Tag Archives: Stuff I Love

Stuff I Love – 5: Velázquez’s Faces

5 Sep

Wander around any major museum, and you’ll notice a funny thing about pre-Renaissance art, namely: There were some fugly and very generic looking people about before the 16th Century. A couple of years ago I went to the Royal Academy’s Byzantium exhibition, and while I was blown away by the sheer volume of stuff on show, and by the craftsmanship of certain pieces, I was also struck by how much the Virgin Mary looked like Nicholas Cage, and by how baby Jesus looked like some sort of shaved marmoset or laboratory experiment gone hideously wrong.

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Even as technique improved, and perspective brought added realism to painting, we still see the same wan, oval-faced women and the same dead-eyed, bearded men. All that began to change in the 1500s, with the advent of artists such as Il Bronzino (1503-1572) and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). Suddenly we see faces animated by the spark of life, characters who it’s possible to imagine having lives, emotions and expressions outside of the paintings in which they appear.

'Portrait of a Lady in Green' (c.1528-1532) by Bronzino

Portrait of a Lady in Green (c.1528-1532) by Bronzino

For me, no other artist between 1500 and 1700 captures faces with the same degree of vitality as Diego Velázquez. Born into a fairly wealthy Seville family in 1599, he trained in Madrid and Italy and spent much of his career as an official court painter to King Philip IV of Spain. As well as capturing members of the royal household in candid and often very frank portraits, Velázquez had a keen eye for some of their more eccentric hangers on.

In tackling even classical subjects, he gave his characters a humanity that makes the paintings immediate and fresh-looking, even to a modern eye. In Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan, the Sun god Apollo appears Vulcan, the god of Fire, and his fellow smithies, as they go about making the weapons of war. What’s striking about the painting is that apart from Apollo, who wears a laurel crown and whose head is surrounded by a heavenly glow, the other characters in the painting, even though they represent gods and demigods, are so very human. Apollo is here to break the news that Vulcan’s wife, Aphrodite, has been shagging Mars, god of War.

It’s the closest thing to an Eastenders doof-doof-doof moment that Greco-Roman myth has to offer, and – despite having died more than 300 years before Eastenders hit our screens – Velázquez understands this perfectly. Look at the blacksmith second from the left:

 

Some credit must, of course, go to the model for his performance, but it’s Velázquez’s genius that captured that spontaneity and authenticity on the canvas.

In The Triumph of Bacchus, another painting based on a classical theme, we have a vaguely disinterested-looking Bacchus god of Wine and Merriment “crowning” one of a band of drunken revellers.

The characters I’m drawn to here are the two chaps to Bacchus’s left, the ones looking directly at the viewer. Their sozzled expressions – the guy on the left trying (and failing) to hold it together, as if posing for a wedding photo, while the man next to him can only raise one eyebrow and leer – are just sublime; one of the most subtly recognisable depictions of drunkenness in the history of art.

Of course, it’s one thing to humanise two (potentially pissed) models you’ve just dragged in off the street, another to treat a well-respected, high profile client to the same degree of unflinching scrutiny; yet that’s exactly what Velázquez did when he painted Pope Innocent X.

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I must admit, I don’t know a great deal about Innocent X’s eleven year tenure as pontiff, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say he was a cantankerous old git. Look at that face:

Whether it’s contempt for the artist himself, for the business of having to pose for an official portrait or for the tedium of everyday Popeing, I couldn’t say. Certainly, contemporaries of Velasquez were worried the Pope would hate the painting’s honesty, but to everyone’s surprise Innocent X loved it. Maybe because it makes him look like a badass. 

Perhaps it was that very honesty which brought Velázquez so much success as a court artist and portrait painter, that made him stand out from the crowd in an age of sycophants. The subject he painted most often of all was the Spanish king himself, and thanks to an… erm… convoluted family tree (read: lots of uncles marrying nieces) he was no looker, but other than to make his nose slightly less bulbous Velázquez never flattered him.

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Philip IV, painted by Velazquez in 1623 and 1656

There is always, in Velázquez’s paintings of Philip, a note of uncertainty behind the haughty facade that you just don’t expect to see in royal portraiture of the time. The Habsburg dynasty was nearing its end and Philip’s son, the severely inbred and disabled Charles, would prove the last of the line.

That quality of taking the viewer unawares is present in almost every portrait Velasquez made, whether he’s capturing the melancholy of someone who is employed simply to be laughed at…

Detail from 'Don Sebastian de Morra'  (c.1646)

Detail from ‘Don Sebastian de Morra’ (c.1646)

The bellicose pomposity of a clown…

Detail from 'The Buffoon Don Cristobal de Castaneda y Pernia' (c.1635)

Detail from ‘The Buffoon Don Cristobal de Castaneda y Pernia’ (c.1635)

Or the nobility of his own Moorish servant (and fellow artist), Juan de Pareja…

'Juan de Pareja' (1649)

‘Juan de Pareja’ (1649)

Velázquez’s faces are not simply “well painted”, they’re alive. Costumes aside, they look like people you could meet here and now. And that’s why I love them.

 

Stuff I Love – 4: Short Novels

30 Jan

Animal Farm

I’ve just finished reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch, having received it as a Christmas present in 2011 and started reading it in November of last year. I’m neither ashamed nor embarrassed to admit it’s been a slog. An eight-hundred-and-eighty-nine page slog. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great moments, and beautiful observations but fucking hell… Eliot doesn’t half fall in love with the sound of her own voice sometimes.

At one point the heroine, Dorothea Casaubon, is meeting Rosalind Lydgate, the doctor’s wife. They shake hands and size each other up, and this lasts a page and a half. No dialogue, no action (other than the handshake), and yet it drags on, and on. And it’s not the only time she does this. The whole novel is padded out with page-long paragraph after page-long paragraph of waffle in which characters stand around in rooms not doing anything.

"How much longer can this continue?" "For at least another three pages, I imagine."

“How much longer can this continue?”
“For at least another three pages, I imagine.”

Still, enduring reading Middlemarch made me realise how much I enjoy short novels and novellas. For one thing, by definition the writer has to practice restraint, selecting carefully what he or she chooses to put in. There’s no room in the novella for a handshake that lasts a page-and-a-fucking-half (caustic sideways glance in the direction of George Eliot). You have to cut to the chase.

Here, then, are five great short novels. They’re not necessarily my top 5 (I’ll probably think of another five the minute I’ve posted this) but they are all wonderful, and demonstrate just how much can be achieved in 30-40,000 words.

1) Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

This one needs little or no introduction, as it’s been adapted and riffed on so many times it’s become a kind of cultural shorthand for a certain kind of story, but it’s really worth revisiting the original novella. For one thing, of all the 19th Century gothic mysteries and romances that went on to become big screen horror movies, Jekyll and Hyde is without a doubt the best written; tighter and more atmospheric than Frankenstein, and infinitely more edgy than the occasionally leaden Dracula.

The descriptions of a mist-enshrouded London at night (inspired, most likely, more by Stevenson’s native Edinburgh than London itself) are second-to-none, rivalling even Our Mutual Friend era Dickens.

2) The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (1886)

Ivan Ilyich

I read this a while back as a kind of taste test. Much of Tolstoy’s work (namely Anna Karenina and War and Peace) is so weighty, I didn’t want to embark on either novel without knowing if I’d actually like his style. As such, Ivan Ilyich is the perfect entry level text for anyone interested in reading him. All his major themes are here – bourgeois hypocrisy, the benefits of an ascetic life over one of money and possessions – but condensed down into this bitter little satire.

Tolstoy has a weakness for sadism with his characters at times, especially those he holds in contempt, and Ivan Ilyich is no exception. Though the title makes it sound morbid and depressing (and yes… it often is), there’s a vein of tar black humour running through it that makes it very readable and – if it’s the right word – entertaining.

3) The Spider’s Web by Joseph Roth (1923)

Hitler

Originally published as Das Spinnennetz, Roth’s short and terrifying novella was one of the first works of fiction to deal explicitly with the rise of Nazism in Germany, and the very first to mention Hitler by name. It tells the story of a young man’s rise to prominence within the Far Right, following Germany’s humiliating defeat in World War I.

The Spider’s Web gives an intense, and often hallucinatory insight into the mind of a paranoid and antisemitic fascist. It’s an incredible work which unsettled me for days after I’d finished it. One of those works that is so prescient it feels like it must have been written years after the fact, with the benefit of hindsight.

4) Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)

Animal Farm

Often viewed as a kind of little brother (some pun intended) to Orwell’s later masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm is, I think, the more successful satire. Yes, his story of Winston Smith and Airstrip One is, perhaps, the more mature work (even if Orwell’s characters are still a little paper thin), but it’s big idea – that the political corruption of language is a dictatorship’s primary weapon – is often lost on contemporary audiences, who see it more as a piece about state voyeurism, or big government, or libertarianism, or the Nanny State, or whatever mast they want to nail it to.

It’s hard to mistake the message in Animal Farm, and okay so perhaps it’s a little on the nose, but that’s kind of the point. I first read it when I was about 12 or 13 and it was the first time I realised a book could make you think about things beyond the book itself, that even a story about a bunch of farmyard animals could make you look at the world a little differently.

The very fact that Nineteen Eighty-Four is now set in a past-that-didn’t-quite-happen hasn’t diminished it, exactly, but it has made it seem almost a period piece. Animal Farm, on the other hand, despite its allusions to Stalin and the mid-20th Century Soviet Union, is timeless, a parable to forever warn us against despots masquerading as freedom fighters.

5) On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (2007)

On Chesil Beach

I read this one not long after reading another short novel of McEwan’s, the Booker-Prize-winning Amsterdam, and I’m glad I did. Amsterdam is pretty bloody dreadful. Well written, yes, but with a predictable, screwball farce plot, weak and unconvincing characters, and an ending that made me groan. As a result, I approached On Chesil Beach with caution, but I was blown away.

It’s set in the early 1960s (or, as Philip Larkin put it, “between the end of the Chatterley ban / And The Beatles’ first LP”), and details the nail-biting build up to a young couples’ honeymoon, in the days when many couples still had little intimate knowledge of one another until they were married.

I can’t really say much, because anything I do say is likely to rob the book of some of its power, but it’s very moving, very short and very sweet, and restored my faith in McEwan completely.

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So there you have it. Even now, I can think of another five I could have written about (The Thirty-Nine Steps, The Mist, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Death In Venice, A Clockwork Orange etc) but I can almost guarantee you’ll enjoy any of the above.

Stuff I Love – 3: Music From The 1910s

24 Nov

Wait… come back. Seriously. Come back. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Bleeurgh… Classical Music.” Or words to that effect.

Either that or, “I hope to God this isn’t going to be about Al Jolson.”

But, you see, that’s where you wrong. First, because technically the term “Classical Music” only applies to orchestral music from the 18th to early 19th Century, but also…

Hey! Come back here this instant!

Anyway. Where was I? Oh yeah. What I was saying was that while the music I’m talking about is orchestral, and while you will hear much of it on BBC Radio 3 and (shudders) Classic FM, this is also some of the most exciting and innovative music ever written.

Pictured: The opposite of “exciting and innovative”.

I’m not an expert, I have no formal education in music, so I’m not about to start waffling on about arpeggios and minor sixths (I have no idea what either of those things are), but I can tell you why I think this music is great and why you might love it too. So here, without further ado, is a very short selection of fantastic music from the 1910s…

Fantasia on a Theme byThomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1910)

Regular listeners to Desert Island Discs will have heard this one on a near weekly basis (most recently chosen by the lovely Mark Gatiss), and yes… if I was stuck on the eponymous desert island this is one of the tracks I would choose.

Vaughan Williams (the handsome chappy pictured at the top) spent much of his career visiting and drawing inspiration from traditional English music. Folk songs, choral pieces, he ransacked them all. Here, he takes the melody from Thomas Tallis’s 16th Century hymn Why Fum’th In Fight (and no… before you ask, I have no fucking idea what a “fum’th” is) and stretches it out into an emotional epic; a piece of music which, when I heard it for the first time, left me utterly devastated. You can listen to it right here.

What I find most impressive is the way Vaughan Williams makes a string section sound like so many other things: A choir, a church organ, he squeezes multiple effects out of the orchestra without once resorting to bombast. And if you’re not holding your breath during what I can only describe as an orchestral multiple orgasm, you have no soul.

I’ve listened to a lot of music in my life, but this remains the single most beautiful piece I have ever heard, and am ever likely to hear.

Mars, from The Planets by Gustav Holst (1916)

Remember what I was saying about Vaughan Williams and the absence of bombast? Yeah, well Gustav Holst takes your “absence of bombast”, scrunches it up into a ball, sets fire to it, eats it, and then farts the ashes back into your face.

“In your face, bitches. In. Your. Face.”

While there are many pieces in Holst’s Planets suite that display his great dexterity and subtlety, Mars ain’t one of them. This is music with great big clanging metal balls, music with the gloves off. Mars is the freshwater well composers of music for war films and sci-fi movies have drawn from since there was such a thing as war films and sci-fi movies. Without Mars there’s no Star Wars. Without Mars there’s no Aliens

Picture this, but with the music of Herb Alpert.

Though, incredibly, Mars was written before the First World War, the sheer scale and terror of it is absolutely in tune with the horrors to come in Europe’s trenches; the nightmare of a war in which, for the first time, bombs would rain down on civilian targets from above; in which mounted cavalry faced rolling metal monsters mounted with machine guns and cannons; in which ordinary front-line soldiers were confronted with the cruelties of chemical warfare.

If you’re an aspiring writer and you’re trying to write something exciting, fuck rock music, dance music or hip hop. This is where the real adrenalin-pumping action is.

Le sacre du printempts (The Rite of Spring) by Igor Stravinsky (1913)

It’s May 29th, 1913, and you’re at Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Élysées for a night of ballet.

“Wonderful,” you think. “I love a bit of ballet. We saw The Nutcracker last Christmas and it was simply delightful.”

Then this happens.

That clip is from the BBC’s brilliant film Riot At The Rite, which depicts the production and premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Springand the near riot it inspired.

That’s right. In 1913, while gentlemen footballers with handlebar moustaches kicked balls around before polite crowds of well-wishers, people were rioting at the ballet.

Pictured: The “Covent Garden Barmy Army”, following a controversial production of ‘Swan Lake’.

Nobody had seen or heard anything like it before. Stravinsky’s music was frenetic, discordant and disturbing; Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography – representing a “primitive” fertility rite – was violently aggressive.

The Nutcracker this was not.

Now, you may think the audience overreacted a little. After all, you’ve heard music like that in countless films. Hell… Bernard Herrmann and John Williams built entire careers writing music like that. But remember… This was 1913. There was no such thing as “film soundtracks” back then. Or at least if there were they were played on upright pianos in the actual cinema itself.

Like Holst, Stravinsky’s music is the reason film music sounds the way it does. Once the initial, avant-garde shock wore off, audiences began to appreciate the sheer power of it, and it has lost none of its power in the intervening 99 years.

So there you have it, folks. Three composers, three amazing pieces of music. And you don’t have to fork out a fortune at the Albert Hall or the Royal Opera House to listen to any of this stuff. Thanks to stations like Radio 3 or (eurgh) Classic FM, or sites like Youtube, or streaming services like Spotify you can listen to some of the all-time great recordings for nothing.

The world of Classical Music (opera, concerts, ballets) can often seem elitist, or something “Posh People do”, but the music itself is anything but. You don’t need a university degree to know that the Tallis Fantasia is beautiful, that Mars kicks ass, or that The Rite of Spring is a balls-to-the-wall blockbuster. The music does all that for you.

Stuff I Love – 2: Philip Roth’s later novels

15 Nov

The literary world was… well… if not exactly shocked, then at least saddened by the news, last week, that the novelist Philip Roth is to retire at the tender age of 79.

Roth’s career spans more than 50 years, from the publication of his short story collection Goodbye, Columbus in 1959 to his novella Nemesis in 2011. In that time he’s written 26 books of fiction, 2 nonfiction works on writing and literature, and 2 memoirs. His novels cover a lot of ground, from the broad satire of 1971’s Our Gang (a very thinly-veiled attack on the Nixon administration) and gross surrealism of the following year’s The Breast (in which the main character turns into a 155lb breast) through to the heart-stopping drama of American Pastoral, and his final hit-and-miss quartet of novellas, referred to collectively as Nemeses.

They feature none of the above.

What’s striking about Roth’s career is just how successful so many of these later novels are. Where many authors see their talents dwindle in later life, Roth went from strength to strength. Of course, this is often a matter of perspective, and though American Pastoral won him the Pulitzer, there are many critics who still prefer his earlier, bawdier novels, like the notorious Portnoy’s Complaint, but having read some of his earlier work and a lot of the later novels, and while there are still vast swathes of stuff left for me to read, I’d say I fall squarely into the Later Roth camp.

Not this one.

But what, then, do I mean by “Later Roth”? Where do we draw the line in the sand? Before, or after the first quartet of novels featuring Roth’s alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman; starting with 1979’s The Ghost Writer and ending with The Prague Orgy in 1985? I’d argue later, and specifically from Sabbath’s Theater (1995) on. I couldn’t tell you exactly why this is; I’m not enough of a Roth scholar to say if that’s a fine place to draw a line, but it feels like the point at which Roth goes from being a very good novelist with a successful body of work behind him, to being arguably America’s Greatest Living Author – a title that’s been almost a given since the deaths of Saul Bellow in 2000 and John Updike in 2009.

“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. I win.”

So, using that imaginary line in the sand, here are my Top 5 Later Roth Novels:

5) Nemesis (2010)

Roth’s final novel is the story a polio epidemic in mid-1940s Newark – the location to much of Roth’s work – and the trials and tribulations of  23-year-old teacher and playground supervisor Bucky Cantor. Cantor, riddled with guilt at being unable to serve in World War II, due to his poor eyesight, finds himself waging a personal war against the outbreak. A deeply moving novel about blighted opportunities, and – a recurring theme in Roth’s work – the way in which history impacts upon the lives of ordinary people. This was the perfect antidote to 2009’s toe-curlingly dreadful The Humbling.

4) The Plot Against America (2004)

Roth’s one and only dabble with alternate history, The Plot Against America explores a 1930s and early 40s in which Charles Lindbergh, not FDR, is US President while Europe falls, country by country, to the Third Reich. Taking its cue from the 1941 speech Lindbergh made in Des Moines, in which he warned of the “ownership and influence (Jews have) in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government”, Roth imagines a world in which the famed aviator turned politician signs a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, and the creeping antisemitism that begins to affect Jewish families in the US, including a fictionalised version of Roth’s own parents and brother. While his reading of history is occasionally a little off, and his speculations unlikely, The Plot Against America can be read just as easily as an attack on the Bush administration’s handling of the so-called ‘War On Terror’, or on the threat charismatic bigots and a mob mentality can pose to any apparently civil society.

3) The Human Stain (2000)

Turned into an icky, almost unwatchable film starring a woefully miscast Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman, The Human Stain is the penultimate Zuckerman novel, but as with all of the later Zuckermans its main character is in fact someone else; in this case university classics professor Coleman Silk. Silk is accused of racism, when his use of the word “spooks” (he means ghosts) is willfully misinterpreted, first by a student, then by a bitter and jealous colleague. The novel explores his doomed relationship with semi-literate cleaner, Faunia Farley, and his secret past: Having passed himself off as white and Jewish throughout his career, Silk is in fact biracial African American, and disowned his family in order that his career should progress unimpeded by the racism of the 50s and 60s. The Human Stain is a brilliant exploration of race, sexuality, and the political machinations of academia. The character of Faunia’s estranged husband, Lester, is one of Roth’s finest and most disturbing creations.

2) Indignation (2008)

It’s interesting that of the four Nemeses novellas, the two which work best are those – Nemesis and Indignation – which focus mainly on young, college-age protagonists. Here the setting is 1951. As boys his age are dying in the Korean War, Marcus Messner lives under the fretful tyranny of his father, a kosher butcher, in Newark. Terrified that his son will wind up in the army, and get sent off to die, Marcus’s father fusses about him with a paternal concern that’s overwhelming, driving Marcus west, to study at the conservative – and very Christian – Winesburg College, Ohio. There, his fervent atheism and – you’ve guessed it – indignation see him enter a downward spiral of futile conflict and sexual misadventure. Funny and heartbreaking in almost equal measure, this is the finest of the Nemeses novellas.

1) American Pastoral (1997)

There’s an accusation often levelled at Roth’s novels, and particularly the later works, that they all cover much the same ground (Carmen Callil walked off the jury for the International Mann Booker after it awarded Roth the prize for that very reason), and there is some truth in that. Certain things can be taken for granted: The protagonist’s Newark upbringing. A blue collar father, along with detailed descriptions of that father’s working life (in Everyman, watchmaking; in Indignation, kosher butchery etc.) The impact an historic event or events will have on that protagonist’s life. All of this is true of American Pastoral, but this is where those themes and motifs are at their most perfect. In Swede Levov we have the Jewish American man as all-American Hero. Levov is tall, handsome, blonde-haired (I can’t have been the only reader picturing a younger Robert Redford playing the part); a high school sports star who married a beauty queen, before becoming a successful industrialist (he inherits his father’s glove factory). Levov has it all, but then of course the man who has it all and keeps it could never be the protagonist of a novel, and so American Pastoral is really about the failings and transparency of the American Dream, and how that dream can be so very violently ruptured.

American Pastoral is ten times more powerful than an earlier work like Portnoy’s Complaint could ever be, because while that novel sets out to shock us with toilet talk and wank jokes, American Pastoral is shocking in its frankness about our real taboos, the ones we’ll never be comfortable discussing, but does it with great warmth, compassion and honesty. A deserving, resolutely politically incorrect Pulitzer winner, and the pinnacle of Philip Roth’s entire, 53 year career.

Stuff I Love – 1: Weegee

18 Oct

Okay, so I’ve now written a few blogs, and by far the most popular has been the one in which I slagged off Fifty Shades of Grey, and that’s great because, you know, “Yay! Hits!” But when you’ve written something like that, it does leave you feeling as if your total contribution to  humanity can be summed up in one long sneer.

Pictured: The author, circa 2012

So, to balance this out, and fully aware that this will be read by nowhere near as many people as the Fifty Shades blog, I’d like to start an occasional series called “Stuff I Love”, dedicated entirely to, well, stuff I love.

First up: Weegee.

This guy.

Born Usher Fellig in the Galician (now Ukrainian) village of Zlothev, in 1899, Weegee was a news photographer who crossed the line successfully from reportage to art photography, often in a single image. Though many of his most famous photographs were taken for newspapers and magazines, they were never just documentary images. Through subtle framing and observation, many became clever statements and puns, a background billboard or notice acting as ironic commentary on the scene itself.

‘Simply Add Boiling Water’ (1937). See? Subtle.

He earned his nickname from the NYPD, who could never quite understand how he was able to arrive at crime and accident scenes before them, and joked that he must have a Ouija (“Weegee”) Board. In fact, he was actually listening in to police radio, and would go wherever there had been a shooting, a fire, or an arrest.

As a result, his photographs capture moments of drama and violence with an intimacy that had never been seen before. Is his work exploitative? Hell, yes. Did it change the way we witness news events? Without a doubt. The debate as to whether this is a good thing is, I feel, endless. But Weegee didn’t only deliver scenes of carnage and tragedy.

Though admittedly, they were his specialty.

As he became more successful, and was able to indulge his artistic inclinations more and more, Weegee gave us some of the most heartwarming, uplifting, and eye-popping images of the 1930s and ’40s. Take, for instance this very famous photograph of New York’s Coney Island, from July 1940…

If you just said, “Where’s Waldo?” or “Where’s Wally?”, punch yourself.

If that picture doesn’t take your breath away and make you smile, you have no soul. By some estimates, there are about a million people on that beach. A million. This is an America just crawling its way, squinting, into the sunlight after the dark days of the depression. In another 18 months, they’ll be at war. There is something so beautiful about the concentrated fun in this picture.

Over and over again, as if to counter the accusations of cynicism and exploitation, Weegee displays an amazing compassion and warmth in his work, whether it’s for tenement kids trying to sleep in a heatwave…

…the most dapper man in Harlem…

If this guy didn’t have a voice like Morgan Freeman, I’d be bitterly disappointed.

…or a teenage girl at a Frank Sinatra concert:

“Beliebers” eat your hearts out.

Like Spirit creator Will Eisner, Fellig/Weegee was a Jewish immigrant (though Eisner was first generation), whose work developed and matured way beyond its pulpy, commercial origins. Both documented the mid-20th Century uniquely, both tested and expanded the boundaries of their chosen media. In Eisner’s case, the way was paved for comic book artists to go beyond cowboys and superheroes. In Weegee’s, it was for documentary photography to become an artform. And if nothing else, he photographed the world’s least convincing transvestite.

The hairy arms? The tattoos? He’s not even trying, is he?