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Brent R. Swanson "coffee shop inspector" RSS Feed (Crooper, Illinois)

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Death Valley Scotty Told Me
Death Valley Scotty Told Me
by Eleanor Jordan Houston
Edition: Paperback
Price: $19.95
15 used & new from $16.71

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Voice of Scotty, June 19, 2009
To read of Death Valley Scotty is to wonder why anybody would want anything to do with such a shameless con artist and liar. To listen to his actual voice, a sample of which can be heard at the Scotty's Castle visitors center at Death Valley, is to be further mystified, as his speaking voice is unremarkable and without nuance. To read this book is to become entranced.

Eleanor Houston and her husband, Sam, a park ranger, lived near Scotty's Castle in the late '40s. Scotty had little to do with the castle-like ranch house, other than lending it his name for its mystique. He visited the castle and guests whenever the mood struck him, and made friends with the more permanent residents and neighbors, like the Houstons. Eleanor was taken with Scotty's stories and recorded many of them for posterity in this book.

Like any good confidence man, Scotty was an excellent reader of character, and some of the best parts of his stories are his descriptions of historical characters like Shorty Harris, Charles M. Russell, Buffalo Bill Cody, and John Barrymore. Where the reader needs to be careful is when Scotty describes adventures and events. He describes Buffalo Bill teaming up with the Barnum & Bailey circus, but it was Sells-Floto that eventually absorbed the Wild West Show, and not under the most honest of circumstances.

But you want to believe what Scotty tells, and that's the value of this book: it provides an accurate and entertaining record of his storytelling ability, as well as his personality. Even remembering that he pulled many a con game and fleeced many a rube (which he more or less admits to), it's difficult to get angry with him when you read these stories.

Each chapter is garnished with a black & white photo or two featuring Scotty and some of his human and animal friends. These pictures reveal a convivial man who seems to have been a natural actor. Perhaps he should have continued in show business rather than drifting into mining and grifting.

This book is a must for anybody interested in Death Valley Scotty and the eccentric mansion that bears his name. As these stories prove, he may have been a con man, but he was complicated man as well, and in that sense, quite genuine.

by Tommy Kovac
Edition: Hardcover
26 used & new from $2.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderland without Alice, June 19, 2009
This review is from: Wonderland (Hardcover)
I was a bit uneasy when cracking open this book. Sequels by other authors are a risky business, particularly with something like Carroll's "Wonderland" books, which hold a self-contained story that doesn't lend itself to sequels, or even to adaptations (the memory of John Tenniel's Queen of Hearts has returned to behead many a successor in movies and on the page). Even the staff of Western Publications, who mixed and matched dozens of Disneyfied characters from children's literature, did very little with the Disneyfied "Wonderland" stable.

So it's something of a minor miracle that Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew pull off this sort-of sequel with so much success. This is due in large part to the hitherto unseen character of Mary Ann, the White Rabbit's housekeeper. When Mary Ann rescues the White Rabbit from the Queen's wrath and axe, she finds herself meeting many of the familiar Wonderland residents as well as the fearsome Jabberwocky and the imprisoned Queen (and King) of Spades. Mary Ann has pluck and resourcefulness to match Alice, but she is her own character and not a repetition of Carroll's. Similarly, the art recalls both Tenniel's and the Disney Studio's (Alice's brief reappearance provides the biggest debt to Disney), but it is distinctively Liew's.

And the story reads much better collected than it would in installments, where the convoluted thread could easly be lost from month to month. This tale is nearly as good a way to revisit Wonderland as rereading the original adventures.

Charles M. Russell, Word Painter: Letters 1887-1926
Charles M. Russell, Word Painter: Letters 1887-1926
by Charles M. Russell
Edition: Hardcover
33 used & new from $80.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Art and Soul of Charles M. Russell, June 2, 2009
Besides creating hundreds of pen & ink illustrations, watercolors, oil paintings, sculptures, and short stories, C.M. Russell also produced around 500 illustrated letters, some of which have been collected previously in the books "Good Medicine" and two editions of "Paper Talk." Dippie's "Word Painter" collects Russell's letters produced between 1887 and 1926, falling a little short of 400 pieces of correspondence.

Russell was not a born writer. He struggled with spelling, syntax, and penmanship. The scrawl that surrounds his miniature sketches and watercolors has none of the apparent ease of his pictorial line. Yet it's clear from his letters that part of his struggle is in finding the right word, which is the labor of the dedicated wordsmith. In his introduction to "Good Medicine," Will Rogers argued that a recipient of a Russell letter cherished the prose more than the accompanying illustration. That may be a bit of overstatement, but the words were surely equal to the pictures. Responding to a birthday card from Josephine Trigg, the aging artist writes: "Old Dad Time trades little that men want he has traded me wrinkels for teeth stiff legs for limber ones but cards like yours tell me that he has left me my friends and for that great kindness I forgive him." Grammar and punctuation could be added to that, but it could not improve it.

Russell's letters contain some of his most spontaneous and heartfelt artistry, where words and pictures combine to express his despair over the encroachment of real estate "development," or to let loose with a humorous observation or anecdote that belies the frown seen in so many of his formal portraits.

Dippie's volume is not only a portable museum of Russell's correspondence, but also of Russell's family, friends, and the times which influenced and shaped the man and his work. This is an indispensable collection for any enthusiast of this artist or of western art in general. Though some of the reproductions are small, the color reproduction is a big improvement over "Good Medicine" and "Paper Talk."

Russell's masterpieces may be the watercolors and oils that hang in museums and private collections, but the priceless heart and wit of the artist lives on in these letters.

Voices From the Spirit World
Voices From the Spirit World
4 used & new from $16.96

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spiritual Resonance, May 27, 2009
Robert Turgeon's album is not a creation that can be fully absorbed at one or even a few listenings. Unlike the music of R. Carlos Nakai or even Ah-Nee-Mah, where the listener will find graspable melodies, Turgeon weaves flute music into a fabric of nature sounds, drummings, rattles, and chants, to create "sound paintings" that ultimately weave into the album's total audio imagery. Like a pictograph, it can be savored as an artwork, but never completely comprehended.

Like his Celtic contemporary, Enya, Turgeon creates the majority of his accompaniement, which is sewn together in the studio. Each element--flute, drumbeats, chants--so complements the others that it all seems effortless, and is obviously the product of painstaking labor.

This album may not please listeners in search of straightforward melody, but those willing to invest time through repeated listening will be rewarded by the many layers within the overall mystery.

Brave New West
Brave New West
DVD ~ Jim Stiles
Price: $24.95
9 used & new from $4.44

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Heart of the Zephyr, February 15, 2009
This review is from: Brave New West (DVD)
Before sitting down to this movie, you ought to seek and read the book of the same title, in which Jim Stiles collects his thoughts from 20 years of editorials and articles from the "Canyon Country Zephyr," and chronicles how both a small Utah town and an activist movement lost both their way and their souls.

In the book, Moab becomes a metaphor for what's happening in the American West at large. This movie, however, isn't so much an explication of the book as it is of the man who wrote it, his circle of friends, and his adopted home. Jim Stiles became intoxicated with Southern Utah as a youth, worked as a seasonal ranger at Arches National Park in the early '80s, and drifted into activism by way of acquaintance and then friendship with Ed Abbey, as well as becoming a cartoonist for the Abbey-inspired Earth First! But Stiles also became acquainted with his neighbors in Moab, as well as visitors like Herb Ringer, an expert photographer and profound memorialist. He found himself as interested in having a dialog with somebody as he was in supporting a cause, preferring to spend a day disagreeing, if need be, but ending the day as friends.

Unfortunately, the opposing factions in the environmental preservation debate have become further polarized in the years since Stiles launched the "Canyon Country Zephyr." This movie makes some strides at humanizing the debate by introducing us to some of the faces and voices, including Ken Sleight, Dr. Rich Ingebretsen, and archival footage of Ed Abbey. It would have been nice to have had more footage or photographs of the pre-1990s Moab, but there's an eyeful of the current scene: condos going up where trees and pastures once predominated.

The movie is supplemented by an Ed Abbey lecture from 1988, showing the author in rare form; and also by a home movie travelogue filmed and edited by Henry Clark, chronicling a float trip into Glen Canyon before the atrocity of Lake Powell. A second disk features several documentary short subjects from High Plains Films that make a call for environmental activism. The home movie is presented as silent as it was filmed, but you can remedy that at home by playing some Katie Lee tracks along with it.

If this region of the American West interests you, this DVD set is indispensable. Coupled with the book of the same title, it might serve as a wake-up call for the remainder of the West, if not the entire nation.

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (Dover Children's Classics)
Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (Dover Children's Classics)
by J.M. Barrie
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.95
41 used & new from $1.63

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Peter Pan's Deathless Birth-Tale, January 24, 2009
Sir James Barrie first wrote of Peter Pan in "The Little White Bird," published in 1902. This was followed by the play, "Peter Pan," in 1904, which Barrie then adapted into book form as "Peter and Wendy" (sort of the home video edition of play before the days of home video). In 1906, the six Peter Pan chapters of "Little White Bird" were published under the title "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens" with illustrations by Arthur Rackham.

If you're more interested in Barrie's modus operandi, his development of the Peter Pan mythos from his relationship with Llewelyn Davies family and their boys, "The Little White Bird" is an essential source. "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens" is Peter Pan with much of the autobiographical sentimentality scissored out. While this eliminates some maudlin overtones, it also removes interesting details such as Pilkington, the prototype of Captain Hook, whose "shadow was all over the gardens."

The only edition I have for comparison's sake is the Weathervane facsimile, published in 1975. Dover's edition is big improvement as far as readability is concerned. All the color plates have page references, and are inserted in close proximity to the related text. Overall reproduction of the plates is a trifle smaller and a bit darker than the Weathervane edition, but usually richer in color values and with a bit more clarity. One plate, "Butter is got from the roots of old trees," has come off a little too dark and obscured, but overall, Dover has done a fine job.

For the reader who wants to read more about Peter Pan from the hand of his creator, or who wants to give a child an introduction to the character sans all the commercial and sometimes revisionist ballast that's been added since Barrie's day, this edition is highly recommended.

Christmas Curiosities: Odd, Dark, and Forgotten Christmas
Christmas Curiosities: Odd, Dark, and Forgotten Christmas
by John Grossman
Edition: Hardcover
40 used & new from $1.40

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Holiday Horrors, December 5, 2008
Americans tend to forget that a long tradition of ghosts and ghoulishness preceded Dickens' "Christmas Carol"; John Grossman brings it back to the forefront in this collection of postcards, advertisements, and illustrations from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

If anthropomorphized foodstuffs and seemingly predatory angels give pause, those are merely the icing on Grossman's fiendish pudding of divine children, saints, witches, goblins, and devils, all bringing holiday cheer or retribution, depending on the behavior of the recipients. The author's text is a delight, balancing historical context with humorous commentary.

This book is also valuable for the perspective it offers regarding the evolution of the Christmas holiday and its principal figures. The unfailingly jolly and almost completely secular Santa Claus of today would be a stranger among the early 19th century's incarnations of St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, and demonic Krampus.

This book would make a wonderful gift, particularly for those suffering from an overload of Christmas sugarplums.

Discovery of Art: Maxfield Parrish
Discovery of Art: Maxfield Parrish
DVD ~ Discovery of Art
6 used & new from $5.35

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Turn Off the Audio, December 5, 2008
Maxfield Parrish and his artwork have been enjoying renewed discovery and re-evaluation of late, emerging from thinly veiled contempt accorded a commercial illustrator to recognition as an important and influential American artist whose use and development of glazes, color, and super-realism continue to influence artists in the present century.

This DVD presents an overview of Parrish's illustrations and paintings from his earliest drawings to his final landscape. Some of these illustrations have not been published at large; there are four or five I've never seen printed anywhere. Some of the paintings shown on this DVD appear to have been filmed from the original art rather than prints; their color is stunning.

Unfortunately, this DVD has little else to recommend it. The narration is redundant and sometimes incorrect. Parrish never married model Susan Lewin; his relationship with her was a minor scandal in his community. Nor are the illustrations always correlative with the narration. Apparently, the producers of this documentary had limited access to Parrish's body of work, and several of the same paintings appear over and over again. No narrative mention is made of the "Florentine Fete" murals, nor of the groundbreaking color range employed in the Vanderbilt murals, two key points in Parrish's career and development as an artist.

The only feature more annoying than the narration is the music, which sounds like something you might hear in a grocery store.

There are plenty of good book collections of Parrish's art, particularly those authored by Alma Gilbert. This DVD has value only for the artwork it contains that has not been published in book form. View it for that, with the sound turned off.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 11, 2011 9:42 PM PDT

The General (The Ultimate Two-Disc Edition)
The General (The Ultimate Two-Disc Edition)
DVD ~ Buster Keaton
Price: $21.47
17 used & new from $12.95

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ultimate is Definitive, November 12, 2008
For many years, there was Raymond Rohauer's print of "The General," and there were one or two others. Like Chaplin's "The Gold Rush," the original elements had fallen into public domain. But where Chaplin retained a copyrighted version by re-editing, simplifying, and scoring the original, more or less creating a different movie, the chief differences between the versions of "The General" were in print quality. The non-Rohauer prints were a generation or two from the original negative, were missing a few intertitles, and were missing a few snippets of other footage.

KINO's "ultimate edition" is taken from the original camera negative and looks as fresh as today, highly appropriate for a period comedy that hasn't dated at all since its release in 1926. The clarity of detail is stunning and isn't a bit dampened by the color tinting. There are three scores to choose from: the Carl Davis orchestral score in 5.1 stereo surround; the Bob Israel score; or the Lee Erwin organ score. All of them are excellent, though the organ score may conjure-up more of a silent film era ambience than the other scores.

The extras on the second disk range from a tour of the original "General" locomotive (which Buster was denied the use of), to fascinating home movie footage showing how the traveling shots were filmed, to a montage of Buster's "railroad" sight gags from his silents. Newcomers to Keaton should enjoy the excerpts from the Fatty Arbuckle short "Coney Island" that accompanies Orson Welles' introduction to "The General." Overall, these extras are enjoyable but not essential.

One caveat: as I watched the first half of this movie, I found myself more caught up with the technical expertise and timing than I did the humor. I have seen "The General" in a movie palace with an appreciative audience in attendance; the gags still evoke big laughs. But watching this crystal-clear print on a smaller screen, I was more caught-up with the machinations than the payoffs. Even so, the genius of this movie is undiminished. It's finally available in an edition worthy of its greatness. Even if you have KINO's boxed Keaton set with its "General," this ultimate edition is a must.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 16, 2008 6:59 PM PST

Ragtime America
Ragtime America
Price: $16.47
18 used & new from $4.98

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tin Pan Alley Gold, November 3, 2008
This review is from: Ragtime America (Audio CD)
As Ian Whitcomb states in his liner notes, "I have recorded these songs not merely as historical documents but as sounds that delight and move me." If you pick up this album expecting the classical Ragtime music of Scott Joplin and his contemporaries, you need to move along to the classical albums. This collection consists of the jaunty show, vaudeville, and saloon tunes of Tin Pan Alley that flourished in the Ragtime era.

This is not a "museum" album. The liner notes provide the cold, hard facts for each song; Whitcomb and his ensemble provide the entertainment, bringing life to undeservedly forgotten songs such as "Settle Down in a One Horse Town" by Irving Berlin, "I'm Crying Just for You" by James Monaco, "Rose Room" by Art Hickman (best remembered as Phil Harris's theme song), and the classic "At the Ball, That's All" by J. Leubrie Hill for a show called "Darktown Follies" but known to all Laurel & Hardy fans as the slide-dance song in "Way Out West." Ian's own Ragtime compositions are here as well, from the classic-style "Les Temps Du Chiffon" to that risque' number unearthed from the notes of "Nat D. Ayer": "You've Got to Show it to Mother."

Whitcomb's instrumental arrangements won't always please the purists, and he occasionally updates a lyric here and there where old lines and allusions fail the test of time, but the Tin Pan Alley spirit here is 100 percent authentic. If you love this genre, you can't be without this album.

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