October 27th, 2005


"everywhere outside new york city is bridgeport, connecticut"

My used book haul this week consists of "all the sincerity in hollywood. . ." which is a combination biography of (however light) and collection of writings from Fred Allen, my favorite radio satirist and all-around sharp wit. I think I wrote a bit about him a few months back. The title of this collection comes from a famous quote of Allen's, which was originally found in a letter warning a friend about the perils of Tinseltown. It was typed in all lower-case, as was Allen's wont for correspondence, and read thus:
all the sincerity in hollywood you can stuff
into a flea's navel and still have room left over
to conceal eight caraway seeds and an agent's heart.
There are other versions of this quote floating around, still attributed to Allen but paraphrased. None of them, then, are as perfectly worded as the original. (Really, I think it's "conceal" which really does it for me.)

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1939 World's Fair


Found this one via Metafilter, but it's great. It's the website of a fellow who collects antique cameras containing exposed but undeveloped film. He then develops the film and shares the results with the rest of us. Ghosts from half a century ago suddenly appear for the first time and just as quickly fade away. There's even a bit of murky cheesecake ("I recognize that look," the curator notes, "despite my advanced age and the blurred nature of the shot. Those are very short shorts.")

The guy behind the site provides commentary for many of the pictures in varying degrees of lucidity, from maudlin homebrewed poems in terrible rhyme to flippant, almost insulting, hypothetical character descriptions:
I think the woman sitting to Olive's right is her sister, Ethel. She's the dominant one who gets first crack at the food on the dinner table. The girl on the left looks a little like Haley Mills but you probably don't remember who Haley Mills was. All the girls in my high school class looked like Olive and Ethyl. They all found husbands anyway... This is Ethyl's little boy "Jimmy." Today he's an eight-track cartridge repairman. I think that's a camper behind him or else it's a tractor trailer and Jimmy's playing next to the highway.
When lucid, though, the fellow does make a few good points about the nature of film photography, most notably the fact that when you had but a small, finite number of exposures on a roll of film, you chose your shots carefully. Shots were set up with the utmost care, people were posed just right, and held still for the shot. Often times a second shot was taken "to make sure it comes out." The shoot-all-you-want-and-let-God-sort-the-digital-contact-sheet-out philsophy is a luxury to digital photographers, and it can make a person complacent. People still can (and still do) choose their digital shots judiciously, and I know quite a few of you out there do, but there's just something about film which helps the attitude along so well.

My absolute favorite set is a sequence from WWII. An entire roll of film developed from an Argus-a camera and presented in the order in which the pictures were taken. It's sequential art, is what it is; the pictures tell the homecoming story. You start on the ship, travel through to New York Harbor, and end up back home with relatives, the cat, and the girl he left behind. It's amazingly beautiful and thankfully bereft of any extraneous commentary. So wonderful.