Archive for the ‘author Sam Juliano’ Category

the iridescence of birds

by Sam Juliano

From the moment one first lays eyes on the ravishing dust jacket cover of Patricia MacLachlan’s wholly sublime  The Iridescence of Birds there is a real sense of mission for educators wishing to expand a young child’s scholastic horizons in a single day, indeed during the course of a single reading.  The often arresting picture book is the third much-heralded release in the past two years  to focus on a celebrated painter, (Jennifer Bryant and Melissa Sweet collaborated on A Splash of Red in 2013, and this year Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor published a picture book on Edward Hopper), though the famed Ms. MacLachlan – a Newbery Medal winner for the beloved Sarah, Plain and Tall – lovingly relates a childhood of maternal inspiration and the telling contrast of a damp and dreary town that gives way to natural beauty and rich palettes behind closed doors.  Her subject is the renowned painter Henri Matisse, who actually took up painting while recovering from appendicitis, and while MacLachlan isn’t specific.  her prose, spare and poetic, persuasively frames his art as something both inherent and nurtured.  Yet the mission is a simpler one than just introducing children to a venerated artist.  It is one of learning a new and challenging word, that lies at the center of the book’s theme: what is the meaning of iridescence? (more…)

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firefly july

by Sam Juliano

Children’s picture book artist extraordinaire Melissa Sweet has illustrated nearly a hundred books in a prolific career, but the last few years she has come into her own in spectacular fashion.  In 2008 she won a Caldecott Honor for her arresting mixed-media collages in the sublime picture book biography of poet William Carlos Williams, A River of Words, written by Jennider Bryant.  She won the 2012 Siebert Medal for her intricate and impeccably-researched Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade, which profiled Tony Sarg and the celebrated helium balloons synonymous with the famed department store’s festive event.  She soon teamed up with Bryant again for another ravishing biography, A Splash of Red, which lovingly chronicled the inspirational life and work of the painter Horace Pippin.  In that book the artist used watercolor and gouache to stunning effect.  In 2014 she showed herself to be at the peak of her powers with two masterpieces – another biographical collaboration with Bryant on Peter Mark Roget, the father of the thesaurus, titled The Right Word, and earlier in the year, a partnership with the poet Paul B. Janeczko that yielded one of the most spectacular and lyrical picture books in years. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Note:  This is the first entry in the 2014 Caldecott Medal Contender series.  The series does not purport to predict what the committee will choose, rather it attempts to gauge what the writer feels should be in the running.  In most instances the books that are featured in the series have been touted as contenders in various online round-ups, but for the ones that are not, the inclusions are a humble plea to the committee for consideration.  It is anticipated the series will include between 20 and 25 titles; the order which they are being presented in is arbitrary, as every book in this series is a contender.

    Until he passed away on June 24, 2012, when he was around 100 years old, “Lonesome George,” a giant tortoise and descendant of the ancient Giantess George, was known as the poster boy of worldwide conservation.  People visiting this rarest of reptiles at his enclosure on the Galapagos Island archipelago were greeted by a sign that read “Whatever happens to this single animal, let him always remind us that the fate of all living things on Earth is in human hands.”  Indeed the scholar Henry Nicholls likened George’s story as one of  “a conservation icon about a creature who touches all who see and hear about him, an animal whose plight embodies the practical, philosophical and ethical challenges of preserving our fragile planet.”  Repeated efforts to awaken the long dormant procreation drive of the reptile ultimately failed, but the efforts can aptly be described as herculean.

The renowned award-winning author, naturalist and environmentalist Jean Craighead George was the perfect fit for this kind of story, and in an unlikely coincidence even her marriage name provides a fitting label in relating a narrative that began a million years ago, when the vegetarian Giantess George roamed a desert terrain, eating cacti and low-lying greens.   A storm eventually engulfs the tortoise and some relatives into an ocean current that leaves it to surface on a raft that touches lands on a small arid and rainy island near the equator later known as San Cristobal.  Giantess George laid eggs, and eventually ran out of ground plants, a situation that forced her to extend her long neck to eat tress leaves.  She died at around 200 years old, but her off spring -whose necks were even longer as evolution continued to progress- began to inhabit some of the other islands.  By the time of the 1500’s some Panamanians discovered the island and the reptiles.  In short order sailors and pirates plundered the tortoise population, eating some, while unleashing rats, pigs and goats who helped to diminish a 200,000 strong population to one of only a few thousand. (more…)

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Brief Encounter 7

brief encounter 1

by Sam Juliano

A steady drizzle and overcast sky suffused the late morning hours of Saturday, 17, August, 2013, in the town of Carnforth, part of the northwestern county of Lancashire, England.  The gloomy weather is pretty much normal for that region and that time of year, but somehow it atmospherically accentuated the twenty or so mile trek we embarked on from our home base of Kendal in the county of Cumbria.  Our destination was a seemingly sedate and rustic train depot on the outer fringes of a parish populated by barely five-thousand, and geographically distinguished by hilly terrain and its close proximity to the sea.  The Carnforth Railway Station, which has a history dating back to the mid 1800’s was used as a waylay station for soldiers during both World Wars, and served as a junction on the London, Midland and Scottish railways.  It was refurbished in 1938, and subsequently entered the movie history books after it was chosen as the primary setting for one of the most famous films ever made – David Lean’s timeless classic of repressed emotion – Brief Encounter, which was filmed during the last stage of World War II in early 1945.  The location was chosen by film executives, because it was far enough away from major cities to avert blackouts which were common during the war years.  Said Lean: “the war was still on and the railway people said, ‘there may be an air raid at any moment, and you’ll have time to put out the lights in that remote part up in the north.  We’ll know when the planes are coming.’  We were a blaze of lights from filming.’  More recently renovations were completed to the Brief Encounter refreshment room (the tea room in the film) and the “Heritage Center” that are now places of pilgrimage for the film’s fans.

Upon entering the station proper, my tourist party -which included my wife Lucille, son Sammy, and site colleague Allan Fish and his maternal aunt and driver Ann Cafferkey – we were all taken with the imposing overhead platform clock,  a powerful icon in the film.  It did send shivers down my spine to contemplate that one of the greatest films of the British cinema, and surely one of the two or three most celebrated screen romances was filmed around that very spot.  A further investigation of the station unveiled a Brief Encounter souvenir shop, the beautifully restored former tea room, where much of the film’s drama was staged, and lovingly adorned open-ended screening room that offers up a continual showing of the film from start to end and them over and over for the duration of the station’s hours of operation. Alas it was here, while sitting down with Sammy while the others engaged in another room that featured an elaborate miniature train -Brief Encounter epitomizes David Lean’s lifelong fascination with and affection for trains-  and other film memorabilia, that I nodded out after a sleepless night into a dream world of David Lean’s poetic masterpiece, one that commenced over seven decades ago…..  (drifts into sleep) (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The following is the transcript of an interview held on August 12, 2013 with the last surviving lead performer of the 1939 Hollywood landmark ‘Gone with the Wind.”  Olivia de Havilland, who lives alone in the U.K., decided to grant a rare interview in deference to her continuing interest in WitD’s Romantic Films Countdown.  Ms. de Havilland was 97 years old at the time, but sprite to a fault.

SJ:  Ms. de Havilland, I want to thank you so much for allowing this interview, especially as I know you need your rest, and rarely grant one-on-ones anymore.

OD:  Well, Mr. Sam, I am pleased to be of some assistance.  Your site’s Greatest Romantic Countdown has attracted my interest, and it is one of the places I have been visiting during my limited on line sessions.  I have been mightily impressed with many of the reviews by a bevy of writers.  You people have really taken this project seriously, and should be proud of what you have accomplished.  I read somewhere that a man named John Grant suggested that you seek a publisher for the whole lot.  I must say I heartily agree with the bloke.  And please call me Olivia young man.

SJ:  Thanks for the compliment Olivia, but I am not so young anymore.  I think Mr. Grant came up with a very good suggestion there, and I will certainly be looking into it.

OD:  Before we go on could I order you any refreshments?  There’s a good fish n chips shop two blocks to the south, and they deliver.

SJ:  Thanks so much Olivia, but I did have something about an hour ago.  I’m good.  I was told you lived in Paris since 1960, but I was told by a reliable source you moved to London eight years ago.

OD:  That’s right Mr. Sam.  I was being heckled by the paparazzi.  They always want to exploit my non-relationship with my sister Joan, and frankly it is none of their business.  A friend helped me to secretly make passage from Paris to London using a disguise and a fake passport.  Only my daughter Giselle and a few very close friends know I am here, and one was your contact.  (editor’s note: Joan Fontaine passed away four months later in December of 2013 at the age of 96)

SJ:  Absolutely Olivia.  I can’t say that I blame you at all.   I guess you know what film I am here to talk about then, right? (more…)

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images (1)



by Sam Juliano

The Ridgefield Park Rialto closed its doors on June 13, 2008.  This local institution was the last single screen theater in Bergen County, New Jersey, and the only one in that domain that had shown art house movies.  Opening in 1927 as a vaudeville showcase, it was soon enough transformed to a movie house in the late 30’s, and was purchased in the 70’s by a single owner.  That same person held ownership with his daughter all the way to the final days, showing mainstream fare until the mid 90’s, then catering to the Indian community for Bollywood features until 2001 when the schedule was comprised exclusively of foreign language and independent films.  The experiment yielded mixed results, though there were times when the 600 seat auditorium sold out, if the film was an appealing one.  The inevitable cessation of operations signified the end of an era, and left bewildered customers waxing lyrical about their own personal stories related to their attendance at the venerable institution.  The common lamentations were along the line that larger multiplexes had made it financially incompatible for the smaller operators to earn their keep, and equipment had become antiquated.  In any case the closing of the theater was an emotional time for workers and customers, and it had some regulars scurrying for souvenirs that included posters, marquee letters and actual seats that were unscrewed from the floor by employees.  Any token, big or small would provide some tangible physical evidence well into the future of   a place that helped formulate dreams and escape, a movie house mecca that in the end that left a more lasting impression than even the splendid product it served up to the public. (more…)

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Romeo-Juliet-about-to-kiss-on-Balcony-1968-romeo-and-juliet-by-franco-zeffirelli-32614019-638-410 (1)

by Sam Juliano

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The idea was to honor the Bard’s own vision of teenagers playing the parts of his eternally popular play about the star crossed lovers.  The two leads in the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet were chosen for their physical beauty, not for any special or proven acting prowess.  In fact the performances are far more affecting because they are natural, delivered without dramatic ostentation.  The director, Franco Zeffirelli, put the cart before the horse, confident in his own ability to turn his lead players into Shakespearean thespians.  The end result was a wildly successful film version that at the time eclipsed any film version of the author’s plays in popularity by quite some distance.  Forty-six years later it still holds poll position, and remains the odds-on choice of educators aiming to supplement study of the play with a worthy film adaptation.  The film was made during the heyday of the golden reign of youth and the hippie era.  Rumor in fact has it that Zeffirelli came within a hair of convincing Paul McCartney to play the lead. An extensive talent search yielded the hiring of Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, two extraordinarily attractive actors who imbue their roles with a physical intensity of first love, the kind of love that only those who have experienced it can fully decipher.  Hence there is an innocence, purity and lack of self-awareness to these performances that make them far more affecting than could have been negotiated by older actors with proven credentials.  The film’s lovemaking scenes are charged with eroticism, and there is some nudity in a bedroom scene (that at the time was considered scandalous for a PG movie) to bring consummation to the romance.  Throughout the film the lovers endlessly embrace, kiss and neck far more than in any other version based on the play, and this propensity has interestingly brought into question whether the love would morph into a union of permanence or whether this is just the hormonal awakening of teenagers.  Obviously the right answer is the latter contention, but it is fully consistent with the manner in which Romeo and Juliet are shown in the play.  They are rash, impulsive, oblivious to the consequences of their actions and blind to everything around them save for the burning flames inside them.  Some would like to believe their love is epic and definitive, immortalized as it is through suicide, and borne from the mutual hatred of their brethren, but what we have are two people stung by Cupid’s Bow, helpless to temper their incomparable potent youthful passions.  Romeo and Juliet is not an idealized romance, but rather a cautionary tale about the dire consequences of recklessness, partially facilitated by unfortunate timing and the intrusion of fate. (more…)

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