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JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–Picnics & (126) ARTSY To the Editor

CRASHING PICNICS

I’m a kid.  Nice hot summer day.  About two miles away from us is this forest preserve.  You know what is it a forest preserve, right?  Like a big park.

One day, me and Schwartz and Flick and Bruner see this great big sign, tremendous sign near the park.  Had arrows all over it.  It says, THIS WAY GREEK AMERICAN PICNIC.  So Schwartz says, “Let’s go to the picnic!”  We ride our bikes down there and we hear yelling and hollering in this huge forest preserve.  We follow some more arrows and there is a guy handing out buttons and pins.  He yells out, “The kiddies are already here!  Come on in!”

You can hear the band knocking it out, people running around and hollering and yelling and eating.  Dancing and yelling.  Schwartz and Flick and Bruner and I fit right in.  Guys are crawling in and out of the weeds drinking ouzo, the Greek wine that tastes like turpentine.  They’re handing out the free moussakis.  We’re eating ourselves silly.  Dancing with the Greek girls, the whole bit.  We become more Greek than any Greek at the picnic.  All you have to do is snap your fingers once in a while, holler “Opa, opa! Oh! Oh! Opa! Opa!”  It’s exciting.

We went down there about two o’clock in the afternoon and we don’t get out of there until about nine at night. Those picnics go on and on and on.  Boy, what a fantastic time!

That was the first time I ever tasted Greek food.  They had rolled up things in grape leaves, very good stuff.  I must have eaten seven pounds of these.  I had about six pounds of feta, hundreds of things wrapped in grape leaves, a lot of moussaka, and all kinds of stuff to drink it all down.  A great afternoon!

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TO THE EDITOR

Like so many, I’ve written my opinion to The New York Times—and twice, my thoughts have been printed. As might be expected, both times the subject has been artsy: a defense of nature’s carefully evolved, stylized playground; and a defense of a depiction of a film protagonist as an incipient artist-in-the-making.

ASTRO TURF

It’s my understanding that plastic grass is commerce’s answer to domed-over baseball stadiums—the domes are to prevent rained-out games, and, because real grass won’t grow without nature’s help, Astro Turf was the answer. The New York Mets had just surrendered to the artificial, so on April 28, 1984, The Times ran an op-ed article:

Pseudo Turf at Shea?

No Hit and a Big Error

By Michael Takiff

 “…baseball’s herbicidal charge into the future, which began in the Houston Astrodome nearly 20 years ago.”

“The advantages of artificial turf to baseball are minimal, the detriment profound….and it doesn’t have to be mowed—just reglued once in a while.

“But the evil non-weed upsets the game’s fundamental historic proportions, which have served so well till now. Its weapon in this attack is its surface: Slick and hard, it dramatically distorts the movement of the batted ball….

“Baseball is prized for the sum of its parts, and to exaggerate one is to shrink the whole.”

Toward the end of his well-argued defense of real grass, he comments, “Remember baseball, our delightfully anachronistic national treasure.”

On May 6, two letters to the editor appeared commenting on Takiff’s essay. The first, longer one, by me. And I remain amused by the choice and sequence of the letters—my heartfelt defense of nature’s symbolic and stylized reality, followed by a militant advocacy of an un-natural, hard-surfaced, dystopian futurism:

MURIEL

In 1963 I attended a preview showing of the Alain Resnais film Muriel (a follow-up to his Last Year at Marienbad). The film’s translated subtitle is “The Time of a Return.” It depicts a woman and her son’s obsessions with the past. The woman sells antique furniture from her modern apartment (surrounding herself in her home with these reminders of times past, and maybe reminding her of an old love affair), and her son, who is obsessed with the torture in Algiers, by himself and his fellow-soldiers, of a young woman named Muriel. The young man spends his time taking moving pictures—somehow trying to capture and maybe, in some way, understand his world and his past. Considering that the film’s title refers to the son’s obsession, it seems logical that he and she are the major focus. He is a coming-of-age artist. After seeing the film, I immediately wrote a review of it for my own amusement, beating all the regular critics before the public opening reviews. In part:

The story is mainly his. His way of coming to terms with the past and present is to record the present (which, of course, immediately becomes the past). He makes movies, he records on tape. Even during a fight in the apartment, he does not attempt to stop it—he films it and sends for the tape recorder. The artist reacts to his environment by recording it and transposing it into art….

Films such as Muriel, Truffaut’s 400 Blows, and Fellini’s 8 ½ are a good sign. They are statements that the film artist (auteur) insists on being placed on a level with the novelist and other artists: that film art in its highest is not to be made by committee but by a single creative artist.

Muriel’s protagonist at work.

The Times main film critic, Bosley Crowther, wrote damning comments about Muriel in the 11/3/1963 Sunday Times, including:

“…I’m sorry I have to say that this one is, for my money, New Wave at its sorriest….a deliberate attempt to enclose a romantic mystery story in utter obscurity….the whole thing is anti-cohesion, anti-emotion and anti-sense….After this cinematic folly, Mr. Resnais had better back up and start all over again.”

I mailed my comments to Crowther, and in disagreement, other irate readers also responded  to him–the following Sunday he answered with a put-down column defending his opinions, titled,

EXPOSING THE OBSCURE

Readers Explain (Or Do They?)

Some Difficulties in New Films.

He quotes some of the responses, including part of my letter (which he edited to make me seem even more pretentious than I thought I was. Plus, he spelled Bergmann wrong and mistakenly placing my Richmond Hill home in Staten Island instead of Queens, NY.):

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