Sunday, August 30, 2009


Here's two love scenes excerpted from one of my favorite anthologies, "101 Best Scenes Ever Written."

That's Flaubert above, and the first scene is from his "Madame Bovary." I can't say that I like the story...Madame Bovary has to be one of the least appealing characters in all of fiction...but the famous sex scene is first rate. Nothing explicit, yet it succeeds in being really steamy. See what you think.

In this scene the clerk has convinced Madame Bovary to join him in a horse-driven cab with the blinds down. Bovary is married but she's flirted with the clerk for a long time, not fully realizing where it would lead. Now the moment of truth has arrived and she goes along with it because she doesn't know what else to do. The cab driver is instructed to drive anywhere he chooses.

The second scene is from James M. Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice," in my opinion one of the best novels written in America. That's a scene from the movie above.

What I have here (below) is the scene where Cora hints to Frank that she wants him to kill her husband, who everybody calls the Greek. Frank likes the Greek, who generously gave him a job and a place to stay. He can't imagine doing anything so drastic, but Cora convinces him that they're both good people, and whatever good people do can't be wrong. It's an horrific but interesting argument, and a terrific love scene. When they kiss at the end, you get the feeling that a breach has been made in the shield that protects us from evil, and enormous cosmic forces are being unleashed.

That's James M. Cain above. His best stories seem to say, "There is such a thing as evil, even in the New World, and we have a special vulnerability to it, because we don't seem to acknowledge its existence."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I'm always curious to know the favorite media of well-known people, what they watch or read for their own pleasure when they're off the time clock. I know Stalin was partial to John Wayne films, and Maria Callas liked to read Archie comics. Ayn Rand read detective stories. What, I wondered, did Hitler prefer when he was sitting around in his pajamas, just passing the time? Well, I don't know what he read, but thanks to a recent article in Arts and Letters Daily I do know what art he hung in his private rooms.

According to the article, Hitler's favorite artist was a Swiss landscape painter named Arnold Bocklin. Hitler owned Bocklin's most famous picture, "The Isle of the Dead" (above).

Actually Bocklin did several versions of the same picture, all capturing the scene in different light. The one Hitler owned has been lost.

Here's (above) the Bocklin displayed in a place of honor, next to Hitler's fireplace.

Bocklin was interested in the legendary goings-on of the Aryans in old Germany. He was a friend of the Mitford family, who organized expeditions to search for artifacts of old German history, and who had a special interest in the real-life site that inspired the Isle of the Dead painting. That's Hitler sitting next to Unity Mitford above.

Bocklin was a pantheist who believed the forest possessed a kind of vital energy which we, as creatures of the forest, need to connect with to discover our true natures. In the painting above I assume that's Pan in the bushes.

Bocklin's mystical beliefs certainly gave him an edge. If I were looking for something to draw in the outback, I might have passed by this scrub (above) without taking notice. After all, scrub is usually regarded by artists as nothing more than background for really romantic subjects like cliffs and tall oak trees. Bocklin correctly realized that scrub is the heart and soul of the forest, and probably gives as much shelter to animals as trees do.

Bocklin was also fond of the philosopher's landscape (above) where thinking man and nature co-exist in harmony.

Here (above) Bocklin imagines Germanic druids expressing their devotion to the forest gods.

Another favorite was Carl Spitzweg (above). I like Spitzweg too, but I have to admit that he's the kind of artist you like when you're young and still struggling to learn the fundamentals. Hitler's art career was cut off early when that struggle was still with him, and pictures like this might have had sentimental value for him because they reminded him of his youth.

He may also have been fond of Spitzweg because both had the same taste for old, unpretentious urban architecture. If Hitler had remained a painter his style might have taken a direction somewhat like this. This would have caused endless frustration for him as modernism took hold. My guess is that he eventually would have attempted an awkward synthesis of the traditional and modern and come to grief with it.

Spitzweg had another side, which might also have appealed to Hitler. He was a painter of lush, romantic landscapes like the one above.

If posters of the above two Spitzwegs were for sale in retail stores today, my guess is that they'd sell pretty well. They depict the world the way we'd like it to be, and express deep yearning for a calm and rational utopia. It's borderline kitsch, but very appealing at the same time.

Franz Von Stuck (above) is sometimes cited as a favorite of the young Hitler. Over time Von Stuck tried to incorporate modern Deco technique into his canvases (the orange and blue canvas above), which is one of the reasons I thought Hitler might eventually have tried the same synthesis.

Hitler's taste in art did evolve over time. His famous plan for the new Berlin (above, re-named Germania) showed that in his maturity he'd definitely been influenced by Art Deco.

Here's (above) a video commissioned by The History Channel, showing what it would have been like to be a motorist, driving down the main boulevard of Germania. I find this modernist vision to be ugly in the extreme, and not at all consistent with the gentle romanticism favored by Spitzweg.

I agree with Lester who said in a comment that Hitler's heart remained with the Spitzweg style, but there's a lot of evidence that his mature mind was seduced by Deco. A lot of the Nazi propaganda posters were done in that style, and it's difficult to believe that they could have been printed without his approval. .

The mature Hitler is also said to have liked Deco artist Anselm Feuerbach (above), who painted classically-posed contemplative women. A bit cold for my taste. In the 30s and 40s a lot of Germans painted this way, maybe because it was a government approved style. I doubt that Boklin or Spitzweg would have approved.

This Cranach painting (above) hung in one of Hitler's public offices. The painting was a gift and my guess is that Hitler admired it only in a formal way.

Monday, August 24, 2009


A few years ago we were all on the edge of our seats, wondering what the Huygens lander would find on Titan (above) when it landed. The mission was an historic success, but the photos were slow in coming and eventually public interest turned to other things. When the pictures were finally released an awful lot of people never saw them.

Well, Theory Corner readers won't be among them. Here, from the European Space Agency site, is Titan.

Before I get to the Huygens photos, let's get a feeling for the kind of world Titan is by looking at a radar photo (above) taken by Huygens' orbital companion, Cassini. It shows a world dominated by land, but dotted all over with large methane lakes.

The delay in assembling the photos came about because the lander (shown in the artist's painting above) was dangling from a parachute and encountered unexpected turbulence in the upper atmosphere. The swinging camera recorded mostly blurs which had to be painstakingly re-constituted in computer labs.

Back to photos again: here's (above) another photo made by Cassini, showing what Huygens saw as it approached the atmosphere.

Switching to Huygens' onboard camera: for a long time we see nothing but haze, then...

...then the first glimpse of land, and a shoreline. The flat area is a dry lake bed.

The bed was recently covered by liquid methane. The green arrows indicate the direction of the flow. Click to enlarge.

Down, down, past mountains and valleys. The color is a guess added by the photo restorers. All of Huygens' photos were black and white.

The lander isn't swinging so much now and the photos are getting clearer.

Finally, the landing! Here's (above) the first, color-coded picture of the surface. The larger rocks in the foreground are about six inches across. The rocks are rounded, indicating erosion by liquid.

The setting sun, as seen on another world.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I wanted to blog about the kind of hillbilly clog dance I used to see on tape at John K's place, but I couldn't find a good video of it. Hillbilly line dancing is different than country. If you have any Ernest Tubbs tapes watch the line dancers in the background...see how their bodies are completely stiff while their legs scramble in place at a mile a THAT'S authentic hillbilly line, or at least it's the kind I like.

Anyway, thinking about that reminded me of the Irish dance it was derived from, which you can see in the "Riverdance" clip above. I imagine tap dancing began with the Celts.

Here's (above) another hillbilly style. Man, those hillbillies were sharp!

Thinking about line dancing reminded me of a popular line dance of the 1920s called "The Peabody." The couples version is complicated, but the line dance can be learned by anybody in an hour or two. The oldsters above don't seem to have any trouble with it. I like line dances. it's fun to do synchronized choreography.

The Peabody survived through decades of permutations, the last one I'm aware of being "The Madison" (above) in the early sixties. Hmmm....there might be a video problem here. If you're seeing a blank space where the film should be, just double click on the empty space.

It's off-topic, but I can't resist throwing in this version of The Charleston." It would be hard to over-estimate the importance of this dance. Similar dances like the Shimmy and the Cake and the Black Bottom pre-dated it, but they were confined to blacks and small numbers of hip whites. The Charleston was the breakout dance that introduced really large numbers of whites to black dance and black culture.

If you've only seen the inverted knee style of Charleston, then you're in for a treat when you see this video (above). I knew from old photos that the dance had a lot more to offer than the knee step. When it's done right The Charleston is liberating and innovative and feels years ahead of its time.

One last digression: one dance that was almost a complete dead end, was burlesque. The intimate dances you see today all seem to have other roots. It never developed into an art form, though you could argue that Gypsy Rose Lee, Marlena Dietrich and others tried to give it a push in that direction.

Friday, August 21, 2009


I wish dancing were easier to animate. The poses dancers take are hilarious.

Actually, they were always funny.

Even dances designed to fit with stately court music (above) were funny. Something about moving to rhythm makes people want to imitate roosters and ducks.

Not only that, but dandies seem to have had a big influence on high society dancing.

Manly men did their best to look virile while dancing (above), but they were swimming upstream. The dandies got there first, when the dances were created.

In order to suck in with high society, men had no choice but to immitate the dandies. The rule was: brawl in the street if you must, but be dainty on the dance floor.

Manly Renaissance men (above) had the additional humiliation of having to wear tights and pantaloons and little capes while dancing.

Even George Washington had to hop around the dance floor in a way that would have gotten him arrested if he'd done it on the streets.

I do like some of these old dances, though. Here's (above) one from the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet. The person who posted it on YouTube cut out some of the steps, but there's enough here so that you get the idea.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


JIMNEY STEWBALL: "Hi, Mr. Potter. Did you want to see me about something?"

MR. POTTER: "About something? Why heavens no, boy! Do two friends who've known each other as long as we have, need an excuse to talk? Have a seat! Take a load off your feet!"

MR. POTTER: "I want to introduce you to my brother, Ebeneezer..."

MR. POTTER (V.O.): "...and my other brother, Samuel. My brothers and I are partners in the company."

JIMNEY STEWBALL: " 'Pleasure ta meet cha'."

JIMNEY STEWBALL: "Look, Mr. Potter....If you have something to say I think it's best just to spit it out."

MR. POTTER: "Spit it out? You do have a way of getting to the point, don't you Jimney? Okay, let's see what we have here."

MR. POTTER: "Why, it's a private detective's report, and's about you."

MR. POTTER: "It says that you've acquired debts that led you to borrow from your own Savings and Loan!"

MR. POTTER: "Oooo...borrowing from your own company's funds. Conflict of interest. That's naughty."

SAMUEL: "Let's be frank, Mr. Stewball. You have a narcissistic wife who requires enormous quantities of fancy clothing every month, do you not?"

JIMNEY STEWBALL: "Well I wouldn't exactly say...I mean not every...well...well, er, maybe."

INSERT OF JIMNEY'S WIFE: (She kisses herself repeatedly).

(Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!)

EBENEEZER: "And a senile mother-n-law who's always being fined for running around the neighborhood naked?"


JIMNEY STEWBALL: "Yeeeaaah...Gee, I wish she wouldn't do that."

MR. POTTER: "(Sniff!) I sympathize with you. I know you're honest. It says here that you've paid back most of the money already."

MR. POTTER (CONT): "Even so, as a stockholder I could have you arrested. Not that I would, of course."

MR. POTTER: (Slams the table): "BUT I SHOULD!!! You're not a responsible business man!!!!"

JIMNEY STEWBALL: "Well, Mr. Potter...I did build houses for twenty families last year."

JIMNEY STEWBALL: "Some of them had trouble meeting the payments, and I took up the slack with my own money. That meant I had to borrow to pay for all the fancy dresses and nudist fines."

MR. POTTER: "I know, I know. You don't have to explain anything to me, Jimney. Just sign this bill of sale and your debts will be a thing of the past. Of course I'll foreclose on all those dirty clients of yours who work with their hands, but what do you care?"

JIMNEY STEWBALL: "What do I care? My father worked with his hands, and his father before him."

JIMNEY STEWBALL: "Doggone it, Mr. Potter! Ya sit there in your fancy chair, and ya think you're better than everybody else. Well, you're not!"

JIMNEY STEWBALL: "In the vast scheme of things, you're just an insignificant..."

JIMNEY STEWBALL: "An insignificant..."

JIMNEY STEWBALL: "Just a...just a....."

MR. POTTER: "Calm down, Jimney! Calm down! You haven't heard the rest of the offer! We'll take care of your family for you."


SAMUEL: "Yes, your wife and mother-in-law would be removed to an impossibly remote cannibal island. Everyone runs around naked there, so your mother-in-law wouldn't mind."

JIMNEY STEWBALL: "But...but what about my wife?"

EBENEEZER: "The first foreigner they've ever seen. She'll be worshipped as a god. It's every narcissist's dream."

JIMNEY STEWBALL: "Yeah...yeah, it is kind of, isn't it?"

JIMNEY STEWBALL: "Okay, where do I sign?"

All the parts in this parody played by me, Eddie fitzgerald. I just wanted to see if I could play old man parts.