die-hard downton

Screen Shot 2013-07-19 at 11.30.09 AMCan’t wait until January for the next season of Downton Abbey? A new package from Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair, London, is the perfect antidote for any fans traveling across the pond this summer in need of a first-hand fix. In partnership with Lords Cars, the hotel is giving guests the chance to take advantage of their exclusive chauffeur service and spend a day in the country exploring Highclere Castle – aka Downton Abbey. The fun begins with selecting your vehicle of choice. Die hard Downton fans will undoubtedly choose the Rolls Royce which recently appeared in the show, though other options include the Queen Mum’s favorite, “The Ivy Baroness,” or a Daimler which was featured in the movie “The Italian Job.” Next, travel in impeccable style to Highclere Castle, the home of the Carnarvon family since 1679, where you can explore the interiors of one of England’s more beautiful Victorian castles and wander the extensive gardens in search of the Dowager Countess. History buffs should take note of the castle’s Egyptian Exhibition, which highlights the achievements of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who famously discovered the tomb of the Egyptian boy pharaoh, Tutankhamen. After a day of Downton-inspired activities – tea, anyone? – return and relax with a cocktail in Brown’s Donovan Bar before turning in for the night with a copy of Lady Carnarvon’s recent book, the bestselling “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey.” What’s a weekend, indeed.


at the theatre: breakfast at tiffany’s & ann

Ann & Breakfast at Tiffanys

I don’t get the sentimental attraction to Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Is it the waifish innocence of Audrey Hepburn’s Givenchy-clad eccentric crooning “Moon River” in the film version that sets the hearts of grown men and women aflutter? Or is it nostalgia for a time when it seemed possible that anybody could reinvent themselves simply by wishing it so? Either way, I don’t buy it. Maybe there’s a charm and subtlety to Capote’s novella – no less a curmudgeon than Norman Mailer declared that he “would not change two words” of it – but Holly Golightly is no radical; she is no Sally Bowles. For one, the two black sheep at the center of the story lack the context that made the denizens of Christopher Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories” so excitingly alive. This problem is only exacerbated in playwright Richard Greenberg’s lovingly dusty adaptation now in previews at the Cort Theater on Broadway. Holly and Fred, the unsexed homosexual narrator who sets this flight of fancy in motion, aren’t so much two lost souls as two souls lost in schmaltz. Fidelity to the source seems to have jaundiced Greenberg’s usually sharp dramatic eye. Director Sean Mathias – who helmed a different adaptation of the story to less than glowing notices in London last year – adds only fuel to the nostalgia fire with gauzy scrims and violins and projections which yearn for a city long since gone. When I wasn’t dozing off I had the distinct feeling of watching a play through the lenses of a stereopticon – until a painfully awkward nude scene involving a bathtub and strategically placed bubbles arrived too little too late. (Mr. Mathias, if you recall, is the man who orchestrated a lengthy nude scene for Jude Law’s Broadway debut in a play whose title might just as well serve on the marquee at the Cort, Indiscretions.) Cory Michael Smith, forceful and riveting in Mike Bartlett’s Cock two seasons ago at The Duke, makes a likable, if bland, Broadway debut here. Would that Mr. Mathias lavished as much attention on Smith’s sculpted abs as he did Law’s manhood. And poor Emilia Clarke, well, she just seems out of her league as jolly Holly – but then what actress could make this wholly unbelievable character believable? Winsome melancholy doesn’t really travel well across the footlights. If you prefer your characters a bit stronger or, say, larger than life, better to skip uptown where Holland Taylor isn’t so much portraying charismatic Texas Governor Ann Richards as channeling her onstage at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont. As written by Taylor, it’s not much of a play – a few anecdotes here, a bit of hagiography there – and I’m not entirely sure it’s deserving of the overproduced Broadway production it enjoys, but it’s immensely satisfying – not mention a change of pace – to sit in the presence of a dynamic politician who had not only a gift for the gab and a talent for zingers but also believed in the higher calling of public service.


having a yentl moment



oscar, oscar, oscar

academy awards

If tonight’s Academy Awards were honestly about celebrating the past year’s achievements in cinema the evening would have a decidedly more Gallic flavor, as Michael Haneke’s tender and terrifying Amour ran circles around the competition. (My nod goes to Beasts of the Southern Wild, if it must be l’affaire Americaine.) But we’re being honest, right? With rare exception, Oscar celebrates compromise, commerce, and the elevation of some poor soul as the next “it girl.” (How else do you explain the explosive rise of the merely competent Jennifer Lawrence?) Argo is an immensely satisfying film – craftier and better told than Steven Spielberg’s laboriously prosaic Lincoln – but is it really “the best”? For a film that celebrates American exceptionalism Saturday matinee-style, enjoyability is just not good enough. If Hollywood felt the need to anoint one of their own, surely Quentin Tarantino’s messy masterpiece, Django Unchained, would better fit the bill. Disguised as a buddy picture, it does more to make visceral the evils and effects of slavery than anything seen on screen since Alex Haley’s Roots. That it delivers as entertainment, with style and not sermons, only sweetens the achievement. Still, I can’t help being haunted by the painterly composition and chiaroscuro of Amour – as if Vermeer took the frailty of life as his subject and not milkmaids and girls with pearl earrings. Stars Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant give two of the most nakedly honest performances ever committed to celluloid. (That Trintignant was overlooked in favor of the likes of Bradley Cooper is a joke on the level of Compliance‘s masterly Ann Dowd getting passed over for Jacki Weaver smiling in the background of Silver Linings Playbook.) Oh, I will still be watching tonight, don’t get me wrong. Me and a billion-plus other people around the globe; for the sniping, the spectacle of who’s wearing what, and the endearing self-consciousness of Anne Hathaway’s unmitigated narcissism. I’m just not going to pretend that it’s about anything more than that.


i scream you scream we all scream for…norway?

The Scream - Credit:  Munch Museum/Munch-Ellingsen Group/BONO

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, who painted a little canvas you’re likely using as a mouse pad right now, VisitNorway has released a short film on its website to show travelers a few Norwegian-style scream experiences. Don’t expect The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or The Killing (Sweden and Denmark, respectively), or even a sinister Nordic take on splatter-porn, however; this flick is all about the good things in life that make you scream. The fun part is that anyone can join in helping to create what organizers hope will become the longest scream in the world – and ride it all the way to the land of northern lights and midnight suns. Upload your own scream clip and have it added to the original film, helping to grow it longer. (It sounds like a Warhol experiment, doesn’t it?) As the film grows so does the value of the grand-prize trip drawn from all the submitted entries. Norwegian director of tourism, Per-Arne Tuftin, put it in a Nordic nutshell: “We basically want to make the world scream.”


in praise of bond

I love the James Bond films  – even the lame ones - for so many reasons: the geeky gadgets and kooky villains for a start. Then there’s the crazy chases and death-defying stunts and, of course, Bond’s bevy of double entendre-toting beauties. Plus, there’s all the exotic locales. In film after film, few heroes have given us wider license to travel the far corners of the world than Agent 007. Here are just a few memorable highlights.

SCHILTHORN, SWITZERLAND: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) took us to the mountaintop, literally: the 2,970-meter-high Schilthorn, which George Lazenby skied down at breathtaking speed with Telly Savalas as Blofeld in hot pursuit. It’s one of the great movie ski chase scenes, now documented in an exhibit at Piz Gloria, which doubled as the Bleuchamp Institute for Allergy Research in the film. Organized Bond-themed excursions start from the car-free town of Mürren, or you can glide up the mountain yourself on a 32-minute aerial cable car trip that originates in Stechelberg. For more Bond-style adventure, ski the mountain’s 15.8 km mixed-terrain Inferno course. Experienced skiers usually cover it in about 45 minutes; competitors in the annual Inferno Race – the largest amateur ski race in the world – can do it in 15.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY: Several locations in Turkey – where East meets West on the banks of the mighty Bosphorus – are featured in Skyfall, the newest adventures of James Bond. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar has been a must-see since 1461. More than 550 years later, it attracts nearly a half-million visitors daily. Presumably few of them other than Skyfall director Sam Mendes envision its narrow, crowded aisles as a location for a high-speed chase. It is, however, an excellent place to buy local handicrafts and to engage all your senses as you immerse yourself in the city.

KEY WEST, FLORIDA: Licence to Kill (1989) kicks off with Timothy Dalton parachuting in with CIA pal Felix Leiter to Felix’s wedding at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church in Key West after some insane aerial maneuvers. Other scenes shot in the area include a car chase on Seven Mile Bridge, the segmented concrete (to make it hurricane-resistant) span you’ll cross if you’re driving to Key West, and a scene at the Ernest Hemingway Home in which M demands that Bond relinquish his “license to kill.” Hemingway, no slouch in the adventure department himself, moved to the house at 907 Whitehead Street in 1931. A guided tour shows off his writing studio as well as the descendants of Hemingway’s famous six-toed cats, who have unlimited license to roam the house and grounds.

THE BAHAMAS: Of Bond’s many visits to the Bahamas, the most memorable is Sean Connery’s 1965 Thunderball battle in the underwater caves of the Exuma Cays. They’ve been known ever since as the Thunderball Grotto. (Connery returned there in 1983 for Never Say Never Again.) Several charter companies, including Four C’s Adventures and the Island Routes 007 Thunderball Luxury Tour, will take you out to the grotto by boat and guide you on a snorkeling route to the inside of the caves, where the light streams in and colorful fish dart about below the water’s surface.

PARIS: With an “I’m too old for this stuff” look on his face, Roger Moore chased Grace Jones to the top of the Eiffel Tower in A View to a Kill (1985), only to watch her parachute off, land on a boat conveniently waiting along the Seine, and make a spectacular getaway in one of the film’s more memorable scenes. (It was almost as good as Duran Duran’s video for the movie’s theme song.) On a tour of the tower, you’ll learn about Franz Reichfelt’s tragic demonstration of his “parachute suit” in 1912, which should convince you that parachuting off the observation deck is not the thing to do here. However, if you’re feeling fit, climb the 704 steps from the ground to the second floor. From there, you can catch the lift to the top, where you’ll find a champagne bar with killer views of its own.

AUYUITTUQ NATIONAL PARK, CANADA: Nobody does it better, ahem, than the opening sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), in which Roger Moore BASE jumps off the edge of a mountain and – whoosh – a Union Jack parachute opens and glides him to safety. The mountain, with its distinctive twin flat-topped peaks at 6,598 feet, is Mount Asgard in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island, Canada. Serious outdoors people find the 7,370-square-mile arctic park a haven of pristine beauty offering 24-hour daylight in summer. Accessible via the Inuit hamlets of Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq, which can be reached only by small plane, the park requires that all visitors attend a safety orientation before they embark on their travels. For this level of adventure, only experienced wilderness travelers — and MI-6 agents — need apply.


titanic town

Titanic Belfast is the city’s new “must see” attraction – and it’s a wonder how it took the city leaders so long to exploit the worldwide fascination with the most famous maritime disaster of all time. Rising on the slipways where both RMS Olympic and Titanic were built, the distinctive building takes obvious inspiration from both a ship’s prow and the refracted gleam of ice. Drawing together special effects, full-scale reconstructions, and innovative interactive features across nine galleries, the Titanic story is explored in a fresh and insightful way; from her conception in Belfast in the early 1900s, through her construction and launch, to her infamous maiden voyage and catastrophic demise. The journey goes beyond the aftermath of the sinking, too, to the discovery of the wreck and continues into the present day with a live undersea exploration centre. We all think we know the Titanic story but to a large extent we are well acquainted with only a very small sliver: the ill-fated maiden voyage. What I found most interesting at Titanic Belfast was context so often missing from any modern retellings: in the early 20th Century Belfast was enjoying the greatest boom in its history. The city was a global leader in engineering, ship-building and linen manufacturing, and Belfast’s Harland and Wolff had become the largest shipyard in the world. It was this thriving local industry along with innovations in design that led to the creation of RMS Titanic and it’s sister ship, Olympic. Special effects, animations and full-scale reconstructions bring to life the reality of shipbuilding in the early 1900’s: a superhuman undertaking of skilled labor, brute force, and engineering prowess.  Beyond that it delves into the ship’s launch - a large window overlooking the actual slipways is fitted with state-of-the-art glass containing electrodes that switch from the normal view to a superimposed image of the Titanic on the slipways for a unique perspective of how the ship would have appeared – custom fit-out, the sinking and the aftermath. It even finds time to explore the multitude of myths and legends surrounding Titanic’s story before depositing visitors in a gift shop burdened by extraordinarily bad taste. But no bother, Titanic Belfast isn’t so much a story of tragedy but one of triumph: after all, once upon a time Boomtown Belfast built the largest and most luxurious ship in the world.


theatrically inclined

Much to my chagrin, the one-off movie theater across the street from my apartment recently closed. It showed crap movies, so no wonder; yet I still can’t help but mourn the passing of yet another single-screen cinema in this city. What the block-long expanse will become remains uncertain: the theater seats were sold off in the lobby to anyone who happened to notice the hand-scrawled For Sale sign, and the adjoining three shops have all been stripped bare. A sign at the corner announcing yet another TD Bank – just what the neighborhood needs – promises that the project will constitute some sort of major redevelopment. Not to sound too sanguine but I guess theaters come and theaters go; becoming everything from hot-spot bars to banks to parking lots. With that in mind, here are a few more recent converts that have bowed to changing times – and ever-changing needs.

THEN: The Jane Street Theater • NOW: The Jane hotel ballroom • Location: NYC

History:  The Jane Street Theater was an off-Broadway theatre in Greenwich Village with a small stage and a seating capacity of 280.  Notable shows presented at the Jane Street Theater included Hedwig and the Angry Inch (rumored to be coming to Broadway) and Jonathan Larsen’s tick, tick … BOOM! After the theatre was purchased by hoteliers Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode, they converted it into an event space called The Jane ballroom, located in the adjacent hotel, The Jane.

THEN: Michigan Theater  • NOW: Parking lot • Location: Detroit, Michigan

History: The Michigan Theater was built in August 1926. With a seating capacity of 4,050, the concert hall/movie house was one of the largest in Michigan. In the 1960s, it televised Red Wings hockey games for those who could not attend, and in the 1970s it was reborn as a nightclub and concert venue. In 1976, the main hall and lobby were gutted and converted into a multi-story parking structure – with much of the original architecture left intact! Ironically enough, the Michigan Theater is built on the site of the small garage where Henry Ford built his first automobile.

THEN: Mayan Theatre • NOW: The Mayan nightclub • Location: Los Angeles

History: Designed by Mexican artist Francisco Cornejo as a spectacular Mayan revival theater, the aptly-named Mayan Theater was built in 1927. Created solely as a venue for stage musicals, the debut event was a production of the Gershwins’ Oh Kay! In the 1980s, the theater fell on hard times and was bought by a developer who turned it into a nightclub. The building was renovated and – surprise, again – all the original architecture was maintained. Now, in addition to nightclub duty, The Mayan hosts the annual World Salsa Competition and on Sundays is home to evangelical church services.

THEN: The Villa Theatre • NOW: Adib’s Rug Gallery • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

History: The Villa Theatre opened in 1949 showing Prince of Foxes on a screen 26 feet wide by 20 feet high, one of the largest screens in the West. In 1958, the Villa drew nationwide attention for its record-breaking 10-month and 4-day run of South Pacific. Moviegoers came to the theater from all parts of Utah, as well as southern Idaho and eastern Nevada.  After a string of renovations and ownership changes, the Villa Theatre was sold to Dr. Hamid Adib who preserved the theater’s original facade and restored the building. It’s currently enjoying new life as a gallery for Persian and Oriental rugs.


some like it hot

The Hotel Del Coronado sits across the bay from San Diego on the misnamed Coronado Island – it’s technically a peninsula – and harkens back to a time when people summered by the sea. (or in this case along the Pacific) A sprawling, late-Victorian ensemble of cottages, spa, villas, shops and a proper hotel, too, it’s as architecturally distinguished as anything you’re likely to find in Southern California. For movie aficionados, however, it’s held in especially high regard as a former playground for the stars of Hollywood’s golden age – in addition to being the scene of Billy Wilder’s classic comedy Some Like it Hot. And while these days the hotel is family friendly to a degree I would describe as just this side of unpalatable, an early morning breakfast overlooking the ocean made for a very pleasant high-calorie way to greet the day. Across the street from The Del, as it’s commonly called, I was able to yet again indulge my near insatiable passion for fish tacos at Brigantine. (Hours later, thank you. Not right after breakfast.) And since it’s my last day in San Diego, I opted to go whole hog. Or er, fish. Tacos three ways:  classic batter fried, grilled tilapia, and pan-seared cod, all on soft corn tortillas.  Life in San Diego is swell – and very much as it should be.


oscar special: tina fey, sage


at the theatre: women on the verge

You may have heard that David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane’s flaccid musical interpretation of Pedro Almodovar’s black comedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is set to close a few weeks in advance of its limited run.  No need to rush out and buy tickets, folks, as all the fair to middling faint praise you’ve heard is, unfortunately, on the money.

The film, featuring an unknown Antonio Banderas and the irrepressible Carmen Maura, was released in 1988, a full decade into the Spanish movement known as La Movida – the Madrileno counter-cultural reaction to the death of  Franco.  It represented a resurgence of the Spanish economy and the forging of a new Spanish identity, characterized by freedom of expression, a spirit of freedom on the streets, and the transgression against taboos imposed by a dictatorial regime.  The messiness of that freedom was what Almodovar found himself satirizing:  new money, recreational drugs, and free love were a potent hedonistic cocktail for citizens used to being told what they could and could not do.

What the stage adaptation attempts to satirize under the guidance of director Bartlett Sher is, well, nothing.  Mistaking the film for a Latin exercise in zaniness, the authors have attempted to craft a screwball musical comedy that’s not terribly musical and only intermittently amusing.  (Hats off, however, to the  inspired Laura Benanti, who brings down the house with her song Model Behavior and provides most of the evening’s all too few laugh out loud moments.)  The talent left to bog snorkel through this muck is impressive:  Sherie Rene Scott, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Danny Burstein, and Patti Lupone, who seems to spend half the show crossing upstage in various funny hats.

“Nervous breakdown” is actually a poor translation of the Spanish “ataques de nervios,” which in truth is closer to hysteria or post traumatic stress disorder.  This Women on the Verge … doesn’t come close to making that distinction – or minding for that matter.


at the movies: inception

Snowmageddon gave me the chance to catch up on some moveigoing, which I must admit has been rather lax as of late.  Thanks to on-demand I didn’t have to leave the couch – or worry about those nasty bedbugs, which have kept me wary of enjoying a proper cinema experience.  High on the list for a long time has been Christopher Nolan’s Inception.  At times perplexing, if not downright confusing, I must bow down to the  creative imagination (and special effects) involved.  Plus, if ever there was an Oscar for outstanding final image in a film this picture would have it in a lock:  the almost imperceptible wobble of Leonardo DiCaprio’s spinning totem was a precis of all that had come before, while simultaneously daring the viewer to question its reality.  More than just a satisfying end to the film, it was a breathtaking cinematic moment for the books.


obit (the dust) of the month: oh, no! it wasn’t the airplanes

The Italian-born film producer Dino De Laurentiis, who has died aged 91, will perhaps go down in movie history as the last “transatlantic” tycoon. Over a career spanning more than 60 years, producing films on both sides of the ocean, he had as many flops as hits. But De Laurentiis almost always succeeded in staying afloat.

In Rome, he produced Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning La Strada (1954) and the grandiose spectacular War and Peace (1956), but also made The Bible: In the Beginning (1966) and Waterloo (1970), which never recovered their costs. Relocating to the US, he enjoyed success with Serpico (1973), Death Wish (1974), Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Conan the Barbarian (1982), but had financial disasters including Year of the Dragon (1985) and a failed food emporium, which he opened in New York. De Laurentiis was also a starmaker, both in Italy, where he launched the career of the actor Silvana Mangano, who became his wife, and in the US, where he boosted Al Pacino’s career.

Born in Torre Annunziata, in the province of Naples, De Laurentiis was the son of a pasta manufacturer for whom he worked as a travelling salesman in his teens. While selling pasta in Rome in the mid-30s, he decided on an impulse to enrol at the city’s film school, the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, as an actor. He soon realised that his flair was more for production. He was able to gain experience in most sectors of the industry before producing his first film, L’Amore Canta (Love Song, 1941), at the age of 22.  READ MORE


at the movies: kazan, kazan

I totally dropped the ball regarding the New York Film Festival this year.  Or rather my friend who usually procures my tickets dropped the ball and I didn’t see a single one of the main slate films.  However, I did make it to a special event double-feature that served as a tribute to one of the twentieth century’s great artists, Elia Kazan: a screening of Martin Scorsese’s A Letter to Elia and Kazan’s own America, America in a newly restored print.

Kazan is a polarizing figure.  Though unarguably one of the greatest stage and film directors of our time, his name is often mentioned in the same breath as another controversial artist, Leni Reifenstahl.  And with that the implication is clear:  you cannot separate the artist from the person; any achievement, no matter how staggering, is nullified by the personal failings of it’s creator.  I don’t necessarily subscribe to such an absolutist view of the world, yet at the same time one of my early teachers was Morris Carnovsky, one of leading actors in the seminal Group Theater, from which Kazan  – among so many others – sprang in the 1930’s.  Carnovsky was one of names named by Kazan before Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee -  and with that his career evaporated.

At the time Kazan’s autobiography was published in the mid-1980’s, I was just starting out in the New York theater.  My first big gig was the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s The Price with Eli Wallach.  And while Miller – who refused to testify before the committee and later toasted Kazan at the opening of his loosely veiled play about the Communist witch hunts, The Crucible – never spoke to him again, Wallach and his wife, Anne Jackson, remained close to Kazan throughout.  So when Eli mentioned that Kazan was coming to see the play, I made sure he would introduce me.  What do you say to an artist you idolize?  How is it possible to describe to a stranger how their work, their art, has changed you?  (This is after all the man who directed Death of A Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, On The Waterfront.  Kazan found a new way of telling stories by digging towards deeper truths.  After Kazan, the theater and the cinema will never be the same.)  This is a fundamental question addressed in Scorsese’s film as he speaks forcefully and passionately about Kazan as a formative film-making influence.  Yet that doesn’t work as cinema ultimately.  What does work are the precisely chosen clips and interview footage of the director himself.  As the film recounts the director’s tumultuous immigrant journey from the Group Theater to the Hollywood A-list to the thicket of the blacklist, it makes a powerful case for Kazan as a profoundly personal artist.

And that dovetails nicely with what was the big surprise of the evening:  a screening of Kazan’s epic,  America, America.  Based on the life of Kazan’s own uncle, it is an unforgettable story of an impoverished and oppressed Greek Turk determined to escape, by any means necessary, to the land of the free. His perilous journey across mountains and oceans, through arranged marriages and crafty swindlers, rivals that of an earlier Greek voyager, Odysseus, in its epic emotional sweep. Obviously intensely personal, all you need to know about Kazan the man and Kazan the artist is in this film.  And Haskell Wexler’s photography is nothing short of stunning, too.  Rarely screened and never released on DVD, it is finally getting it’s due in a Kazan boxed set due to come out in November.


at the movies: a single man

Isherwood Watching Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man, put me in a Berlin-flecked, Isherwood state of mind last night.  (by the way, not only is the film as beautifully shot as you’d expect, but Colin Firth’s performance as a man come undone by the death of his long-term partner is wrenching – especially when Ford allows the camera to linger on the actor’s face in extreme close-up.)

I’d never appreciated Christopher Isherwood until relatively recently.  I was in Berlin for work – my first trip to the sprawling German capital – and was staying in Schoneberg, the old, leafy “gayborhood.” In search of breakfast one morning, I literally stumbled upon the house where Isherwood lived and worked on Nollendorfestrasse.  The building served as a model for what is perhaps his best known work, Goodbye to Berlin, which was subsequently adapted into a play and later the film, Cabaret.  Trying to decipher the plaque that marks the structure, it struck me how Isherwood was part of the gay pantheon, and yet I knew almost nothing of his work – only a few prurient details regarding his personal life.

I picked up a copy of The Berlin Stories soon after and was surprised to find a fresh, modern style of writing that would be ripped off and imitated frequently throughout the 20th century.  The narrator functions as a camera – hence I Am A Camera, duh – observing the world around him in documentary fashion; and even more interesting (to me) the narrator’s true journey happens in camera; that is, in a private place – secreted away from the action.  (I could pun on this for a while, so I’ll just put it out there how the word “cabaret” derives from the Latin “camera,” too.)  Isherwood’s style of writing fundamentally altered our perception of how fiction could function, so it’s a shame he remains so under-appreciated.  I hope the success of Ford’s film might pique a renewed interest in his oeuvre.

In addition to chancing upon Isherwood’s house, I also found myself living smack in the middle of Folsom – Europe’s largest gathering of leather enthusiasts.  Somehow it seemed fitting that in the middle of this subdued residential neighborhood one taboo was being brought into the daylight while down the block an English writer was doing very much the same thing some 75 years earlier.



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