Sunday, November 16, 2008

Abolish ArtSpeak - - Please!

Why do some creative types feel compelled to express themselves like bureacrats?

Covering culture for the Los Angeles Times, I've interviewed curators and artists who spoke so much gobbledy gook I could not glean a single coherent insight.

Blame it on ArtSpeak. Here's a recent example (excerpted from a catalog for a Los Angeles area exhibition).

"I call the distribution of the sensible the system of self evident facts of sense perception that simultaneously discloses the existence of something in common and the delmitation that defines the respective parts and positions within it."

What the hell does that mean?

The image above, by the way, has nothing to do with ArtSpeak. It's from a pretty cool book of decals titled StickerBomb by an artist who goes by the name Drypnz.

Monday, July 28, 2008

R.I.P. Sunday Book Review

In his July 27th letter to readers of the Los Angeles Times, boss man Russ Stanton promised more book reviews will be published in the daily arts and entertainment "Calendar" section. That's cool, but the sad part, which Stanton left to Times' Book Reviews editor David Ulin to address in his note to the reader, is that the Times' Sunday Book Review is shutting down.

Gone with it, one of my favorite weekly rituals: slacking on the couch, finishing off cup of dangerous coffee and absorbing deep thought, don't laugh, that somehow survive drift outside of the 24/7 blah blah blah.

Books, good ones anyway, carry with them a sense of history and context, known during Luddite 20th century days of yore as the Big Picture. Taking a step back from the whirligig of pop culture, books, and book reviews, need to be contemplated in God damned tranquility and that's pretty much impossible to achieve on, you know, a Tuesday afternoon with deadlines looming.

So, thanks for not killing book reviews altogether, but no thanks for despoiling my source of weekend brain fodder.

More at L.A. Observed.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Fried egg on the sidewalk, and complete Griffin Interview.

Wish i had my camera couple weeks ago. Morning dog walk, heat wave, on the sidewalk: someone wrote with chalk: 'Caution ahead, frying egg.'

Sure enough, a few feet later, there's an egg and it was so hot - about 108 in the Valley - - the yolk had literally cooked on the cement.

Attention comedy fans: I've posted the entire Kathy Griffin interview transcript online, no expletives deleted. There there are lots of 'em, recorded for my New York Times "Life on the D-List" piece that ran last month.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

next up: Kathy Griffin: Funny + profane, plus the Surfer who raised 9 kids in a camper

I hung out with Kathy Griffin last week in her Hollywood Hills mansion, few minutes drive from the Studio City home base. I brought her a gift bag - souvenier whip from Indiana Jones and a pink tee - shirt from Marie Antoinette.

Griffin is a master of the F-Bomb, and really funny. The parts of the interview that are printabnle in a family newspaper will run in the New York Times May 22.

I saw a mind-blowing documentary recently called Surfwise, about the price that's paid for unfettered freedom. About an 85-year old surfer dude who with his wife raised nine - - nine!! - - kids in a 24-foot camper van.

More to come when I can let the steam out of my ears.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fat Lady on a Bike. . .

Walking Huck this morning in Studio City I hear a high pitched. . . I don't know what . . . over my shoulder. I glance over my shoulder and see a fat lady wobbling down Dilling Street on a tiny 22-inch wheel kids bike. Behind her: three other bicyclists. Lead lady is singing opera, weaving in and out of harmonies with her soprano girlfriend, who's taking up the rear. They're carrying on like chirpy birds in a Disney cartoon from the forties.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hugh Goes Sci-Fi for Underwire

Apologies for the light--okay, nonexistent -- week of posting. I've started to cover sci-fi and related movie and TV stuff for's Underwire site. Spooky creatures and all that. Speaking of which, I had an interesting chat in Manhattan Beach with comic book artist Mike Mignola, the creator of "Hellboy," a few days ago. Bits from that conversation coming soon.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Divided We Fail: Worst Slogan Ever?

I'm not a professional copywriter or anything, but really, is "Divided We Fail" the best they could come up as the name for a new not-for-profit organization that does . . . what, exactly? I have no idea after watching the TV commercials showing moody black and white shots of Ben Affleck and Reese Witherspoon uttering profound comments about humanity.

But back to the name. I get the point: "United we succeed." But setting up "Fail" as the thematic punchline strikes me as being ass-backwards.

By the way I like both Affleck and Witherspoon. I've interviewed both of 'em and they're bright people so. . . whatever.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Helfer Speaks!

I interviewed Tricia Helfer, the clone seductress from "Battlestar Galactica" for You can listen to audio of our chat in Playa Vista on my website (I don't believe handles audio, right?). Give a listen at

Arty Designers

Alot to like in the April Print and I'm not just saying that because the magazine ran a short piece of mine in the F.O.B. section.

There's an inspiring overview of young designers - - mostly from Brooklyn - - who are doing twitchy, personalized commercial work. (The image above is from Michael Perry). Also, a nifty article by L.A. writer/designer Alissa Walker describing how a revamped "American Crafts" trying to compete with D.I.Y.-flavored "Make" magazine. Hand-made - don't call it a comeback! Alissa blogs smartly at her gelatobaby.comabout the post-millenial free-lance everyman/woman, answering a New York Observer report on the decline of magazine writers and the miserable fate of freelance writers.

She argues: not that awful.

I'd have to agree.

Here's links to the artists in Print's round-up.

From Venice Beach:

Stephan Walter's

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Marianne Faithfull: As Years Go By

I swapped emails with Marianne Faithfull a few days ago. She's the London "It Girl" from the sixties best known for "As Tears Go By." Now she's into Shakespeare. I liked what she had to say about time, voice and the Bard.

"I just came back from Germany where I performed 27 Shakespeare sonnets accompanied by a cellist. As you get older, you understand the sonnets more because they're about time. That's what I've always needed most. Even though I started at 17, I wasn't ready. It never occurred to me to become a pop singer. It just happened. I had no control.

It took until my album 'Broken English' before I realized I could put to use the all the things I'd learned from sitting in on sessions with the Stones, Bowie, the Beatles. Not to put down my early work, but there was a time before I finally found my true voice. That's how Sofia Coppola used me in Marie Antoinette - - that was primarily about my voice. It's a precious commodity.

More on Faithfull in Hugh's San Francisco Chronicle story.

Monday, March 31, 2008

More Celebs: Sighted

Celeb sightings: the sequel. Dog walking in the hills south of Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks where all the rich people live: "CSI Miami" star David Caruso, dressed in black shirt and blue jeans, cooing with a toddler. We said hi. He said "hi guys" back.

Janel Maloney, that actress who used to play Donna on "West Wing," at Pane Dolce (three times) on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. She stood in front of me once to buy a muffin and coffee. I thought of saying, "I like your work," but her vibe seemed kind of closed-off so I left it alone.

Tall, beak-nosed actor / liberal James Cromwell from "Six Feet Under" and "Babe" also frequents Pane Dolce. I'd interviewed him on the phone just three days earlier about Schwarzenegger running for governor so I said hello. He was having lunch with a younger woman. It turned out he was about to get a divorce.

Tiny Selma Blair, actress and wife to Dweezil Zappa, stood in line at the Studio City Ralph's wearing jeans and a big old hooded parka. I told her I was a fan. Though she usually plays really dark characters, Selma seemed sweet, down to earth and genuine, though I don't remember exactly what she said back to me.

On Ventura Boulevard late one night when I was walking the dog I literally ran into comedienne Rhett Butler, who used to star in the "Grace on Fire" sitcom. She said "I love you dog." I told her he was adopted. Butler said she had adopted a bunch her self. I almost called her "Grace" which the only name that sprang into my mind - - I was tired!

The back of Ed Begley's head bobbed around at a table full of people inside an Indian restaurant in Studio City where we used to get carry out. The waitress told me he goes there all the time.

I spotted Dwight Yoakum at "Bedfellows" on Ventura Boulevard, roaming up and down the aisle checking out sofas. Without the cowboy hat, he's a normal looking dude.

Jerry Seinfeld's mom - - in the sitcom, not real life - - wolfing down tacos at the most excellent Tony's Mexican Grill located at a Sherman Oaks strip mall.

Also at Tony's Grill -- Corbin Bernsen, the playboy lawyer on "L.A. Law," chowing down with a teenaged looking kid - his son?

For Letterman fans: Johnny Dark, at the Starbucks. Low key and friendly, the complete opposite of the bitter sidekick he plays on "Late Show With David Letterman"

SIGHTED IN THE LAND BETWEEN VALLEY AND OCEAN: Jerry Seinfeld, sitting at the next table at the Kate Mantilini's restaurant, wearing neatly pressed blue jeans and oxford blue shirt while finishing off a a bowl of cherry cobbler.

Lauren Graham of "Gilmore Girls" fame, smoked a cigarette outside the ArcLight Cinema on Sunset Boulevard. She was relaxed and friendly when i said hi, and introduced her "friend" named Sam. I reminded her that I'd actually interviewed her and "Gilmore Girls" creator Amy Palladino three years earlier in a trailer on the Warner Brothers Burbank lot.

Dustin Hoffman, standing quietly in line in Century City waiting to see "Momma Mia."

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Small Town Cinema

Maybe it's becasue I grew up in a small town but I have a weakness for movies like "Shotgun Stories." It's about a feud between brothers in rural Arkansas. Taciturn portrayal from Michael Shannon reminds me of Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain." Director Chris Nichols made a great-looking wide-screen movie and told me it cosst just $53,000. Movie opens next week and / or, check it out on DVD when it comes out.

Another nice little film about small town folk plays at in April at the Sonoma Film Festival stars John "Cheers" Ratzenberger, It's called "The Village Barbershop." Modest but sweet, movie features a spunky turn from vagabond-turned-actress Shelly Cole as the Reno girl who helps a gambling-addicted widow get his life back together.

Hugh's San Francicsco Chronicle column: "Shotgun Stories"

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Too Big for the Block?

Eyesore or masterpiece? Lot of hubub lately over a gigantic house I walk by every morning in Studio City. Actually, two houses, connected with a walkway. The Redhead thinks it's the size of her elementary school. Residents outraged by coverage in the
Los Angeles Times story compared the structure to Whole Foods. The vertical slats do in fact look alot like the Magnolia Avenue / Coldwater Canyon Whole Foods store in the Valley.

Being a fan of minimalist architecture, I actually kind of like the clean lines. My problem is, it's do damned big. This housing complex - - two parents, two kids - - dwarves the nearby bungalows, blocks views, casts shadows and generally seems way out of scale.

I know, i know - - it's a capitslist society and whoever has the money to own the land can do pretty much whatever they want. Still, it's kind of sad to see the modest-is-okay sensibility give way to fortress mentality that's gobbling up one block after another around here.

photo credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Celeb Sightings: Part II

The first week I arrived in California I saw somebody walking their dog past a gas station in Pacific Palisades and said to the wife, 'Gee, that guy looks like George Clooney. Being from Chicago I meant, 'Here's a man who bears a resemblance to the famous actor.' Of course, it actually was George Clooney. That's when I realized how many famous people walk around doing mundane crap in this town.

Landing from the Old Country in Pacific Palisades, the Redhead and I paid way too much rent for canyon views and ocean blue before we ran out of money and fled to The Valley. Here's a few of the people I spotted during my posh phase.

Ally Walker, the willowy star of late-nineties TV series "Profiler" admired my afghan hound in an Italian deli on Montana Street in Santa Monica.

"Dances with Wolves" star Mary McDonnell now on "Battlestar Galctica," stood in line to buy a video in Pacific Palisades.

Martin Short, like a lot of comedians, is REALLY off when he's not "ON." He stood in front of me while picking up Italian carry out in Pacific Palisades. Pre-occupied and not particularly friendly to the help or anyone else.

Keri Russell, in jeans and a peasant top, walked down the street one Saturday towards Starbucks with her then-"Felicity" co-star Scott Speedman next to her. They both looked happy.

Scientologist / sitcom actor Jeffrey Tambor ("Larry Sanders Show," "Arrested Development") must have thought I was stalking him because I actually saw him three times in one day. First in Pacific Palisades, buying coffee. Then on Sunset Boulevard at a Tea Bean and Leaf, buying coffee. Then at the Ventura Boulevard Starbucks, located across the street from the Sherman Oaks Scientyology Center, buying, uh, coffee. I guess that makes us both pretty serious caffeine addicts.

"When Harry Met Sally" star Meg Ryan jogged down Temecula Boulevard in Pacific Palisades.

Goldie Hawn picked through a rack of clothes in a Montana Avenue boutique.

Arnold Schwarzenegger roaming a vacant lot looking for the perfect Christmas tree for wife and kids.

Rick Schroeder, all grown up and pre-occupied, sailing off in an SUV after shopping at Ralph's.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Graphic Design as Fine Art

Selling out is a non-issue for a new generation of talented visual artistes. I profiled a few of them in today's Los Angeles Times, describing how they pretty much obliterate the line between art for hire and personal expression.
The Times website does not have any pictures (the one posted here is by Geoff McFetridge).

However, visit to check out my links to a bunch of artists and graphic designers. They won me overwith quirky, fantastical, original visions,

link to Hugh's Los Angeles Times story

Friday, March 21, 2008

Six Words: Life Story

April's Wired magazine has my short piece about the micro-memoir project. In book form, "Not Exactly What I Planned" features six-word autobiographies written by visitors to the site.

Try it!.

Here's a couple of mine:

bullied boy ran bands, now blogs
lonely rocker met Redhead, now domesticated.

Applied to a day in the life, goes six words go something like this.

Walk dog, drink coffee, vomit words.

Update March 24, 2008 Whoops. I spoke too soon - - the Smiths item got cut at the last minute. So, for yer reading pleasure, here's what almost ran in Wired.
"Not Quite What I Was Planning"

The hook: life story, six words. asked visitors for really short memoirs and collected 15,000 nutshell bios over the past year. Now in book form, the best one-liners zing straight to the heart of the matter: "Nerdy Girl Smutmonger, Now Baby Fever.” "Became my mother. Please shoot me." And, from McSweeney mastermind Dave Eggers: "15 years since last professional haircut."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Autism: The Musical

I got to hang out with some autistic kids a few days ago and it was pretty touching. This dynamic pixie named Elaine Hall, who coached the toddlers in "Honey, I Blew Up the Kid" back in the day, gets them to sing and dance. One sweet kid named Zoey quickly befriended an HBO publicist and started doing a jig with her.

Hall and her son, who has autism, are seen in "Austism: The Musical" -- great title, right? - - a documentary I'm covering for the New York Time that airs March 25 on HBO.

When I lived in the Old Country, this beautiful four year old boy who lived in the big front house used to twirl around in the backyard and got more dis-engaged from social contact the longer we knew him. His mom had a tough time accepting that her son was autistic. I've been kind of fascinated ever since with this condition. Brilliant kids, often times, for whom the world is just too noisy.

link to New York Times story

Celeb Sighting: E.R. Sidekick

Walking the wonder dog yesterday Huck, our runaway Afghan Hound (found in the desert by Afghan Hound saw the chunky guy from "E.R." moving into a sweet little Studio City bungalow. Abraham Benrubi played the dude who always held a clipboard and said sarcastic stuff to Maura Tierney. Now he's on "Men With Trees." Dressed in a tee shirt he looked pretty much how you'd expect anybody to look when they're moving into a new place - pretty serious, slightly pre-occupied, didn't say hi. Reminds me once again that I'm living in an industry town. More celebrity sightings to come.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Anthony Minghella: Dead

Stylish "English Patient" director Anthony Minghella died, age 54, after routine neck surgery. Such a shame. I talked last year to Minghella, who had one of this great purring British accent. Subject was "Breaking and Entering," about immigrant thiueves who break into Jude Law's office.
"The more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that this is what I do for a living: In the course of a play or a film, we're allowed to walk around a problem and examine its consequences from more than one side, which is exactly the way these officers described conciliation meetings to me," he says. "It's that idea of conciliation that binds the movie together. Can a couple reconcile? Can a city reconcile itself to its progress, to its migrant people, to its class divisions? Everybody in this movie is striving to find some form of conciliation."

Talented guy and a mensch to boot. His movies will live on.

AP story.


link to Hugh's San Francisco Chronicle story

Monday, March 17, 2008

Adam Carolla Survives Dentist, Makes Movie

Professional loudmouth Adam Carolla just came back from the dentist the first time I met him and had me practically in tears laughing at his stories about the bloody mess. Even in agony: funny guy. I visited Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel at their "Crank Yankers" office to talk about that show, where they had puppets dramatize audio tape of professional comedians torturing strangers over the phone.

Anyway, Carolla has his first movie out "The Hammer" when i caught up with him last week. He pretty much hates the studios who passed on his idea:

" Fuck them, is my feeling. they turned us down, so what are they, my buddies? I have to kiss up to them? They already passed on our movie and secondly, I've seen the work that they do. it's horrific . so fuck them. I don't want to be in business with them. Why do I give a fuck what they think

Carolla now has gleaming white chompers by the way. He popped up on "Dancing with the Stars" tonight.

link to Hugh's San Francisco Chronicle story

Sunday, March 16, 2008

John Adams: World Class Crank

Paul Giamatti is, as you'd expect, excellent as the cranky, brilliant New England lawyer who helped birth the nation, but first four episodes of this slow-moving HBO miniseries lays it on too thick about John Adams and his wife Abigal (Laura Linney) - - we get it, they love each other.

Costumes must have cost a fortune, especially when Adams goes to the decadent royal court in Versailles, but I saw a more spectacular version of all that in Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst's "Marie Antoinette."

Fascinating period detail: Adams' kids all get scraped with some crude tool and infected with small pox pus to make them immune from the disease. Yikes.

God knows I'm no expert on the period, so I wish I'd learned more interesting stuff about the creation of the United States besides the idea that John Adams got over-shadowed by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Hugh to Flu: Drop Dead

Can the flu actually kill people, or does it just feel that way? Two weeks, dead to the world, but I've come out of the tunnel of hell and feel normal again. Wheee! In recovery, took in "The Band's Visit" - lovely little picture about an Egyptian orchestra stranded in a dusty Israeli village.