Monday, December 14, 2015

The limits of art; the boundaries of obsession

By Lars Trodson

Something in me didn’t even want to pick up the book.

Something felt unfinished; I wasn’t focused when I wrote it but I didn’t want to admit that. I'm talking about when my second novel, “Tide Turning,” came out. I did not feel the rush of excitement I felt with the first book. Not because the experience of having a novel published was old hat, it was rather because I just didn’t feel I had done a good job. I felt I had let everybody down. I was half-hearted about its very existence, and when people who read the book said that it didn’t quite work, I tried to suggest that they were looking at it in the wrong way. I said they perceived it as a mystery when they should be reading it as a character study. That seemed to help some, but I knew, deep down, that even that approach would not explain away the book’s shortcomings.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Review: A Very Murray Christmas

By Lars Trodson

There is no doubt that Bill Murray is a dry, dour comedian. He has a classic, sad sack face. His eyes are sad. He has Lenny Bruce eyes. But he's insanely funny. I was unaware, I must admit, how much Bill Murray meant to people until I saw the film "The Grand Budapest Hotel." The audience I saw that movie with was having none of it, but there was a moment when Murray showed up and the audience awoke and cheered. All he had to to do was show his face, and he made people happy.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Pierre Bonnard, 1867 - 1947

The Pont de Grenelle.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

F For Fake: The Least Fake Welles There Is

On the 30 anniversary of Orson Welles' death.

By Lars Trodson

A scene from "F For Fake," released in 1973.

I was in New York recently and went to the Museum of Modern Art. In one of the galleries, hanging on its own wall, was Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.” It was clearly a hit. There were more people gathered around it than any other painting, and the handhelds were out, clicking away. I was thinking about this because works of art deemed classic, or extraordinary, often occupy their own private physical space. “Starry Night” was on its own wall, while the other, lesser Van Gogh’s were hung in clusters with all the other lesser, less special paintings. This holds true for  almost all types of so-called classic art, such as the “Mona Lisa,” Michaelangelo’s sculptures and even the original Declaration of Independence.” They occupy their own space.

Movies, on the other hand, cannot occupy the same kind of hallowed ground. The prominence of any movie is based solely on the space you give to it in your own mind. In the physical world “Citizen Kane” can be shelved right next to “Booty Call,” but in your head they may be miles apart.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Safe Travels: A lovely goodbye from Randy to Harry?

By Lars Trodson

I hope this story is true, but I have no way of knowing. I'd like it to be true.

From the very first time I heard the song “I will go sailing no more” from the movie “Toy Story,” I had always wondered why Randy Newman, who wrote the lyrics and the score for the movie, used the word “sailing” rather than “flying" to describe what was happening to the character Buzz Lightyear.

Buzz is a flier not a sailor, after all. But Buzz realizes, after accidentally seeing a commercial on TV that flashes “Not a flying toy,” that he is only a toy and cannot, in fact, fly. So why did Newman use the word "sailing" to describe what Buzz couldn't do? Was it simply Newman being poetic, or just trying to mix up his lyric a little bit? I never could quite figure it out, and every time I came across the film I was reminded of this nagging question. I know it’s not important, it was just simply something that struck me. I’m always interested in why writers choose the words they do.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The real problem with this year's "Project Greenlight"

By Lars Trodson

The kerfuffle surrounding some remarks Matt Damon made during the first episode of “Project Greenlight” — which premiered this week on HBO — has overshadowed the ostensible purpose of the program, which is to give an unknown director a shot at making a Hollywood movie.

Damon’s remark, something about how ethnic diversity was important in front of the camera but not behind it (I’m paraphrasing), ran side by side with another rumpus: the fact that the newly chosen director, a guy named Jason Mann, wanted to shoot on film and to replace the writer that “Project Greenlight” producers had chosen to help tighten up the script for the comedy Mann had been hired to direct.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Edward Hopper's Nighthawks diner found

Edward Hopper found his diner not in real life, but in a movie

By Lars Trodson 

For more than 70 years, people have been looking for Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" diner, and the search has been unsuccessful. There is now more or less agreement that it wasn't a real place.  The diner was either a mashup of details from places all over New York, now demolished, or  something wholly from Hopper's imagination. “That diner from Edward Hopper’s 'Nighthawks?'  It never existed,” read one Gawker headline from 2010. Jeremiah Moss, the founder of the blog “Vanishing New York,” also lamented that the diner probably “never existed.” 

Hopper himself was vague, saying that the diner was located in Greenwich Village “where two streets meet.” That hardly pinpoints it. Hemingway’s short story “The Killers,” published in 1927 and a favorite of Hopper’s, was cited by Hopper scholar Gail Levin as an inspiration, who also suggests that van Gogh's "Cafe at Night" is a source image due to its muted color palette. 

There is, however, a place where a fusion of many of the details in Hopper's painting did exist, but it is located in an unexpected and wholly unheralded place. I believe that these humble origins are precisely why Hopper hid the real inspiration for his painting from the leading critics — and the public — at the time. It would have diminished the work in the eyes of many. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Themes and symbolism in Welles's films, plays and radio

Orson Welles: Scorpion in a cage


When writing about Orson Welles, it's always best to begin at the end.

In a taped conversation that director Henry Jaglom had with Welles, which ended up on the very last page of the book "My Lunches With Orson," (2013) Welles made it as clear as he possibly could about how he hoped his life would end.

"Directors are poor fellows, carrying not much baggage," Welles is quoted as saying. "We come in with only our overnight bags, and go out with nothing. There are names in these old lists of the greatest movies that have totally vanished, you know? Now, when my career is only a memory, I'm still sitting here like some kind of monument, but the moment will come when I'll drop out of sight altogether, as though a trapdoor had opened, you know?"

There is not, as it turns out, a more perfect Wellesian term for death than "trapdoor." It evokes images of helplessness, of confinement, and lack of choice. It's appropriate because in the 50 years that preceded that quote, Welles populated his works with doomed, trapped people, who were also incapable of changing the course of their own lives. They were all victims of their own destinies. Welles was fond of this idea — maybe even obsessed with it. This is why he had Gregory Arkadin tell the fable of the scorpion and the frog in "Mr. Arkadin." 

The anecdote is a story about a lack of free will; it reinforces the idea that we are servants to our natural character; we are without free will.

Welles' biographer Simon Callow was one of many to recognize this trait in Welles, but he, as did so many others, treated it tangentially, casually, as though it was not essential to Welles's work. This is what Callow said about Welles's "Macbeth," from 1948: "Almost from the moment we see him, this Macbeth appears haunted and dismayed... His conception of the role seems to be of a man tranced, somnabulistically obeying a destiny over which he has no sway. This is very much how he played Franz Kindler in 'The Stranger.'" There it is right there: the idea of an inexorable pull toward some terrible destiny and the fact that Macbeth was "haunted." These two themes begin much earlier, with Cinna the Poet in the Mercury production of "Julius Caesar" and travels down through Jonathan Harker, Charlie Kane, all of the Ambersons, Franz Kindler, Elsa Bannister, Harry Lime, Susan Vargas, Falstaff, Mr.Clay, the old man who stands before the law in "The Trial," and, at the end, Welles himself.

In terms of symbolism, Welles, throughout his life, deflected any psychological analysis of his films. He called Rosebud "dollar-book Freud" and flat out said to Peter Bogdonavich, "I hate symbolism." He would speak at length about his life and career, but if he freely spun yarns about people he knew, or the techniques he employed, he never offered any insight as to why he chose the material he did, or how that material revealed who he was. He commanded us, his obedient servants, not to bother to look for clues.; he always maintained there were never any "keys" to his life in his work.

Not true.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A theory on the meaning of the title of "The Other Side Of The Wind"

By Lars Trodson

There has been great debate about whether there is any meaning behind the title of Orson Welles’s last film, “The Other Side Of The Wind.” Welles claimed that he didn’t have the “foggiest” idea of what it signified, if anything at all.

I think Welles was being his usual evasive self, but for the first time it was a self-conscious kind of elusiveness. He was, after all, making the film during a period when he was trying to regain a footing in the American film industry, which had also, at the exact same time, taken a hard left toward “youth movies” — movies made by, and about, young people. This was a revolution inspired by the profitable B-movies of the mid- to late-1960s, which then received mainstream blessing by the success of “Easy Rider,” in 1969. Welles, maverick he may have been, was 55 years old when he started "The Other Side Of The Wind" in 1970.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I'm shocked! Shocked! (Not really.)

Gaspar NoĆ©’s new film, “Love,” has attached to it the phrase “taboo-busting” because, one can only presume, it has been shown at the Cannes Film Festival and it has scenes of hardcore, unsimulated sex. (The reviews have not been great.) It’s also shot in 3D.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Orson Welles: Born, May 6, 1915

Orson Welles would have turned 100 years old this week.

An object lesson to anyone who wants to make it in Hollywood is to note that the first three pictures Welles directed, "Citizen Kane," "The Magnificent Amberson's" and "The Stranger" were, combined, nominated for 14 Academy Awards. Fourteen! Including two Best Picture nominations.

Now the point is this, one would be hard pressed to name another writer or director whose first three movies received a total of 14 Oscar nominations and then was effectively thrown out of town. And — "The Stranger" made money. It was a hit! ("Citizen Kane" and "The Magnificent Amberson's" lost a total of $800,000.)

Welles' next-to-last Hollywood picture was "The Lady From Shangai," which was a critical and financial disaster, and then, of course, he was out of Hollywood for the next 12 years. He directed, wrote, and starred in "Touch of Evil," now considered a classic, in 1958.

But Welles wasn't done yet. In 1973, he released the film essay "F For Fake," which (although few will admit it) revolutionized film editing. No one paid attention in 1973; everyone just stole his techniques shamelessly after he died.

On Oct. 9, 1985, Welles appeared on The Merv Griffin Show, and spoke about his life and career, including his regrets. A day later he was dead, slumped over his typewriter. He was 70.

— Lars Trodson

Pick up our celebrated anthology of articles on Orson Welles here:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What the...?

By Lars Trodson

I didn’t expect to hear a little bit of history while watching a restored version of John Ford's “The Grapes of Wrath” on DVD the other night, but I did. Well, maybe history is too strong a word. But it was certainly different, new and in its own way oddly exciting.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Block Islander

Bringing information and images from Block Island.

Click on the photos to make them full-size.

Sunday, April 24

A lovely sunset on Block Island, along with a beautiful tribute to Prince from the Poor People's Pub.

Saturday, April 23

Over the rail and through the window on a gray day in the historic fishing village of Galilee, Rhode Island.

Friday, April 1

Just some random shots on a day that should have been spring, but was a little colder, mistier, windier than it should have been.

Saturday, March 26.

We'll call this essay "Markers." Block Island is full of them, honoring its history in a variety of ways.

The base of the memorial for the Block Island men who fought in World War II.

 The face of that memorial.

This can be seen on Pilot Hill Road.

The marker for what is known as the Indian Cemetery.

The graves of the Native American buried on the island were not marked by carved headstones, but by simple rocks with no names attached.

The marker outside the Block Island Historical Society in Bridgegate Square.

This marker, also in Bridgegate Square, celebrates the Block Island men that served in World War 1.

Outside The Surf Hotel, a sign announcing the name of the Town, and who we are named after.

The base of the Statue of Rebecca. W.C.T.U. is the Washington County Temperance Union, perhaps one of the least effective unions ever.

Verbiage on the plinth below the statue of Rebecca itself.

Friday, March 18

The weather has been so variable on Block Island this winter that is has been hard to describe the season as "winter" at all. We had two nor'easters, but one day you could be wearing shorts and the next day your layered winter gear. It's been that kind of season. Today, the weather is mild, but we will compare that to what may happen by Sunday, when we are supposed to get another snowstorm. It was mild during the day, when these pictures were taken, but by the evening it started to get cool again — perhaps a harbinger of what would happen by Sunday.

This is a shot overlooking the Mohegan Bluffs.

A gull relaxing on Settler's Rock.

Just the patterns of some shad trees at Mohegan Bluffs.

Friday, March 4

Nothing like this has ever happened like this in the United States before. Here, at the Fred Benson Town Beach, workers are beginning the work on preparing the groundwork for laying the transmission cable that will link the very first offshore wind farm to Block Island and the mainland.

The five turbine Block Island Wind Farm, which is owned by Deepwater Wind, will generate 30 megawatts of power once it goes online sometime after October of this year. The cable connecting the turbines to the island then to mainland, is owned by National Grid, the huge utility company. The cable, which will be 26 miles long, will cost an estimated $107 million. It is also expected to bring more internet bandwidth to an island that has poor internet connectivity now.

The building of the wind farm has been controversial, and remains so. It was designed to do two things: lower the island's electric rates and cease the operation of the local Block Island Power Co., which generates power through five diesel-fueled generators. Stopping those generators was meant to lower the fossil-fuel pollution — according to proponents of the wind farm.

These photos are of the work happening on the island. What the workers are doing is creating the pathway where the cable will come ashore. The cable will pass under the beach and then travel up Beach Avenue and over to the property behind the Block Island Power Co., where the new substation will be built.

What the photos can't capture is just how cold it was on that beach today. The wind was coming down from the north. Because of that, to save time, I took these images with my phone.

Here are the photos:

This photo is of the equipment that is being kept inside the north parking lot on the Corn Neck Road side of the Beach Pavilion.

Huge tires on the trucks that bring the equipment out to the beach.

An earth mover waiting for the next job.

Looking south toward town.

Looking north, this is pretty wide shot of the site where the preparing the cable to be laid.

Another piece of equipment that was sitting quietly at the end of the day.

The crews will install what is known as a cofferdam, which will then keep dry the dug area on the beach where the transmission cable will come ashore.

Sunday, Feb. 28

Two tugs, one large and one small, in the port of Galilee; probably associated in some way with the Block Island Wind Farm project.

These are some images taken at the Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge in South Kingstown, R.I.

A magnificent old tree.

Three views of the sun peaking through.

In this absolutely thrilling photo (ha ha), the thin strip of Block Island can be seen over the edge of the pond.

Saturday, Feb. 27

Chilly but calm out here today. A strange collection of vapor trails in a shot taken from on Corn Neck Road across from the Beach Pavilion at about 11 a.m. or so.

Thursday, Feb. 25

The storm has reached Block Island. The 8:15 a.m. boat leaving Block Island is on schedule, but the rest of the day is questionable. Check with the airlines for flights. Information will be updated when it is available at 401-783-7996.

Call New England Airlines at 1-800-243-2460 for flight information.

Wednesday, Feb. 24

It's about 7:30 a.m. on Block Island. The fog has settled over the island, but as of now there are no announcements on the website of the Block Island Ferry, so the boats are scheduled to run as of now. No information on New England Airlines, so check with them.

The top of the communications tower — dead center of the photo — is barely visible. Temperatures are mild and we received a little rain overnight.

Sunday, Feb. 21

A trip across the sound.

It's a little after 3 p.m. and I'm getting on the 4 p.m. boat. It's February and the Block Island School is on vacation, so the island is very quiet. The boat will probably be fairly empty, filled mostly with crews working on the various projects going on around the island. The weather has been mostly unseasonably mild and clear all winter, and it is so again today.

The following is a view from the post side of the ferry.

A view from the starboard side of the boat.

This is how the boat looked at about 3:30, but it soon filled up pretty nicely.

I take my seat.

This is about half-way through the 55-minute trip. You can see the island off the port side of the bow.

The wake of the boat.

We're backing into Old Harbor, Block Island. It's about 4:50 p.m.

The ferry docked at Old Harbor at about 5:10 p.m. A few passengers are walking to their cars, heading home before the work work begins on Monday morning.

Tuesday, Feb. 16

The light was once again extraordinary as the sun set after a rainy, gray day. These were taken a little after 5 p.m. I didn't venture out too far — only to my back yard.

Sunday, Feb. 14

Two views from the Jessie Edwards Studio on the second floor of the Post Office Building, overlooking Old Harbor. The 11 a.m. ferry from Pt. Judith is backing into the ferry dock.

Sea smoke and snow winds blowing through New Harbor this morning.

Saturday, Feb. 13

The wind chill is making it seem as though it is anywhere between -20 to -35 below. We're told the temperature is 9 degrees, with wind gusts up to 32 miles an hour. This is at about 7:15 p.m. This is the result of the famous "polar vortex." The temperatures are dropping and the island is pretty quiet.  It was too damn cold to get out of my car, so I took these on my cell phone by pointing it out the window.

Here's what we're seeing: This is looking north on Corn Neck Road. The light is from the streetlight in front of the Old Island Pub. To the right is the Yellow Kittens, very much closed up for the winter.

Kimberly's Restaurant, on Ocean Avenue, is open for one more day, Valentine's Day, tomorrow and then will close up until May. The light from the restaurant casts a warm glow on the frigid night.

The new LED streetlights on, just below, on Corn Neck Road and, below that, on Beach Avenue, captures somewhat the dark quiet cold on this winter's night.

Saturday, Feb. 6
We had a little winter out here in the last couple of days. The snow came on Friday, the planes were cancelled, but the boats were running. After the snow left, the clouds parted and the light that came through was the most extraordinary thing people had seen in a long time. The few photos I was able to take coming in on the boat hardly do that light justice. The next day, Saturday, the sky was blue and the snow — heavy and wet — clung to just about everything: signs, trees, rocks, cars, buildings, fences; you name it.

These were taken on the ferry pulling into Galilee on Friday, Feb. 5.

 These shots were taken in Narragansett on Saturday, Feb. 6.

Wednesday, Jan. 27

A quick snapshot from the phone trying to capture the light as the sun fell — taken from the parking lot of Kimberly's Restaurant on Ocean Avenue.

Sunday, Jan. 24

A blizzard blew through Block Island over the weekend - in fact we were the epicenter of the storm for once. The island shut down almost completely — the center of town never lost power but everyone else did. I happened not to be on the island so didn't capture any images of the storm itself. By Sunday morning, power had been restored and the island woke up to blue skies. The only reason the boats and the ferries didn't start up right away was because the docks and the runways had to be cleared. By 12:30, New England Airlines was flying and the first boat back from Point Judith was at 4 p.m. The day was warm-ish, and almost immediately the snow started to melt. The roads, already passable because of the work of our Highways Department. During the storm, the school, the Harbor Church were opened, and several people who had wood stoves or generators also welcomed their neighbors if they needed to keep warm and a hot meal. It was a memorable, if brief, storm.

 Ice on some power lines.

A back road evoking New England at its snowy best.

Tuesday, Jan. 19

It's been a mild winter so far, but it seems now that we are in the beginning stages of a major storm due to hit the island this weekend. The ferry boats from Galilee, Rhode Island, were cancelled today, but will presumably run tomorrow. Ferries are usually cancelled because of high winds; snow or rain are not enough to keep the boats from running. So here are some images, which for all intents and purposes are the first to show what a winter on Block Island can look like.

Tuesday, Jan. 12

I don't know why I find these images so fascinating. Maybe it's the patterns of the sand, or the fact that the snow fencing looks something like an ancient ruined half-buried. These are cuts from the parking lot of the Fred Benson Town Beach that offer access to the beach itself. They'll have to be cleared out by the time the summer comes. Speaking of summer (haha), the days are getting slightly longer. There is light in the sky at 5 p.m. when we head home from work. A small thing, to be sure, but while it has been a mild winter, there is no question that there is not that much to do.

Sunday, Jan. 10

The weather outside is frightful. This photo doesn't capture the power of this storm, I just stepped out my back door and took the image with my phone, but the most important thing is that the ferries have been cancelled for today.

Friday, Jan. 8.

There was no need for a free outdoor shower on this rather mild January day.

Our famous Lobster Trap Christmas Tree on Water Street. I took this photo around noon and by the middle of the afternoon a small crew had come by to start to take it down.

This shot was impossible to resist. This beautiful piece of machinery was sitting on top of a hill off West Side Road, and even though we live on an island this looked like old New England.

This is the dock down at Ballard's Inn in Old Harbor. The wind was up, and the waves were splashing up over the breakwater.

 Two vignettes of a fishing boat that was sitting in the inner basin at Old Harbor. Just a little local color.

A lobster trap sitting on the pier that overlooks the breakwater in Old Harbor.

Monday, Dec. 14
Images in the fog are always the most beautiful. I'm Swedish and Welsh, so it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that fog appeals to me. These images were not taken on Block Island, but in Narragansett, R.I., at the lighthouse. The fog was so thick objects just a few feet away were shrouded in mist.

Every year we get a visit from this guy. He makes a stop at the Harbor Church, chats it up, hands out some treats, lights the tree and then disappears into the night.

Wednesday, Dec. 3
I was driving up Corn Neck Road to work this morning, just before 8:30 a.m., and I saw that the sun was directing a beam right down on top of the Surf Hotel. You can almost tell from the photo that it is an unseasonably warm day (after a bit of a chill yesterday). But I thought it looked beautiful.

This is a view just off to the west, over the Old Harbor, also taken from Corn Neck Road.

Thursday, Oct. 30
They say we don't get much surf out here on Block Island, but that wasn't true today. A couple of people tried to brave it, but it was pretty rough. The boats to the mainland were cancelled.

All these were taken along Corn Neck Road, looking north.

Friday, Oct. 23
A very beautiful fall day. Temperatures just right, and the sky is clear, clear, clear. The radar tower at Montauk is usually obscured by mist or fog, but today you can practically reach out and touch it.

At about 11: 30 a.m., a tugboat cuts across a silver sea.

Stacks of a recent edition of The Block Island Times in the office, waiting to be archived.

Saturday, Oct. 3
There have been no boats for two days, although the people over at New England Airlines, which has been flying in and out of Block Island for 45 years, tried to get as many wedding guests over here as possible. We did hear that some weddings have been cancelled, which has to be heartbreaking for the people who were getting hitched.

It certainly has been an interesting week, with the superman and the eclipse, and now the tentacles of Joaquin bearing down on us. Everything is quiet; we are sort of on our own.

Here are some images of the past week, starting with the most recent.

This is what they must mean by "hanging on by a thread." The top of the building of the bike rental shop at Old Harbor.
 Two boats brave the storm in Old Harbor.

After a day or so of heavy winds, the access trails over the dunes started to fill up with sand.

Saturday, Oct. 3. This is from Settler's Rock, looking toward the mainland. You can't get there from here.

The Great Salt Pond was full of boats early in the week, but as the prospect of Joaquin became more of a reality, it quickly emptied out.

This is our little town at night, just as the supermoon was rising that Sunday.

This is how the moon looked over Town Beach sometime after 7 p.m.

Two island poets, Jen Lighty, on the left, and Lisa Starr, stand in front of the supermoon on Sunday, Sept. 27, at about 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 26
I was out with a colleague looking at various locations on the island to photograph what they look like at low tide because, by tomorrow, they will be covered in water due to what are known as "king tides." It's because of this big moon we will see during the next few days. During our walk, I captured some images I thought were arresting.

Not something you see everyday. Looking for Maryann and Ginger (probably at Yellow Kittens):

The ruins of the old Searles Mansion look Romanesque here:

Here is a couple enjoying in the waves and light on Mansion Beach. You can see one of the Block Island Wind Farm turbine foundations on the background.
 An avian photo bomb.
 The sometimes lunar-looking landscape on Mansion Beach.
 I call this "The ribs of the wind."
The strange rock formations called "pots and kettles." Located, appropriately enough, at Pots and Kettles Beach. These formations are pockmarked with the molds of oyster and mussle shells that have long since dissolved into the sea.