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Saturday 29 December 2018

Arise (From the Typewriter), Dame Twiggy

Twiggy has been made a Dame. She has been awarded a damehood for her services to fashion, the arts and charity in the [British] Queen's New Year Honours List. Twiggy is now recognised as an Ordinary Dame Commander of the Civil Division of the Order of the British Empire. Born Lesley Lawson in Neasden on September 19, 1949, Twiggy is seen above in the 1969 Henry Wolf series advertising an Olivetti "Brightwriter", the Studio 45 semi-portable typewriter. She is best known as a model, actress and singer and for being a British cultural icon of the Swinging 60s in London.

Vice: Not So Much a Film Review as a Reaction


Just before the end of Vice, mid-credits, a focus group discussion about the film script’s political bias breaks out. The camera moves away from “Libtard” and the “Orange Cheeto” (Trump) supporter belting crap out of each other on the floor to two young women at the other end of the circle. One turns to the other and says, “I can’t wait to see the new Fast & Furious movie. It’s going to be so lit.” Given this scene comes at about the 127-minute mark of a 132-minute movie – and a lot of the audience has already walked out - it’s remarkable that it is evoking so much outrage among critics. “ [It’s] so rancid, and such a bad-faith attack on the film’s assumed audience, that it makes an already lousy movie even worse,” wrote Sam Adams on Slate. “It’s not often that a few seconds of footage has the power to retroactively poison an entire film.” Perhaps Adams missed an earlier scene, in which the same Fast & Furious fan asks the group leader whether Al-Qaeda is a country.
         We went to see Vice yesterday afternoon, as much to beat the heat on another 99-degree day as to watch a movie we’d been encouraged to see, a week or so earlier, by its trailer. Luckily, the day before going to Vice we’d been swimming to beat the heat with a friend who’d already seen the film, and who recommended we stay in our seats until the curtain really did come down. Armed with that advice, we got to see not alone the focus group brawl, but the penultimate scene, in which Christian Bale, as Dick Cheney, breaks the fourth wall and addresses the camera with his self-justifying “I will not apologise for keeping your families safe. You chose me. I did what you asked” speech.
Having seen out the movie to such a bitter end, our own response was much closer to Matt Goldberg’s review on Collider. Goldberg wrote, “Some people have taken umbrage with [the focus group scene], citing it as not only dismissive, but also hypocritical. It targets a specific demographic as somehow less socially aware, and then tries to blame entertainment like Fast & Furious … But my read on the scene isn’t that [director Adam] McKay is saying, 'If not for those darn Fast & Furious movies, people would have paid attention!' Rather, McKay is taking issue with two things: engagement and age, and the statistics bear him out on this.”
 Goldberg is right and Sam Adams is very wrong. Vice is not a lousy movie, it’s actually quite a brilliant one. And it doesn’t take Goldberg’s stats – that just 46.1 per cent of people aged 18 to 29 voted in the 2016 US Presidential election, compared to 70.9 per cent of people in our own age bracket – to have McKay confirm for us our previously held perceptions of how Donald Trump came to be in the White House. After all, Vice isn’t just about Dick Cheney’s political career and his two terms as vice-president, it’s also a reinforcement of the view that abuse of power in office is still very much a part of the Washington DC landscape. A lunatic is back in charge of the asylum. In Vice, it’s an exploration of what is meant by what’s called “unitary executive theory”. Under Trump, it’s been simplified to “policy by impetuous Tweet”.
Of course, Australians are in no position to point fingers at America. Or to make judgments, for that matter. But you are still our close ally, a point which even Trump might be prepared to concede. And given we, too, got dragged - all too willingly, as it turns out - into Iraq and Afghanistan, and we also have devastating bush fires, can we still trust you? With that in mind, I guess it was no surprise that a packed house in the cinema yesterday afternoon sat in stunned silence throughout Vice – although far too many of them took the chance to bolt as soon as the credits started to roll, and missed the final dose of “retroactive poison”, as Adams calls it. I often try to get a feel for how an audience is reacting to a movie by its collective noise and movement, the restlessness or otherwise of the people around me. Yesterday there was not a sound nor a rustle. I took this to reflect a total absorption, if not a broadly gathered and held sense of shock and horror. The movie is described as a comedy-drama, yet I heard not so much as a titter. I suspect, like us, those around us were completely spellbound – simply by brilliantly clever moviemaking, if nothing else.
Christian Bale and Dick Cheney share a birthday: January 30. Bale should be celebrating, for his is surely an Oscar-winning performance. But Cheney, who turns 78 next month, provided his donor’s heart keeps beating under his thin skin? Probably not, given this film is as damning a condemnation of his Machiavellian ways as it’s possible to get.  

Wednesday 26 December 2018

Covering the News - in the Post-Typewriter Era

There was a time when you grabbed your portable typewriter and you and a photographer headed off to where the news was happening, by whatever means available. And from there you filed your story and images, again by whatever means were available. Not any more.
Today the town of Marble Bar in far north Western Australia (above) is very much in the news. It reached a temperature of 120.2 degrees Fahrenheit (49 Celsius). Tomorrow it will be 118.4 (48). This is how one of Australia's four major television networks plans to cover this newsworthy event, according to a post on Marble Bar's Facebook page:
"Merry Christmas all! I’m a reporter at 9News and we are hoping to do a story this evening on Marble Bar’s extremely hot weather today. Is anyone willing to share any videos of themselves or their families keeping cool? Or any videos that might illustrate just how hot it is out there? For example, frying an egg on the pavement or vision of your temperature gauge on the 'Welcome to Marble Bar' sign? If you have anything you’d like to contribute – please film it in landscape (ie turn your phone on its side) and email to stwcos@nine.com.au and hopefully we can give it a run on the telly! Thanks in advance!"
Now that's a truly pathetic way of gathering news. But it's what the news industry has come to in the technological age - asking the public to do your work for you, using an iPhone!
Marble Bay is in the Pilbara, 917 miles (1476km) from the nearest major capital city, Perth. It's well known for its extremely hot weather. By mean maximum temperatures, it is one of the two hottest places in Australia. Its highest temperature on record was 120.6 (49.2) in January 1922 and its previous highest December temperature was 119.1 (48.4) in 2011.
Marble Bar set a world record of most consecutive days of 100 degrees (37.8) or above during a period of 160 days from October 31, 1923, to April 7, 1924. During December and January, temperatures in excess of 113 degrees (45) are common, and the average maximum temperature exceeds normal human body temperature for six months each year.

Saturday 22 December 2018

Typing Up A Storm: The Sad and Sexy Life of Christine Keeler


Christine Keeler typing her memoir Scandal! on an Olympia Splendid 33 portable typewriter in March 1989. Her story was made into a movie of the same name.
She also wrote The Businessperson's Guide to Intelligent Social Drinking with Richard Basini the same year.
It's a little more than a year now since Christine Keeler died from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, aged 75, at the Princess Royal University Hospital in Locksbottom, Greater London. My own life had struck a bit of heavy turbulence at the time of her passing, and I never got around to writing about her back then. But Keeler was very distant muse in my highly impressionable early teens, an age when I was banging out the schoolboyishly risqué Anthony Marks novels on my Underwood Universal portable typewriter, away from prying eyes in my solitary confinement (I was supposed to be doing homework). Wikipedia, that self-appointed arbiter of fact and good taste, describes Keeler as an "English model and topless showgirl", which strikes me now as a singularly inadequate summary of her life. Rarely, in the entire history of the human race, has a 21-year-old woman so fulsomely fed the world's insatiable appetite for salaciousness and hypocrisy as Keeler did in 1963.
Keeler typing on her Brazilian-made plastic Hermes Baby portable typewriter
at her home in London, May 7, 1969.
Christine Margaret Keeler was born on February 22,  1942, at Uxbridge in Middlesex. After an unhappy, deprived childhood - during which she was sexually abused - and an unwanted pregnancy, Keeler had just turned 19 when she started working as a topless showgirl at Percy Murray's Cabaret Club in Soho. There she met society osteopath Stephen Ward. In July 1961 Ward introduced Keeler to British Secretary of State for War John Profumo, 5th Baron Profumo, then 46 and married, at a pool party at Cliveden, the Buckinghamshire mansion owned by Lord Astor. Profumo began a brief affair with Keeler, which ended after he was warned by the British security services of the possible dangers of mixing with the Ward circle. It turned out Keeler was sleeping with the enemy, from both home and abroad, and the pillow talk might have included state secrets. Among Ward's other friends was the Russian naval attaché and secret service officer Yevgeny Ivanov. In the House of Commons, Profumo denied any improper conduct but later admitted that he had lied. This incident led to the downfall of the Conservative Government of Harold Macmillan, in what became known as the Profumo Affair. 
Soviet spy Yevgeny Ivanov, standing left with camera,
at a picnic with Keeler at Cliveden in 1961.
How LIFE magazine headlined the story.
Lewis Morley's iconic portrait of Keller was taken at the height of the Profumo Affair, in a studio on the first floor of Peter Cook's Establishment Club. Although the world felt justified in assuming Keeler was naked while sitting astride a crude imitation of Arne Jacobsen's Model 3107 teak and plywood chair, she was in fact wearing knickers. A print of Morley's shot hung on the wall of Keeler's home when this photo of her was taken on January 29, 2011:  
Announcing Keeler's death a year ago, her son Seymour Platt said his mother had been unwell for many months. "She was always a fighter," Platt said, "but sadly [she] lost the final fight against a terrible lung disease." The innocence had long since gone from these eyes.

Sunday 16 December 2018

The Young Typospherian Who Could

Twenty-year-old Jasper Lindell, the Typospherian who has exhibited his typewriting skills from Canberra to the cantons of Switzerland, and from Sydney to Swinger Hill, has fulfilled a long-held ambition to work full-time in the print newspaper industry. On August 28 Jasper was interviewed as one of 20 applicants for a cadetship at The Canberra Times and on September 18 he got the call to say he had been awarded one of only two openings. After a short introductory training session with Fairfax Media in Sydney, Jasper started his journalism career at the Times on November 26 and within days was scoring page 2 bylines. Yesterday his byline appeared on the page 3 lead article. One notable "scoop" concerned the capture of a python in the Museum of Australian Democracy (Old Parliament House) - most appropriate for someone who's a big fan of the Monty of that species.
When Jasper announced his appointment on Facebook, one friend responded: "Congratulations Jasper - you were destined for this role. Which typewriter will you be taking to the office?" To which Jasper responded: "I reckon this will do."
It's almost certainly no coincidence that this was the very model of typewriter which was once the stock work tool at The Canberra Times.
Jasper reading the last broadsheet edition of The Canberra Times, July 15, 2016.
He called it a "travesty" and a "sad day".
For him, broadsheets were a "glorious, tactile experience".
Jasper has had his nose stuck in newspapers since at least the age of seven, and for much of the past 13 years has dreamed of not just reading the printed pages, but of writing the copy that appears on them. For more than six years now, he has also been an enthusiastic typewriter collector and user. His blog DHIATENSOR (by which the Blickensderfer keyboard layout is known) has been moribund since 2016, but in that time Jasper has been concentrating on attaining his professional goal (although anonymous donors kept leaving typewriters on his doorstep):
Jasper was editor of his school newspaper, the Orana Steiner School's Student's Standard, and in August last year, while editor of the Australian National University's student newspaper Woroni, won his stripes with his coverage of a scoop that quickly became a nationally breaking news story. He'd previously started writing for The Guardian Australian edition and in 2016 became the youngest person at a Federal Government Budget lock-up - a year later the Government denied him accreditation, which the fearless and outspoken Jasper put down to it "announcing its controversial university reforms".
Given an already highly impressive track record in journalism, it's astonishing to recall that while he was visiting leading typewriter historian and collector George Sommeregger in Switzerland in March 2014 (while on a student exchange trip to Germany), Jasper applied for but missed out on an internship at The Canberra Times. To its credit, that newspaper has now seen the error of its past ways, so cheers to the "Crimes". 
To its eternal discredit, the Times, a fortnight into Jasper's cadetship, assigned him to check out Canberra's high birth rate, saying, "We sent the baby of our newsroom, new trainee Jasper Lindell, to take a closer look at the boom." Oh dear, what a condescending comment about someone who has entered the joint far more roundly experienced than most of his colleagues! As proof of that, and among the many efforts which helped change the mind of Times management about Jasper, was this opinion piece, which appeared in both the Times and The Sydney Morning Herald on his 18th birthday, before he'd even started his university studies:
Jasper last appeared at a major Type-In at the Big Sydney Typewriter Bash two years ago. He's seen here "blind" touch typing on a Willy Scheidegger Princess Matic, beside Julie Chapman:
Jasper has persisted - and ultimately succeeded - in his long pursuit to become a print newspaper journalist, in the face of clear evidence of a rapid worldwide decline in his chosen profession. Jasper has all along been only too well aware of the failings of modern newspapers, and yet it hasn't deterred him, nor is he now daunted in leaping into the cesspit. Good luck to him! Maybe, just maybe, he will be an example to other youngsters, in his offering of new blood to a dying trade. But Jasper is without doubt exceptional. It's not just the short-sighted tight-fistedness of media owners which is killing journalism, it's also a failure in our education systems and the emergence of a generation of youngsters far less interested in reading hardcopy - books, magazines or newspapers - or in words and writing in general and politics and climate science in particular, than they are in technological faddery. For most of his life Jasper has been encouraged to learn, read, write, discuss things knowledgeably and openly, and to not shun old formats or technology.  In turn, he has himself encouraged others in these things. May his journalist career flourish!

Friday 14 December 2018

Typewriter Spotting: Can You Ever Forgive Me? ... For Missing One (Or Two)?

A late contender for the much-coveted 2018 Typewriter Movie of the Year (Oscar nominations voting closes on January 14) is Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the biographical comedy drama based on Lee Israel's 2008 memoir of the same name. It stars Melissa McCarthy as Israel and follows the failed writer's fraudulent efforts to supplement her income by forging letters from deceased authors and playwrights. We saw the movie last evening and found it well-acted and entertaining, though the ultimate treatment handed out to Israel-McCarthy's typewriters was a major downer for me:
On July 27, 1992, Israel, realising "the jig was up" after being questioned by FBI agents outside a kosher deli, raced to the rented storage locker where she stored her "gang of typewriters" and "woke them up". She wrote in her book, "I deposited them, one by one, in trash cans along a mile stretch of Amsterdam Avenue, watching the traffic to see if I was being surveilled." Oh, to have been a typewriter collector wandering down Amsterdam Avenue that very day! (The image above is from the movie, and shows McCarthy ditching an Olympia SM9 in a bin.)
Above, the real Lee Israel. As for where she bought most of her typewriters, Israel wrote that she began the buy them in the first half 1992 "from a store in the West Twenties that sold vintage machines." This store appears to have been run by a man called Farber:
Israel rented a locker in an "ugly tattooed building" on Amsterdam Avenue. There she neatly stacked the typewriters on four wooden shelves - they were not, as the movie suggests, crowding out her apartment. The typewriter locker space "began to look like a pawnshop with a mighty distinguished clientele".
Back on October 6, Richard Polt of The Typewriter Revolution posted on Facebook that the movie, "looks like the most typewriter-heavy film since The Post. Did they consult my list of writers and their typewriters?" The short answer, Richard, is, "No!" The thought that - then or now - one of the Tytells might have been consulted doesn't appear to have entered anyone's head, either (Martin died the year the book came out, but Peter is still around). In the image at the top of this post, the eagle-eyed among you may note that Israel-McCarthy has labelled a Brother portable "Ezra Pound". This is what Pound actually used:
The first typewriter Israel-McCarthy buys in the movie, at the start of her criminal activity, is a Gossen Tippa Pilot. It's at the foot of the image at the top of the post, though out of focus. This specific purchase is presumably (as mentioned in the book) for letters purporting to be written by Dorothy Parker, though goodness knows why (other than Parker "having fun with the umlauts"). Yet in the movie it is labelled Noël Coward, the English playwright and composer,who did use just such a typewriter. McCarthy certainly needs a German-language keyboard, even if she doesn't type the letter ë in Coward's first name. The ë appears quite frequently on screen, but I'm not convinced that even a German keyboard Tippa had an ë key.
Later in the movie, Israel-McCarthy is seen using a different, earlier model Gossen Tippa:
Steve Kuterescz Collection
Israel wrote that, "I bought the first of a long and distinguished line of manual typewriters, a clattery, jet-black Royal [portable], old enough to have been used by Fanny [Brice]  or, more likely, her secretary, from my neighborhood hardware store where various secondhand items were - still are - put on the street for quick sale: chipped china, worthless books, and old typewriters, the last singing siren songs to passing Upper West Siders nostalgic for the clatter of typing ... as opposed to the silence of keyboarding."  Israel paid $30 for the machine and said its pica typeface was "similar to Fanny's." The first words Israel typed on it were, "Now is the time for Funny Girl to come to the aid of Lee Israel."
The movie begins in April 1990 with Israel-McCarthy using her own Smith-Corona Electra 210 portable. Or trying to use it, I should say. She is suffering from writer's block (an affliction she has heard Tom Clancy dismiss out of hand at a drinks party put on by her agent). She types, “This is me f***ing using the typewriter.” Or not.
Astonishingly, Israel-McCarthy's first "bogus billet" is actually a postscript McCarthy types on to the bottom of what is supposed to an actual Brice letter. It reads, “My new grandchild has inherited my old nose. Should I leave something extra for repairs?” So the gormless mark is not supposed to be able to tell the difference between words typed on a manual typewriter sometime before 1951 (when Brice died; I think the letter is actually dated 1942) and a PS written on an electric portable typewriter (which didn't appear before 1957)? Someone has to be kidding, surely? After all, the real Israel was clearly very resourceful, and to a large degree the movie reflects this. At least Dorothy Parker lived to see the advent of electric portables, though not the Electra 210 (the Tytells would have seized on that in seconds, at one quick glance):
Dorothy Parker, typing on a Royal, and Alan Campbell at their farmhouse
in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 1937.
Noël Coward on a very British Imperial in Jamaica in 1953. 
Some of the forgeries (which Israel described as "her best work",
and much of which fooled the experts):