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Archive for December, 2014

nana in the city cover

by Sam Juliano

The city is a bustling place, intimidating and congested, and an unwelcome panacea for privacy and meditation.  Living there takes on nightmarish proportions, as people are always frantically rushing to be somewhere at a specific time.  Streets are inhabited by a mass of business people, vendors, cultural mavens, musicians and bicyclists, all either camped out on sidewalks or public parks, and heading in all directions.  Tourists enter and exit cabs, blending in with the flow, taking long and short glimpses at places gazed at for the very first time.  People who visit the city are sometimes kind enough to remark that it is such a great place to visit, but “I sure as heck would never want to live there.”  After all, the city is so big and so enveloping, that it sets the rules and the pacing, rather than the other way around.  The city never sleeps and its sounds are deafening.  The needy and the homeless hang out on street corners,  and panhandlers ply their craft, intruding on already violated privacy.  Construction seems to be going on at every other corner, and the visually bombastic signs of graffiti artists are ever cognizant at every turn.  There is no such thing as a one-family house in the city – everyone lives in tall apartment buildings.  The rooms shake as a result of rushing railway trains.  A young boy is exasperated that his beloved Nana calls this  melting pot of frantic activity her home.  Surely she would rather have some peace and comfort in her later years.  Surely she must recognize there is major inconvenience every day and some dangerous possibilities with such a feverish lifestyle. (more…)

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into the woods

selma

by Sam Juliano

Christmas Day 2014 is now in the past, but New Year’s Eve festivities are upcoming.  Weather in the northeast has been relatively benign, though we are hearing of horror stories in other parts of the countries.  Culture mavens have had the chance to immerse themselves during the richest time of the year, and similarly football fans are looking ahead to the playoffs.  Opera fans have the monthly simulcasts in area theaters, bringing the Metropolitan Opera to the home front.

The Caldecott Medal Contender series is going full throttle and will continue until the first of February.  The American Library Association Awards are set to announce on the 2nd.  Sachin Gandhi’s superlative Best Films of the Year list published this past week at his own site, Scribbles and Ramblings and here at WitD.  My own list will be published on or around January 10th as per normal annual procedure, and others from Jaimie Grijalba, Maurizio Roca, Jon Warner and Duane Porter are also being planned for WitD publication when ready.  Jim Clark’s magnificent and exhaustive review of Jacques Demy’s Donkey Skin published to great acclaim this past week.  Some of the movie action has shifted to Facebook, where on my own page numerous pollings have been conducted.  This past week 2001: A Space Odyssey was named the greatest Stanley Kubrick film ever in answer to a query asking voters to list their Top 5.  The new poll going up tomorrow considers the James Bond series. (more…)

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beekle cover

by Sam Juliano

Suffused with dreamy surrealism and the creative spirit present in the work of Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki, Dan Santat’s The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend is easily one of the most imaginative picture books of the year.  It is also to date the most accomplished work yet by an artist who for the past few years has been delighting school children with his cheerfully subversive and unique watercolor paintings in beloved books like Crankenstein, Carnivores and Ninja Red Riding Hood.  The former work was chosen by first grade consensus as one of the three favorites of 2013, and has led to a just released sequel that again gave Santat the opportunity to work with Samantha Berger.  The depth and scope of his vision in The Adventures of Beekle should have Caldecott committee members staying up late with their own visions of a cuddly white blob wearing a gold paper crown who for all purposes is the most benign alien one would ever conjure up.  In the tradition of venerated children’s book icon Maurice Sendak, Santat has moved out of the box to spur the minds of adventurous children, while bolstering the opinions of many adults who already believe some of the best art being produced in the country today is appearing in picture books. (more…)

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aylesworth_my-grandfathers-coat

by Sam Juliano

A deep elegiac undercurrent propels My Grandfather’s Coat, a story about an item of clothing that recycles itself over four generations.  The text is based on the enchanting Yiddish folk song “I Had a Little Overcoat” from which Simms Taback’s Caldecott Medal winning Joseph Had a Little Overcoat was also adapted, and which according to author and veteran first-grade teacher Jim Aylesworth, originated from Eastern Europe.  Clothing has been a popular subject for children’s books, with Margaret Chodoes-Irvine’s Ella Sarah Gets Dressed and Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s Extra Yarn,  both of which won Caldecott Honors, but outstanding books by Dr. Seuss, Oliver Jeffers, Tomie DePaola, and of coarse Taback have expounded on the theme to the delight of children everywhere.  Like all truly memorable picture books My Grandfather’s Coat sports a captivating cover.  The book’s renowned illustrator, Barbara McClintock, evokes the great Patricia Schart Hyman with her exquisite line framing and ornate borders.  The titular character is shown in celebratory mode as his ship docks at Ellis Island, the arrival point for immigrants planning on a new life in America.  The borders feature colorful spools of yarn, buttons and knitting needles, items that play a vital role in this inspiring take of preservation, hard work and familial bonding.  On the back panel is a charming recipe for “Grandfather’s Coat Cookies” that includes the five stages of regeneration depicted in the narrative. (more…)

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leocover

by Sam Juliano

If the 120 odd first graders of Fairview, New Jersey had their way, author-illustrator Sergio Ruzzier would be getting a call from the American Library Association early in February with the coveted news that he won the 2014 Caldecott Medal for his wholly endearing A Letter For Leo.  The book was the final winner of 70 plus Caldedott worthy works that were read and presented to four primary classes over the last few weeks.  Ruzzier’s book about that one event that can bring lasting joy to a life of aching solitude, to be sure packs an emotional wallop no matter what the age of the reader, but the bonding of its two needy characters hits a special chord with the young ones.  In the grand tradition of children’s literature icons Leo Politi and Tomie DePaola, Brooklyn artist extraordinaire Ruzzier, born and raised in Italy, brings striking European sensibilities to his art, forging tapestries that echo his two compatriots, while bringing an entirely new measure of exultation to his spare and often arresting vignettes.  Ruzzier is a classicist.  Each of his cells sport a retro look, and the watercolors are finely modulated to achieve that rarity of book illustration that both appeals to young kids because of its uncluttered visual scheme, while presenting serious art that stands out magnificently on its own. (more…)

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IMG_9088

© 2014 by James Clark

 I’m assuming that most of you have not seen the Jacques Demy fantasy/musical Peau d’Ane (Donkey Skin [1970]). But here it is anyway, not for the sake of exploring macabre Surrealist nightmares but with regard to its having become, in France, as omnipresent a Christmas-season classic as It’s a Wonderful Life is, for us.

While it is one thing for a Frank Capra to serve up “happily ever after,” we should not miss the edifying incongruity of a vastly alienated and ironic figure like Demy in the kitchen whipping up some comfort food. Peau d’Ane has to be seen in a markedly disjointed manner to make the mainstream grade—perhaps glanced in tandem with catching up with Grandma or a long-lost uncle. As such, though, it does afford an unexpected shower of not only the quirky physical comedy always in Demy’s oven (though generally clouded by an insistent death-spiral) but also at least one song (“Cake d’Amour” [“Love Cake”], by Michel Legrand, that comes across as a peppy and touching carol (as sung in a duet featuring a deceased queenly mother and her hard-times daughter).

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HysasPjF84

(more…)

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locke_image by Sachin Gandhi

Like most years, my end of the year list is highly dependent on film festivals which serve as an unofficial distribution model for a majority of foreign and independent movies. However, despite the best efforts of multiple local film festivals, there is still usually an average of a 1-2 year wait to see many foreign films after its Cannes premiere. For example, a few Cannes 2013 titles only appeared in local cinemas this year. A big reason for this delay is that film distribution still follows an outdated model where films are meant to get a theatrical release first before releasing online or on DVD. This release model ignores the reality that there are only a few North American cities with dedicated arthouse/indie cinemas to give these foreign films a proper theatrical run. That means if one does not live in New York or Toronto, then it is a long wait to legally see these festival films. This delay causes a year end list to continuously look back 1-2 years for a proper assessment. For example, this year’s theatrical releases proved that 2013 was an even better year than I had first thought. A full verdict on 2014 may only be properly gauged in the summer of 2015. The other impact of this delay is that local cinemas are not my prime source for catching some of the best global films. For example, only 5 films of the 22 films (23%) in this list got a regular theatrical run in the city. A majority of this list was composed due to the 8 film festivals I attended this year, with 7 local festivals and the 8th being Sundance. 4 of the films in this list were seen at Sundance, while a 5th title, Locke, also showed there. Such a high dependence on international film festivals to catch some of the best films in the world is not a financially feasible model. And local film festivals can’t always show the top festival films every year either. Still, I am grateful to have seen many worthy features and documentaries. (more…)

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