Monday Miscellany: Back to School, Movies, Books & History (not in that order)

Those of you who check out my blog now and again may have noticed that it’s been quite some time since my last post.  Three weeks!  How can that be?  Where has all that time gone?  My fall semester classes officially begin tomorrow, but I’ve actually been at it for most of August, frantically working on the second part of a two semester project that I began last spring, on 16th century Italian portraits of children.  I’ve spent several months doing research and I’m now at the point where I simply MUST begin writing!  I’ve made outlines, collated notes, requested ten more books from the interlibrary loan department, read many interesting art history articles (some even tangentially related to my topic), went to the movies, went shopping for novels on Amazon, made banana bread, went to more movies, bought more novels, made cranberry bread, started this post  . . . . . wait! wait! Something’s wrong!  I simply must begin writing about Italian Renaissance portraits!  Oh well, I think I’ll do this post instead (then check out the movie schedule and catch up on some book blogs).

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Well, maybe my class rooms don’t look quite like this, but the idea’s the same . . .

MISCELLANY PART  I: BACK TO SCHOOL READING

Since this is Monday, my post will be a miscellany that’s more of a “mess–allany” than usual!  It’s in several parts, so if you get bored (now, honestly, how could that be? Please do realize I am being sarcastic here!) you won’t lose content by scrolling through the dull parts.

Since this is a book blog, I’ll begin with – – – reading!  Although I’ve done a tremendous amount of it this month, most of my reading has been very narrowly focused —- of the “I simply must begin writing my paper but first I’ll skim another article” type  — which is not to say it’s been dull (if I weren’t the type to find Renaissance Italy interesting, I wouldn’t have used August to read about it!)  I am stuffed, positively stuffed, with interesting factoids about the Italian Renaissance!  Did you know, for example, that families in 16th century Florence recorded their sons’ births in the family account books but often didn’t bother recording the daughters’?  That children of both genders were farmed out to wet nurses almost immediately after birth and only rejoined their biological families around the age of three or so (some even stayed with the nurse until age seven)?  That couples who wanted to conceive a son were advised to tie the guy’s left testicle with string and to eat lots of hot food (I’ll spare you the theory behind this)?  Did you know that some scholars estimate that half of the children born during this period died before their first birthday, and that half of these survivors died before age thirteen?  Although scholars only begin studying the history of “childhood” around 1960 or so,  they’ve produced some incredibly interesting and very accessible work since that time on families, marriage, childhood and women’s roles in Renaissance Italy.  If you’re up for non-fiction, some of these are definitely worth reading, such as  . . .

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Described (accurately) by one reviewer as an “elegant and accessible” survey of ideas about childhood in western culture … but … illustrations are in black and white!
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Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! Painting, furniture, clothing, interiors, sculpture, musical instruments! And, oh yeah, a highly readable text by one of the English-speaking world’s great Renaissance scholars . . .

As for my own particular Renaissance woman and her depictions of certain Renaissance kids (the topic of my paper and my excuse for all that reading about childhood and family life):

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Sofonisba Anguissola, the first generally acknowledged female artist of the Italian Renaissance (there have always been woman artists, they just haven’t been acknowledged).  Sofonisba painted this self-portrait when she was about twenty years old.

And — here’s the kids!

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Little Massimiliano Stampa, aged twelve or so and already the ruler of a small town in northern Italy.  I just discovered a few days ago that Massimiliano grew up to have ten children himself and ultimately renounced his title to become a monk!  His portrait was one of Sofonisba’s first commissions.

 

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Not a great deal is known about this painting, including the identity of the sitters.  Most likely they’re siblings from a rich Florentine family whom Sofonisba painted in the 1580s, towards the end of her career.

 

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San Diego’s Museum of Art, where this painting is now located, calls it  “Portrait of a Prince at the Spanish Court.”  Isn’t he adorable, in his little miniature hunting costume?  This was painted around 1562, when Sofonisba was a lady-in-waiting at the court of Philip II of Spain.  Again, lots of unknowns; the child’s identity is disputed and at least one major scholar thinks the painting is by someone other than Sofonisba.

 

MISCELLANY PART II: AUGUST MOVIES

Does anyone besides me like movies?  Although I’m really not addicted (honestly, I can go weeks and weeks without a hit), in times of stress they’re my go-to drug of choice, especially when combined with potato chips!  Like most sane people, I generally watch movies at home, but when piles and piles of (unread) Renaissance art books are staring at me, I resort to a conveniently located local theater, which specializes in current art house, repertory and foreign films (fortunately, it also has a great bonus program, which has come in really useful this month).  In August I hit the jackpot, so to speak — my local guys were celebrating the 1970s, one of my favorite periods for “old” American movies.

I did go current, however, at least at the beginning, by kicking off August with Quentin Tarantino’s latest, “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.”  Has anyone else seen it? If so, I’d like to hear your thoughts, particularly as I’m not a Tarantino fan (I generally think he’s a bit over-rated, and his movies normally are far too bloody for me).  In a sense, I liked this one despite myself, but it was good! (although it is pretty violent).  Anyway, August movie month had what I considered an auspicious beginning:

 

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I followed this current release with lots and lots of repertory, seeing, in no particular order:

“You Only Live Twice” (1975):  Didn’t date well and don’t bother, unless you really, really want to see Sean Connery masquerading as a Japanese fisherman, complete with skin makeup (don’t ask).  I didn’t and left halfway through, as life is short.

“The French Connection” (1971):  I wasn’t a fan when I first saw this, oh so many years past, but it’s held up surprisingly well.

“The Thomas Crown Affair” (1968):  A heist movie totally devoid of suspense; even Steve McQueen couldn’t save it.  High point was Faye Dunaway in a lavender hat (she was lovely).

“Chinatown” (1975):  One of the all time greats; saw this one twice!  Who could forget that closing scene?

“Nashville” (1975):  I love Altman’s movies and this is one of his best.  Surprisingly (and depressingly) still relevant to our sad political times.

“McCabe and Mrs. Miller” (1971):  another Altman (told you I love his movies).  Saw it twice this month, once solo and once with Mr. Janakay (it was necessary for his cultural development!).

“Diary of a Mad Housewife” (1970):  Carrie Snodgress won a Golden Globe (and was nominated for an Oscar) for her work in this comedy-drama.  She is good (makes you wonder what her career might have been had she never met Neil Young) and, despite being a bit of a period piece, the movie still works.

“The Last Picture Show” (1971):  How could I have forgotten how great this was?  Cloris Leachman deserved three oscars!

Does my list include anyone else’s favorites?  Or not-favorites, as the case may be?  Any recommendations?  (I still have lots of Renaissance art to get through, so movie going in the near future is a distinct possibility.)  Has anyone seen “The Farewell”?  If so, please share your opinion, as I’m dying to see whether Awkwafina lives up to her reviews!

MISCELLANY PART III: FUN READ

Humanity has perished, victim of a zombie plague; all that’s left are the animals.  The tale is (mostly) narrated by S.T., a formerly domesticated crow who’s spent his life with his beloved Big Jim, a junk-food eating, beer-drinking redneck, and Dennis, a slobbery but good natured bloodhound.  Aside from being hysterically funny (yes, it is!), there’s a lot going on in this deceptively simple little story.  Take my word for it, this is NOT just another post-apocalypse zombie novel (and if you don’t believe me, check it out on NPR).

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MISCELLANY PART IV:  THE 1619 PROJECT

You may or may be aware that in August 1619 a ship carrying more than 20 enslaved Africans landed in the British colony of Virginia.  The unfortunates aboard were sold to the colonists and “American” history (at least, of the United States variety) was off and running.  To mark the 400th anniversary of this momentous event the New York Times compiled its 1619 Project, which explores the history of slavery (a history that was certainly never taught in any school I attended) and the way in which it’s affected every aspect of life in these sort-of-United States.  The Project uses historical objects from the National Museum of African American History and Culture as a starting point for its scholarly essays and journalistic pieces, and interspaces its factual material with poems and short stories by noted black artists.  Not to be missed; here’s the link to get started.

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A photo from the 1619 Project, showing prisoners from the Ferguson prison (for young men ages 17 to 21) in Huntsville, Texas.  This is 1968 and they’re still picking cotton.

MISCELLANY PART V: CONCLUSION

Did I mention that I have a paper to write on “Changing Concepts of Renaissance Childhood: Three Portraits by Sofonisba Anguissola”?  (note: title is subject to change)  Clearly, it’s time to call in someone who’ll keep me focused  . . .

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He-who-must-be-Obeyed says “follow my example and get back to work!”

 

P.S.  The old-timey school room shown at the beginning of my post is an 1871 painting by Winslow Homer, called, appropriately, “The Old School Room.”  You can see it at the St. Louis Art Museum in St. Louis, Missouri.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 thoughts on “Monday Miscellany: Back to School, Movies, Books & History (not in that order)

  1. I am a pathological procrastinator, I feel your pain. At my 9-5 I have to often pretend I am someone else (what would Ms. X do when confronted with this project/task?) in order to get bigger projects done. But on the other hand, panic is a fine motivator! 😀 My cats at home are no help. But they do love a freshly made bed with clean sheets. It’s like a magnet to them. So in that respect they keep me on my toes.

    I never go to the movies anymore nor do I avail myself of the easy download or Redbox options. I kind of hope to catch up when I retire. I think I should learn how to knit or get back into crocheting so I can do both at the same time. I’m with you on Tarantino…too violent. And I thought this way back when in the 90s too, so it’s not just a cranky old lady thing. I used to be obsessed with Bond films however and have seen all the movies up to Timothy Dalton and I read all the books in my 20s. Silly fun bit definitely not politically correct.

    I think I love Altman too, but HAVE NEVER SEEN NASHVILLE. I loved The Player and Gosford Park and used to watch them over and over on video. Otherwise, I’ve seen only once M*A*S*H , Fool for Love, Ready to Wear and Shortcuts. Chinatown is a genius film for sure. I think about it occasionally when I am in Los Angeles and see the concrete sided L.A. river – normally bone dry and inhabited by homeless encampments.

    The 1619 project sounds fascinating. It should be taught in schools. I think adults underestimate what children are capable of handling.

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  2. Ruthiella: I’m so glad you stopped by — I’ve been feeling very out of touch this month, as I’ve been enjoying the blogging community and haven’t had much time/energy for it lately. I really laughed at your procrastinating remarks — you really hit that nail on its head! I’ve always been bad, bad, bad at getting started on new projects but this tendency is really getting out of hand in my old age. Aside from being interested (very) in the subject, I choose to do a two-semester paper at least partially to see if I could still do a sustained research project involving a fair amount of writing (this is undergrad, so it’s nothing like a master’s thesis). Even if I squeeze through this (by no means certain, especially as I have an easy out, with nothing to lose but a little pride) this may be my last round-up, so to speak, as I’m almost ready to stop reading about art and start looking & enjoying it!
    I was happy to learn that you, too, have the “assistance” of feline companionship in your life. My own monstrous darlings are huge “helps” when I make up my bed. Although they DO enjoy a properly ordered sleeping space, they’re not terribly fastidious about where they flop and one of them (I have three, total; or more properly 2 & 1/2 — one of them is a bit vacant, at times & also hides a lot) actually prefers to sleep in the dirty clothes basket. If you ever get around to “Hollow Kingdom” you might enjoy one of the minor characters who narrates a small bit of the tale: “Genghis Cat.” The name says it all.
    We appear to be on the same page vis a vis Tarantino & Altman. Like you, my distaste for the former dates way back. I DID llike “Pulp Fiction” when I first saw it (rewatched part of it about a year ago and found it very talky and a tad pretentious). I tried shortly afterwards to watch “Reservoir Dogs” and had to stop at one of the torture scenes. I can’t totally dismiss Tarantino (Jackie Brown was pretty good) — I think that his best work DOES capture certain aspects of the zeitgeist and his gore splattering displays a real energy — but I suspect his movies will one day be relegated to the category of period pieces (sort of my reaction to “Pulp Fiction” upon re-viewing it). Altman, on the other hand, puts something timeless in his work, or at least some of it. Maybe it’s the difference between a best seller and a classic novel? Oh dear, I AM sounding pretentious aren’t I? Do forgive! Anyway, I’d love to do an “Altman Project,” as I haven’t seen all his movies; I’ve missed Gosford Park, for one! And I love The Player and had forgotten Altman directed. I missed my chance to see M*A*S*H at my local repertory earlier this month, which was a shame. I haven’t seen it in many years and I think my reaction might have been interesting. One of my few criticisms of Altman, rightly or wrongly, is that I’ve sometimes perceived a certain misogyny in his work and I’m not sure I’d find “Hot Lips” as funny now as I did forty years ago.
    As soon as I get the energy I’m going to spend some time with the 1619 Project. I believe that part of the project consisted of materials to be used in school curriculums, which I think, like you, would be super. Aside from the historical stuff, which is fascinating, I’d like to look at some of the literary work associated with the Project. One poem on the Middle Passage has a line “I slide my finger from Senegal to South Carolina and feel an Ocean separate a million families . . .” The connection between those two places really caught my imagination.
    And James Bond? I LOVED Fleming’s Bond novels, many of which I read at a very impressionable age. I also liked (very much) the first four or five movies. Even back in the day, however, I preferred “Gold Finger” and “From Russia with Love” to “You Only Live Twice;” I should probably have picked one of those for my trip down memory lane!

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    1. Oh, you really need to rent Gosford Park. Wait for a cozy evening this fall and make some popcorn (or whatever snack or beverage you prefer). It doesn’t have the scope or social impact of some of his other films perhaps but it is very satisfying and it has that traditional Altman bustle, with actors talking over one another. It’s maybe his movie version of “Upstairs, Downstairs” or “Downton Abbey” for a more modern reference. My only quibble is near the end there is a character played by Stephen Fry which is played as a farce. It doesn’t jive with the rest of the film. But that aside, it very much worth watching.

      I don’t think you are wrong in the perception of misogyny in Altman’s work. I think you can see it in The Player too, though I really love that movie, in part because it is so dark and cynical. But is it a case of Altman telling it like it is or is it coming from him as an auteur?

      I don’t think you are being pretentious but I would argue a classic can also be a best seller. I think Tarantino will probably also be watched many years from now. In particular since his movies are in a conversation with older films – well Pulp Fiction is. Otherwise, I did see Reservoir Dogs (some of it peeking through my fingers) and True Romance (which I think he wrote but did not direct). I used be all about the movies.

      Cats are so funny. Any new surface, they have to lie or sit on. It is like they are declaring, “this ALL belongs to ME”. I have dogs too and like many cats, my two very much enjoy hogging the dog beds which leaves the dogs bewildered and having to lay on the floor instead. 😀

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      1. Ruthiella: Gosford Park sounds right up my alley! It’s now on my list (right near the top, actually, especially if I keep bottoming out on that paper!). Right now I’m in a mood to watch “Short Cuts” but I can’t seem to find it on a streaming service. And, yes, like you I love “The Player.” In some ways it might be Altman’s best. He’s almost prescient in showing where film is going — away from The Bicycle Thief into the brave new world of glib speak. I didn’t think of that particular movie as showing misogyny but after thinking about it a bit you’re right — the ditched girl friend is treated pretty brutally and the woman Tim Robbins ends up with doesn;t come off looking particularly well. And I, too, love the film’s dark cynicism; I like to think it reflects Altman’s personal experience but who will ever know? BTW I’m glad that you, too, see the misogyny in his work. At this point in my life, having worked in at least two overwhelmingly male professions, I sometimes think I go overboard on the topic.
        If you like dark and cynical — have you see “All that Jazz”? That was my reward tonight, after a day in the 16th century. I don’t usually like musicals, but this one is great (wonderful eulogy for the man character: “a so-so entertainer, not much of a humanitarian and this cat was nobody’s friend”). Very dark, very funny.
        Funny is probably a main reason I love cats — they take themselves sooo seriously and they’re so ridiculous! It’s the contrast I love. And they do tend to rule the roost. I really wish I could send you that chapter from Hollow Kingdom narrated by Genghis Cat — he’s very, very hard on his “mediocre servants” who think he’s their pet .. . .

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    1. Madam Mim: thanks for stopping by — it you get around to Hollow Kingdom you’ll have to let me know what you thought of it. I finished it a day or so ago and really enjoyed it. It was very, very funny, with much of the humor coming from the fact that S.T. doesn’t really understand much of the human culture he loves so much. Also, some of the other narrative voices (the aptly named Genghis Cat and Angus the highland cow, complete with Scottish accent) are almost as funny as S.T. The narrative did drag a bit, towards the end, with a few too many crises being successfully surmounted by S.T.’s ingenious intervention, but this was quite a minor quibble. The story gory parts (the writer has obviously seen LOTS of zombie pics) which I’m fine with, at least in this context; ditto for S.T.’s uninhibited language, but then I did a little stint in the good old U.S. Navy at a formative age, so not much in the way of the spoken word bothers me much, particularly when it’s this funny. And you’ve got to love a character who regards the Cheeto as one of the greatest of humanity’s many achievements . . . .

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      1. I watched All That Jazz on cable TV 40 years ago as a teenager while babysitting and was entranced. I do like musicals and I love Fosse, though I did not know this at the time of watching the film. It took me a further while to figure that out.

        My library has Hollow Kingdom available on Overdrive and I have put a hold on it (fourth in line). 😀

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      2. Ha! It sounds so cool. And none of those things bother me either, so I’m pretty sure I’d love it. Adding to the shopping basket right now!

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  3. Ruthiella: so funny, trading movie recommendations! I watched The Player in the wee hours last night (or this morning, actually). Superb! Later today I’ll spend some time doing “the google” to make sure I caught all of the cameos! Hope I haven’t oversold Hollow Kingdom — it won’t change your life, or displace a beloved classic, but I did find it a light, fun (and quick) read . . . .

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  4. Wow. I’m a Tarantino fan myself, who wanted to watch the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood movie, whose plans of doing so got so badly thwarted that she knows she’ll catch it later in life on Netflix. I know he’s too violent, but I have a whole theory in my head of how the whole concept of violence evolves in his movies, on how, like many modern and postmodern authors, he roots his intellectual and artistic proposal on violence as an abstraction, exploring it as more than just the violence, but tying it to something deeper. We may not like him, or find him too violent, -rightfully so-, but he’s not shallow at all. The language in his movies is amazing. His movies are the only ones I can watch and not be bothered by the cussing overload. The problem with his use of violence and language being that if he doesn’t do this successfully, or if the watcher (reader) is not mature, the violence remains in your face, and can even be consumed in a dangerous way. (However, isn’t that a danger for everything, from movies, to art, books, music…) Tarantino’s movies and characters in them are caricatures. And yet he interjects some crude reality, which in turn shows itself ugly, -as it’s truly ugly. All this it’s to say that you may not like him, but I’m with him when he defends that it’s not violence in his movies what “makes” our children, teens, and adults, violent.

    In my opinion, there’s lots of offers out there that are don’t teach, probe us to think, nor delight in any way, despite of looking inoffensive. Linking this to the 1619 project, I agree that it sounds fascinating, it should be taught and presented to our children, no doubt.

    I think you live a very rich life. And these last two posts are buzzing with activity and excitement. I loved what you shared about Renaissance life, and the paintings. The portrait of the boy who later became a monk, he already looked like a monk at twelve to me.

    I love that most of the movies you listed are from the 70’s. I’ll try to watch some. I’m sure I’ve seen at least one Robert Altman movie, but I’m a bit disconnected from movies at the moment, like Ruthiella. It’s good to have your suggestions.

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