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Archive for February, 2010

Dear viewers like you,

The website Snagfilms usually gets pegged as “Hulu for documentaries”—a pretty generous comparison when I think about how many episodes of 30 Rock I’ve watched on our Mac. But while Hulu gives a chance for major TV networks to distribute shows both popular and flagging, Snagfilms shines its spotlight on filmmakers with far less funding and exposure. Most of its documentaries were created in the last ten years, but historians of the recent-but-not-too-recent past will also find ample reasons to browse.

For starters, take a look at Peter Rosen’s beautifully shot 1971 documentary Bright College Years on the student uprisings at Yale in the late 1960s.  It was included in PBS’s “Sixties Legacy” series, first aired in 1979—suggesting just how quickly the decade was commemorated and mourned.

Nick Broomfield’s Tattooed Tears from 1978, meanwhile, provides a look at a maximum security juvenile correctional facility in California. And for something completely different, check out Broomfield’s wry documentary about the British class system, 1973’s Proud to Be British.

The archive also includes some fascinating (if sometimes slow) profiles of artists, including Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Sellers, and Orson Welles. The oddest of these by far, however, is Henry Miller Asleep and Awake, a 1975 tour of the famed novelist’s bathroom. Yes. His bathroom, covered with photographs of every subject from “maniacs to whores.” In other words, what you would more or less expect from the author of Tropic of Cancer. As Miller explains, “People often come in here and get lost. They’re in here for, I don’t know how long, and I imagine maybe something happened, that they got constipated or something. But it isn’t that of course. They get fascinated with these pictures.” A little like looking at Jung’s Red Book.

Just two more for your weekend viewing: See what happens when a 7th grade class establishes its own imaginary country in 1979’s The Ruling Classroom. And for all you Internet addicts, see what happens when three college students give up their computers for three weeks in 2008’s Disconnected.

Digitally yours,

Stephen

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Dear leisure suit lovers,

It’s here again, everyone’s favorite Hallmark holiday, Valentine’s Day, a chance for singles to moan and couples to glow (and sometimes gloat). Where might we find traces of this hallowed festival in the digital archive? Well, friends, I’m glad you asked. Today we turn to the Notable Women of Simmons Scrapbook Collection, which includes among its many clippings a handful of sweet, and sometimes silly, declarations of love.

My favorite may be the scrapbook of Daisie Miller Helyar, a Vermont native who attended the women’s college from 1906-1910 and later became a librarian. The exhibit includes an excellent essay on the origins of Valentine’s Day, and also provides a remarkable window into the social life of young, educated women in the early twentieth century. The curators note, for one thing, that “most, if not all” of the Valentine cards  in Daisie’s scrapbook likely came not from her future husband but her friends. Below, you can read one love poem Daisie received.

As Carroll Smith-Rosenberg showed in her classic 1975 essay, “The Female World of Love and Ritual,” romantic friendships between women were common in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. You can view two more below, and the rest here.


Not everyone, of course, made cards by hand. For some vintage mass-produced Valentines , head over to the handsome Hearts Atwirl website and the Vintage Valentine Museum.

Before I sign off, just one more recommendation: Jessica Helfand’s Scrapbooks: An American History, an extraordinary reading of the art of scrapbooking including countless beautiful reproductions. It just goes to show, sometimes only a book will do. Until then, you can check out Helfand’s website here.

Lovingly yours,

Stephen

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To the seasonally-affective disordered,

The spring semester is officially under way, and I’ve started TFing a new class: Joyce Chaplin’s wonderful lecture on American food history. We’re still strolling around the colonial period, though for today’s post, I’m going to fast-forward to the twentieth century to point you towards the rewarding Szathmary Recipe Pamphlet Collection from the University of Iowa Digital Archives.

There you can read lots of promotional recipe books, like this one for custard mix, deceptively titled “A Dozen New Ways to Use Milk.” (Hint: All 12 involve “Junket,” a rennet-based thickener, because we all know, “Eating milk is even better for you than drinking it.”) Or how about 10 mustard-inspired ways “to use a whole ham.”

I also love the covers of this series, even if all of the recipes call for Armour and Company’s meat products. Canned pigs’ feet, anyone? Never again will you be out of luck when friends drop by for a chafing dish supper!

Here’s a short lament for the dilemma of the “emergency” dinner.

Click the page to read more!
Losing his appetite rapidly,

Stephen

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To the relaxation-inclined,

Like many people, my first exposure to theater came not from any Broadway house but the humbler stages of our local high school. Trust me, you haven’t seen Fiddler on the Roof until you’ve seen my brother in his walk-on-role as a priest! Or Twelve Angry Men performed by twelve not angry so much as angsty boys—in the round!

I’m happy to say, my theatrical horizons have expanded considerably since then, from the mainstream to the avant-garde, Broadway to the Edinburgh Fringe. And while we can rarely  go back and see a live performance once it’s over, thanks to the digital archive, we can see what the actors wore, and what their sets looked like.

Mordecai Gorelik, for one, designed sets for the famed Group Theatre, and eventually Hollywood. Over at the CARLI Digital Collections, you can view many of his drawings, including this one from the 1925 modernist play Processional. Take a look, too, at Miami University’s Randy Barceló Collection, featuring drawings by the Cuban-born costume designer behind Jesus Christ Superstar, and many lesser known productions. Below are two costumes he created for a 1994 ballet ¡Si Señor! ¡Es Mi Son!, produced by New York’s Ballet Hispanico. I’d like to see the folks on Project Runway attempt these.


Last but not least, the Motley Collection from U. of Illinois includes many costume and set designs from New York theater, throughout the twentieth century. The image on the left comes from a production of Romeo and Juliet, on the right from Paint Your Wagon.

Sartorially yours,

Stephen

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My distractable friends,

I must admit, proverbs be damned, that I’m often lured to a book by a well-designed dust jacket, even a carefully chosen font. So for today’s entry, why not spotlight some resources on the artistry of book covers?

For starters, take a look at the University of Colorado’s Publishers’ Binding Collection, featuring over 1400 cloth book covers from the late 1800s to the early 1900s (even if the interface is somewhat wonky). In clockwise order from top left: America and the Americans from a French Point of View, (1897), Children of the Tenements (1905), How to Know Oriental Rugs (1908), and Bobby and Betty at Play (1927).

Paperback lovers will also want to check out the George Kelley Paperback and Pulp Fiction Collection at the University of Buffalo. You can browse hundreds of covers here, from (clockwise) the creepy (An Earthman on Venus from 1951) to the steamy (Everybody Does It from 1949), the classic (Fahrenheit 451) to the forgotten (The Real Cool Killers).

Happy browsing.

Yours compulsively,

Stephen

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