Friday, August 28, 2009

An artist creates his own moral universe.

In bullet point form:

* I watched Bullets Over Broadway last night and adored every minute of it. I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. I mean, come on: 1920s thespians and gangsters! It was hilarious and so smart and so quoteable, and I kept thinking, "Damn you, Woody Allen, for writing about my favorite things on a level I could never dream of getting close to." It's like I wanted to savor every line of dialogue like a dollop of chocolate pudding. The only problem I had was that it ended too quickly, with an abrupt happy-ending resolution. I'm all for happy endings but it wrapped up without much of a conflict. Other than that...brilliant. John Cusack was brilliantly neurotic; I absolutely did not recognize Jim Broadbent until I checked IMDb.com; Dianne Wiest was incredible; Chazz Palminteri, I want to have your babies; and good thing Jennifer Tilly's character was supposed to be annoying, or else I probably wouldn't have made it through the whole thing without wanting to shoot my TV. So if you like gangsters and theater, SEE THIS.

* I hadn't realized there were more pages to Penny Arcade's "Automata": 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. I love this robot noir!

* "Boardwalk Empire" behind-the-scenes photos: Steve Buscemi in 1920s garb getting out of a vintage car. And here. And one more time.

Friday, August 21, 2009

How I spent my day off.

I like random days off of work. I seem to do more fun stuff on days off than I do on weekends.

Today started off with an early visit to the NYC Fire Museum. Finally! It's a quaint little museum housed in an actual former firehouse, just like the NYC Police Museum is in an actual former police precinct. It's only two floors but it's crammed with antique fire trucks and carriages, loads of photos and portraits, tons of vintage firefighting gear, badges, clothing, etc. I would have tried on a bunker jacket (which was heavier than you'd think) but didn't, but I did try to pick up an air pack and breathing mask but that was 30lbs. so yeah, thanks, that's staying right there on the floor.

Then there was the 9/11 memorial. It's a sculpture in the shape of a wall with two rectangular bits cut out of it to represent the Twin Towers, or basically an "E" on its side. This was covered on all sides in tiles of photos of the 343 firefighters that died. It's under a slanted skylight, so on a clear day the sun shines through and the tiles gleam. Some flowers, candles, and mementos have been placed by family members around it. The room itself is lined with photographs of that day and the aftermath. Glass cases display FDNY wreckage: damaged equipment, half-melted helmets, twisted metal still caked with concrete dust. There was even a camera from an FDNY photographer -- he'd taken pictures from the ground right under the Towers before he fled and lost his camera. Three weeks later it was found in the rubble with the film still intact, and the photos from that fleeting moment were astounding.

It was difficult for me to distance myself emotionally as I went around the room and I thought I was doing a pretty good job of keeping it in until I saw the photos of firefighters' faces during memorial services. That hit me hard. But what finally triggered it was the half-empty box of Kleenex that was kept near the guestbook. People cry in here. I had to take a moment.

Probably my favorite artifacts were the metal stovepipe helmets that were used in the late 1800s -- seriously, stovepipe-hat-shaped helmets. They were pretty awesome. And I adored the photos of the firehouse dogs (there was even a taxidermied mutt that was quite a heroic -- he saved some cats! -- loyal, and obviously beloved firehouse dog from the early 1900s, I think), which were first "employed" to run alongside the fire horses to keep stray dogs away and clear a path toward the fire. And the fire horses themselves were incredible. There were some great action shots of teams of horses hurtling down streets, pulling engines behind them, and damn, they even looked like they knew they were doing their duty. Even the first FDNY ambulances were created soley for them, not the firefighters! The department stopped using horses in 1922, and that year they had a grand ceremony ushering out the last horses from service.

After that, I grabbed a quick lunch and made it over to the Film Forum a few blocks away in time to catch a Brit Noir double feature of Hell Drivers and Never Let Go. So, so good. These two had a theme: driving. Or vehicles in general.

Hell Drivers was a fast-paced, rip-roarin' adrenaline-fueled thrill ride that involved lots of speeding trucks and an awesome fist fight. Peggy Cummins was really tarty! But in such an innocent and cute way that she was still appealing. There was William Hartnell, in a very pre-Doctor Who role as the boss of a shady trucking company, and even Sean Connery in a blink-and-you-miss-him role as one of the truckers. My favorite character of all was Gino the Italian who I fell in love with. As soon as he said he wanted to take Lucy (he pronounced it "Lucci") back home to Italia to make-a the bambino, I wanted to squish him with hugs. What I liked most was that his accent wasn't exaggerated or caricaturized, and plus the character was the sweetest guy in the entire movie. He and the main character, a Welshman (yay!), were best friends, and the antagonist was a belligerent Irishman named Red. I'd definitely rent it and watch it again.

The second film was Never Let Go in which Peter Sellers was cast against type and played a used car salesman, Meadows, who had an incredibly smarmy, violent side to him. So smarmy that it was almost uncomfortable, so violent that it made people in the audience (and me) gasp. So this wishy-washy makeup salesman gets his brand new car, a Ford Anglia, stolen -- turns out that Meadows paid a bunch of punks to do the job. But now he's down on his luck and really wants his car back but the police aren't doing much about it. He takes things into his own hands as he becomes almost hysterically obsessed with getting it back. It was all about MY CAR, MY CAR, MY CAR, and it sent giggles and snickers through the audience. Even the detective assigned to the case basically told him to sit down and shut up, but in that very English way, of course. His obsession puts him on the trail of Meadows and brings him closer and closer, and no matter what sort of threats and violence Meadows flings upon him, he's all about OMG MY CAR. It comes to a point where a completely enraged Meadows, stretched to breaking point, screams: "If I see him again, I'm gonna KILL him, put the body in his precious car, SET IT ON FIRE, AND DUMP THE WHOLE LOT." I don't think Peter Sellers meant for this to be funny at all but we were all laughing because it was an amazing delivery and YES, KILL HIM ALREADY. It all ended in a fantastically violent fight. The entire film was satisfyingly pulpy and I'd watch it again just for Peter Sellers.

When I exited the theater, the humidity in the air had finally broken! Apparently there was a rainstorm of some degree while I was inside, so that helped. There was a nice breeze, so I decided to walk all the way down Varick Street toward City Hall to get the subway there. The breeze didn't last very long, but at least the heat wasn't as oppressive any more and I felt okay walking.

Good thing, too, because lo and behold, the Ladder 8 firehouse was open. I crossed the street and made my way to the open garage and saw three firefighters chatting. I stepped inside (I actually set foot inside a real firehouse!) and asked if I could take some pictures, and they all said sure. So I snapped a pic of the Ghostbusters sign and the lockers. I didn't take any more because I'm a moron, so I basically waved BYE and fled. There was a collection of melted phones on the wall. MELTED PHONES. Why did I not take a photo of that?


Anyway. Before taking the subway home, I stopped in a Tasti D-Lite for a cup of pecan butterscotch ice cream. It was also one of those Tasti D-Lite stores that sells candy and Beanie Babies, so much to my d-lite, I found a Diego Beanie Baby from Ice Age 2 and bought it. Then as I ate my ice cream outside City Hall Park, I saw the most demonic-looking black squirrel I have ever seen. I think that was a great way to end the day.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

East side, west side, all around the town...

Well, actually, just the East Side, specifically the lower bits. I don't know why, but I suddenly had the urge to find this iconic view of the Manhattan Bridge. That one's from 1936, this one's from 1946. Also, if you've ever watched a movie that takes place in downtown NYC, you've probably seen it.

So I googled the streets and headed on down after work. It's an area of the city that I don't think I've ever set foot in before. It's on the very edge of Chinatown, and just beyond the trendy streets where all the hipster bars and clubs are. So in all actuality it's pretty bleak. There are housing projects, dilapidated buildings, empty lots, litter everywhere. It's not horrible now, but I'd hate to see what it looked like for real in decades past. This neighborhood was even noted in Jacob Riis's "How the Other Half Lives," a study of poverty among immigrants written in 1890, and one of the most depressing books I've ever read.

So yes, I took a bunch of photographs to compare and contrast and be all artsy-fartsy. I found a skate park, and a real alley! AN ALLEY! Contrary to popular belief, alleyways are scarce in New York City. If you're watching a movie or TV show in which the setting is NYC and the characters suddenly duck down an alley, chances are it's on a set, filmed in another city, or on location specifically in downtown Manhattan (i.e. Chinatown and below), where the streets and buildings are the oldest -- and therefore they had more space to build buildings back then, so they could leave gaps between them. Presto: alleys. You'd be hard pressed to find a stereotypical alley with fire escapes in midtown and upwards.

But anyway. What I wanted to also say was that my FIREMAN MOJO was workin' like a MOFO. In the space of like five minutes, I saw three fire trucks. One of them was Engine 8 from the firehouse on Varick. It was obviously on its way back to the house as the sirens weren't on and it wasn't careening down the street (and it was one of those rigs that needed a driver in the back). Then I saw Engine 10, followed shortly by Ladder 18. Both of these trucks were headed toward a Pathmark.

The firemen were doing their Friday evening grocery shopping.

This amused me because: 1) firemen shopping for groceries is strangely adorable and hot; and 2) next week's episode of "Rescue Me" will feature the crew shopping for groceries.

I was seized by an impulse quite unlike any other impulse that had seized me before. Across the street in the Pathmark parking lot were two firetrucks, with two potentially hot crews. SHALL I APPROACH? YES. YES, I SHALL. Unfortunately, the firefighters were all inside the store; but fortunately, the firefighters were all inside the store. I say this because I probably wouldn't have been able to function properly if they were around. However, I was not going to go inside to follow the firemen around as they shopped for food, because that would have just been creepy of me.

I went up to Ladder 18 and there was a lieutenant (at least I thought he was a lieutenant, he had the seniority and was wearing a blue shirt, and he looked like Peter Tolan, WTF) sitting in the cab reading a newspaper. So I got up the nerve to politely ask in a voice that was at least three octaves above normal if I could take some photos of the truck. The guy was so mellow and soft-spoken that it threw me off, but he said sure, go ahead, and I chirped a thank you and snapped away, trying to contain my excitement.

There was a pair of boots and bunker pants strapped to the front of the engine. I didn't ask who they belonged to, as I already figured they once belonged to someone the crew had lost. I took a photo and tried to be as respectful as possible.

Then I went over to the other truck, Engine 10. There was a gray-haired lieutenant and a senior firefighter (maybe a captain in casual gear?) with a salt-and-pepper mustache chatting by the cab, so I approached and twittered, "Hi, excuse me..."

The firefighter turned to me and said, "Yeah, babe, what's up?"

Note: I have fulfilled an unexpected Life Goal: to have a firefighter address me as "babe" in a casual greeting. I win over all of you.


So, yeah, I asked them if I could take a few photos of their truck. They were also completely fine with it ("Sure, do what you gotta do," said Salt-and-Pepper Mustache) and so I got to snapping. As soon as I was done, the crew came out of the store. MUST FLEE, FOR THEY WILL BE YOUNG AND HOT. There was a huge babyfaced firefighter getting into the driver's seat. Eeek! I doubled back around the truck, said thanks and bye to the Lt. and Salt-and-Pepper Mustache, and promptly ran into two young firefighters...pushing fully-loaded shopping carts. I was sure they were probies because the probies do all the humiliating grunt work, and they didn't seem to want to be pushing shopping carts. I let them go through the narrow passage between the curb and the truck before I made my escape. But shit yo, they was hot. One of them had a shaved head and the other one reminded me of Mike Lombardi, the guy who plays Mike the Probie on "Rescue Me," complete with metrosexual hair. My cackling: internalized.

Well, then. I fairly skipped back up Pike Street. When crossing over on E. Broadway, I passed a Chinese grocery store, backtracked, went inside and bought two bags of wasabi roasted peas and shrimp flavored chips. And thus my evening was complete.