Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lost Corner Revisited

About six months ago, this was what was here, a traffic light, replacing them you know. I called it a lost corner, because the widening of the avenue meant we lost a corner (and gained a new albiet abbreviated one), which meant that the traffic light had to be replaced. Heck, I’ve practically done a whole series on the traffic light replacements (here here here). The Lost Corner revisited. After removing the remaining light pole base, the crew here had to dig into the asphalt with a back hoe with hydraulic jack hammer in order to clear a space and expose the metal encased cables beneath our city that enable the traffic lights to illuminate coordination twixt vehicles and pedestrians. Then they have to saw off the cables and repave. I’m probably missing a step; apparently they don’t have to remove the entire cable just the ends. I wonder what they connect to; I mean where is the cable that these cables connect to. I wonder about the subterranean intricacy on which this city stands. Still, I got a pretty good shot of the heavy duty metal saw cutting into the cable. Look at those sparks. They were wearing goggles, the workers. Maybe there are more complicated things to devise that traffic lights, but admit it, you take them for granted. It was a problem solved long ago, maybe a century I reckon. But somebody solved the problem; a job was created. This looks like hard work, using that saw, cutting that cable, you have to know what you’re doing. Training is involved. I contemplate this kind of stuff all the time, the multitude of labor required to make our society function. Dig those sparks...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Locked Bike Wheel

I’ve heard of two bicycle thefts in downtown J.C. in the last couple of months. Those are just the ones I know. Reminded me of this blog. Just pisses me off, seeing the lock still on the wheel. I mean, there had to be some serious activity to detach the tire, and some kind of van to put the frame and back wheel into. Is bicycle thievery rampant in our town? What is the resale value on these things, it just seems so petty and a violation and you see it and hear about it way too much. This was near the Little League field.

Mall Fiddler

The violin sound was enhanced. Some sort of winter-themed, seasonal themed, music with classical overtones, there in the Mall, on “black” Sunday, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It sounded like there was talent, but it was weird, it was a violin synthesizer, really dehumanized fiddle sound but a fiddle nonetheless. CDs for sale, I guess my opinion was not entirely shared.

Locker 5

Good bye, farewell. I just like the number 5, I liked this locker. First locker since high school, really. Had it at the Gold Cost, then at F&T. Never worked out wearing glasses or my “religious” medal.

Fifth Floor View

Big Gym news in Jersey City. Fit & Trim, which opened on the 5th floor of a refurbished building on Newark, was an attempt to extend Gold Coast Fitness. Unfortunately, the economy is terrible, the building they were in had some issues. Once Gold Coast opened in that section of the neighborhood in the late 90s, proving there was a market in the start and stop gentrification that had been Jersey City for a mainstream gym, a few other chain gyms opened. Anyway, Fit & Trim has now merged with World Boxing & Fitness Center, which is at 29 Division Street (which I call Joy Division Street) is a beautiful place. All the details are still being worked out for the transition to members. The Fit & Trim might have had some flaws, but it was a beautiful space and what a view, from five floors up. I wanted to document that here.

See, the winter is here and the water is back. Last blogged about here, here’s another view.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

House Decay Halted

A real fixer upper. I wonder if the real estate broker used that hackneyed phrased. Decay halted I am attracted to these surviving vestiges of the past, they encourage me to imagine another time, another world than this one. I didn’t see any actual construction going on, the multi-family house is fallow, gutted. Echoes of children from the long ago and always were heard; or was that from the yard next door? Seemed the exterior had been sanded, but there several splotches. Maybe it hadn’t been, maybe it was just old and read to be knocked down. A knocked down they call it, where they buy a lot. I imagine—imagine again—that in other parts of the country, this would have been some kind of extreme foreclosure situation, a walk away. Still might be part of the story here. Then I noticed the very newly painted looking doorway, a natural stone foundation intact. Upkeep is minimal but extant. Prepared for the fixing Up to commence.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Western Union Moved

Just down the street, don’t worry. Still there. Western Union. But gone here, just another storefront now, it actually looks not much different than when Western Union was here. They cashed checks too. I just liked the sound of Western Union moved. I also like the Elvis Song:
Western Union
Oh, Western Union
clickety clack
I had a fight with my baby
Ooh how sorry I am
She won't talk to me no how
I'm gonna send a telegram
Western Union
oh yeah
Send my lovin' baby back to me

Flexible Flyers

Flexible Flyers. We had two, large and small, double and a single. Used to get what seemed like more snow. I will always remember that big storm, ice storm, school closed for two or three days, sledding through a several backyards down to the patch of woods at the foot of the neighborhood hill. Trudging up the hill, dragging the sled (not a sleigh) behind you, and when you would go down the hill, as you gained momentum, steering with the front end of the sled, the flexible part I guess. Never had the saucers. I don’t even like snow. I’m remembering an April snow, wet, slush, too big for the single sled, the runners getting stuck in the mud, waiting the whole three more seasons for the snow to return but the desire to trudge up the hill was gone. Back at the homestead for thanksgiving. The siblings cleared out the place of all the junk, or so I thought. The Flexible Flyers were still there, waiting for winter. They’re rusted and worn but I bet one good ride left, given the right snowfall and hill. I guess I’m not the only sibling inclined towards sentimentality.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New Re-Scaping

Didn’t they just street-scape this portion of the sidewalk? The answer would be yes. The refurbishing continues, it’s on Newark down near Grove. Saw them ripping up the asphalt and cracking into the new sidewalk, let’s hope they are replacing some or installing some new sewer infrastructure so there won’t be a lagoon every time it rains. Might be too much to ask for. I take a lot of these type of pictures, construction, destruction, reconstruction. I am trying to get a clear shot of the scoop smashing the chunk of sidewalk into smaller chunks. I just like that, it’s like the infant boy living out simple fantasies on this street of dreams. Bam! Bam! Didn’t really come out so well, the actual smashing.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Beige Brick

I needed evidence just in case somebody thinks that this building had bricks that were naturally beige. It is currently undergoing renovation, previous to which last year it was prone to loosing chunks of its façade. It’s on Newark Avenue, the building that would be next to the beige bricks burned down, swear it was an accident. I thought they might just knock down all these old buildings and erect some kind of super complex. I guess that is not to be. Instead we get faux adobe brick façade, caught them painting over the old red with this beige.

Light Pail

The city fathers decided that our traffic lights needed replacing and I’ve sporadically blogged about the removal of the old and the installation of the new. New traffic lights, a good thing and it is not a simple task. You have to put in the new while the old are still active then activate the new and dismantle the old. I noticed this base on a corner, where the transition has been completed or at least almost completed. I guess final removal is still pending. I am assuming this base will be gone at some point. In the meantime, our dear citizenry utilizes it as a make-shift waste pail. I think it’s still littering, but maybe the person using thinks this as a new trash can now is morally superior to littering. I always littered near this traffic light pole, now I can litter in the light pole.

Interim Caution

Finally, a place to tie the horses on Columbus, or maybe these stanchions are just for show and a mini barrier by the ole Pershing Building. I like the caution tape draped from pole to pole. It’s there for now, for construction purposes. I like the construction blogs, whatever this is wasn’t that before and will be different after. This moment we will never see again. If we see this tape like this again, most likely it will be for crime or catastrophe, not construction.

Dire Beatitude

I learned I had diabetes last year. I’m not really having any health issues related to it, no symptoms or side effects, no weakness or vertigo or fatigue. I quit smoking, an ordeal to say the least and I’ve changed the diet, doing all the right things as everybody in healthcare loves to say. I think they just say this to reinforce our insipid positive-reinforcement culture. They’re obliged to perpetuate the system.

Diabetes is like this silent killer, relentless. It doesn’t matter how good you feel or the lack of symptoms. The disease never goes away There’s no cure and no prevention. Either fate or genetics, use whichever term you are more comfortable with; my mother on my father’s side and my father on my mother’s side had the condition, which skips a generation.

My siblings have normal insulin levels. I’m more comfortable with fate. Genetics are not subject to simple twists.

I am learning new stuff about my dire beatitude all the time. It’s tedious stuff. I’m not depressed or frustrated. I’m lying. I completely am depressed and frustrated, but luckily I am sick of worrying about inevitability.

I have to get my eyes examined once a year now. Since my teenage years, I’ve been myopic, a common condition that delays the onset of presbyopia, the need for reading glasses. Other folks need reading glasses at about 40, nearsighted people can wait another 10, 15 years, maybe longer. My vision correction prescription changed only slightly over the decades, so I wait three years or more between eye exams. Myopes as we are called take off our glasses to read. Eventually not wearing glasses isn’t good enough and you will need corrective lenses (confession: I’ve written for the eye care industry and ghostwrote a book on lasik surgery for a Park Avenue Ophthalmologist).

Words gradually got blurry when I read, after a bit, not immediately. I knew this is a sign of preysbyopia and since my last visit to the primary care physician, she insisted that I need to get my eyes examined, for the diabetes. The optometrist informed me that my prescription had slightly changed—the distance in one eye went up a half a diopter—but my “plus” that is reading prescription hadn’t changed.

“What about the blurriness when I was reading?”

“That’s probably blood sugar levels. What are they?”

I didn’t know, I got sick of pricking my finger every morning. I wondered why I had to get my eyes examined because of diabetes.

“It will effect your eyes. You have to stabilize the sugars, because it can change your vision.”

“Should I get a plus prescription for when my blood sugar is high?”

“You would need dozens of glasses. Are you on insulin?”

That is my current fear. Shooting up. For all the partying I did in my youth, needle drugs was never an interest, or an option. I do not like needles. Maybe if I booted horse I would be better prepared for this chronic condition. Another opportunity missed.

“You can still take your distance glasses off to read, I’m showing that except for the two diopter change in the right eye, your refraction hasn’t change. You have to check with endocrinologist and have them adjust your medication. Otherwise, you’re eyes are clear as a bell.”

“What does that mean?”

“The blood vessels in your eyes develop micro-aneurysms, they leak blood and you go blind. You’re not having any signs of problems, but it happens after years of having diabetes.”

“And you control it by controlling your blood sugar?”

“The micro-aneurysms can occur no matter what, that’s why you need to get your eyes examined very year.”

“There’s no stopping it?”

“Only delaying it by maintaining your insulin levels.”

“What are the side effects of these micro-aneurysms.”

“Blindness. You have to see a retina specialist when that starts to happens.”

That’s the good news, the blindness won’t be sudden!

I got new glasses and they’re fine. The blurred reading faded too. I have no idea what caused it, since my diet didn’t change. I did nothing to bring it on and did nothing to make it go away.

Diabetes means my pancreas is shot. The only response is a series of coping mechanisms. Medicine is an art and a science and diabetes treatment is more art than science. In terms of accuracy, it’s Jackson Pollock not Remington.

My primary care doctor reassured me: “Your pancreas isn’t shot, it is still working, it is not just producing the amount of insulin you need.”

My biggest concern was the injecting insulin. I wondered how many different stations between the metaformin I am on and the shooting up of insulin.

“Well they have this pen that makes injections very easy, but there are a few things we can try before we go there. But you have to start testing your blood again.”

When I frowned, she said. “There have been a lot of advances, there will probably be a cure in your lifetime.”

“You know how that will work out, Doc. When there’s a cure, that will be the front page headline of the newspaper and on the same day, in the back pages, will be my obituary.”

“You must be a lot of fun at parties.”

“I can’t go to parties. I have diabetes.”

Friday, November 19, 2010

Managing Lot

Mustafa is a buddy. He is a man of intelligence and integrity, a genuine gentlemen, a good father and recently renewed (or remarried, I’m not sure) the vows with his wife and mother of his kids. Born and bred in Jersey City, served 12 years in the military, which is why he keeps his boots shiny. One of his many jobs is parking lot manager up in the square, many remember him from his job as custodial engineer of the ole Gold Coast Gym. He also moonlights as the Traveling Detailer, his car detailing business, another local legend. The best around people who get their cars detailed say.

Whenever I’m up in the vicinity and he is on duty I always say howdy.

“Let me take a picture for the blog,” I asked.

Then his cellphone rang, it was the boss. He didn’t say no to the pix.

One of the good guys!

Shared Awning

I passed by many times but only noticed this today, the shared awning. Usually there is just an awning, or if there is printing on the awning it is for a single establishment. But here we have the very clever use of the Get out of Jail Free Mr. Monopoly, the logo of one of the courthouse bond companies up there at our county seat, sharing the awning for the fine Marino Dry Cleaners. I know that at least once somebody picked up a relative out of lock up and their dry cleaner at the same time. Come on, think about it, it had to happen at least once. Wouldn’t that be tale of convenient multitasking worth hearing? I wonder how recognizable Mr. Monopoly is these days, do kids and recent immigrants really know the game these days. You rarely see those vertical stripe prisoner uniforms any more. The logo is a wise crack whose joke may be fading into the past. Still, I like the logo on the sign and the awning, and the little separate alcove formed in the same awning. Maybe if we had more shared awnings there might be less criminals or at least criminals with nicely pressed slacks. Oh wait, we have those already, they’re called bankers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Emptiness & Leaves

Empty, except for the leaves. No doubt now that summer’s gone, first summer for this court, first tournament for this court. Everything is new, the new lights, the new court, entire Park renovated. The dying leaves, the echo of memories, as new as the emptiness, and as familiar.

No Forwarding Address

No forwarding address. Mail always comes to any address. The postal employee leaves the mail, someone must take it because it is not there come the morrow. Serious renovation going on here, the house is entirely gutted, the doors and windows gone. The work progresses. No one lives here. But nothing can stop the U.S. Post Office. Save the mail box, who knows what might show up. I wonder who gets to open the envelopes marked occupant.

Desolation & Permanence

Desolation and permanence. I think that ‘s what I was thinking about, seeing the view from the far corner by the Chase bank, where I had to get some bread to go food shopping at the Pathmark. I was just taken for a moment by the long closed down Hollywood Video—I think it used to be an auto parts store when this chain with ambitions to compete against Block Buster and belief in the up and coming Jersey City opened up. Why not, there were half a dozen video stores in the neighborhood. Lots of renters here. Then along came Net Flix and the recession and the chain folded. Chase opens, and across the strip mall lot, Hollywood stays shuttered, and there, in the horizon, between here and the Turnpike, Siperstein Paint Can hovers, oblivious, watching us all. Local myth has it this store was an early Dutch outpost that sold alcohol-based war paint to the lenelennape. Just kidding. I love this big old paint can, it’s tacky and retro and has seen decade after decade, generation after generation of Jersey City life. I wonder how many other formats of change has it withstood.

“Take our picture,” said the teenager girl, the taller one.

“No, come on, I can’t take your picture.”

“Just take our picture,” she insisted.

“No, don’t bother the guy,” said the one with duo-toned braids. Serious braids.

“Can I put them on the internet?”

“No, don’t take our picture for the internet,” said braids.

“Just take our picture, come on,” said the tall girl.

Teenagers sort of intimidate me. Actually, they were very nice kids, killing time after school. A moment was shared. I forgot desolation and permanence and didn’t remember what was on my mind until I saw the above picture

Monday, November 15, 2010

Squirrel & Lion

You see this, you have to take the picture, try to align the two images in one sightline, and the squirrel perched on a stanchion and the chipped-face of the lion statute. It’s the height of autumn, the squirrels are nuts for nuts. You know how they get these days, before the winter, scrambling around, and squirreling away what squirrels squirrel away. The lion is pretty battered, an old lawn statue donated to the public garden space. Seen a lot of falls, seen a lot of squirrels.

Blue Whale on Brick

When I first noticed the Blue Whale on the side of Palace Drug & Liquor store, I thought, has that always been there? Then I found it via a Jersey Journal Article over the weekend, that it had only been painted a week ago. For whatever reason, I didn’t have to walk that particular block all that week until Saturday. I breathed a sigh of relief that my observational skills are still intact.

According to the article, the landlord of the building approved the mural which was created by Trenton-based S.A.G.E. (Stylez Advancing Graffiti's Evolution), a website is available here
Their mission statement reads: “ S.A.G.E. (Stylez Advancing Graffiti's Evolution) Collective is a crew of artists who are taking public art to a new dimension. We are the muralists of the future.”

Is a mural really the evolution of graffiti of just a coinciding of one art form—mural—with another—graffiti. When graffiti gets publicly sanctioned, is it still graffiti? If you’re Keith Haring you would probably say yes, so that point is mute.

"I feel like having murals, it adds texture. Maybe someone walking to the train in the morning, they're having a bad day and they can look up and see a mural and have a free smile," Dylan Evans told the Jersey Journal. I liked the quote. Evans created the Jersey City Mural Arts Program and has worked on other murals here and about.

Melville saw the whale as containing all of mankind. Here on this wall, it contains an aquarium. The whale literally embodies the underwater water. There’s other fish in the torso of the whale. I like the way the whale floats on the brick, a brick a red sea. The painting doesn’t go all the way down to the asphalt.

I get all my pharmaceutical needs filled at this drug store, have been since coming to town. They’re really nice folks working there. Half the store is a liquor store. I always thought it was a hold over from prohibition, where alcohol could be purchased with a doctor’s prescription. Apparently the truth is that it has only been drug/liquor store for a few decades. It was originally a movie theater, which is where the Palace comes from. Why the unique combination of drugs and alcohol—okay, unique for a retailer—I guess that’s just another downtown mystery

This particular wall and alleyway is a favorite hangout for some of our local winos. I didn’t see them around this weekend. Maybe the art scared them off. Their absence was likely a mere anomaly. On the other hand, here is something that I’ve noticed about murals—I never see them “tagged” by graffiti. A mural goes up in our fair city, nobody disrespects it.

Unstoppable: Greatest Train Movie Ever

A new best Train Movie has left the station: Unstoppable.

Earlier this year, I blogged about the 100 Best Train Movies special issue of Train Magazine. That wonderful publication listed The Train, directed by John Frankenhemier and starring Burt Lancaster as the best train movie and I agreed. The magazine prompted me to get the flick. Before that, I would have listed La Bete Humane, which made the top five.

Anyway, Unstoppable will make everyone revise their lists. The runaway train is a metaphor for our out of control society that is endangered by wealthy fat cats and incompetent workers and can only be saved by righteous men and women of competence and integrity.

Oh screw that.

Denzel and the new Captain Kirk stop a really fast runaway train from blowing up a town. Saving the day is not easy, and even though the town is saved, lots of stuff gets blowed up real good along the way.

Best action film of the year!

Best train film of the century!

I don’t think any director blows as hot or as cold as Tony Scott. Early in his career, he made a truly great vampire film, The Hunger, and the reprehensible, barely watchable and one of the most blatant example of Reagan-era jingoism, Top Gun. The guy has blown hot or cold from the get go. He either makes something you hate or you like alot.

I liked his film, Man on Fire, also with Denzel, a quasi-revenge action thriller. Washington, a bad ass ex-cia or something like that past, takes the role of body guard for Dakota Fanning. They form a bond, she gets kidnapped and Washington tortures and kills bad guy after bad guy until she is saved. I can’t remember if the guy that he placed the explosive device in his rectum was the same thug whose fingers he cut off then burned with the automobile cigarette lighter. He tells him something along the lines, oh you’re going to die, and it’s just a matter of how much pain you want before you tell me what I need to know. Denzel is an interesting actor, one of the best actors of his generation, loves to be a bad ass. The dude can do Shakespeare with the best of them, but he loves to play an action role and he is good in them, he raises the level of pulp to art—well, his acting skills make the story more credible at least. He recently did a Mad Max post apocalyptical role in Book of Eli, a really cool film.

In Unstoppable, he foregoes the bad ass and plays the competent everyman, suddenly thrust into an extraordinary situation where he will make everything okay if they only let him do his job. Ironically, Denzel and Scott teamed up for the re-make Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three—a subway train film, the original made the Train Magazine List, although nowhere near the Top 10—just last year. Pelham was enjoyable but mostly forgettable.

In Unstoppable, Denzel is the experienced railroad man, and the new Captain Kirk—Chris Pine—is the rookie. Which wins out—the crafty wisdom of age or the energetic recklessness of youth? Well, they work it out and together prevent a train from destroying Pennsylvania—oops!, I forgot to say spoiler alert (Denzel is Luke Skywalker’s father).

Tony Scott’s direction technique is the equivalent of a mosaic. The rapidity of the numerous cross-cuts leaves you breathless, and he is always going for the details. Hitchcock inspired close ups interspersed with wide views. There’s the train head on, there’s somebody knuckles; dozens of school children screaming, dispatcher lips talking into the phone receiver. Hitchcock is an obvious influence, but it’s sort of like, what if Hitchcock had A.D.D., drank a Red Bull, snorted two lines of meth, one line of coke, then ordered a double shot espresso. You get the hyperactive picture, picture, picture.

The adrenaline is ramped up to an exhilarating level. Never a dull moment and even the slow bits—such as Denzel and the new Captain Kirk exchanging personal back stories—only serve as needed relief to the tense action. Scott quickly rebuilds the tension after each lull. Inter-cut throughout the film is live news footage, as well as a smart phones and such, broadcasting the unfolding disaster. Fox News Reporting: Runaway Train! This device not only quickly moves the story along while informing the audience on important to the story matters, like what a derailer is—it makes the story ultimately contemporary, the experience of the media drenched world in which we live, and enhances the film with the edginess of real time action. The frenzied story seeps into our psyche.

Cinema at its purest form is a visceral medium; Tony Scott, even more so than his brother, Riddley, is one of the most visceral directors in the history of movies. He might make more duds or films that I could give a crap about than other directors—shoot, everybody has to make a living—but when he is on, film lovers must take that ride.

In terms of film, this might be Scott’s strongest movie. I admit to a bias, I love trains, all trains, everything about trains. I love trains in fact, in concept, as metaphor. I wish someone would fund an Amtrak-based film. But at least we have this tribute to America’s mighty system of freight trains and the people who make them run. I think my favorite part was the opening scenes, setting up the story, where we see how a freight yard actually words, the roles of engineer (Denzel) and conductor (Pine), hooking up cars, etc. Screw save the embankment or renovating the power house district, bring back the freight rail that ran along fifth and rebuild the waterfront freight yard.

Alas, like the lonesome whistle of a locomotive I’m a lone voice in the wilderness. Before I mix more metaphors, what I meant when I said film was that there is something that film can do that literature, theater, painting and sculpture can’t—make us feel movement. Dance can of course, but that is only the human form. Movement that only film can depict can be sheer, totally captivating entertainment. That’s why chase scenes have been intrinsic to film since its inception; one of the first films was the Great Train Robbery, or the train coming into the station by the Lume Brothers. I guess that’s why Train Magazine had to come with 100 Train Films. The story is simple—halting a dangerous runaway train—yet the choreography of getting from danger to safety continually fascinates. Scott throws in everything—horses have to be removed from a stalled horse trailer as the train barrels forth—and the train, relentlessly moves ahead, picking up speed. At their edge of our seats, the audience watches every second.

Can Denzel and the new Captain Kirk use their train knowledge and ingenuity to save the poor children in town, which of course include their own kids? Want to guess? Can saving the train give Denzel’s two daughters back respect for their father that was temporarily lost due to a minor sub-plot point? Can saving the train save the marriage of the new Captain Kirk?

If you don’t know the answers already, either you have never seen a movie or you don't desire fun when you see a film.

Special shout out to Rosiario Dario, who was in Clerks II. She is the dispatcher, the woman at the desk and Ethan Suplee is the overweight screw up who causes the train to runaway. He’s a character actor, Tuna in Blow, and he got his start in Mallrats. Be in a Kevin Smith film, and you will get story critical supporting roles!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Green Arrow

Got some of them traffic lights working, I noticed, then I noticed this new addition. The left turn signal, it was on during the green-light, not the yellow, which was odd. Can’t you still turn left if the light is green and the arrow light is not? Can you not turn left when the light is on; can you only turn right on red now? I wonder why Barrow Street required this new traffic directional? The traffic isn’t that bad in Jersey City, unless you’re a pedestrian—then you better have your insurance paid up cause you take your life in your hands. I hear complaints about parking all the time these days, and now this directional signal designed to better facilitate flow. I wonder if they expect, and want, all them new condo owners for all them new condos to have cars. They have the lights ready for them, so I guess I’m not wondering any more.

Novel to Film: 10 Seamless Adaptations

Novels have been made into movies since the birth of cinema. The book is always better is one cliché; another cliché is that B Novels make A movies. Like all clichés, these words of wisdom contain some truth, but only some. More often than not, the filmmakers screw up the book. I try to judge a film one its own terms, not how well the original source material has been realized.

I love film, but I love literature more. I almost always prefer the book, and some adaptations are simply detestable, others are off the mark, yet still enjoyable films. Many films I’ve enjoyed yet have no desire to read the book.

Then there are the novel adaptation to films that make up this list. I consider the adaptation seamless. I love the novel, I love the film. It’s not just that the original story remains intact, which it does, or the characters, setting and feel of the book are rendered faithfully, which they are.

This list are of novels and films that if you have enjoyed in one form, you will certainly enjoy the other form. By seamless I mean in my mind. When I recollect the story, I can’t distinguish the film from the book.

While some of these books I read before seeing the film, I’ve re-read them all after seeing the film, and I see the film in my mind’s eye when I re-read the book. That’s another aspect of their seamlessness. I consider all these novels and films worth experiencing more than once.

So think of these as not the best of films based on novels, but seamless adaptations, where both mediums compliment each other and the original source material survives not just intact, but enhanced.

Novel: Theatre by Somerset Maugham

Film: Being Julia directed by István Szabó

I almost included Painted Veil on this list, but I didn’t want two Somerset Maugham entries and while both that film and that novel are superb, the film wraps things up a little too tightly, undermining the criteria of seamless adaptation that is my starting premise. Being Julia, the film version of Theatre, can also be accused of lacking seamlessness, but I would argue that in adapting the novel they cleverly overcame an inherent problem—the aging of the main character. The novel begins in her youth, mainly when she becomes an acting student. This foreshadows her determination to be relevant as she enters middle-age and navigates an affair with a shallow cad of a younger man, which is the core of the story. Instead of CGI (notice the absence of Benjamin Button on this list) or the latest in make-up, her acting teacher returns as ghost, a figment of her imagination. The apparition delivers the same lines the character says in the first half the novel, essentially providing the early chapters of the book. The device works superbly. When I’ve re-read the novel, I think of the first half in those terms. Otherwise, this film follows the novel, although the Christopher Greenwood character is a composite with whom the director makes an admirable pro-gay rights statement, which is anachronistic yet an acceptable acknowledgement of Maugham’s closeted homosexuality. The last scene, the last shot implies that Julia has let go of the distant and recent past—she no longer acknowledges the ghost. She becomes more herself, which is not exactly in the book but is totally believable to the character. Essentially, Maugham wrote a character study of an actress who matures as both a woman and an artist. The final scene in the film concludes with this wonderful shot of Annette Benning, one of our greatest actresses, letting the viewer reveal in her natural beauty as well as the strength, and confidence that is ultimately Julia. The novel is a realistic account of the world of theater; the reader feels what it is like to be in the theater at the turn of the century. The film, which moves the story to the 20s, which I also am able to overlook, informs us what it feels like to be that woman. The adaptation may be less seamless than others on this list in terms of exactness of story telling, but in terms of theme and character, it might be the most fully realized translation from prose to cinema.

Novel: Heaven’s Prisoners by James Lee Burke

Film: Heaven’s Prisoners directed by Philip Joanou

James Lee Burke has written books other than his David Robicheaux series, including a rather well done collection of non-detective short stories, Jesus Washed Away. Heaven’s Prisoners one of the best of the series was turned into a thrilling feature, directed by Philip Joanou (State of Grace), led by Alec Baldwin in one of the best of his dramatic performances, who reportedly sunk some of his own dough so this beautiful neo-noir could be completed. Saw the film, bought the book, loved the book, read the entire series and now buy them in hardcover within a week of their release (he publishes a Robicheaux about every other year). I always see Baldwin as Dave “Streak” Robicheaux when I read Burke. I rented the film several times before finally buying the DVD, watched it several times. I even picked “Electric Mist,” a fine film of another novel in the series with Tommy Lee Jones. Baldwin is a better Dave. Heaven’s Prisoners is also a better story. Terri Hatcher, sultry, bisexual wife of gangster Eric Roberts, is really calling all the shots. Filmed in New Orleans, filled with swampy mythos that Burke captures so well in his detailed and florid prose. The only thing jettisoned is Robicheaux Vietnam Veteran past, which was not germane to this Robicheaux yarn. The Catholic spirituality, the Alcohol Anonymous ethos, the Cajun value system, that this series is known for are presented and accounted for. His remarkable sentences are brought to visual life. If you love the books, get this movie, if you love the movie, get the books. If you don’t love the movie, you probably have not seen it or you have no appreciation for thrillers set in the bayou where all crimes begin as sins committed in the French Quarter.

Novel: Damage by Josephine Hart

Film Damage directed by Louis Malle

One of Louis Malle’s best and most overlooked films, Damage is a masterpiece he made late in his career. This loyal adaptation of a fascinating, somewhat tawdry and erotic minimalist by Josephine Hart, is about a father having an obsessive affair with his son’s fiancé. The gal you see, slept with her younger brother, who committed suicide. She’s damaged, so is capable of any sexual transgression and is above right and wrong as regular society knows it. This gnarly sexual melodrama evolves into a something akin to Greek tragedy. A man, British politician played by Jeremy Irons, throws away his life for desire and after the consequences, lives an exile, worshipping the damaged femme fatale, the stunningly beautiful and sexy Juliette Binoche. Hart’s sentences are sparse, and it’s a marvel how Malle richly creates the entire world of upper class British politics the book only infers in addition to devising a focused character study of borderline deviance without straying from the brilliant writing of the source material.

Novel: Leaving Las Vegas by John O’Brien

Film: Leaving Las Vegas directed by Mike Figgis

I’m not a fan of Nicholas Cage, but he is great in this film, his finest acting moment. The director also lensed Internal Affairs, the great neo-noir. John O’Brien, who wrote this slim, powerful, committed suicide sometime before the film was released. This translation from prose to celluloid is one of the most seamless in the history of adaptation. A difficult task, for this first person, present-tense novel about an alcoholic’s deliberate demise. The ultimate ballad of slow suicide, while tragic and maudlin, can be said to have a happy ending. The film’s additions, including a slight expansion of background, turning the narrator into a screen writer, are respectful and unobtrusive. A drunk goes to Las Vegas to drink himself to death, falls in love with a prostitute. The whore has a heart of gold, the drunk is a romantic. Sounds like pulp fantasy but O’Brien makes us believe these people, they are real examples of the times in which we live; they are relevant manifestations of the self destructive nature residing in all of us. Yet, even at our lowest, even in the face of inevitable damnation, we still have the capacity for love. Their biggest fear is the one of being shunned. Bartenders constantly ask the drunks to leave; in turn all they request is if they be allowed to finish their drinks. They only want to hold on to their rapidly dwindling dignity. The movie is so good that it over shadows one of a great contemporary American novels; the reason the film succeeds is how faithfully the director followed the text.

Novel: To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee

Film: To Kill A Mocking Bird directed by Robert Mulligan

For some reason or another, To Kill A Mocking Bird was not assigned to me in high school. About five years ago, the girlfriend, a school teacher, got me to read it. It was one of those cases where I read the book within days of seeing the film, which also until then had not fallen within my purview. I recently saw the film on the big screen, and returned to the book a few years after first reading it. Both are remarkable. One of the controversies about the novel is that it was ghost written by Truman Capote. I don’t think so, but I sense at least his editorial hand in the first half; but his hand or not, the novel’s single, very small yet notable flaw is that it is a bifurcated read. The first half, about the child world of Scout, and the second half—the court room civil rights drama—read like two separate works. Maybe that, and the fact Harper Lee never published anything else, fueled the Capote as ghost writer rumor. The civil rights saga and the surreal child world are better blended in the cinema than in the original source material of literature. What remains in both is the love of daughter and father, and the daughter’s realization that her father is a great man because he stands up for goodness in an evil world. And by that realization, she sees goodness in Boo Reilly. It’s hard to say anything new about this film and novel, both of which continue to receive tons and tons of well deserved praised. One aspect gets overshadowed: Its one of the best screen adaptations of a novel in the history of film.

Novel: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Film: No Country for Old Men directed by the Cohen Brothers

People forget, not just Sanctuary, but Knight’s Gambit, a collection of detective short stories by Faulkner, and those are only his most overt pieces of noir. No Country for Old Men is more in keeping with the brilliant oeuvre by Cormac McCarthy than the one off Tough Guys Don’t Dance by Norman Mailer. I consider it one of his best novels. I think the critics who claim it is a lesser work do so only because, unlike other McCarthy novels, a dictionary wasn’t required. I never had a problem accepting noir as literature. This gnarly story concerns the relentlessness of evil and the inability of good to stop it. Enter the Cohen Brothers, well-versed in noir, doing their own take on Southwestern noir; a sub-genre probably began by Jim Thompson. The good guy has flawed motives that become meaningless as only survival, not morality and much less ideals, is what matters. Cohen’s capture the hard boiled language of McCarthy brilliantly. Never before has McCarthy been rendered so accurately in film—the dialog is almost a direct transcript.. The Cohen brothers rarely adapt anything. They don’t leave a lot of fingerprints on this one—in fact, their usual ensemble of actors is notably absent—and yet the touches they do add, such as the killer checking his the soles of his shoes for blood after a murder, only enhance.

Novel: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Film; The Maltese Falcon directed by John Houston

After you have read The Maltese Falcon at least three times and seen the film about the same number, try reading and watching the film at the same time. I’m talking the Houston version, not the 1931 original, the first adaptation of the book. When Houston remade the film, he went back to the original novel. Houston always had a keen eye for literature and one of the few directors of his generation to recognize the literary merits of noir fiction. Those in the know knew Dashiell Hammett wrote literature. Both the film and novel are so classic, and so old, we kind of have to over come 70 some odd years of hype to see their true value. About the only difference is that due to the mores of Hollywood of the time, Sam Spade takes the word of the femme fatale in the film, in the novel he makes her strip to her underwear to prove she didn’t steal the money. Otherwise, the dingus and the greed it inspires is the same in both medium, as is Sam Spade’s eternal code of honor. My favorite Hammett, by the far the best Houston, who adapted Melville and O’Connor with results far less satisfying results. Hammett innovations in story telling probably had as much influence oh American filmmaking as he did on American Literature, mainly due to this seamless adaptation by a director at the height of his powers.

Novel: Outside Providence by Peter Farrelly

Film: Outside Providence directed by Michael Corrente

Peter Farrelly, one half of the comedy directing brother team, wrote this coming of age dramadey, set in the 70s. A blue collar, pot head, gets kicked out of public high school and is sent to prep school, where he dates a wealthy preppy girl, and encounters the very un-groovy American system of class. Maybe we’ve seen before this plot before. Yet, the handicapped younger brother, their three legged dog, the widowed father and his group of poker buddies and the Rhode Island, working class environs add a memorable distinction to this gem of a novel, a tightly written, well observed piece of realism. The film features Alec Baldwin as the father, in a role that should have been nominated for best supporting actor. It makes the Ice Storm, novel and film, look like the pretentious claptrap that it is. The story may sound cliché, but it is anything but and while there was a lot of 70s nostalgia in the past two decades, Outside Providence feels the most genuine. Forget the comedies, forget the hip-ness of 70s nostalgia; book and/or film of Outside Providence will touch you.

Novel: L’Assomoir by Emile Zola

Film: Gervaise by Rene Clement

L’Assomoir, my favorite Zola, concerns the plight of Gervaise, a plucky woman who starts her own laundry business after her roofer husband injures himself falling from a ladder. The husband spirals into alcoholism, fueled further by feelings of emasculation seeing his wife succeed. This being 19th century France, do not expect a happy resolution. Gervaise is the film of this masterpiece, made in the 50s by Rene Clement, who seems to be a director linking Renoir to Truffaut. Considered a classic French Film, it is beautifully made. I first saw it at a special screening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The film has a neo-realism style to it, while also accurately rendering mid-19th century Gaul—and considering the debauchery of the subject matter, remarkable for the 50s. But, it is also an adaptation of the highest order. Clement commits the film fully to Zola’s story, something the directors avoided in Germinal and La Bete Humane. The best film adaptation of a 19th century novel ever made, which might be more due to the cinematic writing of Zola than the flaws in directors ambitious enough to attempt Dickens, Melville or Tolstoy. I’ll leave the votes for the Bronte or Austen to those who care. The only novel on the list written before the advent of film, which just might say it all there

Novel: The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurty

Film: The Last Picture Show directed by Peter Bagdanovich

I remember liking the Last Picture Show when I first saw it. It was on television, I was in High School. I didn’t know anything about Larry McMurty and had never read him until a few years ago, when the girlfriend was reading Duane’s Depressed in first edition, it has just come out, snorting with laughter at the dialog. I had to read it and had the same reaction. This novel was the third in a series of five that that began with Last Picture. Last Picture is a coming of age novel, as the teenagers graduate high school in a small Texas oil town. The main character is Duane Jackson and the novels follow his life from teenager through adulthood. He died last year in Rhino Ranch. Last Picture, the small town teenagers discovering sex, love and the value of loyalty. The film is beautiful—one of the first of the “for the art” black and white movies. There is a sweetness to the realism that reminds one of Truffaut. Bagdonavich changes the name of the town and is more linear in the chronology of the story telling, the novel is fully realized. I’ve not only read the “Duane” series, but most of his other novels and one book of essays. A number of good films have been made from his books— Hud, Terms of Endearment and Lonesome Dove—but Last Picture Show is best, mainly because the fidelity of the adaptation. Jeff Bridges is Duane Jackson, a role he reprised in Texasville—a sequel that was also a novel first. Although the cinematography is gorgeous, Texasville is a kind of a dud of a film, and sort of a lackluster novel. Duane’s Depressed, probably the best in the series, was followed by two other novels, which are fun to read but lack vim. I would love to see The Dude take on the late middle age Duane as this Texas boy goes into therapy following the death of his wife. McMurty has a way of showing the joy and sadness of life, how there is hope in sorrow, and how our common humanity connects us all to each other and to the sadness of life. He has a breezy way of being profound. He universalizes the Texas landscape into anywhere USA. He’s a prolific writer, prone to writing sequels, which means some books are way better than others; but if you like a character of his you get to say a long goodbye. Ben Johnson won an academy award for his role of Sam the Lion, the older man who owns the town’s theater and pool hall. He mentors the boys as they become men and teaches them how to be gentlemen. I came back to this film after reading the novel and expanding my experience of film, such as digesting the entire Truffaut oeuvre; you know, a real gosh darn cine-phile. But maybe maturity had less to do with my enhanced enjoyment than the fact in the early 90s, Bagnaodvidch made a director’s cut that is closer to the novel. Maybe he restored the adaptation as much as he restored his original vision of the film.