Friday, January 30, 2009

Two Poems: One by Updike, One By Silverstein

Meager Commentary by L. Trodson

When I was in grammar school we had a textbook that probably contained the first introduction I ever had to John Updike.

When I was thinking of it last night, I couldn’t remember the name of the poem, in fact I could only remember one line of it. So I googled “updike super phosphate fed foods feed me” and up popped this, which was written in 1954. I first read it sometime before 1970:


I drive my car to supermarket,
The way I take is superhigh,
A superlot is where I park it,
And Super Suds are what I buy.

Supersalesman sell me tonic--
Super Tone-O, for Relief,
The planes I ride are supersonic,
In trains, I like the Super Chief.

Supercilious men and women
Call me superficial -- me!
Who so superbly learned to swim in

Superphosphate-fed foods feed me;
Superservice keeps me new.
Who would dare to supersede me,

And then I vaguely remembered another poem that was in the same textbook, so I typed in the lines “put some mustard in your shoe/drive a nail in your foot” and got this (I didn’t remember it right):

Nothing To Do
by Shel Silverstein

Nothing to do?
Nothing to do?
Put some mustard in your shoe,
Fill your pockets full of soot,
Drive a nail into your foot,
Put some sugar in your hair,
Place your toys upon the stair,
Smear some jelly on the latch,
Eat some mud and strike a match,
Draw a picture on the wall,
Roll some marbles down the hall,
Pour some ink in daddy's cap --
Now go upstairs and take a nap.

My reading of and about Updike during the past few days stirred the old memory, so that was why I looked them up. I was glad to read them again. They kind of go together, these two.

Updike’s poem is witty and fun. And Silverstein’s is, well, it’s full of what I would call just good old fashioned advice.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, Jackson Pollock

To celebrate Jackson Pollock's birthday (Jan. 28, 1912), please click here:

-- Lars Trodson

John Updike

By Lars Trodson

A good writer will always help you out.

Whether you’re feeling blue, or ebullient, or confused -- or simply want something articulated -- there is always someone, somewhere who has said it just the way you would like it to be said.

And then you can feel slightly relieved.

And so it was when I read John Updike’s non-fiction. Whether it was in The New York Review of Books, or in The New Yorker, I knew that when I read an essay about even the most obscure (to me) painter, writer, sculptor or poet, Updike would be able to sum up the artist for me in relatively short order, and in such a way that would either make me seek out the subject’s art, or avoid it.

This may strike someone as snobbism on Updike’s part, or gullibility on my side, but we all need a guide. But, still, the essays themselves were always clear and beautifully turned. He was an education for me all in his own right.

His fiction just wasn’t my thing -- but that isn’t a put-down. It was a shining light for many people, over a long period of time, and there are only a very few writers with his output, stamina, and public acceptance.

I was a little shocked when I read he had died. He always struck me as one of the lean, patrician New England types who effortlessly lives to be 93 -- even though New England was his adopted home. But even so.

Like so many other people, I had drawn a clear line of succession from J.D. Salinger, John Cheever and John Updike -- this may not be as clear cut as it seems, but it always seemed a noble lineage. Now Salinger, in his resilient quietness, is the only one left.

So I was wondering what I could say about Updike and his world, and his art, and I remembered something that John Cheever had said in the introduction to his own short story collection, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1978.

“These stories seem at times to be stories of a long-lost world when the city of New York was filled with river light, when you heard Benny Goodman quartets in the corner stationery store, and when almost everybody wore a hat,” Cheever wrote.

Updike isn’t as dated as all that -- but he seems to me part of that tradition. Cheever then relates an anecdote that reflects the glittering imagery and sensuality that were staples of Updike: “It was under the canopy of a Fifty-ninth street apartment house that I wrote, aloud, the closing of ‘Goodbye, My Brother’’ ‘Oh, what can you do with a man like that?” I asked, and closed by saying ‘I watched the naked women walk out to the sea!’

‘You’re talking to yourself, Mr. Cheever,’ the doorman said politely, and he, too -- correct, friendly, and content with his ten-dollar tip at Christmas -- seems a figure from the enduring past.’

Ah, yes. A good writer will always, always help you out.

Here is a site that is full of links to essays, interviews and reviews of John Updike’s work:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Matt Taibbi Helps Me See the Light

By Lars Trodson

It's funny how your mind can play tricks on you. I would pick up The New York Times and eventually get to the op-ed pages and start reading a Tom Friedman column. I never, ever got more than a few paragraphs into it. I thought, quite seriously, that I was just too dim to keep up. The man has won three Pulitzers. He's on TV. He writes big, thick best-sellers about the intricacies of the global economy. People I respect respect him. Every byline of every column is from a different part of the world. This guy has to be the real deal.

I tried to read "The World Is Flat." I did, really. It's still on my bookshelf. But I thought the guy's theories and premises were just too complicated for me, so I never got through it.

But then I read this laugh out loud article by Matt Taibbi, and I was relieved to find out it wasn't really me after all. Tom Friedman may be a very smart man, but he isn't a very good writer. He's got a good gig -- God bless him -- but I'm just happy I don't have to look at his columns and think I'm an unsophisticated rube any more.

Read here:

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Cash Cab

By Lars Trodson

The other night I’m watching the ‘Cash Cab’, the entirely lovable, good-natured game show on the Discovery Channel that takes place in a New York City taxicab. A couple of folks get in the cab -- or studio, if you will -- they’re an older lady and a younger man. The guy is wearing big dark shades and is walking with a cane so for a moment I think he’s blind.

He later takes off the shades, and in pretty short order the two people answer three questions wrong so that they have to get out of the cab -- you see, the rule of “Cash Cab” is if you answer three questions incorrectly you get booted out on the sidewalk right then and there.

But these two people were walking with canes -- and they have to leave! But after they get out, the convivial host of the show, Ben Bailey, turns to the camera and says: “Don’t worry folks, we got them another cab.”

Man, oh, man -- really nice. If I was thinking they shouldn’t let those people walk, then a million other people must have thought that, too, but the producers had the heart to realize that. Good for them.

What makes the “Cash Cab” truly unique is that the contestants have no idea, when they enter the cab, they are about to go on a game show. So we see them at the outset pretty much unvarnished. And what is remarkable is the transformation of some of the people as they begin to win a little cash. They become less and less inhibited about the “face” they want the world to see, and more and more themselves as they begin to answer some tough questions correctly. What you see is fun and very sweet. I find game shows garish and strident - but not this one, not at all.

I’ve seen more New York style hipsters get into the cab and accept the invitation to appear on the “Cash Cab” with an air of studied indifference only to, moments later, dissolve into a celebration of high-fives, hoots and hollers, and hugs and kisses, as the cash amounts rack up.

So what you see on the “Cash Cab” - which is very rare on television, if you think about it - is the sight of genuine people having genuine fun.

Read about the show here:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cinema Goulash Is Delicious

We here at Roundtable Pictures have a new affiliate -- ha ha ha -- in the blog written by Matthew Newton, one of the gurus that keeps the NH Film Office up and running. Matthew has kindly linked Roundtable Pictures on his site, and we are more than happy to return the favor by linking his site, Cinema Goulash.

Cinema Goulash ( is a great looking site, with an interesting hook, and some keen insights into film. I particularly liked his essay on Woody Allen's "September." I, too, have an affinity for these odd, quiet little movies that dot Woody's filmography.

At any rate, please welcome, as we do, Matt and his digital gumbo, and if you'd like to link to us give us a shout.

All the best,

The Roundtable Team

P.S. -- Oh, and we've got some interesting news coming up, and are also gearing up to post a great little film, "A Bootful of Fish", we made in 2006. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

An Unexpected Tie-In

This may have been noted before in other places, but an introduction for a reissue of Richard Yates' 'Revolutionary Road' written by Richard Ford was titled "American Beauty" back in 2000. This introduction was also printed as an essay in the New York Times Book Review.

It seems an astute title for the essay because it presaged the connection between director Sam Mendes and the novel -- "American Beauty" is of course the title of Mendes' Oscar-winning 1999 film and he went on to direct the film version of "Revolutionary Road." Ford saw some similarities in mood and theme - angst in the suburbs, an unfulfilled life, unexpected violence -- in the movie "American Beauty" and the Yates novel. So this little circle is oddly complete.

Here's a link to the Ford introduction:

-- Lars Trodson

Monday, January 5, 2009

Movies, Where Art Thou?

By Lars Trodson

I had finished reading Richard Yates' 'Revolutionary Road' because of the way it been described in movie reviews, and I was intrigued. I also wanted to see the movie. I had mixed feelings about the book - very sad, with little pity for almost anyone in it -- but I'll save that for another time. But I still wanted to see the movie.

Anyway, this Saturday, after New Year's, I figured I had the time to see it. So I checked out the local movie times, and I couldn't find it. I looked at the Strand, in Dover, not there, either. It was nowhere to be found.

Now, I was certain the movie had been released because I had seen Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio on TV promoting it -- that's what you do when the movie comes out, right?

Then I looked at box office figures, thinking, oddly, that maybe the movie just tanked. I didn't think that could be so, but I thought I would check anyway. I read on a movie site that the film had grossed just under $400,000 -- oh, my, I thought. But then I saw that it had been released to just 38 theaters.


And then I came across this piece in the New York Times, and everything became clear. Well, not clear. It's just that things were explained to me.

It's too bad, because maybe when 'Revolutionary Road' finally hits Portsmouth I'll no longer be in the mood to see it.

Here's the piece:

Friday, January 2, 2009

Some Good Stuff

The best line written about the movies this year is taken from reviewer Dave White's roundup of the worst movies of 2008. He had this line about the film, "The Spirit", which has gotten universally bad reviews:

"Scarlett Johansson struts her rack around in a Nazi uniform, too, giving Woody Allen nightmares."

Read the whole review here, in which you'll find a lot of other funny stuff and some keen observations to boot:

-- Lars Trodson