Notes From Italy, Vol. 6: Botticelli’s Niece

Vol. 6 in my Notes From Italy series.

So, yeah, we were in Florence, visited the Uffizi Gallery, a massive and profound feast of art, and we had the great pleasure to stand right in front of this masterpiece, Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus


… and the very first thought that popped into my mind was:

Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble
Ancient footprints are everywhere
You can almost think that you’re seein’ double
On a cold, dark night on the Spanish Stairs
Got to hurry on back to my hotel room
Where I’ve got me a date with Botticelli’s niece
She promised that she’d be right there with me
When I paint my masterpiece

–Bob Dylan, When I Paint My Masterpiece, 1971

It didn’t matter that Dylan speaks of Rome and this Venus is in Florence, and it didn’t matter — if it wasn’t creepy enough to think of the artist painting nudes of his brother’s or sister’s daughter– that art historians have firmly ruled out that the image of Venus is that of his niece.

Given that Birth of Venus is such an iconic piece, it seems a very good possibility that Dylan was referring to the painting and having a little fun.

So, you might ask, what thoughts did I have about Birth of Venus once the Dylan wore off?

Well, it had nothing to do with how beautiful the painting is, or the mythological story it tells, or what a wonderful composition, with the winds blowing Venus to shore and her handmaiden waiting and ready to clothe her.

No, instead, I thought of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Terry Gilliam’s brilliant animation:

I know, I’m so highbrow!

Up Next: Notes From Italy, Vol. 7: How To Fake Speaking Italian

Tweet of the Day: #MontyPython

monty-python-grailI’m a HUGE Monty Python fan, and especially a fan of their 1975 film Monty Python & The Holy Grail, as I mentioned in a post this past June.

Today’s Tweet of the Day installment, for obvious reasons then, totally cracked me up!

It reminds me of all those brilliant fake letters from disgruntled viewers interspersed between skits in the Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV series, and truly reads like it was written by the Pythons themselves.


Oh, England. You’re No Fun Anymore!

monty-python-copIf you are a heterosexual guy and you reached puberty when I did, in the 1970s, and you were lucky enough, as I was, to have a public television station that, late at night, would play reruns of Monty Python’s Flying Circus , not only were you introduced to some of the best comedy ever produced, but you could also catch precious, hormone-stirring glimpses of female … um … as the Pythons would say, naughty bits, such as the image here, taken from one of Terry Gilliam‘s amazing and hilarious cutout animations.

If you were extra lucky, as I was, you had another channel available to you, like WOR TV 9, that, also late at night, played reruns of a second British comedy program, The Benny Hill Show, which contained rarer bits of nudity, but plentiful moments of scantily clad women.

Consequently, my impression of England and British culture was that it was more liberal and open-minded than it was here in the U.S., and I loved them for it!

Disappointing then, to come across this item in today’s New York Times:

Ad for Rolling Stones Exhibition Banned from London Underground

A poster for the coming Rolling Stones exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London — showing a bright pink tongue on the front of a pair of women’s underwear — has been banned from the London Underground until adjustments can be made to make it less explicit.

Here’s the image from the poster:


Really, England?!

The Rolling Stones have been raunchy for decades, while becoming one of the greatest bands in the world, and you’d be hard-pressed to prove that they are in any way to blame for any perceived decline of the United Kingdom.

Let’s face it, you’re no fun anymore!

Late Night TV Bandleader/Sidekick: Part II

THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDENThis morning I posted this week’s Video Fridays installment, in which I touched on the late night TV talk show Host, Bandleader, and Sidekick roles, in response to the announcement yesterday that Jon Batiste will be Stephen Colbert’s bandleader on the new Late Show, coming this September.

My post was never meant to be an exhaustive exposé on the subject, and so my references to late night TV talk shows were far from inclusive, leaving out two shows in particular: Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Late Late Show.

In my post, I mentioned that some late night shows have a bandleader AND a sidekick, while on others the bandleader doubles as the sidekick, and by coincidence, shortly after I posted that, I came across a piece on this morning with the headline:

Reggie Watts, the weirdest guy on late night TV: How “The Late Late Show” bandleader is redefining the sidekick role

If you aren’t familiar with Reggie Watts, it is well worth your time to go on a YouTube binge, or check out back episodes from the show Reggie is leaving, Comedy Bang! Bang!, seasons 1-3 of which are now on Netflix.

And, since it’s still Video Fridays, and since we’re on the subject of late night TV talk shows, here’s a clip of Reggie doing his thing on Conan:

Video Fridays: Welcome to Late Night TV, Jon Batiste!

Jonathan Batiste and Stay HumanThere are traditionally, with a few exceptions, three primary personality roles in the late night talk show format: Host, Sidekick, and Bandleader.

Sometimes there’s a sidekick and a bandleader, like Ed McMahon & Doc Severinsen, from the Johnny Carson era Tonight Show; Conan O’Brien‘s Andy Richter & Max Weinberg; or Steve Higgins and Questlove, from Jimmy Fallon‘s Late Night and Tonight Show, but sometimes the bandleader is also the sidekick, like Paul Shaffer from David Letterman‘s Late Night and The Late Show, and Fred Armisen from the Seth Meyers incarnation of Late Night.

However these duties are allocated, it is an enduring formula for sure, and hosts, sidekicks, and bandleaders are high-profile gigs that, for many who have held these positions, marked career peaks.

With the departure of Late Show host David Letterman, we’ve known for over a year now that Dave would be replaced as host by former Colbert Report star Stephen Colbert, but today it was announced that Paul Shaffer’s replacement as bandleader will be…

…um, who the HELL is Jon Batiste?!

Embarrassingly, before today, I’d never heard of Mr. Batiste: embarrassing, because he’s a Julliard-trained member of a distinguished New Orleans musical family, and his music, a typically bluesy-funky New Orleans-style jazz, is something I enjoy VERY much.

It’s a huge boost in exposure for someone who has already garnered considerable critical acclaim, and the only downside is that Jon Batiste and his band, Stay Human, will be on The Late Show at the same time as The Roots are on the Tonight Show, forcing viewers to choose one over the other … or DVR one or the other on a regular basis.

I can’t embed it here, but Batiste’s appearance on The Colbert Report gives a nice preview of the chemistry they have together, and the videos I do have here, for this week’s Video Fridays installment, include today’s announcement, and a clip of a Jon Batiste & Stay Human performance that is guaranteed to get you excited that they will be on TV on a VERY regular basis starting in September.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: R.I.P., Leonard Nimoy

mr-spockWow. I’m shocked by the passing this morning of Leonard Nimoy.

I’d gone years without watching any Star Trek: The Original Series, or any of the movies featuring the original cast, before I decided recently to do a series of Video Fridays posts on a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth, a lineup that included Star Trek, and I published my post on Star Trek just two weeks ago.

In preparation for writing that post, I watched many episodes of the TV show, reconnecting with what I loved so much about it. And then, this past week, I was home sick in bed for two days and binged on more Star Trek, including the movies.

That Leonard Nimoy should die today, frankly, creeps me out as much it saddens me.

I think it must be nearly impossible to grow up Jewish in the late 1960s, 70s, 80s, etc., and NOT know, with enormous pride, that the two main characters in Star Trek, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Nimoy), were played by Jewish actors.

Years later I learned that the Vulcan salute (seen in the photo above), was derived by Leonard Nimoy from a blessing bestowed by Rabbis, where the hands form an approximation of the Hebrew letter shin, shorthand for the Hebrew word Shaddai, one of numerous Hebrew names for God.

As an actor, I think the best compliment one could give would be that his portrayal of Mr. Spock was defining and masterful. While Gene Roddenberry may have dreamed up the character, Leonard Nimoy brought him to life and was always believable as that half-human-half-Vulcan caught between the competing aspects of his nature.

While I was very impressed by Zachary Quinto‘s performances as Spock in the recent reboots, Quinto’s was an act of imitation and Nimoy’s an act of creation.

I couldn’t pick just one video to accompany this obituary, and so I’ve included two. The first is perhaps the most moving scene from all of the TV episodes and movies, a scene that epitomizes Spock’s Vulcan logic, as well as his very human emotional bond to Captain Kirk. The second is a compilation of clips from the TV series that highlight Spock’s human-Vulcan conflict, often to comedic effect.

As my fellow Jews say, upon the death of a loved one, “May his memory be a blessing.”

Rest in peace, Leonard, and thanks so much for the many years of thought-provoking entertainment.

Live long, and prosper.

Video Fridays: The Twilight Zone

twilight-zoneEver have one of those days, when everything seems to go wrong; when, as Hamlet said, the time is out of joint; when things just seem off; when you’re not on your game; when you woke up on the wrong side of the bed?

I believe it is not at all an exaggeration to posit that most people who grew up on television, where and when I did, think of the following when we’re having a day like that:

(Queue the haunting theme music by Marius Constant…)

You’re traveling through another dimension.

A dimension, not only of sight and sound, but of mind.

A journey through a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.

That’s the sign post up ahead!

Your next stop: The Twilight Zone.

— Rod Serling

This week I conclude my series of nostalgic Video Fridays posts, wherein I’ve reminisced about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth.

Having covered The Honeymooners, The Odd Couple, M*A*S*H, and Star Trek: The Original Series, it’s time now to enter…The Twilight Zone!

Thanks to the 1:00am airing time, it’s safe to say that, of all of these shows, I saw The Twilight Zone with less consistency, unless you include the many times I fell asleep in the middle of an episode.

And yet, when I did watch I was captivated and very often creeped out, thanks to the late hour and the often mysterious, mind-bending, and even scary stories.

The Twilight Zone resembled two of the other shows in particular ways.

First, like The Honeymooners, it was in black and white, and while not dating back quite as far — the last episode originally aired in June 1964, a few months before I was born — it was a terrific time capsule, offering up a charming glimpse of the clothing, furniture, appliances, and vehicles of the time, as well as many no-longer used colloquialisms.

Second, like Star Trek, The Twilight Zone often featured science fiction stories, including even more dated and, to our modern CGI-trained eyes, cheesy props and special effects, but always focused on human drama and ethical dilemmas rather than on action.

The Twilight Zone, unlike Star Trek, was mostly a half-hour show (season four featured hour-long episodes, but it returned to a half-hour for the fifth and final season), and I’d argue that this time constraint (actually 25 minutes without commercials) speaks to the show’s primary greatness, for each episode was a masterpiece in miniature, with solid story arcs, tight scripts offering a mixture of humorous and dead serious dialogue, incredible casting, deeply committed acting, and gorgeous photography, employing experimental techniques that were quite radical for the time.

In preparation for writing this post, this past week I re-watched numerous episodes, starting from the pilot, continuing in sequence through much of the first season, then skipping around amongst the remaining four seasons, and I was particularly struck by how good the show was right out of the gate.

In fact, the eighth episode of the first season may be the most famous one of all, titled Time Enough To Last, and starring the late great Burgess Meredith as a book worm, so distracted by his obsession with reading that his marriage and job are in jeopardy, until one day, while taking his lunch break in the vault of the bank where he works, a nuclear apocalypse goes down, and, after recovering from the shock and coming to the realization that he may be the last person alive on the planet, he discovers the rubble of the public library, enough books to last a lifetime, and time enough at last to indulge his reading obsession without interruption, only, as he’s about to dig into the first book, his super-thick eyeglasses, without which he can barely see a thing much less read, fall to the ground and smash completely, unusable.

It’s devastating and awesome.

And yet, this is not the episode I’ve chosen to include here. Rather, I’ve selected episode 21 of the first season, because it shares common ground with the episode I featured in last week’s Star Trek post.

Titled Mirror Image (the Star Trek episode was titled Mirror, Mirror), like it’s counterpart, it explores the possibility of a parallel or alternate universe, a copy of the one we exist in, only…different.

But, rather than me rambling on any further, let’s just get to the video fun!

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

(Disclaimer: I apologize that, due the video having been rendered in a different aspect ratio than the original, parts of the image are cut off throughout, especially noticeable during close-up dialogue.)