, the Brits do it better. Having said that, on my Netflix list are Breaking Bad and Homeland – my most trustworthy friends who do watch tv can’t stop talking about them so I must trust them and start watching. Breaking Bad is about a chemistry teacher who becomes a drug dealer and Homeland is exactly what you think it is and it is rumoured President Obama is a fan.

On HBO I have been following Boardwalk Empire that, if I don’t love in a visceral way, I can’t deny being excellent. The only mafia show I really ever revered was, you guessed, The Sopranos, but this romp in gangster life in the 40’s is classy. Luck, with Dustin Hoffman, and set in the world of horse racing (shot at our very own Santa Anita race track), looks promising and, for the meanest humour ever, I believe Curb Your Enthusiasm will be able to make me cringe again some time soon.

Something to look forward to as I settle in for another dreary winter.

 

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ADVENTURES IN LALA LAND – HEDI SLIMANE AT MOCA

California Song

There is an interesting, small exhibition currently on view at the outpost that MOCA has at the Pacific Design Center. Purportedly photos by Hedi Slimane, the former designer for Karl Lagerfeld, Gucci and Dior turned photographer, the art is presented in an unexpected and personal way. Mr. Slimane, who is French but currently resides in Los Angeles, has given us a black and white portrayal of a facet of life in Southern California, clearly mediated through the European eyes of somebody who has fallen in love with our corner of the world.

Walking up the stairs of the small building, you will find yourself in a black room, with a large cube in the center, onto 3 sides of which are projected extra sized photos of Slimane. Circling the cube, you are exposed to the images that last a few seconds each, affording a much different visual experience than admiring art hanging on a wall with little notecards on the side. Banks of speakers blurt out obsessive and repetitive instrumental music to accompany the viewing.

The oversized cube

The photos are centered on a certain Californian youth: the surfing and music communities, interspersed with faces of famous, older people, objects and slivers of this city. Some of the blond, tanned surfers caught in repose or getting ready to hit the waves will remind you of Bruce Weber’s images that made Californian youth enviable and golden to the eyes of outsiders. Here, the bodies are still tanned and ripped, the hair just as blond but the lips are chapped and no smiles in sight – there is a hollowness in the details of the Point Dume tattoos or the live snake gingerly wrapped around the wrist. Even the beach, shot with the sunlight saturating the pictures, reveals buildings that look like set props, the images emptied out of the myth and the hope.

Back to the entrance, some of the stills are mounted on light wood room dividers, with mirrors in the middle so that, when standing in front of the artwork, the viewer becomes part of it. Either that was the intention or the mirrors were designed to make the small space seem roomier.

Stills

Musician, surfer or just plain Angeleno, anybody who has been residing in this city for some time will recognize the muses behind the photos. Not as sparkling or hopeful as they might have been a couple of decades ago but still, unmistakably, Californian.

California Song will be on view until Jan 22 –

For more info moca_pdc.php

 

 

 

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THE LOT

My first day of work in Los Angeles wasn’t, strictly speaking, the first time I set foot on the lot. I had visited for a series of interviews, taken in the sprawling and neurotic construction but I was too nervous, excited and scared to think about where my office would be.

The now defunct A&M Records’ headquarters were housed in what used to be Charlie Chaplin’s studio lot. On the outside, on the corner of Sunset and La Brea, it looks like an incongruous assemblage of Swiss or Austrian chalets, deposited there straight from the Alps when no one was looking. Clearly Mr. Chaplin had very definite architectural preferences.

Inside, apart from the famed A&M recording studios towering in the center, the offices were a jumble of wooden structures dating back to the ‘20s and ‘50s and legend has it that the stairs that conducted to my department were used in countless tv episodes of Batman and that Ironside was also filmed there.

Whenever it rained, it was extremely inconvenient to go visit a colleague from another department and the entire structure, although extremely well-kept, was starting to show signs of aging. One afternoon, sitting at my desk, I heard rustling inside the waste paper basket. I figured I must have dropped something heavy in it that was making paper sink, until a giant rat popped out, making me run all the way out, screaming and dragging the headset I was wearing and the phone with me, leaving my caller under the impression I had just suffered a stroke. I refused to re-enter until the rodent was dealt with.

Sunset and La Brea were far from hip 16 years ago. Going out for lunch meant an inedible slice of pizza from Raffallo or take-out chicken from a fast food joint. Few ventured into the Chinese take-out that no doubt cooked the giant rats that infested their trash cans at the back, although at times, for variety’s sake, we broke down. Craving a gum or a candy after dark also posed some threats, as the surrounding streets were a drug selling haven and, if you dared walk around, one of the guards at the entrance booth would always warn you to be careful.

But at Halloween the most creative staff members decorated the entire lot with witches, ghosts and oversize spider webs and, even on a bad day, the place never felt corporate or sterile. Throngs of bewitched Japanese tourists would appear at the gates throughout the year, in a pilgrimage to honor the memory of Karen Carpenter (the Carpenters were huge in Japan).

The memories of the place, now owned by Jim Henson of Kermit fame, came flooding back as some of my former colleagues gathered at my house a few days ago. Some with children in tow, some still in the music industry and feeling their days numbered and some, like me, doing activities not even remotely connected to our former careers. Surprisingly, we didn’t spend much time talking about the good old days – we fell into our old lunch banter, looking at the future.

On the day A&M closed, at that point absorbed by Universal that had no intention of keeping such an extravagant place on their books, the LA Times published a front page photo of the rotating round sign that had stood atop the Swiss chalets for decades. One employee had climbed up and put a large black band over it.

Even now, every time I drive by, I half expect to see the familiar sign and I wonder if wide-eyed skinny Japanese girls still peer through the front gate, looking for Karen’s ghost.

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THE COMPANY WE KEEP

Netflix is my best friend most evenings when I don’t go out, now having gotten into the habit of streaming on my laptop rather than popping a dvd in the player. After resisting it for so long, I found that the high-resolution of my laptop screen makes up for the size and I don’t miss tv in the least. The poor wretch is turned on less and less often, only when HBO has some worthwhile offering or I am curious to see what I have been missing.
My second favourite tv channel after HBO is the old, trusted Beeb that kept me company for so many years when the money to go out on the town was scarce. They now have a new show called “The Hour”, on Wednesdays at 10 pm (or even 7 pm if you have an East coast feed). I sat through the first 20 minutes scarcely comprehending what was going on, between the engagement party of a debutante, a rowdy journalist trying to get a better job inside the BBC and a murder in a tube station improbably devoid of people. It all comes together soon enough and the show, set in 1956, is about the leap the BBC made from government mouthpiece to investigative giant. Dominic West (the brilliant face of the Wire) is one of the protagonists together with a cast of English actors whose names you don’t know but whose faces you would recognize. It’s  been compared to Mad Men but, besides taking place a decade earlier, is less polished or fashion obsessed. Great, fast dialogue and a look back at an England I never really knew but always read about.
After Netflix, tucked in bed, I have been staying up until late to read “Blood, Bones and Butter”, the sort of autobiography of Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef/owner of the famous NY restaurant Prune. Before you start checking out right about now, let me tell you that, if you work in a kitchen, this book has nothing in common with the biographies of the extra-sized ego chefs you are used to. It’s not the coke fuelled initiation of “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain, or the madness of Marco Pierre White  and it’s not about the food much either. Sort of.

My latest night companion

A chef with a MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Michigan is a rare find and this woman can write – not in the  short, staccato sentences that you would expect from a cook but in a lyrical, whimsical and poetic way she recounts her unusual childhood and teen years and how she came about to open a restaurant without having been a chef of one before. And how she went from dating women to marrying an Italian men and springing out two children.

Ms. Hamilton is smart, headstrong, foul-mouthed, a dedicated mother and chef and, at times, wholly infuriating. But I don’t want to spoil it for you. The best section is the one about her yearly trips to Southern Italy to spend a month with her husband’s family and her take on life at the bottom of the boot. I found myself disagreeing with her on very many pages but it was an absorbing read, one that unusual, stubborn, headstrong and whimsical women from any path in life would appreciate.

 

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THREE THINGS THAT MADE ME LAUGH THIS WEEK

  1. Chinese exploding watermelons. Apparently some Chinese farmers, lured by the lucrative watermelon market, have been adding chemicals to their crops that, coupled with heavy rains, are making watermelons swelling to the point of bursting, creating chain explosions in the fields. Serves them right for messing with nature.
  2. There is a book at the top of Amazon’s best-sellers list titled “Go the fuck to sleep”. For anybody who has tried to put a small child to sleep, this will resonate with no need for further explanations.
  3. The news that Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child about 13 years ago with a housekeeper and managed to keep it secret until now. This didn’t so much make me laugh but rather wonder about men who behave like dogs and women who stick by notorious philanderers. I am sorry Maria but if the whole of California knew about the Governor’s repetitive  philandering, your denials, your support and now your shock seem a bit disingenuous. Good luck to you nonetheless.

Have a good week-end.

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AMERICAN MENTOR

Jimmy Iovine is a genius. A growing pile of ironing bearing a striking resemblance to the leaning tower of Pisa was threatening to take over the laundry room, indicating the time had come to dust off the ironing board. I loathe ironing. Unlike my mother who finds it a relaxing activity, I suffer it as one of the 10 plagues of womanhood and often wish I had the financial means to fob it off to somebody else. After settling Ottie on the couch – someone had to have a decent night if not me – I dragged the ironing board in front of the tv and found “American Idol”, figuring it would be mindless enough entertainment to see me through  half a dozen shirts.

Usually the contestants are paired with some coaches, other artists or producers, to help them rehearse and arrange songs. This season the CEO of Interscope Records is the appointed Pygmalion, Jimmy Iovine the genius. Frankly, I find it incredibly hard to care or connect with the ego driven kids with the pretty voices who end up on the stage of American Idol, which is why I don’t watch the show. But I was quickly holding the iron in mid-air as Jimmy, a world-famous producer with a knack for not only discovering talent but for nurturing it the old-fashioned way, talked to each of the contestant. The advice he was giving was of the best kind: quantifiable, easy to understand, feasible. To a would be rocker planning to sing Elton John’s “Rocket Man” he said “You should sing it as if you just performed in front of 20,000 people and this is your first encore before you do the monster hit”. In a single sentence, he was able to establish the tone and the subtlety of the performance he was asking for – a performance that would slightly quiet the crowd before getting them into a frenzy with the big hit.

He also displayed an understanding of the individual, of what this kid needed and, above all, he was giving him the parameters within which to let him roam free. And he did that, over and over, with each contestant.

That is called mentoring. An art too often nonexistent in corporations or small businesses alike. There was a time when the only way to learn a business or a trade or an art was at the feet of an elder who was already established in his or her field (mostly his). Mentoring was not so much a business tool but a necessity. Nowadays we expect college degrees or experience somewhere else to have done the trick and deliver fully formed employees. Or, worse, we don’t have the time or don’t find the time to dedicate to those who, for 8 hours a day, depend on our counsel and direction – which should be quantifiable, easy to understand and to execute.

It’s hard to show up at a place of work in the absence of somebody who is willing and able not so much to solve your problems but to nudge you towards the paths and the tools for you to figure it out. And who can teach you – to make a cake, to draw a business plan, to mediate a sticky situation, to be a better you.

There are people you will do anything for out of fear and those you will out of respect and because they will always give something back – in other words, our mentors. Jimmy Iovine was a good reminder on Tuesday night to keep on showing up at work and be the best mentor I can be. As to the ironing, only half of it got done, during the commercial breaks. Who knew Steven Tyler could be so funny?

 

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