A Book and a [Big] Bird

One week left of being a 30-something…

I’m way behind on my birthday list reporting, but I will try to catch up over the next few days!

I’m working my way through the Modern Library’s top 100 novels and nonfiction books. As I was perusing the list of novels about a month ago, I noticed that there weren’t many female authors listed. So I counted…nine. NINE. Out of 100.

Harumph. So I’m reading the rest of the books written by female authors first. I finished Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart the other day. Great title, no? It’s a lovely period piece of England in the 1930s. The main character is a sweet and innocent teenaged girl who ends up a little unhinged over a boy and a betrayal (but not necessarily the boy’s betrayal).

On May 15, I had an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my days. I was in the same room as the man who’s played the characters of Big Bird and Oscar on Sesame Street for 40 years: Caroll Spinney.

He is the subject of a new documentary, and he and his wife and the two filmmakers were in attendance on the opening night at the Brattle Theatre.

I Am Big Bird is the story of Caroll’s journey as an individual and as one of the most well-known public figures in the world (well, his puppets are). Anyone who grew up watching Sesame Street or the Muppets will love this film.

I was amazed at how emotional I became as I watched his story unfold. And I was not the only person sniffing and gasping and squealing—everyone was just as touched as I was.

To see Caroll Spinney and hear him speak was the icing on an already sky-high cake. He is in his 80s and is STILL playing these characters. Granted, they don’t have as much screen time anymore…but the fact that he is still playing them at all is mind-blowing. Being Big Bird is physically taxing to say the least. He has such a quick wit and seems to be such a sweet man.

Caroll is, in a word, amazing…as is his second wife, who is truly the love of his life. I am so glad that this film has brought this story of a puppet master to life. Caroll has brought joy to millions (billions?) of people and he deserves to be recognized. Thank you, Caroll!

Caroll Spinney
Yes, he brought Oscar with him.



I watched Shane the other night (#45 in AFI’s top 100 movies list). It’s a western from 1953, and it features a lot of beautiful scenery and a lot of fightin’. The main conflict is between “homesteaders” who’ve built homes on the open prairie and greedy cattle owners who want all of the land for their cattle. Shane is a mysterious man who stumbles upon the Starrett homestead, and ends up staying and helping the homesteaders take a stand against the cattle owners.

The movie was very good, except for the character of the Starretts’ child. He was obsessed with Shane and would go on and on about him. He literally said, “I love Shane almost as much as Pa.” This is after Shane’s been there for maybe a few days. It was a little over the top, folks.

Overall though, it was a good classic western. Oh, and speaking of good films, I discovered the power pairing of Myrna Loy and William Powell recently! I saw The Thin Man at the Brattle and adored it. I was ecstatic when I researched these two and found that they starred in 14 films together. Their chemistry was magical, and I can’t wait to watch the other 13 films. Have you seen any of them?

Courtesy of fanpop.com
Courtesy of fanpop.com

Demme and Ivory

Thanks to the Coolidge and the Brattle, I had the opportunity to see two acclaimed film directors speak this past week. The Coolidge presented Jonathan Demme with its annual honorary award. And the Brattle is hosting a weekend visit with James Ivory.

A number of colleagues showered Jonathan Demme with accolades at the award ceremony. Actors, screenwriters, authors…people who he has mentored. And HIS mentor, producer Roger Corman, was there also. Jonathan Demme has directed such a wide variety of films…he’s my kind of guy. Everything from a Talking Heads performance film, to Philadelphia, to Silence of the Lambs. It was a fun, celebratory evening.

Last night, my friend Lisa and I saw Ivory’s film Remains of the Day. It is such a different experience seeing films on the big screen vs. a television screen. It just adds so much. After the film, James Ivory came on stage with Ned and Ivy, who run the Brattle. They asked him questions, and then opened the discussion to the audience. It is always fascinating to hear the stories behind films, and filmmaking. I am always amazed at the numbers of people involved in making a film. It’s a wonder they ever get completed!! It was really great to hear more about his partnership with producer Ismail Merchant, and screenwriter Ruth Jhabvala. You just don’t hear about many decades-long creative partnerships and friendships like that.

James Ivory is 81, and still actively directing films. I hope that I still have the passion and energy that he has, when I am that age. He is an inspiration.

Jonathan Demme
Ned and James Ivory

I’m a Natural

I was commended on my performance in the fMRI machine today. I did so well, they want me to come back in a few months. I apparently kept very very still and listened to directions well. I was quite surprised by how well I did. I was in that tube for almost two hours! It was super noisy—that is my biggest complaint. Oh, and also that the tech assistant forgot to print out a picture of my brain. Oh well, maybe next time. I was mentally and physically drained when I emerged. I’m glad I took the day off work.

Afterward, I stopped off at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, so I could check that off my birthday list. It was a cool space. There was only one exhibit, and the topic was cross dressing. Unfortunately, most of the art was video art, and I just didn’t have the stamina to watch videos after being in the tube. I did watch a few minutes of a video with five dwarfs dressed as maids, who were taking care of a drag queen. A bit too surreal for my weary brain.

I had read about an exhibit of Andy Warhol’s photographs being there. I asked a docent, and she said, “Oh, that’s in the Dean’s Gallery, in the Sloan building.” Oh boy. She gave me directions and somehow I found my way to the building. MIT is so confusing with all of the numbered buildings and the Northwest, East blah blah blah. I entered the Sloan building and looked at the directory. E52-46, where the flip was that? I deduced that it could be on the 4th floor. I asked a guy who got in the elevator with me. He had no idea what I was talking about. But he said the Dean’s office was to the left.

So. The Dean’s Gallery. It was not quite a gallery. It was literally a big room with offices and a bunch of cubicles in the middle. And Andy Warhol photographs lined the walls of the office area. What the…so there I was, random person off the street, walking around the office area of a school’s dean. Surrounded by admin assistants typing away. The photographs were cool…there were only about 20 of them. Some of them were Polaroids of famous people, such as Jerry Hall and Ric Osacek. There was a cool one of Christmas poinsettias.

So that was a random day in the life. I’m running a little behind with the birthday list…but I hope to do a few things next weekend. This weekend will be full of James Ivory-ness at the Brattle…and the annual Brattle Oscars Party….

James Ivory

Boston peeps, if you are a fan of director James Ivory (Howard’s End, Remains of the Day, A Room with a View), he will be at the Brattle Theatre on March 6 and 7. Details are to come for March 6…I think he will be giving a talk at 7 pm. He will also attend the annual Oscars Party on March 7. Tickets to the pre-party are $75…that includes open bar, food, and a giftee bag.