Celebrating the Voices of Women in Poetry at ALOUD

April is National Poetry Month, and what better way to celebrate than at ALOUD next Thursday, April 24, when the Poetry Society of America brings their national series The Voice of Women in American Poetry to Los Angeles. The series, which pays tribute to the literary heritage of women poets, was first born out of a conversation about Emily Dickinson, arguably the greatest female poet of all time.

Alice Quinn, the executive director of the Poetry Society of America and moderator of the ALOUD event, and the poet Kimiko Hahn were discussing the importance of Dickinson to their literary lives and to the lives of all women poets. Quinn had long wanted to have a program celebrating the great heritage of poetry in America by women when Hahn summoned up the line “the landscape listens,” from the Dickinson poem “There’s a certain slant of light,” as a possible name for the program. They continued to play with names as the vision of the program soon broadened to include distinguished poets—both male and female—honoring the immense achievement of a wide range of women poets in the U.S., and all agreed that the format required a more simple, yet overreaching name—thus, The Voice of Women in American Poetry.

The initial segment launched in Boston last month with a two-day festival in partnership with the Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, involving some twelve poets, like the recent Pulitzer Prize-winner Vijay Seshadri, Lucie Brock-Broido, Robert Pinsky, and Marie Howe, among others. The series went on to D.C. for an intimate program with poets Shara McCallum and Hailey Leithauser. Next up, the series comes to Los Angeles before culminating in New York in the fall of 2014. “To have spectacular poets, both male and female alike, come together to hold aloft the tradition of great women poets in this country strikes me as important and exciting work,” says Charif Shanahan, the programs director for the Poetry Society of America.

On the ALOUD stage, Marilyn Chin will explore the work of Ai, a National Book Award, American Book Award, and Lamont Poetry Award winner who passed away in 2010. She was known for her fierce dramatic monologues that gave voice to marginalized speakers. Also, Toi Derricotte will explore Anne Sexton, and Percival Everett will explore Gertrude Stein. To learn more about all of these poets—both the ALOUD guests and honorees—check out their work at the Los Angeles Public Library:

Book Jacket for: Rhapsody in plain yellowBook Jacket for: The collected poems of AiBook Jacket for: Tender
Book Jacket for: Selected poems of Anne SextonBook Jacket for: Abstraktion und EinfühlungBook Jacket for: Tender buttons : objects

To learn more about the upcoming ALOUD program, click here.




Get Smart With Your Finances

Don’t be delinquent with your taxes… remember actress Veronica Lake’s fall from the Hollywood limelight?  

http://jpg1.lapl.org/00106/00106298.jpgFrom the LAPL Photo Collection, May 8, 1951: “There were no dramatics, no kleiglights, no hair hanging over one eye today for actress Veronica Lake. It was real-life money troubles that she and her husband, director André de Toth, came to court to talk about. They have filed bankruptcy petitions. Their home has been seized for delinquent income taxes. ‘When that happened,’ said de Toth, everybody who held a bill against us wanted money immediately.”

April is Financial Literacy Month and Mayor Garcetti has teamed up with the Los Angeles Public Library to help all Angelenos learn how to earn more, save more, and achieve financial security. Every Saturday during April, the LAPL is offering free events and workshops, such as Money Skills for Families, Debt Management, Understanding Credit & Cash for College. Learn to be money smart and take advantage of the resources and benefits available to you and your family. Here’s the PDF with full details on events and workshops at these branches:

April 12 – Van Nuys Branch Library
April 19 – Pio Pico Koreatown Library
April 26 – Exposition Park Regional Branch

Also, with Tax Day right around the corner, click here to find information on tax forms, filing and where to go for income tax assistance at the Los Angeles Public Library. You may qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or access to FREE tax preparation software. And check out The Language of Money Resource Guide, a great compilation of financial learning tools, books, databases, and useful websites.

Exchanging Stories at the Book Drop Bash

This weekend thousands of authors and booklovers will be grabbing their sunhats and hitting the lawns of USC for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. And for participating authors and Library Foundation Members, the festivities will continue long after the sun goes down as the Third Annual Book Drop Bash kicks-off at downtown’s historic Central Library on Saturday night.

Featuring the best book swap in town, Bash-goers will also have the chance to exchange stories with some of today’s most memorable storytellers. Honorary hosts Pico Iyer, Susan Straight, and T.C. Boyle have provided writing prompts for Library Foundation guests to complete throughout the Bash. For those who want extra time to get inspired by the prompts, here’s a sneak peek at the mysterious, the romantic, and the odd:

From Pico Iyer:
As she heard some whispering among the stacks–was that giggling? The sound of some shoes being slipped off?–she started to tiptoe along the section marked 818.2522, only to…

From Susan Straight:
In the library courtyard, the hedges glittering with dew, she sat down beside him on a bench…

From T.C. Boyle:
After they finished eating the last of the dogs, they turned, of necessity, to deep-frying the rats.

So bring your imagination and a book, or two, or three to swap–leftover books at the end of the evening will be donated to our award-winning Library Store where they will be sold to benefit the Los Angeles Public Library.

We look forward to celebrating the literary life of our great city with our Members and participating book festival authors. Members can purchase tickets here. If you would like to attend, but are not a Member, consider joining today!

For more info on the Book Drop Bash, click here.


Lorrie Moore: The Agony and Fun of Fiction

This spring marks a major literary milestone in American letters: Lorrie Moore’s first collection of short stories in over 15 years has just been released. The author of six books—including the most recent novel A Gate at the Stairs, and the story collections Self-Help and Birds of America—Moore is often hailed by critics and fans alike for her vibrant humor in the face of heartrending sorrows. Well worth the wait, her forthcoming collection, Bark, brings to readers that same perfect pitch of wit and wisdom that has made her one of the most quintessential voices in contemporary fiction. Moore takes the ALOUD stage on Wednesday, April 9 for a conversation and reading. I corresponded with the author before her upcoming appearance at Central Library about Bark, and for a longer version of this story originally published by the Kirkus Reviews.


For almost three decades, Moore taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but she has recently relocated to Nashville, Tenn. to teach at Vanderbilt University. Readers may begin to wonder how the South might permeate her future writing as the Midwest did for so long, but she’s never been one to rush out new work. She published the first story from Bark 10 years ago. That seems to be a comfortable incubating period for Moore: “If you wait too long you might not recall why you wrote any of them,” she says of her short stories. However, when I asked her about some of the influences of these new stories, it appears time has taken its toll: she’s already begun to forget the specifics. “But they are all responses to something and involve situations I was thinking very deeply about at the time. One then gets very involved with fashioning the story that can contain those thoughts and feelings. But now of course I’ve moved on. That is the beauty of shorter narratives: they allow you to move on.”

Like most Americans, Moore is probably relieved to move on from the fraught political landscape of the last 15 years in which Bark is set. Political consciousness naturally permeates Moore’s characters, who are immersed in the wounded American psyche of a post 9/11 country at war—from a teacher who sings the “Star Spangled Banner” for a ghost to an aloof intelligence agent who gulps down some Côtes du Rhône before a mission to a cynical author who taunts a supporter at a D.C. fundraiser. Moore believes political awareness is just typical of most people. “One’s life takes place in the world,” she says.

Moore_coverIn “Debarking,” the first story of the collection, a recent divorcé up in arms over the U.S. invasion of Iraq is deeply moved by a peace protest he witnesses while driving: “No car went anywhere for the change of two lights. For all its stupidity and solipsism and scenic civic grief, it was something like a beautiful moment.” Yet the story is not about the war, it’s about the absurdities of his struggle to date again. Gleaning insight into how the mentally unstable casually date, the story brilliantly balances the light and dark at the end of the tunnel of marriage. In fact, in many of the eight stories that comprise Bark, the sweeping themes of global politics are often pushed to the backdrop of the more personal moments of “one’s life.”

“Paper Losses,” “Wings,” and “Referential” all follow characters who are unraveling from failed relationships. Breakups and divorces are fodder for much of the pain these characters endure, but there’s some comic relief in how these estranged characters are placed in strange situations. In “Wings,” a struggling musician looks after a zany old man (who turns out to be dying) as a distraction from her boyfriend, whom she no longer loves. Disillusioned by an argument with her boyfriend about whether the old man is her sugar daddy, she has the epiphany that couples might never stay together if they knew the future: “This was probably the reason nine-tenths of the human brain had been rendered useless: to make you stupidly intrepid. One was working with only the animal brain, the Pringle brain. The wizard-god brain, the one that could see the future and move objects without touching them, was asleep. Fucking bastard.”

Although readers might find themselves laughing out loud at some of Moore’s zingers, she does not consider herself a humorous writer. “But let’s face it: These stories aren’t all that funny. Only a little bit,” she says. The bits of humor that Moore reluctantly takes some credit for are like a flock of inflatable dinghies bouncing alongside a sailing ship. Her humor breaks the tension of heightened moments with an effect of dramatic irony that somehow seems completely sincere. As Moore carefully handles all the various emotional vulnerabilities of her characters, she is able to mash up the comic and tragic parts into one lucid whole. In the final story, “Thank You for Having Me,” a woman at a wedding is buzzed enough from champagne to look beyond her own loneliness and see beauty in a shining sun. “I think it’s good to let hope have the last word,” says Moore.

Visit www.lfla.org/aloud for reservations to Lorrie Moore in conversation with Brighde Mullins on Wednesday, April 9, 7:15 PM.

–Posted by Bridgette Bates and author photo by Zane Williams.

Bookmark This #19

Spring is here, and what better way to celebrate this season of rebirth and renewal than to read some books!

If you’d like to contribute a reading recommendation to an upcoming issue of Bookmark This, contact Erin Sapinoso at erinsapinoso@lfla.org.


Jan Munroe is an actor/writer/movement person who has been involved with the creation of new performance work since early studies with Marcel Marceau and Etienne Decroux and a founding member of the Mystic Knights of the Oingo-Boingo in Los Angeles and The Theatah of the Apres-Garde in the Bay Area.

Jan recommends Lanterns on the Levee by William Alexander Percy.

“This memoir of growing up in the Mississippi delta region at the turn of the 20th century is exquisitely written and breathtakingly poetic. Rich in detail of the area’s quotidien life, where French was spoken as much as English, it is an observant and cogent reflection of a long gone world. Pre-Army corps of engineers feeble attempts to tame the Mississippi, the mighty roaring river’s capricious nature informs every page, effecting both black and white, rich and poor. True, the ‘politics’ of it may not be considered correct in today’s milieu, but they are an accurate mirror of the author’s times and life. The least we can ask of a memoir is that it be honest. From there, it’s up to the reader to decide its fate and place in the literary landscape.”


Library Foundation Member Nora Wright moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Los Angeles over 20 ago as a newly minted graduate student without a job and mother of two young sons.  She and her family turned to the Los Angeles Public Library branches to borrow books and recorded items, sign onto free computer terminals, get help with homework, and ask all kinds reference questions of the welcoming library staff and volunteers.

Nora recommends The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World by Lincoln Paine.

“If you’ve ever wanted to read a history that not only gives you fascinating glimpses into far-off times and places but reframes your entire view of the world, Lincoln Paine’s The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World is for you. Paine is a curious and congenial guide to what people have gotten up to at sea for the past five thousand years, and how that’s affected everything else by spreading people and religion, crops and disease, and so much more around the world. His history is impeccably researched, but told by someone who knows that being an authority is only half the battle; you have to be a writer, too. If you really want to know what floats your boat, welcome aboard.”


Judith E. Vida-Spence is a psychoanalyst in private practice in Los Angeles who has written about psychoanalysis and its intersection with the contemporary art that she and her husband Stuart Spence have collected since 1972.

Judy recommends Sally Hemings: A Novel by Barbara Chase-Riboud.

“The 2008 presidential campaign had stirred my interest in the politics of death and slavery, and a circuitous path brought me to this novel. Annette Gordon-Reed describes it as ‘probably… the single greatest influence shaping the public’s attitude about the Jefferson-Hemings story,’ citing Sally Hemings’s portrayal as ‘a person with actual thoughts and conflicts, giving her a depth of character seldom attributed to American slaves or to black people in general.’  Despite a glowing critical reception, it generated a firestorm of protest by white heirs and historians desperate to protect Jefferson from the charge of ‘miscegenation.’ (The interested reader can pursue the compelling story of this aftermath in Annette Gordon-Reed’s books about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.)  As for me, in this account of the torturous, knotted, disavowed cords of relationship between slaveowner and enslaved, I met a whole tangle of emotional, historical, and personal feelings that have changed the way I know myself.”


Erin Sapinoso is looking forward to celebrating the literary life of this city at the Book Drop Bash on Saturday, April 12, 2014 with participating authors of the Los Angeles Times Festival Books and Library Foundation Members.

Erin Sapinoso recommends 1,000 Places to See before You Die by Patricia Schultz.

1,000 Places to See before You Die came to me as a gift for my last birthday.  Being a fan of lists (particularly of the bucket kind) and a chronic sufferer of wanderlust (which is often hard for me to treat), I immediately started flipping through this book, marking locations I had already visited, noting places I had never heard of but now would like to go to, highlighting my long-standing must-see places, and making real travel plans.  In all honesty, I have not yet finished reading this book, but I love the feelings of excitement and anticipation that come with imagining what will ignite my senses in those places that are featured on each page – the places I will do all I can to visit before my life ends.”


You can find these books – and more than six million others in print, audio and digital formats – through the Central Library, 72 branches and www.lapl.org.

Happy reading, and stay tuned for the next issue of Bookmark This!

Celebrating Cesar Chavez at the Los Angeles Public Library

In honor of Cesar Chavez Day and The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, the just-released biography by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Miriam Pawel, ALOUD will be hosting a program celebrating the famed civil rights leader whose work has impacted the lives of millions across the world, including many artists who have been inspired to tell his story. On April 1 at ALOUD, biographer Pawel will be joined by renowned playwright and director Luis Valdez (Zoot Suit, La Bamba, and Teatro Campesinowhich has been in continuous operation since 1965 when it was founded on the Delano Grape Strike picket lines of Cesar Chavez’s United Farmworkers Union as a means to educate and empower workers). Pawel and Valdez will share their perspectives on the crusades of this unlikely American hero who ignited one of the great social movements of our time. As we get ready for this special evening, here’s a look into the Library’s archives at the myriad ways Chavez’s story has touched us.

Shooting Reflections: Film and Social Change

Actor, filmmaker, and activist Diego Luna visited ALOUD last year to discuss how storytelling can act as an agent for social change. Watch the program above or listen to the podcast. And keep an eye out in theatres for Luna’s latest feature, Cesar Chavez, which is now playing.

The Union of their Dreams: Power, Hope and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement

In 2010 at ALOUD, Miriam Pawel discussed the rise of the United Farm Workers during the heady days of civil rights struggles, the antiwar movement, and 60s and 70s student activism. Listen to the podcast.

The Los Angeles Public Library has an incredible collection of photos documenting Chavez’s activism around the city.

Cesar Chavez at GM Rally March http://jpg1.lapl.org/pics28/00033790.jpgLocal 645 President Pete Beltran, left, Cesar Chavez and Maxine Waters, march with GM workers, past the GM plant on Van Nuys Boulevard. Photo by Mike Sergieff, 1983.

 Cesar Chavez Pickets Supermarket

Father Luis Olivares (left) chats with Cesar Chavez while picketing in front of the Safeway supermarket at 3rd Street and Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles. Photo by Mike Mullen, 1979.

Brooklyn Avenue Becomes César E. Chávez Avenue
http://jpg1.lapl.org/pics03/00001218.jpgMembers of the Jewish Labor Committee participate in the renaming ceremony for Brooklyn Avenue to become César E. Chávez Avenue in Boyle Heights. The committee was asked to support the changing demographics of the neighborhood by the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. 1994.

And of course, many related books for all ages, including Spanish language books, are available at the Los Angeles Public Library:

Cesar Chavez : A Photographic Essay, Cesar Chavez : Autobiography of La Causa, and A Picture Book of Cesar Chavez.

Book Jacket for: Cesar Chavez : a photographic essayBook Jacket for: Cesar Chavez : autobiography of La CausaBook Jacket for: A picture book of Cesar Chavez

Learn more about the upcoming ALOUD program and make your free reservation here. And remember the Los Angeles Public Library will be closed on Monday, March 31 in observance of Cesar Chavez Day.

Inspiring Dinaw Mengestu’s “All Our Names”

Coming up on Thursday, March 27 at ALOUD, Dinaw Mengestu, the MacArthur Award-winning author of two novels, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air, will discuss his new book, All Our Names, with novelist Laila Lalami. All Our Names is a deeply lyrical love story that explores two worlds in the early 70s—a quiet middle-of-nowhere American town and the bustling, violent capital of Uganda. Although the story follows the lives of those living in exile, The New York Times warns readers not to oversimplify Mengestu as a writer of “the immigrant experience” because All Our Names is more profoundly “a story about finding out who you are, about how much of you is formed by your family and your homeland, and what happens when those things go up in smoke.” We caught up with Mengestu before his upcoming ALOUD appearance about balancing the political and personal in his writing, and where he finds inspiration—spoiler alert: the library!

Much of your work focuses on personal stories that take place within tumultuous political climates. What interests you in the balancing act of these two worlds?

Mengestu: A large part of that interest is inevitably born out of my own family history–our migration from Ethiopia to the United States as a result of Ethiopia’s communist revolution. I grew up intimately aware of how politics can radically alter the course of a nation, and of course by extension the life of an individual or family.

Along the same lines, your new novel All Our Names is a love story that is also about exile—what was the genesis for this story?

Mengestu: For me this story is first and foremost a series of portraits of love. The exile that follows places those love stories into a state of crisis.

Since ALOUD is part of the Los Angeles Public Library, we’re always curious about authors’ connections to libraries. Do you have any connections to libraries—growing up as a kid, or as a parent, or do you use the library as a working writer?

Mengestu: As a child I spent much time in my public library, not only reading, but buying massive amounts of used paperback novels during the library book sales. By the time I graduated high school I had a wonderful personal library, purchased from my local library that I carried with me for years. While living in both New York and Paris, I did much of my writing in two beautiful reading rooms, one at the New York Public Library, and another at a small library that overlooked the river Seine.

Can you recommend other books to our readers—writing from a diaspora, political novels, or love stories—that have influenced your work?

Book Jacket for: Season of migration to the North
One of my favorite novels of all time, and the one that I consider to be the most influential in writing All Our Names, also happens to be the same one that Laila Lalami wrote a superb introduction for: Season of Migration to the North.



Learn more about Mengestu’s upcoming ALOUD program and make free reservations here.


Toddling Through Children’s Books with Jason Boog

How do you pick the best books for the baby or toddler in your life? After three years of research with my daughter, I think you should take them to the library and let them find books themselves.

When my daughter was born, I hadn’t read a kid’s book in many, many years. I learned almost everything I know about children’s literature by exploring the Pacific Palisades branch of the Los Angeles Public Library with my daughter.

Before Olive was able to walk, she could still browse at the library, digging through the baskets of books our librarians filled for the littlest readers. We checked out a stack of board books every week—books printed on hard cardboard stock to endure toddler readings.

As soon as she could toddle through the library, Olive would pluck books off the children shelves and carry them proudly to the checkout desk. We read so many amazing books during that time, but here are some favorites: Sandbox by Rosemary Wells, Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee, Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann, Hug by Jez Alborough, and Ten Tiny Tickles by Karen Katz.

Olive soon graduated into longer books, including the entire Munschworks storybook collection by Robert Munsch, Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, and anything by Dr. Seuss. Olive still likes to check out at least one Dr. Seuss book every week, and fortunately our library stocks plenty of circulating copies.

I wrote about our reading adventures in my upcoming book, Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age. I didn’t used to blink when I passed the children’s section at the library, but now I can spend hours browsing the stocks with my daughter.

I now follow the upcoming book lists from the major publishers with the same enthusiasm I used to follow the adult bestseller list. There are a few books I’m very excited about this year, and all of them come with Olive’s stamp of approval.


by Anthony Browne: The 30th anniversary edition of one of our favorite books, the tale of a lovable gorilla who takes a young girl on a nighttime adventure. The LAPL has a great collection of Anthony Browne books that introduced us to this artist and author’s work.

Book Jacket for: We're going on a bear hunt : anniversary edition of a modern classic
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury
: This was one of our favorite read-along books when Olive was two years old, and a jigsaw puzzle version of this book is coming out this year—letting kids enjoy the book and solve a series of puzzles too.



Book Jacket for: Chu's day
Chu’s Day
by Neil Gaiman
(Chu’s First Day of School by Neil Gaiman, illus. by Adam Rex): I am a big fan of Gaiman’s work for adults, and Olive giggled all the way through Chu’s Day, the novelist’s first book about a lovable panda bear with a sneezing problem. We are looking forward to this new installment.



Book Jacket for: Bedtime math
Bedtime Math: This Time, It’s Personal
by Laura Overdeck
, illus by Jim Paillot: This book introduces kids to math, a crucial skill that parents tend to skip at storytime. The series helps math-challenged parents like me introduce math with all the fun of a bedtime story.



Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm Xby Ilyasah Shabazz: This upcoming biography explores the childhood of a great leader, complete with gorgeous illustrations by AG Ford.

Hearts by Thereza Rowe: In this magical book, Penelope the Fox loses her heart and chases it through a surreal landscape. This book is part of the TOON Books series, a collection of books by world-renown illustrators. Olive and I discovered this series in the LAPL stacks, and it introduced my daughter to the joy of comic books.

Finally, if your kid spends more time on the iPad instead of reading, I recommend you try the Reading Rainbow app.

This is the digital reincarnation of my favorite show from childhood, LeVar Burton’s Reading Rainbow. The subscription app contains hundreds of digital books and a selection of videos culled from the television show’s archive.

At our house, we let Olive watch one Reading Rainbow video during her daily iPad time. While reading books, she also learned about crayon factories, quilt makers, Olympic athletes and the press secretary for President Barack Obama. And she always ends these iPad sessions with a good digital book, narrated by some of the best readers in the storytelling business.

“But you don’t have to take my word for it,” Burton always used to say on Reading Rainbow. He’s right. Start with my recommendations, but take the kid in your life to the library to find more books…

–Posted by Jason Boog

Jason Boog is the author of the forthcoming book, “Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age.” He lives in Los Angeles with his family.

Author photo by Mike Henry.

Meet the Young Literati Toasters

We hope you’ll be raising a glass with us for the Sixth Annual Young Literati Toast this Saturday, March 22 at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City. Arguably the Foundation’s most star-studded affair, the evening will celebrate our beloved Los Angeles Public Library with an incredible cast reading and performing selections of our city’s finest literature.

Curated by Amanda and Shepard Fairey, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Moby, and Busy Philipps, the evening will feature readings by Jason Reitman (Labor Day, Up in the Air, Juno), Nick Kroll (Kroll Show, The League), Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex), Gillian Jacobs (Community), comedian Tig Notaro (This American Life), Aaron D. Spears (Being Mary Jane), a musical performance by Jenny and Johnny, and more. Learn more about the event and tickets here, and to tide you over till the big night here’s a look at some of the toasters who will be joining us to support the Library.

Tig Notaro’s Stand-up from “This American Life”:

A clip from “Kroll Show” with Nick Kroll:

Music by Jenny and Johnny:

Stop by the Los Angeles Public Library to check out some DVDs featuring Busy PhilippsCougar Town, Freaks and Geeks, or White Chicks.
Book Jacket for: Cougar town. [videorecording] / The complete third seasonBook Jacket for: Freaks and geeks the complete series / [videorecording] :Book Jacket for: White chicks [videorecording]

Or movies directed by Jason Reitman like Juno, Up in the Air, and Young Adult.Book Jacket for: Juno [videorecording]Book Jacket for: Up in the air [videorecording].Book Jacket for: Young adult [videorecording]

Don’t miss out on this special night to support the Los Angeles Public Library Summer Reading Clubs, which are offered in all 73 library locations and serve over 40,000 children and teens each year.

Lost & Found at the Movies: Love Is a Many Splendored Thing

At each Lost & Found at the Movies event we choose a theme to explore. On the heels of Valentine’s Day, during an evening called Love is a Many Splendored Thing, we looked at love in movies and love for movies.

The opening clip reel featured moments from a handful of cinema’s great love stories (too many to list). When Ken Brecher and I first spoke about this series, he encouraged the notion that I make the events ‘personal’ and that was the case with these clips – excerpted from a longer half-hour piece that served as an ‘installation’ at my wedding reception, playing in a loop and projected inside a gazebo on the grounds. In the tradition of reading poetry at weddings, romantic films are part of the way we think (or maybe idealize) love.

In putting together those clips, I noticed a lot of patterns: there’s invariably the first moment the lovers see each other, there’s the first time they meet, a declaration of love (not without some difficulty for many), then tension, discord or even a break up. Often times that leads to running (possibly precipitated by a revelation) and then a speech, and of course the ending, for better or worse.

Show Me Love

On the eve of both the Independent Spirit Awards and Academy Awards, it felt appropriate to look back at the year of film and acknowledge that some of the best films (and some of the most overlooked) were love stories.

I’m not big on superlatives, but if pressed the best film of the year for me was Spike Jonze’s Her, an artful story of loneliness, love and a near future world (drawn in brilliantly evocative detail) in which a romance between man and a computer operating system is not only possible, but seemingly an opiate for a sadly solitary society. There was also Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, the third part of his trilogy and, for me, the strongest and most complex; a portrait of mature love and marriage that looks not at falling in love, but staying in love. And of course, Frances Ha, the wonderful collaboration between Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig and what struck me as a truly contemporary story – a woman working her way through a set of identities in a search of a figurative and literal room of her own.

There were also a handful of exceptional films that were overlooked and really deserve attention. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, a film that begins as a Bonnie & Clyde outlaw romance, but moves to a deeply moving reflection on love changing over time. Cutie and the Boxer, which although it was nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Academy Award, it was not widely seen and really should be. Not only one of the best verité docs in years, but a richly layered love story between a married couple, two Japanese artists and their lives together in New York over the past 40 years. For completely unique love stories there was Fill the Void, a film that tells the story of love and marriage within an ultraorthodox community in Israel – subtle, moving and unlike any film you’ve ever seen. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who won an Academy Award for The Separation, made The Past in France. It explores the relationship between an estranged couple as they formalize their divorce and is told with the same amazing observation and compassion as his earlier films. A high school love story with real honesty and edge was James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now, an adaptation of a Tim Tharp novel. And Shane Carruth’s second feature, Upstream Color, which developed a dedicated following both here and internationally, pushes the boundaries of filmmaking, envisioning love within the framework of poetic, non-narrative and largely non-verbal experience.

We also turned toward the future and the abundance of interesting films that will make their way to theaters this year (Indiewire ran a great list of highly-anticipated 2014 films). With Sundance and Berlin having just wrapped, we rushed through a few highlights:

Damien Chazelle’s debut feature was made in a remarkably short period of time, an extension of his short that screened last year at Sundance, Whiplash won both the jury prize and the audience award for US Dramatic Competition. Craig Johnson’s The Skeleton Twins, a poignant, superbly crafted story of a sibling relationship, features outstanding dramatic performances from Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood has been anticipated for most of the time it has been shooting – over 12 years! A completely unique film, chronicling the life of a young boy as he grows up (played by the same actor, Ellar Coltrane, over that time), was worth the wait. A few other stories of boyhood (and fathers and son) were Kat Candler’s fabulous Hellion with Aaron Paul and Imperial Dreams from Malik Vitthal. For the best Iranian vampire Western, you could turn to the fantastic genre mish mash of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night from upcoming filmmaker and force of nature Lily Amirpour. Two remarkable films from Ireland were Calvary, a profound, layered reflection of faith and human nature from John Michael McDonagh (The Guard) starring Brendan Gleeson in what one hopes is an Oscar-worthy role as a priest, and Frank, a completely unique and subversive look at creative ambition, bands and belonging from the very talented Lenny Abrahamson.

As always a number of foreign language films stood out, including Blind from Norwegian writer/director Eski Vogt (writing partner of Joachim Trier on Reprise and Oslo, August 31; Difret (a riveting story of tradition and modernity in Ethiopia); To Kill A Man, another fine film to emerge from the burgeoning Chilean film movement, which won the Grand Jury prize; The Lunchbox, a classical romance set in bustle of modern Mumbai and recently released by Sony Pictures Classics; and finally, Ida, a Polish film from Pawel Pawlikowski and perhaps the most beautiful, meditative film you’ll see this year.

On the documentary front there was Steve James’ profile of Roger Ebert, Life Itself; the story of Sepideh a teenage girl in Iran who wants to be an astronaut/astronomer; and Edet Belzberg’s stunning Watchers of the Sky about four people who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of international criminal justice. From Berlin, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel played to rave reviews and has just opened here. Praia di Futuro from Karim Ainouz was a poetic reflection on love, and the jury prize winner was a Chinese crime story, Black Coal, Thin Ice, but the standout for me was the astonishing debut film from Yann Demange, ’71, about a ‘night in the life of’ a British solider caught on the wrong side of Belfast during the Troubles.

And there are so many more things to look forward to this year: Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt), The Cobbler (Tom McCarthy), The Rover (David Michod), Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson), The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos), Far From the Madding Crowd (Thomas Vinterberg), Carol (Todd Haynes), Two Days, One Night (Dardennes brothers), Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan), Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh), The Cut (Fatih Akin) and Assassin (Hou Hsiao-Hsien).

True Romance

In a film town like Los Angeles, we’re fortunate to be surrounded by a particular kind of library: film archives. For each Lost & Found at the Movies events, I like to go foraging through a library or archive.

This time, I spoke to May Haduong at the Academy Film Archive, part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. It’s the third largest film archive in the country; they have 222 million feet of film. We took a look at only a couple hundred feet (all 16mm). Appropriately, the footage brought us “true romance”: home movies of notable Hollywood couples. There were three segments:

James Wong Howe and Sanora Babb. Home movies have an edge when shot by renowned cinematographer. James Wong Howe who worked on over 100 films during the golden age and won 2 cinematography Academy Awards for Rose Tattoo and Hud, also made many home movies throughout his career. Probably 1937, this footage features Howe travelling in the San Francisco Bay Area by car with his partner and future wife, Sanora Babb, her sister Dorothy, author James Hilton and his wife Alice, and actor Charles Korvin.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Shot in the mid-late-1940s this footage shows Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who had been married a few years on their boat, the Santana. Bogart sailed quite often – 40 weekends a year – and taught Bacall, who joined him less after the birth of their first child. Joining them is Richard Brooks who directed Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Lord Jim and Looking for Mr. Goodbar and wrote Key Largo. Bogart was once quoted saying, “The problem with having dames along is you can’t pee over the side.”

And finally, Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Hitchcock and their daughter Patricia. It’s likely that Alfred and Alma Hitchcock, collaborators and husband and wife, acquired a camera when Pat was born in 1928. The bulk of these were shot near London at Shamley Cottage, a country home. Hitchcock shot many of them, handing the camera off to Alma on occasion. This is the earliest known color footage of Alfred Hitchcock – probably shot in 1929. It’s Kodacolor, a process involving a filter and black and white stock to render color – not as vibrant as Kodachrome. Most notable is the playful, quirky side of Hitchcock revealed in these movies.

Picture above courtesy of the Alfred Hitchcock Collection at the Academy Film Archive. Special thanks to the Academy Film Archive and the estates of James Wong Howe, Alfred Hitchcock and Richard Brooks for allowing these home movies to be used in the collection.

Where’s the Love?

We shifted gears from love in the movies to love for the movies.

In the first Lost & Found at the Movies event, I had rummaged through the Los Angeles Public Library’s breathtaking photography collection to find a number of images of Los Angeles’ movie palaces over the years, beginning with the openings of famous theaters like Grauman’s Chinese and the El Capitan all the way through the construction and opening of the Cinerama Dome. You can’t help but feel struck by the majesty of those spaces and what that brought to the experiences itself. And with that grandeur in mind, it’s tough to survey the city’s theater landscape today – the countless defunct theaters and empty marquees – without a certain sadness. That is until you look a little closer….

There’s a thriving culture of theatrical exhibition across Los Angeles and vibrant community waiting for you to be part of it. So I decided to spend a day trekking across town and talking to people whose passion is for showing movies. The day trip was chronicled by filmmaker Michael Bodie in this 8 minute piece “Where’s the Love?”

Where’s the Love? from Library Foundation of Los Angeles on Vimeo.

So in addition to great first-run venues that feature interesting films (Landmark’s venues, Laemmle Theaters, Sundance Sunset, and others), we can take hope in places like the Academy Film Archive, American Cinemateque at the Aero and Egyptian theaters, Billy Wilder Theater (UCLA Film & Television Archive), Cinefamily, Cinespia, Downtown Independent, LACMA, New Beverly, Redcat and occasionally the Getty and Skirball. Also both UCLA’s Melnitz Movies and USC Stark Family Theater can be counted on for interesting specialty films.

Some highlights: the Academy Film Archive has several programs in the works, from a Jim Jarmusch retrospective to Penelope Spheeris’ Decline of Western Civilization trilogy (with special guests) and some not-to-be missed live events including Ennio Morricone in conversation with Quentin Tarantino. Shannon Kelly and the UCLA Film & Television Archive will be presenting a Robert Altman retrospective from April to June. The American Cinemateque has just started a Jean-Luc Godard series and will offer their famed Film Noir series again this spring. And in addition to Cinefamily’s upcoming runs of Alan Resnais’ Je t’aime, je t’aime, you can find their long running series like Friday Night Frights, The Silent Treatment, Lost and Found Film Club and The Doug Benson Movie Interruption.

The Happiness Quotient

Love makes us feel good, maybe it’s the only thing that mitigates the world we live in. But does cinema show us real love – or just movies love. Is it all just warm and fuzzy? We break for statistics….

I used three sample sets: AFI’s 100 Greatest Love Stories, Sight & Sound’s Top 100 films, and all the winners of the Best Picture Academy Award.

What percentage of the great romances actually have a happy ending? In a non-scientific statistical analysis, I found the following:

AFI 100: 62% of the couples in these films end up together in the end, 38% do not (and for 26% it’s because one or both are dead). Noteworthy is that in seven of the top 10 films the couple does not end up together.

Sight & Sound. I considered 26 of the Top 100 films to be veritable love stories. Of those 12 end happily (46%), 11 unhappily (42%), of those 5 are a result of death. That leaves 3 in the murky Gray Zone – although the couple is together, whether they are happy is debatable (e.g. L’avventura).

Best Picture. Subjectively, 30 Best Picture winners are love stories.  Of those, 16 end happily, 11 unhappily including 8 deaths. 2 I put in a fourth category in which the female object of affection dies at the beginning in order for the male protagonist to grow as a person (usually by exacting bloody revenge).

Dark Side of the Human Heart

In our final segment with writer/director Stacie Passon the conversation about love stories explored the depths of human nature, mature relationships and marriage. We looked at clips from Passon’s Concussion, Rossellini’s devastating Journey to Italy, which Cahiers du Cinema called the first modern film, Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage and Godard’s A Woman is a Woman, at which point we ran out of time before getting to Alan Alda’s The Four Seasons and Linklater’s Before Midnight.

So, moving from the most romantic moments of cinema to the more profound and dark contours of the human heart, I think it’s fair to say we found quite a lot of “splendor”.

–Posted by John Nein, Senior Programmer at the Sundance Film Festival and Curator of Lost & Found at the Movies