This picture is a 0.8 sec exposure. The paths are captured from reflected bubbles in the water. I think I like these more than most Samefacts readers.
You wouldn’t get a blog post about plinths anywhere else, would you?
Hear me out. Memorial statuary normally consists of (a) a statue and (b) a plinth. The plinth raises the statue above street level, making it more visible. It also triggers instinctive associations of height with power, dignity and respect. It works even better if you throw in a horse, as with Lee at Charlottesville and Peter the Great in St. Petersburg.
The problem with the Confederate memorials is that they make a racist statement that the Confederate rebellion should not just be remembered, but remembered with respect and admiration. The statement depends as much on the plinth as the statue itself.
So here is a suggestion for dealing with the statues of Confederate soldiers, mass-produced in Northern foundries, that dot hundreds of public spaces in the old Confederacy:
Bring them down to street level.
In the street, they become bronze fellow-citizens, and the gullibility and racism of the men they represent can become as much a part of the civic conversation as their bravery and sacrifice. If they are unpopular, they will be defaced. If they become objects of ridicule, they will sprout frat ties, silly hats and dildos. Them’s the breaks. Let’s see how it works out.
That leaves an empty plinth or two. Don’t spend a fortune taking them away. There’s an empty one in Trafalgar Square in London: it is used for temporary exhibition. Or you can hold a competition for a statue of something or somebody that everybody wants to honour. The Northern foundries will retool to supply as many versions of Martin Luther King as the South commissions.
Footnote for art wonks
There is one striking exception to the plinth norm. When Auguste Rodin cast the famous group of the Burghers of Calais, he lost a battle with the city fathers to install them at ground level. What Rodin wanted was to replace the usual historical distancing from a tragic and violent event with immediacy, shock and empathy. He was rightly confident that the quality of his work would still make the sculpture effective. There is little risk that the mediocre Confederate statuary will compensate in the same way for being brought down to earth. The Burghers have now been brought back down, and stand on a compromise mini-plinth.
Today is the 50th Anniversary of the release of an incredibly well-made, influential, and entertaining American movie, in honor of which I re-post my review from several years ago.
Hollywood studios were in a rut in the late 1950s and early 1960s, struggling to cope with the rise of television, the loss of control of movie theaters after the Paramount case, and a widening cultural chasm between modern audience tastes and studio traditions. In desperation, the studio chiefs opened up filmmaking to a wave of young actors, directors, producers and writers who re-energized American movies, making them arguably the world’s trendsetters from the late 1960s through mid-1970s. One of the pivotal movies from this fertile period in American cinema is this week’s film recommendation: 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde.
The story opens with a bored, sexually frustrated small town girl (Faye Dunaway) meeting a charming bad boy (Warren Beatty). She questions his courage and masculinity, and he shows off by drawing a gun and committing a robbery. They flee her backwards hometown together, intoxicated by freedom, danger and each other. More daring robberies follow, and with it growing fame for Bonnie and Clyde. Soon they gather other people around them, including a slow witted ne’er do well (Michael Pollard), Clyde’s older brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and Buck’s prim, God-fearing wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons). The law of course comes after them, spurring epic gun fights and a wild cross-country chase sparked with episodes that are surreal (the mesmerizing family reunion scene, which was shot by putting a window pane in front of the camera) and comic (the best of which features Gene Wilder, in his first movie). The story’s conclusion, which I will not spoil, is justifiably one of the most famous scenes in the history of American cinema.
The sexuality and graphic violence on display here is light years apart from what Hollywood films had ever done before. This is one of the first movies to use squibs and to show bullet wounds spouting blood. The impact of the violence is further amplified through use of the choppy editing style popularized by the French New Wave. Also, in a striking reversal of the typical gender roles of films in the 1950s, the woman is the confident sexual aggressor and the man is sexually timid and indeed non-functional (in early drafts of the script, Clyde was in a gay relationship with one of the men in his gang, but in the final version he instead is impotent). The point of view of the story was also novel and in keeping with the rebellious spirit of the times: The heroes are murderers who mow down police officers without compunction.
But it is not just the sexual and violent themes that make Bonnie and Clyde a landmark American film, it is also the movie’s meditation on fame. The criminals’ exhilaration in their notoriety, their self-conscious pursuit of increased publicity and the way they are hero-worshiped by strangers highlight the absurdity of American celebrity culture in supremely effective fashion.
As for the acting, under Arthur Penn’s direction, the entire cast explodes off the screen. Parsons won an Academy Award for her performance but any of the leads and supporting players would also have been worthy choices. Last but certainly not least, Burnett Guffey’s “flat style” camerawork — a complete inversion of his remarkable work in prior RBC recommendations My Name is Julia Ross and The Sniper — is one of the lasting achievements in Hollywood cinematography. That Guffey could early in his career thrive in the deep focus, shadowy, stylized world of film noir yet later became a leading exponent of unadorned, naturalistic cinematography shows that he was truly one of the giants of his profession.
The backstory to this film has also become part of its legend. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were of course real-life bank robbers in Depression-Era America. The script of this film was brilliantly adapted from their exploits by David Newman and Robert Benton, with uncredited help from Robert Towne. (The latter two of these men, like so many of the people associated with the film, soon became major figures in American cinema). The writers tried unsuccessfully to recruit a French New Wave director to make the movie, but none of them were ultimately interested. Fortunately, Warren Beatty saw the potential of the story and bought production rights, eventually signing Penn as the director. As a sign of how out of touch studio executives were with 1960s audiences, the suits at Warner Brothers were so sure it would bomb that they were comfortable promising Beatty 40% of the gross receipts. They barely released and minimally promoted the picture, and were not surprised when establishment movie critics sneered at it. But it hit audiences like a thunderbolt, becoming a massive box office hit. Remarkably, some chastened film critics went so far as to publicly apologize for their dismissive reviews and to write new reviews praising the movie (except for the New York Times’ insufferable Bosley Crowther, who campaigned against the film so vigorously that his bosses finally realized that it was time to find a more discerning critic). Many years later, this initially unwanted, disregarded and disrespected film became one of the first movies selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.
p.s. If any film prefigures Bonnie and Clyde in American cinema, I think it’s Joseph Lewis’ extraordinary 1950 movie Gun Crazy. If you have time for a double feature, that’s the film to pair with this one. And if you have time for a triple feature, throw in Lewis’ My Name is Julia Ross to appreciate the incredible range of cinematographer Burnett Guffey.
h/t Josh Holland here. Josh’s podcast has fantastic music. It also features a fantastic Sean Spicer farewell montage to the tune “The way we were.”
Glenn mentions my Death of a Salesman essay, which is here.
Now that the Senate-blessed Neil Gorsuch has donned the Robes of the Righteous, we have to reconsider the way we live our lives. Not very religious myself, I am now thinking that I should be more active in this area.
So here’s how one might fight fire with fire (and a touch of brimstone). As far as I know, there are no hard-and-fast criteria for defining a religion. For example, Scientology was started by the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard (who knows, maybe it started out as a joke?), and has been able to gull some of Hollywood’s dimmest stars into joining it.
So what might it take to become a religion recognized by the Supreme Court? My brilliant idea: turn tennis into a religion. Let’s call it Tênis, using the Portuguese spelling to make it more exotic.
Here are some of my p-baked thoughts (hopefully, p > 0.5):
- Shrines: we have Forest Hills, Wimbledon, Roland-Garros, and Melbourne Park, to which we can make our pilgrimages.
- Matriarchs and patriarchs: the Grand Slam tournament winners would surely qualify.
- Club fees: since you are contributing to a religious endeavor, you should be able to include your fees as a charitable deduction on your income taxes.
- Government grants: as per the Trinity Lutheran decision, if the court surfaces need to be redone, a government grant is not out of the question.
- Rackets (an obvious double entendre) and balls: they could be purchased tax-free.
I don’t mean to imply that all religions are as shallow as the one I’m suggesting; it’s just that if we are going to remove the barrier between church and state, as Gorsuch, Alito, and Thomas seem to want to do, we should consider how to leverage it to our advantage, or at least to point out the inconsistencies in their arguments.
PS: I originally entitled this post “What Does It Take to Start a Religion?“ but felt that “Found” would be more …. profound.
PPS: I considered focusing on golf instead of tennis, but thought that it might give someone in high office an idea.
PPPS: In adding comments to this post, be thoughtful. After all, this could be the founding Testament for a new religion. I don’t want it to include a shopping list, as in “A Canticle for Leibowitz.”
More from my walk in the park.
The inferno in London is out, mainly because the entire flammable contents of the building have burned up. Fire hoses cannot deliver water to the upper floors of such buildings, and the ladders trucks can bring to the scene don’t reach nearly high enough. Many more deaths will be recorded–I expect a toll in the dozens–as the search for the missing continues. Police and fire brigades told people to stay in their flats and close their doors rather than escaping, and those people have been incinerated. As the structure of the building, whether concrete or steel framed, has certainly been compromised, possible collapse will make it impossible to search for bodies for quite a while. [update 14/VII: they are using drones! Nature imitating art; the Economist big drone wrapup was published last week.)
How is such a thing possible? Well, first we should note that dying in a fire is rare and getting more so in all industrialized countries: annual fire deaths per million in the US are only about 12, and remarkably, down by two-thirds since 1979. The UK is on a similar trend and about a third safer overall. We should also note, as more information about administrative and regulatory failures dribbles out, that this was housing for poor people.
The ways to avoid fire deaths are as follows:
- start fewer fires
- faster emergency response from fire brigades
- buildings that resist fire spread after ignition
- buildings that facilitate escape
- proper behavior by occupants
- better medical care for survivors
No. 1 is the biggie, and it has to do partly with electrical codes and enforcement, but progress in recent years has mainly to do with smoking, both less smoking overall and safer cigarettes. A third of residential fires used to be caused by cigarettes, usually dropped on upholstered furniture. Cigarettes used to be laced with enough saltpeter to keep them burning if not puffed on, so the tobacco company could sell another cigarette when one left in an ashtray consumed itself; at least in the US that’s no longer true. But fire can start in many ways; see 5. below.
No. 2 is occurring, because fewer fires mean engine and ladder companies are less busy, and because it’s politically difficult to close unnecessary fire stations. Nearly all engine and ladder sorties in the US now are actually medical calls.
No. 3 is a matter of codes and code enforcement: hour-ratings for partitions and doors, less flammable materials, UL listing for electrical components, etc. and honest, effective inspections to be sure that’s all happening. Otherwise known as job-killing regulatory government meddling in the free market, don’t you know. Here the US is disadvantaged by traditionally building with wood rather than masonry. It’s also a matter of the most reliable, proven, life- and building-saving technology, sprinkler systems; something the Grenfell Tower seems not to have had, even in the corridors and escape routes.
No. 4 involves a variety of features. Small things like an alarm system (have you checked the batteries in your smoke detectors lately?) and quick-release locks on the bars people in poor neighborhoods put on their first-floor windows matter. For larger buildings, it’s a matter of having two escape routes from every location, and one of these has to be protected from filling with the smoke that kills more people than heat and flame; an example is the exterior fire escape we see on older buildings. I was appalled to read in the Guardian that 1970’s high-rise UK buildings of the Grenfell era had “one escape stair which is not designed for a mass evacuation, but is designed for a small number of people to get out whose individual flats are on fire”. No; two stairs, and one has to be open to the outdoors (sometimes an interior “fire court” open to the sky) at every landing. When I was working in architects’ offices in the 70s and 80s, this was completely standard practice. It still is. If you live in a high-rise, do you know how to get to your fire stairs in the dark? If not, practice.
Twenty-four stories is a long way to walk down in the dark, afraid, aroused in the middle of the night from a sound sleep, in pajamas or nothing, especially with terrified little children. I would not live above the twelfth floor of any building. I wonder if the people enjoying the view from high up in the fifty-story condo buildings popping up in New York think about this.
No. 5 includes some training (point the fire extinguisher at the base of the flames) and occasional drills, not filling your apartment with unnecessary inflammable stuff (what doomed the partiers at the Ghost Ship in Oakland), not storing the gasoline can for your lawn mower in the same room as a water heater, staying in the kitchen when you have a frying pan on the burner, and so on. And do you know where your kitchen fire extinguisher is, and how to use it, and have you checked the pressure gauge?
Where fire comes to your house from outside, as in Mediterranean climate landscapes that burn regularly and will do so more with climate change, you have to maintain what we call “defensible space” in California, and stay on top of it as grass and brush try to grow into it.
The Japanese have a long history of living close together in wood and paper houses, and cooking indoors on open charcoal fires, but their fire death record is not much different from other industrialized countries: this is assuredly the result of learning to respect fire, and that hibachi. It’s also socially unacceptable to have a fire in Japan, an expert in fire safety told me a few years back: if you do, even a small one, you probably have to leave your home and move to another city. The FEMA study linked above notes, interestingly, that incendiary suicides inflate Japanese figures.
Every catastrophe has multiple ’causes’, so there will be lots to learn about this one as the facts come in. Whatever they are, they will include irresponsible, probably corrupt, behavior by people who should have known better.
[update 14/VI] Useful stuff is beginning to come in. Aside from the other terrible mistakes and oversights, it appears the exterior cladding, a Chinese aluminum/polyethylene sandwich, is so flammable that testing in Australia was suspended after the first sample practically blew up in the lab. Here’s an excellent post-incident report from a very similar fire in Australia. It has everything: ignition by cigarette, overcrowded units, cladding carrying the fire up the outside of the building…but also working alarms, sprinklers, and proper fire stairs for evacuation. Deaths and injuries: 0.