The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Robert Altman’

Death of a Salesman

October 9, 2013 | by

Cal Worthington

Once called the “friend of every insomniac in Southern California,” Cal Worthington haunted the nether regions of broadcast programming for more than sixty years. Judging by the frequency of his appearances, their consistency, and their longevity, Worthington might have been the biggest television star in the history of the West. That makes him as much a deity as anything California culture has seen in its short history. But he wasn’t an actor or a journalist or a politician. His church was a chain of car dealerships and his prophesies a series of madcap advertisements. For better or worse, everyone who lived in Southern California had to reckon with him.

Worthington’s long-running series of self-produced spots never deviated from a formula. The slender cowboy—six foot four in beaver-skin Stetsons and a custom Nudie suit—always preceded his hyperactive sales pitch with a gambol through the lot of his Dodge dealership, accompanied by an escalating succession of exotic animals. Originally it was an ape, then a tiger, an elephant, a black bear, and, finally, Shamu, the killer whale from SeaWorld—each of which was invariably introduced as Cal’s dog, Spot. Not once did he appear with a canine. The banjo-propelled jingle (set to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”) exhorted listeners to “Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal,” a catchphrase that became the basis for the most infamous mondegreen in Golden State history. To this day, Pussycow remains a nostalgic code word exchanged among Californians who came of age in the era before emissions standards. Read More »


Helen Simpson on ‘In-Flight Entertainment’

February 28, 2012 | by

Helen Simpson. Photo by Derek Thomson.

I met Helen Simpson for a genial pub lunch near Dartmouth Park in North London on the day she received the American edition of In-Flight Entertainment: Stories. She was evidently quite pleased by the book’s spare but elegant design, which looks through an airplane window onto a locket of cerulean sky. I’m tempted to draw comparisons to her stories, many of which peek at other people’s blitheness, or cruelty, or dreams of escape. But nothing in Simpson’s fiction is quite as peaceful as that glimpse of blue. She is perhaps best known for the characterization of contemporary motherhood in her collections, but many of the stories in In-Flight Entertainment confront the prospect of climate change.

Your collections are never quite themed, but they do feel very painstakingly designed. Was that true for In-Flight Entertainment?

In-Flight Entertainment is my little climate-change suite, I suppose. But there are fifteen stories in it, and only five are about climate change. My only rule is to write about what’s interesting to me at the time. It’s a great subject, but it’s very hard to dramatize or to make particular, and not to hector, not to moralize.

There are plenty of experts in these stories. There’s Jeremy in the title story as well as amateur researchers like Angelika in “The Tipping Point” and G in “Diary of an Interesting Year.” They don’t seem to benefit from their knowledge.

Well, it alienates people from them. That’s the trouble. Did you ever watch that episode of The Simpsons shortly after Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out?  It is spoofed as An Irritating Truth. It is an irritating truth and no one wants to hear someone sounding off about it, and particularly not when they’re about to go on holiday.

Stories are good for uncomfortable things, for uncomfortable subjects. They’re not generally relaxing. Novels are more relaxing. You just give up to the novel, you go into its bath, you submit to it. You don’t with a story. You’re more alert as a reader, and more critical. If it doesn’t grab you by the second sentence, it’s done. Whereas with a novel, people will give it a couple of chapters before they abandon it. Read More »


Staff Picks: Modernist Journals, France Gall

February 3, 2012 | by

France Gall.

I’ve spent several hours poking around the Web site of the Modernist Journal Project, a wonderful archive of magazines—The Egoist, The Little Review, The Tyro—from the heyday of modernism. It’s always bracing to read Wyndham Lewis’s BLASTS in their original typography, but I’d never heard of Le Petit Journal des Réfusées (published in 1896, in San Francisco). Its single issue was printed on wallpaper cut in the shape of butterfly wings. All the poems are presented as having been written by women—though in fact they’re probably the work of the editor, James Marrion—and rejected by more famous magazines. “We know of two copies of this journal,” the site’s editors write, “and they are not identical.” —Robyn Creswell

I keep watching France Gall sing her 1965 hit “Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son” over and over and over again. The refrain means “I’m a wax doll, I’m a stuffed doll.” It could also mean “I’m a doll made out of records, I’m a doll made out of sound.” In later life, Gall claimed that she had been too young to understand the lyrics, by Serge Gainsbourg (or to understand the doubles entendres in another hit he wrote for her, “Les Sucettes”). I love Gall’s girlish dignity. Somehow the joke just isn’t on her. —Lorin Stein

I watched Robert Altman’s 3 Women over the weekend and was transported—by the film’s gauzy surrealism and also by Sissy Spacek’s preternatural woman-child. When her character Pinky uttered the line “I wonder what it’s like to be twins … do you think they know which one they are?” I couldn't believe that I’d also been thinking of watching Persona. —Nicole Rudick

Sarah Levine, when asked about the unlikeable narrator of her novel Treasure Island!!!, replied, “There is a moral center to the book—and she doesn’t inhabit it.” But what the protagonist lacks in compassion and modesty, she makes up for in wit. I found myself smiling—nay, giggling—at her seemingly endless (and endlessly entertaining) capacity for egotism. —Emily Cole-Kelly

I recently revisited Evelyn Waugh’s controversial imperialist satire, Black Mischief, in which the oblivious Oxford-educated emperor of an island off Africa’s east coast returns home to modernize his empire and, of course, fails catastrophically. It’s bitterly funny. —Emma del Valle

In New York, it’s sometimes hard to imagine living city life on the cheap. Anatole Broyard’s remembrances of 1940s West Village bohemia in Kafka Was the Rage are a wonderful corrective, portraying longings of the heart, rather than the pocketbook. —Josh Anderson