October 16, 2012
May 1, 2010
By Larry and Mary Sussman
Larry Sussman: The movie Greenberg explores the agony of returning to the path not taken, but failing to resurrect your life. Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) is a 40-year-old carpenter from New York City who goes back to Los Angeles after a nervous breakdown and tries to right his past mistakes. I believe that Greenberg falls flat, and so does the movie.
Mary Vuk Sussman: I agree that Greenberg has failed to grow up. He doesn’t really progress or even regress as a character. He does seem to learn a few things, but it’s hard to believe that he is a changed man at the movie’s end. I don’t think the movie is a total failure. But like a lot of satire, it sort of leaves you cold. from afar. It’s a good movie for cynics.
LS: Noah Baumbach, the movie’s director and main writer, seems to think that audiences will empathize with Greenberg when he tries to re-examine important life decisions with his former band mate, Ivan Schrank (Rhys Ifans), and his old girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Yet both have moved on with their lives and do not give a hoot about Greenberg’s longings. Many close-ups of an anguished Greenberg do not make the audience care for this basically boy-like, selfish character. His moral reawakening comes too late.
MVS: I agree, he is somewhat thickheaded, and he is a slow learner, like so many of us. You start to wonder if he has a brain, especially when the lost, lovely, and kind Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig) falls for him, and he doesn’t have the good sense to love her. But yes, Greenberg’s attempts to reconnect with his rich high school friends are dismal failures. Yet there was something interesting when Ivan spoke about reconciling himself to the life he never planned, but Baumbach never really unpacked or explored it. I never understood why Roger left the California good life to live in New York. I was never clear on why Roger settled in Bushwick, a very poor section of Brooklyn, and chose to make a living as a carpenter. Why did he have a breakdown and what landed him in a mental hospital? Why would he want to go back to Hollywood to house- and dog-sit for his wealthy brother, Phillip? The movie starts to make some sense when Florence, a paid personal assistant to Phillip, enters the scene. She is a floundering college graduate who is as lost as Greenberg. There are some nice moments when their lives entwine over Mahler, a large brown German Shepherd Dog. But I had more sympathy for Florence (and Mahler) than for Greenberg.
LS: I also cared somewhat more for Florence, an aspiring singer, who is a sexy bed hopper. I felt far more for Mahler, when he becomes ill. Greenberg, on the other hand, is less lovable, and an unsympathetic hero is a fatal flaw. The movie also tries to explore deeper sentiments with characters mouthing forgettable lines, such as “Hurt people hurt people,” and “Life is wasted on people.” Regrettably, the Los Angeles/Hollywood setting, including an all-night drug party, didn’t resonate with me. I kept on thinking, “When is this movie, which is an hour and forty-seven minutes long, going to end?”
MVS: I agree that Greenberg doesn’t do much to warm the heart. I did like the “Life is wasted on people” line and have repeated it a couple of times since. The line was a throwaway, good for a laugh, but Baumbach never really ran with it. For me, the movie worked as satire. I laughed at the characters’ ineptness and emptiness as they muddled their way through it all. Greenberg doesn’t do much to make us feel better about the human race or even ourselves. It goes to extremes and exposes the troubles of selfish, immature, and alienated people and throws in a culture of wealth and privilege as a backdrop. Though the movie is set in or near the Hollywood epicenter of film culture, it is about every person who buys into this culture even from afar. It’s a good movie for cynics.
LS: If I want to feel cynical, I’ll watch when U.S. senators criticize the president’s upcoming U.S. Supreme Court nomination. I go to movies to escape, to root for made-up heroes.
MVS: Movies get controversial when they start to imitate life too closely.
LS: But sometimes they just get stupid.
Mary and Larry Sussman are married. The couple will deliver future film review dialogues.
January 29, 2010
By Katherine Keller
Show honors workers, captures foundry drama and scale
Although the initial impression of Michael Schultz’s exhibit at the Grohmann Museum is photographs of colossal, towering machines on a shop floor in Hell, a careful examination reveals his work is really about the men and women at work in the industrial infernos.
Foundry Work: A View of the Industry features 22 large-format color photographs of the metal-casting process, from pattern making to freeing a casting from its mold, photographed in foundries in Germany and the United States, including Falk and Maynard Steel Casting in Milwaukee.
Schultz, a professional/industrial photographer for 30 years, took his first foundry photographs in 2004 when he became impressed by their spectacular nature.
His subject matter recalls the industrial photographs of Charles Sheeler and Lewis Hines, his colors the sepia palette of Thomas Eakins, and his painterly style, ironically, conjures the work of photorealist painters Richard Estes and Ralph Goings.
Each of the photographs in the exhibit was shot with full-frame 35-millimeter digital cameras. Most of Schultz’s photographs are composed of three to six exposures shot in rapid succession and then digitally blended. The blending technique enables him to create images with a greater range of shadow and highlight detail. Schultz rarely uses a flash to illuminate a subject because he prefers to “maintain a sense of what the environment was like including its natural light.” That “natural” light, however, is sometimes light radiated by hundreds of thousands of exploding molten ore droplets.
To maintain the correct vertical perspective, Schultz employs a number of “shift lenses” that permit him to shift the lens upward rather than tilting the camera.
Many of his compositions are defined and ordered by dramatic light that creates a sense of the surreal. In some, the light is amorphous, reflected from clouds and plumes of steam, while in others it is concentrated and searing, radiating from molten metal glowing at 2,850 to 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit.
The real significance of Schultz’s work — beyond its beauty, spectacular formal elements, and subject matter — is his representation of the foundry workers engaged in their craft. However, at first glance, it may not be readily apparent that there are human forms in the compositions. Workers are dwarfed by the enormous scale of the machinery. They’re also camouflaged by garments that reflect the fiery light of the foundry or are nearly the same blue and slate gray hues as those of the molds and machines.
During his gallery talk the evening the show opened, Schultz said his photographs are his way of honoring the people who work in “the tough, hard, hot, often dangerous foundries where one slip can cause death.” He has written that the richest part of his foundry experience was getting to know some of the men and women who labor in them and hearing the stories of their work and lives. Viewers who take the time to step into his complex, rich images are bound to be awed by the people, their work, and the foundries Schultz has portrayed.
Foundry Work: A View of the Industry
Jan. 15-April 5
Grohmann Museum, 1000 N. Broadway (MSOE campus)
January 28, 2010
By Katherine Keller
No time to write your memoir?
You’re wrong: just six words required.
Skeptical? Perhaps the 1,000 examples in It All Changed in an Instant-More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, the second volume in this hyper-truncated genre developed by SMITH Magazine, edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith, and published by Harper Perennial, will change your mind.
Launched in 2006, SMITH is an online magazine specializing in storytelling, with a penchant for personal narrative. The editors developed the six-word genre based on the real or apocryphal tale where Hemingway wins a challenge (in a bar-where else?) to write a novel in six words. His nano-narrative, according to the legend was, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Many of these mini memoirs are more aphorism than life story, but among the 1,000 tiny tropes readers will find the witty, sardonic, bitter, sweet, and ironic. A few examples:
- Cloudy with chance of sun. -Julie Beman
- Former boss: “Writing’s your worst skill!” -Amy Tan
- I turned eleven. No Hogwarts letter. -Laura Murray
- He knew about her peanut allergy. -Saaleha Mamjee-Mayet
- From bar singer to Halloween costume. -Taylor Hicks
- Most dying is done at work. -Cameron Vest
- Ending our relationship on Facebook? Classy. -Quin Browne
Not for everyone, It All Changed in an Instant is for those who enjoy collections of jokes, wit, inspirational verse, quotations, and meditations. A subject/theme index is included.
The first book in this series, Not Quite What I Was Planning was on the New York Times bestseller list for six weeks in 2008.
It All Changed in An Instant-More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure
Edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith
Harper Perennial; 978-0-06-171943-1; Paperback; $12
January 3, 2010
By Katherine Keller
There’s a bill currently in the Wisconsin Legislature that, if passed, will place a new symbol, along with the badger, violet, and robin, in the state’s pantheon. The lucky little life form being looked at by the Legislature is Lactococcus lactis, the one that helps convert milk to cheese.
If you doubt the microbe’s merit, consider the alchemists who rely on it-hundreds of Wisconsin’s cheesemakers who produce more than 600 varieties of cheese.*
Forty-three of the state’s consummate cheese artisans are deftly and articulately profiled in a new UW Press release, The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin.
Self-proclaimed cheese lover James Norton, a food writer, and Becca Dilley, a photographer, roamed the state to interview 43 master cheesemakers who create varieties ranging from “ordinary” cheddar, feta, Swiss, and Parmesan to the not-as-ordinary chèvre, Crescenza-stracchino, Finnish juustoleipa, SarVecchio, Gorgonzola, and Limburger.
In his introduction, Norton relates the genesis of the state’s master cheesemaker program. The impetus that drove its creation was threefold: the desire to collect, preserve, and transmit cheesemaking knowledge, to provide a research site and opportunities, and to develop a branding and marketing program to promote quality Wisconsin cheese, which would result in financial returns to the state.
Created in 1994 by the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, the two-year Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Program was patterned principally after the rigorous Swiss model. Part of their mission was to recognize and preserve the talent and knowledge of the state’s cheesemakers. Establishing a certification program that would confer master status to program grads was a goal. Another was marketing the cheesemakers and their products via the program’s trademarked “Master’s Mark.”
Earning the program’s master cheesemaker credential entails meeting stringent standards. Before would-be masters can apply, they must have been in possession of Wisconsin cheesemaking licenses for 10 years and been making the cheese for which they seek certification for five years. Only after meeting those qualifications, are they permitted to take the strict oral exam conducted by program board members. Following admission, there are two years of courses, and “constant testing of [their] cheese and evaluation of [their] plant,” culminating in a written final exam.
Program participants choose one or two cheese varieties to “master” during their training, and upon completion of the program, receive their certificate and medal, the master title, and permission to use the Master’s Mark on labels of cheese they produce for which they’re certified. Norton notes the program has graduated only 50 masters to date (as of November 2009).
Folded into the main body of the text that’s comprised of the cheesemakers’ profiles are informative elements about the history of Wisconsin cheesemaking, and the art, science, and lore of the complex craft, often enlivened with entertaining anecdotes.
For example, in the profile about Jeff Wideman and Paul Reigle (Maple Leaf Cheese, Monroe, Wis.), Wideman explains how the old Monroe dairy co-op, and many like it, operated. In 1922 there was a network of 3,000 small co-ops throughout the state that produced Wisconsin’s cheese, but which dramatically declined mid-20th century when mass production replaced the small, local producers. Wideman related how the co-op system operated, citing the Monroe dairy co-op. Milk was delivered to the cheese plant from local farmers, who like the cheesemakers, were co-op members. The milk was transformed to cheese, graded, and sold to a single buyer. The co-op invoiced the buyer, who sent payment to the co-op’s bank. Those proceeds were deposited, by percentage, into the respective farmers’ and the cheesemakers’ accounts.
Another example of what can be gleaned from the profiles is a description and photo of a fascinating water purification system developed by cheesemaster Robert Wills (Cedar Grove Cheese, Plain, Wis.). Wills’ system is comprised, in part, of 10-2,600 gallon water vats full of plants, leeches, frogs, blue gills, algae, and mosquitoes that clean the plant’s wastewater and significantly reduce water usage and overhead.
Sidebars embellish the main text. Some, entitled “flavor notes,” describe less well-known cheeses. There’s a history timeline that summarizes Wisconsin cheesemaking, another that describes the cheddaring process, and one that demystifies processed cheese.
The end matter includes an instructive glossary. The index is adequate but not perfect. (If you want to find all the chèvre or mozzarella producers referenced in the text, highlight them as you read because you won’t find them in the index.) A flaw that I encountered was not all instances of text relating to co-ops were cited in the index entry, “co-ops, dairy.”
Cheesemakers can also be used to construct a tour of the featured plants. It’s divided into five geographical regions, each with an excellent map indicating the location of the featured master cheesemakers.
The volume is beautifully designed with judicious, generous white space, engaging photographs, and lucid text, including those passages about cheese chemistry and production. One can read the entire work in a couple of hours but there’s so much information I would expect many will file it on the locavore shelf of their home library’s reference section.
*Not all varieties of cheese rely on Lactococcus lactis, but some that do are cheddar, Camembert, Edam, Gouda, Monterey Jack, Muenster, feta, and Gorgonzola.
The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin
James Norton and Becca Dilley (Madison, Wis. natives, currently Minnesota residents)
University of Wisconsin Press
Trade Paper $24.95
At local bookstores and uwpress.wisc.edu