Tag Archives: New York City

Story: ‘The Egg Cream, an Excellent Portal to the Past’

It was over an egg cream, or two, that I concluded, or finally admitted, that I was indeed a treasure trove of knowledge, insight and overall sensibility regarding a whole rat’s nest of pop culture and various related concoctions. It is all stored in my mind, still whirling away, processing and extrapolating. I couldn’t just assume that what I knew was something that everyone else knew. Ah, and then, conversely, I couldn’t dismiss what I knew as something other people would not be interested in. Well, I knew this all along–isn’t that what led me to this blog? Yeah, and it led me to this diner, this gloriously runny egg and pancake and this most banal yet delectable egg cream! There are many folks out there who still admire, love and can’t resist a good egg cream. It doesn’t matter how many of a younger generation might act as if they don’t care. Forgive these dewy-eyed naysayers for they know not what they do. Because, given a chance, they would reveal that they care very much.

“Isn’t that exactly how it was for you?” I asked my young friend, Nelson here, the guy I was told would give me a tour and help me set up my Ghost Busters mission. They promised me an all-expenses-paid residency and all I had to do was make heads or tails out of the ghost in the attic, or the staircase, or just out of view each night from an upper window. I was told that my unique background was very attractive for this assignment. I’d pleaded that I was nothing more than an over-rated dilettante at best. But the foundation, the whole board, agreed that I possessed a certain sensitivity to matters, esoteric, cerebral and ephemeral, that they just couldn’t resist at least giving it a try. So, maybe I was an unconventional choice, but, what the hell, you only live once, right? Everyone said I was a pop culture sensitive! And it took someone like me to draw out the ghost, given that it was such a fanciful creature of pulp and the fantastic. It was often called “the ultimate figment of the imagination.” I wasn’t sure what that implied or what exactly a “figment” was supposed to be. Truth be told, I have more than a passing connection with the supernatural.

“So, anyway, given the chance, you’re as charmed by an egg cream as I am, right?” I knew what he’d say. Finally, letting out a sigh, “Of course! Henry, I think I love egg creams almost as much as you do, even if I’m the last person who would have tried one out. I’m more of a beer guy.”

“Well, beer is a whole other subject but it definitely has its own quirky history, like an egg cream.” I gave him an empathetic smile. I think, only recently, did he get this gig involving a haunted house. Was he more a real estate guy or more of a spooky ghost and goblin guy? I wasn’t sure. It took me a while to understand that maybe his most important purpose was simply to rally me into action and get this whole thing off the ground.

The magic of an egg cream.

“Everything has a history.”

My head was spinning, just a bit, but I wanted to press forward. It had been a wild ride thus far. Only a few hours ago I had been in Seattle. Here I was crisscrossing all over Manhattan. It was a lucky turn that led us to Landmark Coffee Shop, deep in the Bowery, one of the great haunts of so many happy souls, lost or otherwise.

“I mean a history that you could turn into a novel, that kind of history, with twists and turns, romance, mystery.”

“What is it about an egg cream that grabs you most?”

“The humanity of it all. No one knows, for sure, how the egg cream came to be but it’s very likely a case of simply making do with limited resources. A little sugar, or syrup, a little milk, and a little fizzy water. That’s all you need and you’ve got an egg cream.”

“Yeah, well, I’d prefer a Coke.”

“Exactly. Coke, and other soft drinks, paved the way for the demise of the egg cream. It’s a relic of another time. But those with heart and soul will seek it out, keep it alive and well.”

“Okay then, that’s why they hired you for this ghost whisperer gig. You love a good ghost story. You want to dance with ghosts. And then there’s that book you wrote about that ghost . . . but maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.”

“Yeah, we can discuss that later on. I’m glad we managed to at least initally agree on the qualities of the noble egg cream. I’m telling you, it’s an excellent portal into the past! Perhaps in ways . . . beyond the scope of this convivial little conversation . . . I’m talking about ancient rites . . .”

“You know what I really like, a good root beer float! That’s sort of like an egg cream, isn’t it?”

“Pretty close but not really.”

–to be continued.

Enjoy the video where I show you how to make an egg cream and give you a mini-tour of a classic New York diner that serves egg creams. If you find this interesting, you may also want to check out my book, Sometimes You Just Want an Egg Cream, available thru the Comics Grinder store.

In my video, there’s a demo on how to make your own egg cream. The beauty of the egg cream is how versatile this little treat is. You can get fancy and order an artisan version of it or you probably have the ingredients you need right in your own kitchen. For this demo, I used the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys Egg Cream Kit. So, you don’t have to live in or near New York or Brooklyn to get the real deal. You can order this kit and have yourself quite an authentic experience. The second video gives you a tour of Brooklyn Seltzer Boys, the remaining source for true authentic seltzer.

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Filed under Comics, Fiction, Henry Chamberlain, Story

SOMEBODY FEED PHIL THE BOOK Review — The Must-Have Travel/CookBook

It’s the series come to life!

Somebody Feed Phil the Book. by Phil Rosenthal and Jenn Garbee. Simon & Schuster. New York. 2022. 352 pp. $32.50

What is not to like about Somebody Feed Phil the Book? It’s the series come to life! If you are a fan of the food and travel show, created and hosted by Phil Rosenthal, well, this is the essential companion piece. Maybe you’re like me and you’ve viewed all the episodes on Netflix and occasionally still go back to some of your favorites. Totally fine. I’m not judging. I’ll go you one better and confess that I was an early adopter to the series and got my better half hooked on it. After that, we went back and picked clean the original PBS series, also created by Phil. Finally, we went back to other stuff related to Phil, chiefly the comedy classic sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, the show that Phil Rosenthal created and wrote for and firmly established him in the first place. I wonder, does this not ring any bells for anyone? I sense there was a time when Phil was more under the radar and now it really seems that, dare I say, Everybody Loves Phil!

The wonders of Bangkok.

The first thing I did was go through the table of contents and see which cities made the cut. I was surprised not to see Paris or Florence. But I was happy to see that New York and London, among others, did make the cut. Here’s the thing, for fans of the show, this is really special and that sense of the special should carry over quite well to just about anyone. What you get is a genuinely delightful host, who cherishes and features his loved ones on the show, provides numerous heart-felt and useful bits of insights on travel and, last but not least, pays tribute to a favorite subject of mine, food. It’s like the whole show in your pocket, or your kitchen table. And you get all these recipes! I keep rediscovering my love for good cookbooks when I am presented with a book such as this that is following a theme (in this case, it is predominantly a theme of adventure and appreciation). Thanks to this book, I can honestly say, I’m seriously looking at traveling to Thailand. The first city featured in the series, and the book, is Bangkok and it’s Phil’s unbridled love for the food and culture that has completely won me over.

Yes, the recipes are solid. You could live off the recipes in this book.

And so I dove in and went for it. No, not the travel part yet. I dove in and followed the recipe for Khao Soi, which Phil admitted to being his favorite dish, or pretty darn close to it. So, yeah, I fired up the test kitchen and we had ourselves quite a feast. I learned so much from that experience. I think it comes down to always being mindful of how much you get back when you make that extra effort. Now, this dish did seem to require some patience but, overall, it’s so much fun to make, relatively easy and lends itself to so many variations. Basically, you need meat, noodles, some chili paste, coconut milk and the rest of the ingredients just fall into place. Yes, the recipes are solid. You could live off the recipes in this book.

A fantastic tribute to New York City.

Again, the ability to enjoy the series in a different format is priceless. Of course, it was inevitable that I’d go to my favorite episode, the one devoted to New York City. Hands down, this is a city made up of restaurant customers of one kind or another, whether nondescript or celebrated, from the most humble to the most fancy. Pizza, of course, gets a lot of attention. And then there is one quintessential delight in particular, the noble Egg Cream, an utterly simple drink made up of chocolate syrup, seltzer and milk. But there are essential details. Aim for about equal parts to each ingredient and serve in a chilled glass. The syrup needs to be Fox’s U-Bet. And the way the drink is mixed can cause great debate. It’s Phil’s intense interest in culture and food that inspired me to create my own tribute to the egg cream. Perhaps I digress a bit but it’s all worth noting and, from what I’ve seen, this is definitely Phil’s favorite treat.

A taste of New Orleans. It’s all about the food and the culture.

The whole point of the show is to celebrate your favorite foods but then go beyond your comfort zone. Travel! See the world. That’s what life is all about: mixing and mingling with folks from different cultures. Phil has proven time and time again to be an excellent host, an all-time great evangelist on adventurous eating and traveling. In many ways, this book is his life’s work. He’d laugh–but he’d also nod and give you one of his goofy, and worldly-wise, smiles.

Somebody Feed Phil the Book is available as of October 18, 2022. Find it at Simon & Schuster. For information on the book tour, go here.

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PULP POWER: The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Art of the Street and Smith Universe review

Pulp Power: The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Art of the Street and Smith Universe. Neil McGinness. Abrams. New York. 2022. Fully illustrated, hardcover. 352pp. $58.50

Walter Gibson was the writer behind the masked hero, The Shadow. Writing under the pen name, Maxwell Grant, he developed a character that seemed to emerge on its own, out of the confluence of pop culture media, circa 1930: pulp fiction and radio. The character was a strange mix of mystery and daring, part of something bigger, and a sign of things to come. The strangeness begins with the eerie voice warning that it sees all: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” followed by a shrill cackle. Such an otherworldly introduction to adventure was like mana from heaven for the millions of beleaguered radio listeners across the country confronting the dire reality of the Great Depression. Stranger still, at that point, there was only the weird voice to introduce the mystery hour–but the voice had become the star! Overnight, people wanted more. Who is The Shadow? Where do I get The Shadow magazine? This would lead to perhaps the greatest scramble ever to flesh out a popular character that did not yet exist!

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”

The Shadow went on to become the leading product of the famous Fiction Factory, founded by Francis Street, a bookkeeper, and Francis Smith, an aspiring writer in the 1850s. Street and Smith bought the New York Dispatch, a newspaper focused on news, and turned it into the New York Weekly (1858–1910), a newspaper focused on fiction, the foundation of what was to become the Street and Smith publishing empire. It was when this publishing house decided to step into creating radio shows that The Shadow emerged out of the ether. Pulp Power covers this phenomenal enterprise providing the reader with an in depth look at the origins of America’s first pop culture icons: The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Avenger, Justice Inc., the trailblazers that would inspire Batman, Superman, The Fantastic Four, even the whole ball of wax at Marvel and DC Comics. Thanks to this generously illustrated book, with engaging writing by Neil McGinness, the original glory days of American pop culture come to life for the reader in this unique collection showcasing dazzling covers from pulp fiction, comics and movies, along with assorted ephemera.

The Shadow magazine

Getting back to The Shadow, if there is just one character to represent the exuberant creative force at play in the early years, it has got to be this strange, yet beloved, fellow. It’s fascinating to consider how much this character is so much of its time, and defies being easily bounced around various media until it finally settles into what works. Ultimately, a lot is working; it’s just a matter of doing justice to the material. You won’t be seeing a major motion picture anytime soon, until maybe you do. What you can count on is The Shadow thriving in prose and in audio. Perhaps that’s simply because The Shadow is so much a creature of the night, a mysterious force not to be observed too closely. He also has his specificity. He’s a New Yorker, and don’t you forget it. Thankfully, Neil McGinness does take a close look for the sake of better understanding the attraction. Essentially, it comes down to quality storytelling, which can’t be faked; it involves so many factors coming into place; and runs best with one determined author.

The Shadow comics

The Shadow’s original author, Walter Gibson, followed a tried and true formula, a five-point plan that never failed: a main crime; a problem arising from the main crime; a secondary crime that serves to complicate matters; an attempted third crime to thwart the investigation which is foiled by the hero; and the climax which reveals the villain, the trick, the true nature of the crime. It is a ticket to endless variations and served Gibson well as he went on to write nearly 300 Shadow novels. Not only that, Gibson was sensitive to literary refinements. In fact, The Shadow is closely based upon Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This is a hero but a dark hero. A crime fighter as grim and merciless as the worst criminal. This is a complicated character shrouded under layer upon layer of ambiguity. . .while, at the same time, just a fun thrill.

Orson Welles portrait by Irving Penn, for Vogue, 1945

The Shadow radio show ran for 17 years, from 1937 to 1954. Orson Welles, then only 22 years-old, served as the first voice of the character in 1937. Welles was quite busy with his own Mercury Theater and would do the show with no rehearsals. He just did it and he proved to be one of the best of the actors to take on the role. This was around the time that Welles was at his hottest: a year later, he would make history with his War of the Worlds broadcast of 1938. It’s a nice touch to see included here in this book a photo of Welles at the height of his success, a portrait by Irving Penn, for Vogue in 1945. It’s a masterwork of a photograph, complete with all of Penn’s still life magic–and a fitting companion piece to the magic and mystery that is The Shadow.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Comics, pop culture, Pulp Fiction, The Shadow

WHITNEY BIENNIAL 2022: Charles Ray

A Charles Ray sculpture on the rooftop of the Whitney.

I want to talk about the Whitney Biennial with you. Let’s talk Whitney and let’s see why you should make it over there if at all possible. Have you gone? Do you plan to go? The last day is September 5th! I recently got a chance to see it and I’m still processing! This is just a quick teaser. In a forthcoming post, I’ll cover some of the history behind this New York treasure, a must-see showcase of contemporary art, and then we’ll just take a casual and straightforward look: some art will seem to defy easy access; and some will invite immediate engagement. Take a look at the above sculpture by Charles Ray, for example, it’s all there right away while holding back some secrets. Who is the figure lounging upon a block? It seems that a piece like this is about being transparent as well as being ambiguous, inspiring all sorts of questions.

Titled Quiet as It’s Kept, the 2022 Biennial features an intergenerational and interdisciplinary group of sixty-three artists and collectives whose dynamic works reflect the challenges, complexities, and possibilities of the American experience today. The Whitney Biennial 2022 runs from April 6, 2022 to September 5, 2022.

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Raheem Nelson interview – iPad Paintings Colleciton

It’s a long way through from The Elm to The Big Apple, and it’s not only the title to a collection of artwork by Raheem Nelson but a landmark in an exciting art career. As a kid, Nelson took a long commute from his home in New Haven, Connecticut, nicknamed, “The Elm City,” to the School of Visual Arts in New York City. In order to save money on the expensive room & board on campus, Nelson had to take a long and arduous commute, leaving him with little room for sleep. But grit and determination have a way of paying off if you’re persistent. Raheem Nelson is such a person. Take a look at his art and you see what he sees: a urban landscape that can, despite the odds and the rough times, sustain a sense of wonder. Yes, wonder. And, I have news for you, style too! You gotta have plenty of style. I don’t care if it involves basic stick figures. If it lacks a sense of purpose, then why bother, right? Nelson has stuck it through and has excelled in carving out a niche for himself as an artist with a specialty for paintings rendered on the iPad. And his work, by the way, definitely has style.

Raheem Nelson is a hard-working artist. He teaches high school, elementary and middle school students, as well as conducts adult workshops. I was introduced to his inspiring iPad Painting workshop through the online courses offered by Arts Alliance of Stratford. Nelson has proven to be a favorite son of the community not only for his teaching but for his vibrant artwork that has lifted up locals. Recently, some of his portraits were turned into a mural to honor the Arts For Labor program for the International Festival of Arts and Ideas.

So, I invite you to check out the video interview. For those who have read this far, let me encourage you now to stick around for a special art demonstration. Nelson provides a wonderful sample here of the insights he has to share from his experience with not only the iPad but also from his background in traditional painting.

Ah, but there’s more. For loyal and curious readers, you have just unlocked one more door to art goodness. Check out Nelson’s website and you’ll find a treasure trove of art print options along with NFT art too. In this interview, Nelson provides in-depth profiles on some of his most popular works being sold as NFTs.

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LET THERE BE LIGHT by Liana Finck review – New Yorker cartoonist tackles The Bible

Let There Be Light: The Real Story of Her Creation. Liana Finck. Random House (April 12, 2022). New York. 352pp. $28.99

Cartoonist Liana Finck (born 1986) is the Millennial generation’s answer to James Thurber (1894 – 1961). It’s not an exact match but close enough for the purposes of this review. The two main points of comparison are first, that Finck is, like Thurber was in his day, a superstar cartoonist at The New Yorker; and second, the fact that she draws in a very spare manner. Thurber’s own artwork is similar in sensibility. He was primarily a writer and it seems he was content with a relatively basic cartooning style. So, these are two very different people but both are equally beloved all-time favorites at The New Yorker, and that says plenty about each cartoonist’s respective zeitgeist. For Thurber, his writing, and cartoons, featuring the battle between the sexes, were reliable sources of amusement, beginning in the 1930s. During a time that saw the  ascendance of the American male, Thurber was well equipped as a writer to question that position; and, as a cartoonist, to poke fun at less than infallible man. Finck does something similar with her cartoons as they confront current societal conflicts. Both Thurber and Finck represent The New Yorker at the highest level. Recently, the magazine devoted numerous pages to promote Finck’s latest book. This is all to say that Finck’s book, on the subject of The Bible no less, is one of those books, a big deal kind of book, set up for heavy scrutiny. As for me, I can see what Finck is doing as following her own quirky creative path. Maybe she’d prefer not be the voice of her generation but, at the same time, I see where she can genuinely embrace that. In the end, it makes sense for her to tackle Adam and Eve and Old Testament dogma and put a whimsical stamp on it, one that gently comments on gender roles.

God making a world.

The biggest comment on gender in Finck’s biblical retelling is having a female God. Of course, that doesn’t have any of the shock value that it might have had in Thurber’s day. In fact, it’s possible that Thurber would have been just the cartoonist who could have gotten away with having a female God. Think of all the god-like women in his cartoons! Today, maybe the shock value might be found, for those looking, in Finck maintaining distinctive male and female roles as opposed to today’s focus on gender fluidity. If Finck had wanted to break new ground, or be a provocative voice of her generation, she could have gone down that route. But she doesn’t do that. Instead, I think she holds true to a more fundamental view of her generation and that is of attempting to be more humble and modest. What you get in this book is a bunch of very gentle low-key humor.

Asking the big questions.

It seems that Finck is taking her cue from a quote she provides at the beginning of her book by Jamaica Kincaid that she found the King James version of the first book of the Bible to be a book for children. That quote sets the tone for what follows. Keep in mind that it has often been pointed out that children can be far more perceptive than adults. In an excellent cartoon or comic, however light, irreverant and spare, you can find some of the deepest meaning. For instance, upon realizing she’s naked and should feel shame, Eve is worried about whether she looks fat. That’s funny and quite poignant. It certainly keeps with Finck’s sense of humor.

Once you’re settled in, this book has the ability to charm you if you let it. Finck’s God is definitely a hoot. We all know about that famous temper but Finck’s God also happens to be rather neurotic, prone to worry. In short, she can be a softie too. When she sees that Adam is having a hard time, she reaches out to him. Indulging the fact that Adam mistakenly sees God as a stern old male authority figure, she tells him he was right to name her, Jehovah. Again, very funny stuff and pure Finck.

Like a grand painting that has been cleaned from numerous layers of restorations, Finck lays bare the main players in this drama. Finck lays out a simple narrative with vulnerable characters, pared down to their most basic forms as cartoons, observed simply and directly. When Lilith offers Eve an apple and Eve resists, Lilith leans in for some sympathy and says, “Listen. God never liked me.” But then she goes one better and reveals to Eve that God doesn’t like her either and confides, “But if you have knowledge, then you don’t need to be liked. Here. Take it.” Funny and with a bit of a subversive touch.

The bigger question is whether or not Finck has a bigger vision to pursue beyond a gentle rapping over the knuckles of King James and his lot of biblical scribes. First off, Finck is compelled to make the Bible relatable to younger readers and does a wonderful job of inserting insights connecting it to the Torah. To be sure, Finck has plenty to say about the patriarchy, beginning with Adam, then Cain, and steadily progressing through a laundry list of male culprits. By midway through the book, Finck makes some big creative leaps, like superimposing biblical scenes onto contemporary settings. The results can be quite moving as when she follows Abraham’s pursuit of an art career in New York City only to discover that his success leaves God utterly unimpressed. Ultimately, Finck is at her best in the quieter moments as when God falls in love with Noah and it leaves Noah pretty stressed out. It’s in these strange little moments that Finck is fully in her groove. And then she’ll take things one step further as in a beautiful passage where she depicts how God created the world only to gradually make herself recede into the background, although not completely. Perhaps a gentle poking fun of less than infallible man is the spark to going further. It is not only in keeping with a long tradition of mellow and subtle New Yorker humor but actually hits just the right notes for a wearily self-conscious and sensitive younger generation. So, let there be light, and it doesn’t have to be overwrought or blinding. In the process, you can end up saying just what you need to say. In the end, Finck knows, and demonstrates in this book, how to reach those high points and make the work transcendent.

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A Story on Filmmaking: Lady Yum and the Spheres

Casey Neistat in his element, a camera in the Big Apple.

Here’s a deep dive into what led to my latest short film. This one is ostensibly about urban sketching. I’m going to share with you a few things about a workshop that I just completed led by all-time great YouTuber Casey Neistat thru a filmmaking class on the platform, Monthly. I’ve been wanting to level up my moviemaking and this really helped me appreciate the beauty of editing. I came to a deeper understanding of the artistry behind a finely executed work. Just like any other art form, you get back as much as you’re willing to put into the process. It takes time to make connections and to see what to cut out and what to add in.

Lady Yum, Macarons & Mischief

When I began this particular video, I never thought I would end up discovering Lady Yum, the best spot outside of Paris for macarons! But that is the case. When in Seattle, you’ll want to make time to stroll around the Amazon section of downtown and then make your way to the main Amazon building. At street level, you’ll find Lady Yum. And you can always order online since they’ll ship anywhere in the U.S. But I would never have discovered any of this if I hadn’t been open to the process. One of the great bits of advice from Casey Neistat is to continuously seek out “interestingness.” Seek out the best and then, once in the editing process, really dig deeper. Be efficient! Be quick! Don’t be redundant! Don’t be dull!

Casey Neistat in his studio.

I did learn a lot and I still have a lot to practice. Casey compared the filmmaking process to writing. For instance, you don’t need a magic pen in order to write. And that’s very true. You can make awesome videos just from using your smartphone. But, more to the point, the metaphor holds most true in regards to creating order out of chaos. Bit by bit, you mold various random elements into a compelling whole. It is fascinating to see Casey speak to his art in more and more refined details, from one module to the next. By the last segment, he admits that it was enlightening for him to articulate, to “intellectualize” for an audience, the stuff he’s been doing for the last twenty some years, since he was a free-spirited teenager. Add to that the fact that he actually shows you all the nuts and bolts by going out and creating two videos from scratch. Casey has a long history of scrambling to create the next compelling viral-worthy video. He can now pick and choose his projects. It’s just a lot of fun to see him back in the ring and fighting the good fit for artistic excellence and integrity.

The Amazon Spheres

You can “learn” the process but then you need to do it for yourself. In a friendly aside, Casey asks, “You have been taking notes, right?” Assuming that no one has probably bothered to do that. He gives everyone a cheerful nod, “I hope you take as much as you can of what you’ve remembered!” To the very end, at all times, Casey Neistat knows how important it is to engage, relate, and get to the point!

So, I set out to leave the confines of the studio and go outside and make some plein air painting. That led me to the Amazon section of downtown Seattle, specifically the Amazon Spheres, erected in 2018, the two formidable globes housing more than 40,000 plants from the cloud forest regions of over 30 countries. This is a habitat for Amazon employees to go to in order to recharge and remain inspired. It’s quite a sight and easily makes one think of any number of other iconic landmarks, from the Space Needle to the Eiffel Tower. The Spheres are not exactly meant for the general public. There was some limited access inside, two Saturdays out of the month, but that’s been paused. That said, most people would just be happy enough to view it from outside. I was content to complete my mission and then I lingered because I knew I had really just begun. Only much later did I sort of stumble upon Lady Yum and that finally provided a way to hook into something far more interesting with a crunchy goodness.

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Interview: Jeremy Dauber and ‘American Comics’

Jeremy Dauber offers the reader an expansive and fascinating read with his new book, American Comics: A History, published by W.W. Norton & Co. I recently reviewed it and now I present to you this interview with the book’s author. Jeremy Dauber is a professor of Jewish literature and American studies at Columbia University. He is the author of Jewish Comedy and The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem, both finalists for the National Jewish Book Award. We navigate our way through quite a lot of material and have a great time chatting about a subject we all seem to have something to say about.

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TCM Classic Film Festival | May 6-9 2021 | Interview with Mark Harris

Mike Nichols: A Life by Mark Harris

Cinema is one of the great pleasures in life. If you love good movies, then you will be delighted with the lineup for the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (May 6-9 2021). This post will point you in the right direction as well as provide an added bonus. One of the titles featured during the festival is 1996’s Nichols and May: Take Two. I had the honor of interviewing Mark Harris, author of the New York Times Bestseller, Mike Nichols: A Life. I hope you enjoy our chat and be sure to catch all the great movies during the festival. During our conversation, I tried to fit in as much as possible regarding Mike Nichols (1931-2014), such a iconic figure in the world of improv comedy, theater and film known for such landmark films as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Catch-22 (1970), and Carnal Knowledge (1971). And those three titles are just scratching the surface!

Cast and producers including Al Pacino, third from left, Meryl Streep, third from right, and Mike Nichols, second from right, hold the award for outstanding miniseries for their work on “Angels In America,” at the 56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards Sunday, Sept. 19, 2004, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Harris first got to know Nichols during his work adapting Tony Kushner’s landmark play, Angels in America. By then, Nichols was in his seventies and a master of his craft many times over. During our talk, Harris noted: “It is remarkable to me how Nichols kept looking outward during a production, while the meter was still running, finding ways to construct and to add.” As for what might be said in describing Nichols’s body of work, Harris said it wasn’t a matter of maintaining a thematic structure. It was really more down to earth. “It was about finding what excited Nichols to pursue a project: a script, a collaboration, a writer, an actor.”

NICHOLS AND MAY: TAKE TWO (1996): TCM premiere of this documentary about the influential comedy team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. Four of their radio sketches have been re-created with new animation created especially for the program.

Includes conversation with author Mark Harris, Mike Nichols: A Life.

Nichols and May: Take Two

SATURDAY, MAY 8 11:45AM ET

And remember, the festival kicks off May 6th! This year’s Festival will be presented virtually and feature four days of incredible programming on TCM and within the Classics Curated By TCM Hub on HBO Max, a dedicated destination for classic movie fans within the HBO Max app.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Catch-22 (1970)

Carnal Knowledge (1971)

2021 TCM Classic Film Festival

Thursday, May 6 through Sunday, May 9 at two virtual venues: the TCM network and the Classics Curated by TCM Hub on HBO Max.

To learn more, go to the TCM Film Festival site right here. You’ll discover a unique film festival experience on TCM.

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Interview with Steve Lafler: Comics, Jazz & Gender Bending

Steve Lafler’s 1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona

I have interviewed Steve Lafler and I’m letting that sink in. The man is a walking encyclopedia of experiences and knowledge. I do hope we can chat again sometime. For a first interview, we covered a lot of ground. I was intrigued and delighted and I’m sure you will be too with this most provocative cartoonist.

Steve Lafler is a very cool cat–and, as promised, we’re about to take a deep dive into all things Lafler. Long before Zoom interviews, I’ve been taking notes and chatting with a good many talented folks. I think we cartoonists, at least a certain subgroup, are compelled to express ourselves in numerous ways. You’ll find, for instance, that comics and journalism have been entwined since the American colonies. In Mr. Lafler’s case, he has devoted a lot of energy in two directions, the love of comics and the love of music. In my interview, I try to focus on how Lafler has lovingly included music, especially jazz, into his comics.

1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona is Lafler’s latest title and we enjoy talking about it. The subtext is pretty much in the forefront: our main character, Ramon, seems to be most happy when he gets to be Ramona. Or, if not most happy, then it’s definitely a sweet joy to dress up and be a woman for the night. That said, the comics pretty much speak for themselves. Lafler, himself, has provided a few clues over the years that he enjoys indulging in some gender-bending dressing up. One must follow their muse! I think, with 1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona, Lafler beautifully expresses that most basic and primal human need to be true to one’s self.

Be sure to visit Steve Lafler right here.

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Filed under Comics, Interviews