Bonnard at the Tate in London

An Ode to Michael Powell’s 1936 Film “The Edge of the World”

Quite possibly my favorite filmmaker is Michael Powell, the British director who with his creative partner Emeric Pressburger made such classic movies as “Black Narcissus,” “The Red Shoes,” and “A Matter of Life and Death.” Two personal favorites were set and filmed in black & white in the Scottish Hebrides, “The Edge of the World” (released in 1936, made before he knew Pressburger) and “I Know Where I’m Going” (made with Pressburger, released in 1945). I have been to Scotland on four visits over the years and remain in thrall to its history, people, and landscapes.

I was cheered to see in this recent NY Times magazine travel piece that Powell and his work also enchant Indian-born novelist Neel Mukherjee, who for his story visited the mostly depopulated St Kilda archipelago where “The Edge of the World” was filmed. I shared Mukherjee’s story and linked to it on Facebook, and embedding that post here with the NYT link.

The epigraph in Powell’s 1986 autobiography, attributed to Hein Heckroth, art director on “The Red Shoes,” is

Movies are the folklore of the twentieth century

The book opens with this paragraph:

“All my life I have loved running water. One of my passions is to follow a river downstream through pools and rapids, lakes, twists and turnings, until it reaches the sea. Today that sea lies before me, in plain view, and it is time to make a start on the story of my life, to remount it to its source, before I swim out, leaving behind the land I love so much, into the grey limitless ocean.”

Powell tells great stories about the making of his movies, including the duo filmed in the Hebrides.



From the Human Gasometer to Madam Lula on a Favorite Circus Poster

Some years ago during a visit to Scotland, I visited the West Highland town of Gairloch, and its excellent Heritage Museum, where I saw this great old circus poster on display, promoting a circus that was some years earlier performing in the nearby town of Poolewe. Recently, I came upon my photographic print of the poster and scanned it to publish on this blog, where in years past I’ve published other posts on circus topics, like this one titled “Life is a Carnival.”

I love the way posters like this vary the size, spacing, color, and fonts to bill each act and performer in distinctive way. I’ve typed it out so readers of this post could easily read the colorful copy the promoter wrote back in the day. There was no year on the poster, so I’m left to imagine that the circus might have active sometime in the first third of the twentieth century.

For my friend Ruth Gruber, Sept 30, 1911-Nov 17, 2016

The funeral for my dear friend and longtime author Ruth Gruber will be this morning, Nov 20, 11am at B’nai Jeshurun on W 88th St in Manhattan. She died on Thursday at age 105. One of her mentors was Edward Steichen, who urged her, “Take pictures with your heart,” which she always did. Here’s an album with two pictures of her, and a few of her images. Among her hundreds of great photographs, these three are some of her most moving. Links below offer more info on Ruth’s long life and career.


NY Times obituary

AP obit

All my blog posts on Ruth Gruber



Appreciative for a Shoutout to My Editing of “The Revenant” from Canadian Pal Grant Lawrence

I'm tickled that Canadian music journalist, CBC broadcaster, author, friend—and devoted reader of adventure tales—Grant… Posted by Philip Turner on Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Righteous Words from Shakespeare, So Pertinent to Today’s Refugee Crisis—Read by Sir Ian McKellen

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In what appears to have been November 2010, at the Savannah Film Festival, Sir Ian McKellen had occasion to read lines of Shakespeare from a play called “The Book of Sir Thomas More,” words set in the voice of More, a councillor to King Henry VIII. Shakespeare didn’t write the original, but contributed to rewriting portions of the drama with other contributors some 400 years ago. It is not a well-known work, and McKellen says here that it may have never been performed for an audience until 1964. This 5-minute youtube clip is linchpin of a good Washington Post article published today by reporter Karla Adam, the headline for which opens this post, pretty well summing up the message of the words read by Sir Ian.

Adam also reports that the text of the passage, in Shakespeare’s own handwriting, has recently been digitized by the British Museum, and is featured in a new exhibit at the Folger Library in Washington, DC. McKellen explains that earlier, a year before his appearance at the Savannah Film Festival, in London at Trafalgar Square, or St Martin-in-the-Fields, as it would’ve been known in Shakespeare’s time, a man and his gay partner were set up on three hooligans, who killed him. The location is also where in the play More gives this speech. Below is a still from the very powerful video, and click here for the video itself. You may want to first read the Washington Post article for full context as I had done before I watched it.

I’ll add a New York City note to this post, about “a celebrity sighting.” Though they don’t occur all that often here, that’s what I dub them. On two occasions my wife and son and I have had occasion to meet and speak with Sir Ian McKellen. He is approachable, down-to-earth, and charming. The first time was in 2003, soon after “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien movies, had premiered. The three of us had just seen the movie a few days before, and we bumped in to him at the old Weber’s Odd-Lot discount store near W 72nd St and Broadway. He was in town doing a Strindberg play on Broadway with Dame Helen Mirren. With my son Ewan, then about seven years old, we found ourselves behind him in line, while my wife was elsewhere in the store for a moment. The wait in line was long enough for me to spot him, nudge my son, and whisper who was in front of us. I leaned in a bit toward the gentleman and without invading his space, said something like, “Sir Ian, congratulations on all the great roles you have this season.” Turning toward us with a warm smile we began conversing. I mentioned we’d only a couple days earlier seen the movie and had found it breathtaking. I added, “We miss Gandalf,” thinking of the fall in to the abyss he’d suffered fighting the Balrog. Sir Ian adopted the deep voice of the Grey Wizard, and addressing Ewan especially, he intoned reassuringly, “He’ll be changed, but he’ll be back. He’ll be changed, but he’ll be back.”

The other time was a few years later, at BAM where the three of us had just seen him perform as King Lear. We waited afterward at the stage door and came out to greet the handful of fans clustered there. He spoke to each group for a few minutes, for a warm and friendly chat. He is a good and decent man, and his humanity shines through in this remarkably fluent rendering of Shakespeare words about refugees, or “strangers” as they’re called here.
Sir Ian McKellen

Excited about Kyle Gallup’s New Line of Greeting Cards, IT’S A GIFT!

Happy to share word of IT’S A GIFT!, a line of new handmade greeting cards made by my wife, artist Kyle Gallup, including a batch of pretty valentines for the holiday next month. Here’s a link to the new Etsy page for her line—the name was inspired by the title of one our favorite movies, W.C. Fields’ 1934 comedy classic, “It’s a Gift.” its-a-gift-title-still

On the Etsy page, Kyle wrote this about herself and her work:

I’m a painter and I love making cards. For many years I have collected paper ephemera from Victorian scrap, bookend papers, maps, paper lace, and gold and silver embellishments, to name a few pieces in my collection. I’ve also collected cards from other artists and vintage ones, too. I find inspiration in what other artists make, present & past. Making cards is a way for me to share my enthusiasm with other people who enjoy giving and receiving cards as a way to show one’s affection in a personal and intimate way. My cards are made with love and are a gift from the sender to the receiver. Most of my handmade cards are 5″ x 6 1/2″ and all are collaged, painted, drawn and assembled by me. Each blank card is individual and one-of-a-kind. Tiny imperfections are the cards’ distinguishing mark, indicating they are handcrafted, and show the recipient that they are receiving a very special gift, something to be treasured. I’ve been a freelance decorative painter in the visual art department for the NYC home design company ABC Carpet & Home since 1988, and studied decorative finishes with Leonard Pardon in NYC.

Kyle also works in collage, so these are one-of-a-kind ‘artist’s cards,’ made using papers from her vintage collection of ephemera, plus paint, colored pencil, and ink. Each card is signed on the back and stamped with a logo she designed. Here are three of Kyle’s cards; each is $10 plus shipping, for sale at the Etsy page.
Heart card with tags

Reflections in an Art Nouveau Mirror—a #TBT Selfie from Scotland, 1986

On my first trip to Scotland, in 1986, I visited the sublime Hill House near Glasgow, in Helensburgh, Scotland, designed by the visionary architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928). Glad I was able to snap this picture of myself enjoying the furnishings and surroundings. In a second picture here, you can see what Hill House looks like from the outside.