Nothing Lasts Forever

Shortly before Christmas, the Casablanca Restaurant in Harvard Square closed down, after being in business since 1955. I hadn’t been there in years but my first real job in Boston was as a graphic designer for a repertory film promotion company called Pollack and Thornhill. Thornhill was a character from North by Northwest. Pollack was JD, my colorful neurotic boss who taught me how to drink at lunch then go back to work in the afternoon. He chain-smoked in the office and I still have one of his old ugly ashtrays. He pretty much lived at the Casablanca bar until they shut him down for not paying his tab.

JD ran the Brattle Theatre, a quirky space near to the hearts of cinephiles since it turned Casablanca into a cult film in the 1950s. They were one of the many movie houses we promoted. Other theaters included The Orson Welles, The Nickelodeon and the Somerville Theater. The pay wasn’t great, but I had all the movies I could eat and I worked in Harvard Square as a designer, not bad for a 22 year old. This was the pre-digital era of graphic design. My tools were a sharp Xacto knife, an IBM Selectric and a Stat camera. I mostly created display ads for the local newspapers; The Boston Globe, The Herald, and of course, the Boston Phoenix, the indie paper.

Pollack and Thornhill, in debt and hounded by creditors, laid everyone off right before Christmas, 1983. I faced 1984 unemployed and uninsured, which seemed starkly Orwellian at the time. I began freelancing and found steady work at Fidelity Investments. Perhaps the repertory film business was in trouble but business was booming in the stock market.  I also put in time at the Boston Phoenix, working a night shift creating display ads. Meanwhile, re-born as Brattle Hall Associates, programming at the art house continued and I continued designing  for them and for the Janus Cinema, another small screen in Harvard Square they bought and renovated. Eventually, debt reared its ugly head again and the Brattle changed hands. This time, the employees took over and stopped trying to run a scrappy film rep company on caviar dreams and second-hand smoke.

Brattle Theatre 100th Anniversary BookletRunning Arts, created by Connie White and Marianne Lampke was founded in 1986. They steered the theatre through its financial maelstroms, its 100 anniversary, and restored its place as a great rep house. They also programmed indie performances, such as a Spaulding Grey residency. I continued to be their designer. When I eventually moved on to CVG and other publishing companies, I still created the Brattle flyer every two months. When I started Working Media, we brought them in as a client. Sometime around 1998 or so, ready to exchange graphic design for grad school, I handed off my designs and image archives to Ned Hinkle, who was working for Running Arts and eventually took over the Brattle in 2001. He, with Ivy Moynahan, still runs it today as a non-profit organization, the Brattle Film Foundation. (They recently raised money to install a digital projector.)

I was thinking about the Casablanca, and the Brattle Theatre, because the Boston Phoenix stopped publishing abruptly, two weeks ago. While its easy to be cynical about what a rag the Phoenix had become, it still was an important independent voice and it will be missed. For me, the Phoenix and the Brattle are intrinsically intertwined. They consumed part of me when I was young but thought I was old. I was a small part of their big thing.  And, it occurred to me that I haven’t been to the Brattle in too long. I have my excuses. Like many people, I watch most of my movies at home. However, I better get my butt into one of their seats soon – because it’s great to see a film on a real screen with other people, the programming is as imaginative as ever, the concession stand still puts real butter on your popcorn, the balcony’s open, and nothing lasts forever.

Suitcase of Love and Shame

Suitcase of Love and Shame, a film by Boston filmmaker Jane Gillooly, had it premiere last Saturday at the ICA. I created the poster and identity for it, and assisted Jane with her website. The premiere was packed, S.R.O., which was heartening, since I sometimes wonder who goes to see independent films these days?

postcard-webSuitcase of Love and Shame is the kind of film that could only be made by an independent artist. Its intimacy would be corrupted by any attempt to make it a “big picture.” Its existence at all is only because there are filmmakers like Gillooly, who seek to tell the amazing stories of unknown people. Thinking she might make a film about collecting, she stumbled across a listing on eBay for the Suitcase, which had been purchased at an estate sale. Inside were 60 hours of audiotape.

The film chronicles an extramarital affair between Jeannie and Tom, mid-western professionals who used the reel-to-reel technology of the 1960s to send “living letters” to each other as well as share their most intimate moments. It is both sad and funny. We hear but never see them, only their tape players, glimpses from slides they took of each other and their hotel rooms, bits of ephemera they shared, and moody shots of places near where they lived. Jane gives the viewer just enough and purposely leaves much to the imagination. I can imagine that Jeannie looks like Joanie and Tom like Don Draper from Mad Men and it doesn’t matter if that’s true or not.

The film with be at the IFFB on April 27, 2013, and is currently being shown at festivals.

Pictures of Lily

Lilith, my dear old kitty, passed away late Friday night at home, in my arms. She was not quite 17. Since then, the old Who song has been playing in one of those brain loops that digs in deep until, you either listen to the song from beginning to end, or respond to the song lyric trigger.

Lil was a cross-eyed rag-doll cat with a kinked tail. We adopted her from the Animal Rescue League of Boston on a hot August day back in 1997. She was about a year old, sickly and malnourished. In other words, she was perfect. We named her Lilith because she was so tiny and pale. Our Lilywhite Lilith.

She thrived with us. She loved our older cat, Neville (who passed away in 2004 at the age of 21) even if the feeling was unrequited, she loved her sun-porch and her staircase – which she would roll down with abandon, or throw her self in front of you as you tried to descend. I scolded her frequently that she’d kill me one day doing that. When she was younger, she’d drag pillows and clothes from room to room, even when they were bigger than she was. She was funny and frisky, a girly-girl cat who worked her way into our hearts. I called her all sorts of silly names and, in true cat form, she ignored most of them.

We’d been treating Lily for bladder stones since last summer but she wasn’t really improving. She hated the prescription food. Never very big even in her prime, she began to lose weight. She began having accidents. It was becoming pretty obvious that there was something very wrong with her. In mid November we got the diagnosis of an untreatable mass in her bladder. She was dying of cancer. Her vet suggested we try Piroxicam, an NSAID that has shown some promise shrinking tumors in cats and dogs, and that also provided an analgesic. With that and a few other drugs to help keep her digestion functioning as well as possible we shifted to kitty hospice mode and hoped she’d make it to Christmas.

While she wasn’t getting better she was, at least for a while, feeling better. Winter settled in, she’d curl up by the fire or sit in my lap as often as I’d let her. Her appetite picked up. She started trying to jump on the counters and eat our food, things she’d never bothered with before. She’d sit by the back door and try and get out (she was always content to be an inside cat).  She developed a taste for whipped cream and cat treats. In other words, she seemed to have a bucket list and we indulged her as much as possible. Christmas, New Years, Obama’s  Inauguration, the Blizzard of 2013, Valentine’s Day; she stayed with us through all of those. I let her sit on the porch and feel the snow.

She shifted from comeback kitty to fading away pretty quickly. On Friday, she could barely walk and wouldn’t eat. I steeled myself and made the call to the vet to bring her in the next morning to be euthanized. (As if Mercury in retrograde was messing with us personally, our car wouldn’t start.) That night we sat in the living room listening to music while she slept in my lap or by the fire. Just before midnight she awoke and cried and we comforted her as she gasped and slipped away from us. Our hearts broke. 16-plus years old is a long life for a cat (about 86 in human years). We think we did what she wanted. I know we did what we could.

Birds

I’ve been drawing birds.

Limiting myself to some black and white quick sketching (I’m so out of practice). Most of these critters are a bit on the chubby side. Still working through some fabric/printing ideas and need to work on some figurative drawing.

Summer Sketches

Sketches created on the iPad using an assortment of drawing and painting apps including Zen Brush, Brushes and Percolator. Love using the touch screen tablet. Zen Brush, especially, simulates a lusciously real brush on soft paper experience. It’s become my favorite sketching tool.