The Allure Of Dreamscapes

Angelina Jolie fans may enjoy seeing her in the 1994 Meat Loaf video Rock’N’Roll Dreams Come Through. In it she plays a teenage runaway who wanders into a dreamscape industrial complex. (The first line of the song is “You can’t run away forever.”)

Meatloaf first appears as a singing head inside a juke box. When Jolie is menaced by two thugs, the jukebox explodes, freeing Meatloaf to save her. At first Jolie might seem the proverbial damsel in distress being saved by a knight, but Meatloaf is more a father figure who shows her the distress that her running away has caused others. The refrain of the song is:

There’s always something magic,
There’s always something new,
And when you really, really need it the most,
That’s when rock and dreams come through

Eventually Jolie is shown inside the jukebox, with music piped straight into her ears. She holds a crystal ball, suggesting acquired wisdom. Later an angel appears, hovering over the group that has gathered there.

At the end of the video Jolie walks through the gate of a suburban mansion, returning home. Despite the soft-focus photography, suburbia looks dull compared to the surreal world of the dream. But Jolie’s last-second smile suggests she has learned that she can use music to sometimes escape her ordinary existence by dreaming of a far more magical world.

Flowers, Taste, And Social Gatherings

Ingrid_Bergman In his wonderful book Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, Michael Pollan writes about his move from a Manhattan apartment to five acres in Connecticut. In winter many gardeners spend time looking at flower and seed catalogs. Pollan’s musings on the social attitudes of these catalogs are priceless, as when he discusses the austere snobbery of the White Flower Farm in Connecticut and the colorful extravagance of Wayside Gardens in South Carolina. “If White Flower proposes a garden fit for Cabots and Lodges, Wayside has one Scarlett O’Hara would die for.”

The photography in each catalog is telling. In the Connecticut catalog, “flowers are always photographed at a discreet distance and several days before their peak.” Pollan writes that in contrast:

Wayside likes to photograph its flowers when they are in full bloom, wide open and almost past their peak—as in one of those Dutch still lifes where blossoms poise on the verge of shattering and decadence hovers in the wings. Wayside blooms press forward from their pages provocatively, many of them bursting free of their frames, almost as if from a bodice. The effect is frankly sensual, yet never quite garish—except, perhaps, to a Puritan.

The White Flower Farm emphasizes discrimination and taste, whereas in Wayside it is ancestry that matters— “who her daddy is,” as Pollan writes.

Rose hybridizers seem particularly prone to naming their roses after famous people, which can make for strange social gatherings. In one of our gardens we placed the demurely pink Queen Elizabeth in the same bed as the velvety red Ingrid Bergman, and flamboyantly orange-red Dolly Parton.

Other kinds of names are used as well. Iris and daylily hybridizers seem prone to metaphoric names like the white daylily “Sunday Gloves” and the dark iris “Satan’s Mistress.” Surely placing these close together would invite trouble.

In the future, I can imagine that a flower catalog might include roses named “Michelle Obama” and “Sarah Palin.” If so, I think only a fearless, bipartisan gardener would dare plant both of them.

[Photo of Ingrid Bergman rose courtesy of J. Jorge, whose Flickr sets are here.]

The Warhol Effect: From Edie Sedgwick To The Hills

Guest blogger Peter LiCalsi is a screenwriter in Los Angeles who has done work in production design and art direction. You can contact him at

One of my guilty pleasures is the "reality" show, The Hills, in which a cadre of vapid beautiful people (the millennial Bright Young Things, though not all that bright) are given the skeleton of scenes which loosely resemble events actually unfolding in their own lives, and improvise accordingly. We are meant to believe that the scenes played out are the actual lives of those stars, or personalities. What unfolds can be a banal and trite soap opera, but more often than not the scenes themselves are surreal and voyeuristic. The fourth wall is never broken, yet what remains--or rather, what is allowed to remain--are the awkward pauses, the stuttering, the bizarre locutions and facial gestures, the run-ons, and the fragments that are rife within, yes ... reality.

In film, the vérité technique has been used to great effect to illustrate that a subject needn't be editorialized to be compelling. Much of the most famous vérité work has sought to depict the mundane. The Hills, by contrast, uses a vérité lens to examine traditionally "glamorous" subjects. The young, beautiful, and affluent are seen in all their glory--attending nightclubs, buying expensive clothes, staying at resorts, and jet setting to Vegas one weekend, Cabo the next. Yet they are robbed of an essential element of glamour: grace. 

This combination of glamorous subject matter and graceless presentation is derivative of many of the films from Andy Warhol's Factory. Indeed, much of reality television seems to be Warhol's legacy: Warhol's famous “15 minutes of fame” idea is predicated on the notion that fame per se is a cultural commodity, with value independent of any deeper association. The rise of the reality show, the faux-reality show, YouTube, etc.--these owe a great deal to Warhol's insistence that simply focusing the eye toward a subject can imbue it with artistic and commercial value.

Among these, The Hills is quite special. It dispenses with the grace, eloquence, and comportment that are typically granted to attractive, affluent characters in western pop culture. In doing so it confirms, intentionally or not, Warhol's point that beauty validates itself indefinitely. And fame validates beauty eternally. Perhaps we miss the point when we agonize that Lauren, Audrina, Brody, and The Whole Sick Crew probably couldn't master long division, and are thus not worthy of mass adulation. They are works of art to be observed, nothing more--the descendants of the Campbell’s Soup Can.


More pointedly, it’s difficult to watch Warhol's Poor Little Rich Girl, the hour-long film of heiress Edie Sedgwick preparing for a party, musing on about her reckless spending habits, rock and roll, and fur coats, and not recognize some happenstance lineage to The Hills. Warhol expanded upon Keats's "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” making beauty an acceptable tenet of art after the deconstructionism of the previous half-century. The Hills is one of the many chapters in the battleground of glamour and reason, one that says we can have our cake and look at it too.

Matzah-riffic Kitchen

Motzahkitchen How cute  are these Passover oven mitts, hot-pot holders and even a kippah! Matzah-themed kitchen accessories at Ralphs.

You can also buy them online.

Image Creates Reality: The Persistence Of Ruffs

DSCN0456This completely unauthorized and illicit photo (click for a larger view) is from an exhibit currently installed at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence. With an evocative name that translates "The Medici: The Dream Returns," the show features life-size, and three-dimensional, versions of personages known only from their portraits. Recreated by Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave, the clothes are made not of silks and laces embroidered with gold but of paper and paint. (Good photos and a video in English are on her website here.)

Paper, says de Borchgrave, "is a very simple, undaunting material. There's not the same fear of ruining it as there is with cloth. I create a trompe-l'oeil, an illusion, as in painting, as is the Chapel of the Magi frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli," the museum's signature work, whose portraits feature carefully rendered textiles.


Perhaps because its material is so scratchy and yet so light, the exhibit reminded me of an observation about the relationship between painting and fashion made by the brilliant fashion historian Anne Hollander in a 1991 essay published in The Idealizing Vision : The Art of Fashion Photography. Hollander wrote:

In the superior world of the painter, noble personages in all sorts of awkward gear were created and presented in a state of ideal dignity and refinement; and so a standard was set for perfect appearance that might be followed by the living originals, who could feel beautiful in their trappings instead of trapped. Consequently, still bigger lace ruffs and even thicker silk skirts might continue in vogue, even into the next generation, because Rubens and Van Dyck and their colleagues were at work rendering them glorious to see, wonderfully becoming, and apparently effortless to wear.

Of course, it's also possible that those people looked in their mirrors--or at each other--and wondered why they couldn't live up to those glamorous images. Could a little girl in a dirty world ever have a dress this white?

Stevie Nicks: Going Like Sixty In Style

Somehow Ruth La Ferla managed to write an entire piece about the enduring style of Stevie Nicks without ever resorting to the phrase "unmade bed".

Stevie once told a reporter that she saw a woman on the street, and wanted the same look:

So when I joined Fleetwood Mac and I had some money, I went to a lady and I said, I want you to make me a raggy chiffon skirt that looks sort of like an urchin on the wharves of London.

To be fair, La Ferla dubs her the anti-Madonna.

Lust To Dust: Jane Cosmetics Files For Chapt. 11

Mid-range, but raved-about, makeup brand Jane is filing for bankruptcy, which will be sad news for fans of the super-saturated colors.  Jane wasn't so hard to find as to be a cult brand, but gave a lot of punch for few bucks at the drugstore.

Vc284a Makeup aficionados love to mourn the lost (and perfume freaks are even worse), and rightly so.  No high-priced brand can match the sprightly packaging of Yardley's Eau de London scent and makeup collections today-- I know a graphic artist who still has all those cute little china pots,  with  their shimmering contents are long departed.  Of course, the company abandoned Carnaby Street, and  fans abandoned them.  
That's Jean Shrimpton in the print ad--love that line Self-Realization, His Capitulation.

Love had Ali McGraw as a model, and a great eyeshadow --Lovelids, which came in an eyeball shaped container, which sounds creepy but it was cute, honest. 

What becomes of the discontinued, once was loved but now departed? The internet abounds with info.  You gotta shop around.

Potty Glamour

So there I was, minding my own business, flipping through the May issue of Food & Wine, when I saw this:

Kohler ad

My thoughts, in chronological order:

1. A toilet in a train station. Interesting.  

2. Good for Kohler for committing to their campaign. Really committing.  

3. You know who else - besides, I suppose, Kohler's target audience - is fascinated by both trains and toilets? Two-year old boys.

All that aside, I actually do like this ad. It captures the glamorous appeal of the train, the excitement of travel and the romance of a long-gone era. Plus, I happen to be in the camp that believes that even an appliance as lowly as the toilet deserves top-quality design, so it works for me. I must be a part of that target audience. But still. Glamour. Toilet. My inner Beavis just won't pipe down.

Princesses And PMS


The folks who brought us "Got Milk?" have new Spanish-language commercials putting a glamorous-to-little-girls spin on their product, with an animated commercial, featuring a sad princess rescued by a handsome prince bearing a magical glass of milk. When I first saw the press release, I assumed the fairy-tale pitch was designed to get kids to give up the juice and soda for something a little healthier. (Remember "builds strong bones and teeth"?)

But the ad is actually about PMS--a subject neither glamorous nor little girly. The press release helpfully informs us non-Spanish speakers that the tag line is, "The calcium in milk may reduce premenstrual symptoms. TOMA LECHE."

The commercial is pitched not to would-be Disney Princesses but to the telenovela crowd. In fact, the California Milk Producers Board is running a contest called "NO MORE DRAMA WITH TOMA LECHE," inviting Californians to "submit a Web Novela video no more than three minutes in length or a storyboard of no more than 15 illustrations showing how milk can help alleviate the symptoms of PMS. The submissions must be in Spanish or subtitled." Complete rules at the unbelievably slow-loading

Addendum: I am still looking for information about why little girls play princess. (Great comments on that original post.)

Sponge Bob Meets Sir Mix-a-Lot

Via AdGabber, which doesn't approve ("a porn director's wet dream....Here come the cause groups"), comes news of this bizarrely witty Burger King ad, which alters Sir Mix-A-Lot's paean to backsides so that it fits SpongeBob Square Pants. The "director's cut" is above. Here's the actual commercial:

I'm not in the Sponge Bob demographic, but I think the ad is fun and playful, not the sort of thing that conjures up phrases like "porn director" and "wet dream." Besides, I like anything that rewards Sir Mix-a-Lot for glamorizing big butts.