Wednesday, August 28, 2013

March on...

Hi everyone,

As we honor the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington today, let's remember that important day.

I Have a Dream....

....This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood....

....I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.... 

....With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.... 

....When we allow freedom to ring - when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city - we will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last, free at last, Great God a-mighty, we are free at last."

- Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (excerpts from the "I Have a Dream..." speech, March on Washington, April 28, 1963)

Read Dr. King's entire amazing speech here!

Leaders of the March on Washington with Sen. Everett Dirksen, R-Ill (center), including Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis (right) during visit to the Capitol, August 28, 1963

50 Years On....

You have to have hope. You have to be optimistic in order to continue to move forward. 
- Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga (PBS Newshour, April 27, 2013)

Watch Congressman Lewis's entire interview here!

Okay, now, go hug somebody.

Copyright credits: First two photos © AP; "I Have a Dream..." speech excerpts © family of Martin Luther King , Jr.; Video © PBS Newshour; Monument photo © U.S. Information Agency, Press and Publications Service

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Just Kids

Hi everyone,

I picked up Patti Smith's memoir, Just Kids, in a used book store while vacationing in San Francisco last year. One of the editions had a glowing quote from Johnny Depp on the back cover, a sign that this copy was meant for me. But I'd wanted to read Just Kids long before I saw Johnny's endorsement of his friend's book. My dad already recommended it to me because, he said, it's about New York. A couple of friends said I'd like it because it's about artists. After Just Kids won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2010, I was sorely disappointed that I missed Patti Smith talking about it nearby during a free Smithsonian event. (Note to self: never read the Friday Weekend section of The Post on Monday.)

Although I knew very little about Patti Smith before reading Just Kids, everyone was right: I loved it! This inspiring memoir chronicles the lives of struggling artists in New York City in the 1970s and '80s. After her dad takes her to a museum for the first time, Patti Smith dreams of nothing other than becoming an artist. With a few dollars in her pocket and a satchel of belongings, she buses it to New York to follow her dream. The first person she meets in New York City is artist Robert Mapplethorpe, for whom this book serves as a love letter, honoring their complicated relationship and celebrating their unconditional love.

Robert Mapplethorpe,
photo-booth Polaroid, 1970
Patti Smith seems lucky. Alone in the big city, she happens to meet a homeless guy who helps her find food during those first few nights on the streets. She happens to find a guardian angel in Robert Mapplethorpe, who encourages her to find her own voice and use it to create her art. She happens to meet influential people who get her work seen and heard, helping her to become the poet and rock-and-roller she is today.

Her vivid writing and desire to be among the great artists she admires is exhilarating and infectious. She paints the New York scene with such great detail that you can smell the atmosphere and feel like you too walked into a bar finding Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, and Janis Joplin sitting at the counter. In that way, this book reminded me of Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, which describes the illustrious artistic and literary community he found in Paris in the 1920s. I didn't recognize all the names that Patti Smith dropped on her journey, but I appreciated her star-struck luck and evolution as an artist.

Ken Moody & Robert Sherman, 1984
But Robert Mapplethorpe's struggle intrigued me more. Unlike Patti Smith, who desired and worked to become a great artist and then, as one thing led to another, became famous through her work relatively easily, Robert Mapplethorpe already knew he was a great artist and struggled to get the recognition he deserved. Somehow, before reading this book, I knew more about Robert Mapplethorpe's work than Patti Smith's. Since he died of AIDS in 1989 when I was a teenager, I must have heard and saw more about him at that time. Some of his striking black-and-white photographs are unforgettable.

His relationship with Patti Smith was news to me, and fascinating. Through this book, you experience undeniable first love and witness two artists at work together, however different their styles. Patti Smith has artistic breakthroughs amid piles of poetry books and paper, with drafts of verse scattered all over the floor and walls. Robert Mapplethorpe sees the art he wants to make and creates it on the spot, neatly, methodically, and quickly. These two personalities are vastly different yet entirely complementary, inseparable, and supportive. Despite growing up and apart, their bond never breaks.

This thoughtful book is accompanied by photographs, artwork, and poetry from these two great artists, mementos of their extraordinary partnership. It offers a glimpse into life as an artist and captures a time in New York that has long since gone. Just Kids fulfills Patti Smith's promise to her friend to write their story for the world to know. "No one but you can write it," he said. She vows to continue their work and collaboration for as long as she lives. Although not part of their world, reading their story inspired me to draw, to write, to create something. If you read Just Kids, you will be inspired too. What are you waiting for?


Photo credits: book cover © Patti Smith; photo booth self-portrait © Robert Mapplethorpe, from Patti Smith's archive; Ken Moody and Robert Sherman © Robert Mapplethorpe; Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe © Kate Simon 

Friday, August 09, 2013

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #35--Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)

[What is Johnny KItties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

Where are they headed?
When we last saw Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), Elizabeth (Kiera Knightly) had handcuffed him to the Pearl. He faced the Kracken and an eternity in the no-man's land of Davey Jones's Locker, while the rest of crew made their escape from that unfortunate fate. Luckily, the crew has a conscience and agrees to do whatever it takes to save Jack, and with the help of Tia Dalma (Naomi Harris), Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) returns to navigate their rescue mission.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End finds the East India Trading Company set on squeezing out the pirate population and achieving world domination. Elizabeth is carrying the burden of guilt for trapping Jack for the Kracken, and its weight is made heavier as she keeps her secret from Will (Orlando Bloom). Will is committed to saving his father, Bootstrap Bill (Stellen Skarsgaard), from the cursed vessel, the Flying Dutchman, but hasn't shared those plans with Elizabeth. Once they find Jack, who has even more screws loose than before, the nine pirate lords who rule the world's seas must convene to figure out how to keep the East India Trading Company from closing in on them. Basically, everyone's got problems. With new colorful characters and unexpected plot twists, everything is miraculously solved in this story and topped with a spectacular stormy finish!

How'd they do that?
Plenty of action leads up to the maelstrom at the end of this adventure. While visual effects were used, director Gore Verbinski created that storm as realistically as possible for the actors. "It's a torrential downpour and probably 75 knots of wind in this building," Johnny describes. Life-size ships were moved into a hanger, and all the actors and extras fought amid the man-made storm. "You have all these plans to act and maybe do it rather elegantly, and then they turn the rain machine on," says Bill Nighy (who plays Captain Davy Jones). "The bad news is that all your ideas go out the window. The good news is that the action is very authentic because you're in a maelstrom!"

While the maelstrom may be the showstopper, this movie is full of other fantastic visual effects. On their way to the end of the world, Barbossa and crew sail through mirror-like waters and frosty seas. They tumble over the edge of a waterfall and eventually capsize their ship on purpose. Having lost his mind on land, Jack is stuck on a crab-infested desert with several other Jacks for company. 

Before directing his own movies, Gore Verbinski was an accomplished special effects supervisor and commercial director. "He can see things in a shot that an average director without that technical background wouldn't see, and it ends up making the movie that much better." says Executive Producer Mike Stenson. With more than 2,000 visual effects in this movie, the work required that everyone employed at ILM (the company tasked with creating these effects) to work on this film, something that hasn't happened since Return of the Jedi. That's good company to be in, isn't it? This film earned two well-deserved Oscar nominations, one for visual effects and one for makeup. 

I'm on board!
I was thrilled that Geoffrey Rush returned for this third installment of Pirates of the Caribbean! As much as I love Bill Nighy's performance as Captain Davy Jones, I felt Geoffrey Rush was a missing ingredient in the second movie. One of the reasons I tell people Pirates 2 is my least favorite in the trilogy is because Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbossa isn't there.

A friend told me he thought Pirates 3 has too much talking in it, but I'll take story over action sequences any day. While I admit the story here is all over the place, I liked exploring all the different personalities, and their issues, obstacles, and histories. I also loved that this journey took us to Singapore, where we were introduced to Asian pirates, headed by Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat). Better yet, we meet all kinds of pirates from around the world when they join forces against the East India Trading Company.

Some people say the Pirates of the Caribbean movies are too long, but when you have so many characters and storylines, it takes time to resolve everything. These movies are a package deal, and I like how so much is stuffed in them. You can watch them over and over and always discover new things. This one is a fitting finish to the trilogy. Over the course of these three movies, Elizabeth and Will grew up, and by the end, Elizabeth becomes the strong leading force driving the story--which, as a girl, I appreciate (even if she did handcuff Jack to his sinking ship).

Despite (and maybe because of) his predicament, Johnny is a treat to watch in this movie. He's just one of many characters in this story, all of whom have their own quirks. But since Jack a bit madder than usual, due to his imprisonment, Johnny could do whatever he wanted. As cowriter Ted Elliott says, "We're on our third movie, and we said, 'How can we keep it unexpected? Let's just get weird.'" Captain Jack sees things no one else sees and talks to himself more often these days. It makes for some really imaginative scenes that I won't spoil here. "Johnny's very improvisational," says costar Jack Davenport (who plays Commodore Norrington). "You have a choice: You either freak out or you go with him." 

Aside from the Oscar nominations, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End won several other awards for visual effects and production. The cast, too, was a big hit at fan-driven award shows, like the MTV Movie Awards, and the People's, Teen, and Kids' Choice Awards that year. Johnny even won a Rembrandt Award for Best International Actor, voted on by the Dutch public. "I'm sort of amazed that so many people in so many corners of the world have embraced the films and the character," he says. "It's very moving....Nothing like that has ever happened to me." We like our Pirates!      
"This is politics."
One of my favorite things about Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is meeting all the other pirates of the world. They are all distinct, extravagant characters. Their meeting to discuss how to conquer the East India Trading Company is just like Congress but more productive and entertaining. When they disagree, they call on Captain Teague (Johnny's rock star hero, making his second cameo appearance in these Pirate movies). As keeper of the Pirate's Code, he straighten them out quickly! Maybe, on some days, Captain Teague should come to D.C. to help out our president. Do you think he would do it? Maybe if Johnny asked him.... 

To pay tribute to this democracy, some of The Kitties are channeling the nine pirate lords. Here they are gathered with their crews, listening to Captain Jack, Pirate Lord of the Caribbean Sea, as he proposes his strategy against the East India Trading Company: "We must run away." Among the crowd, The Kitties chose their own parts:  
  • The Mother Kitty is Mistress Ching (Takayo Fischer), Pirate Lord of the Pacific Ocean. 
  • Simon is Capitaine Chevalle (Marcel Lures), Pirate Lord of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Norman is Sri Sumbhajee (Marshall Manesh), Pirate Lord of the Indian Ocean.
  • Comet is Captain Jocard (Hakeem Kae-Kazim), Pirate Lord of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Ashes is Elizabeth, most recent Pirate Lord of the South China Sea/Pirate King.
  • B.J. is Captain Barbossa, Pirate Lord of the Caspian Sea.
Also, in the picture are familiar faces from Jack's crew (Mr. Gibbs, Pintell, and Ragetti) and the dog, who luckily escaped that cannibalistic island he was trapped on at the end of Pirates 2. Having reviewed the Code, Captain Teague monitors the debate from his seat while strumming his guitar. Don't worry, they work it out.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #35--Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) [May 30, 2013]

What's next?
The murderous barber Sweeney Todd seeks revenge, singing Sondheim all the way! 

To all the Johnny Kitties fans out there, next month's post will be about a week or so late. On September 9th, I'll be amid a vacation in California, away from my computer. I promise to post my Sweeney Todd tribute as soon as I get back. I'll do my best to make it worth your wait. 

Image credits: All Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End images © Walt Disney Pictures; illustration © Melissa Connolly

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


I've always wondered what would happen if I mixed all of The Kitties together into one.

I also saw The Wolverine this weekend. When I came home and told Lily all about Hugh Jackman's awesomeness in the movie, she insisted that I add an extra-sharp claw here. I think she's envious. I wonder if this hybrid cat can also heal itself. Why not?

Hybrid (August 5, 2013)
(Illustration Friday: August 2, 2013)