Thursday, January 26, 2012

RIP: Nicol Williamson

Nicol Williamson, an actor of tremendous power and originality, and a wonderful maverick spirit, died in Amsterdam on December 16. The announcement was made only yesterday.

Here he is playing  Merlin's farewell scene in the movie Excalibur (I couldn't embed it, so click on the link instead). I love this film, perhaps beyond all reason, and Williamson's performance as Merlin sits at the film's very centre.

For full (and dare I say, almost amusing) obituaries go here and here.

The LA Times leads with this anecdote:

Once heralded as the greatest British actor of his generation, Nicol Williamson was also a legend for stormy onstage behavior that included calling off a performance of "Hamlet" mid-speech because he was too tired to go on.

"I'll pay for the seats," he later recalled telling the audience in 1969, "but I won't shortchange you by not giving my best." And then he walked off.

The NY Times has him as 'mercurial,' which I always take to infer as someone who defies rules and categorization, someone who won't be held accountable. Someone admirable, then.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What I've Been Reading: Hemingway's Boat - Everything He Loved and Lost 1934-61

 I find it somewhat shocking to note that I haven't read a book by or about Hemingway in twenty years. For one thing, I'm staggered to find myself old enough to have not read any Hemingway for such a period of time. So it goes. I'm on my way to being an old man in search of the sea.

Hemingway is definitely one of those writers you should read when you're young, so I'm glad I got that much right at least. He's also tough one to go back to. The style is so easily absorbed that re-reading Hemingway sometimes gives you the sense of reading parody, even when it's the good stuff. I feel similarly about re-reading Garcia Marquez - no matter how much I was in thrall to Love in the Time of Cholera the first time around, the prose style is so rich and distinctive that I have a hard time going back for seconds and thirds.

Credit Paul Hendrickson's book, then, with inspiring me to take Hemingway down from the shelf once more. 'Hemingway's Boat' is by no means a perfect book - the title isn't fully justified by the content, for one thing - but it's frequently beautiful and touching, a highly idiosyncratic look at an extraordinary man, at the devastating ripple effects of the Hemingway mythology, and also, at the very real curse of mental illness visited upon the Hemingway family.

It's a beautifully written and deeply felt book. It's the work of an investigative journalist for sure - the research goes deep, so much so that there's almost a sense of the reporter becoming overly enamored of all that he turns up. We're taken on lengthy, chapter long detours with seemingly minor eye-witnesses, for example, but the book's beauty is in part a result of its meandering path. It isn't intended as a full-on biography.

Much of the book's first half is taken up with the first couple of summers Hemingway spent on his boat, Pilar - meaning, half the book takes place 1934-6. The last quarter of the book takes up the story of Hemingway's progeny - most notably Gregory, who led a pitiable, tortured life, dying at age 70 in a Florida jail (he'd been arrested for flaunting his almost nude transgendered body along the side of a state highway).

A good deal is made here, as well as in numerous biographies, of Hemingway's personality and talent  being swallowed and distorted by fame. It's inarguable, of course, that this is the case, and yet it occurs to me that for a man who was hungry for fame and adulation, he certainly didn't inhabit the usual avenues in pursuit of such false glories. He never lived in New York or Los Angeles, for example. You'd be hard-pressed to come up with three less likely outposts of fame and glory than the three places he called home in the second half of his life - Key West (Florida), Havana (Cuba), and Ketchum (Idaho).

So, what's my favourite Hemingway, you ask?

I think A Farewell To Arms is his greatest achievement as a novelist, the moment when innovation and refinement came most perfectly together.

And I loved For Whom The Bell Tolls.

The Sun Also Rises? I know it's most people's favourite, but it isn't mine. I like it fine, as Ernest might say, but to my mind it's neither his best, nor the most enjoyable.

Monday, January 23, 2012

New Year's Day

On New Year's Day, out walking in southern-most Austin, along a concealed path, in an obscure part of a park, we stumbled upon a group of friends and family playing softball. Nothing too unusual about that, perhaps.. except that the voices of these people were all decidedly non-American. Indeed, the friendly voices calling out belonged exclusively to Scots and to northern Englishman. Given the context - Scotland vs England, off the beaten-path in Texas on a sunny, warm, New Year's Day - it was about as unlikely a scene as I can imagine stumbling upon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Muhammad Ali - 70 today.

On the occasion of Muhammad Ali's 70th birthday... you'll read a lot of sports journalism before you come upon anything as good as this prophetic piece by Mark Kram:

                                                                                    Photographer Unknown

Monday, January 16, 2012

Beginnings: Lucy's Fried Chicken

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently shot a bunch of PR and website images for Lucy's Fried Chicken. Below are a number of images that aren't included on the website, but which nonetheless illustrate some of Lucy's fine flavor... go to for further images (and more importantly, to get the low-down on the delicious goings-on there).                                          

 Opening night...


 Chef/owner James Holmes at the jukebox. It plays only Texas-related music.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Lucy's Fried Chicken: Chef/owner James Holmes

                            James Holmes, Chef/Owner Lucy's Fried Chicken

      This image was taken behind Lucy's Fried Chicken, next to the wood stack that feeds the grill there, and beside the vintage smoker that's used to smoke meats.
      The picture was taken at the end of an extended period - at the very least, a full couple of months - when James worked consecutive eighteen hour days without even a sniff of a day off. Now, I know that James wouldn't appreciate reading a sob story as to how hard he worked to open his restaurant, to get it up and running properly, all of that. So let me simply suggest that without doubt, it was a stressful, exhausting time for him - yet also, I'm sure, an intensely rewarding one. 
      I mention all of this because I believe that you can it, or something of it, right here in the picture. As such, I hope and believe that it works as a good portrait ought to, capturing something of the sitter's inner life at the time it was taken. And while there are other versions of this image too, a little lighter in mood, more smiley (also accurate in their own way), this is the one I'm most fond of.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hoop Dreams

                                                                                                                        i-phone, Beverly Blvd, LA

I used to live in the Beverly Blvd/La Bre Ave neighbourhood of Los Angeles. There's a large community of Hasidic Jews that lives there, and I believe there's a Hasidic school located on Beverly, although I'm not sure. Either way, the building in this image belongs to the Hasidic community, and atop the building is a basketball court. I shot this on my i-phone as I walked away, glancing over my shoulder, with the sun momentarily dropping into the hoop.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Oh, brother...

Vivian, with words of advice for brother Finn.

In fact, I was shooting images of Finn's and Vivian's cousin James, when this image happened to present itself. A lucky moment, then. I'll post images of James here soon.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lucy's Fried Chicken - Part 1

I've been busy shooting images for the Lucy's Fried Chicken website. Here's a sneak preview. The lovely model is Lauren Smith. I'll be posting more Lucy's - related images in the coming days.

For now, check out more of the images (and the menu!) on the Lucy's website:

More importantly, if you're in Austin, go check out the fried chicken! 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Quiet Please.

'Nothing makes me feel better - calmer, clearer and happier - than being in one place, absorbed in a book, a conversation, a piece of music. It's actually something deeper than mere happiness: it's joy, which the monk David Steindl-Rast describes as "that kind of happiness that doesn't depend on what happens.'"

                      Pico Iyer, The Joy of Quiet (NY Times, Jan 1 2012)

        There is a paradox, I know, in posting a link (click on the text above) to this article, here, in a blog, and then linking it to Facebook. The article - about how technology has impacted our lives, and more specifically, how we are beginning, perhaps, to recognize the need to unplug, get away from it all, at least for moments at a time - is elegantly carried, and well worth reading.
          For my part, outside of business-related enterprises, I'm steering clear of Facebook for a while, and looking to monitor my internet use, period (Iyer declares that he doesn't go online until he's finished his writing for the day. Wise man, evidently). The blog...well, this blog is different, at least for me. Whether you should waste your time with it, of course, strikes me as a reasonable question...

Monday, January 2, 2012

This Is How It Feels

To my great discredit I've lost track of the artist responsible for this (discredit - this is how we start the new year, the first post thereof?). If you know who created it, please let me know.