Mash Note Dept. : Jacques Tati



The universe holds a special place in its starry heart for comedians.

And at the core of its deepest heart, you will find Jacques Tati.

Jacques Tati was a filmmaker and a comedic actor— at least that’s how his biography is phrased.

His real vocation was pointing a stylized lens at the baffling post-World War II world, then inserting his own stork-tall, childlike visage at the center of it.

His magic knows no boundaries of date or age or time.

I first saw Jacquest Tati in M. Hulot’s debut film, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday  (Les Vacances de M. Hulot — 1953), which I watched with my husband.  (He saw the film as a child in a revival movie theater and loved it.)

Tati is most famous for his silent character, Mr. Hulot. 

What amazed me then, and now, is the clean cut of Tati’s movie, combined with the frivolous gestures that moves the action along.

Nothing in particular happens during Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, but there’s no fat, no self-indulgent noodling around by Tati as Hulot. 

Considering he also directed this film, it stuns me how tightly wrought the movie was, and is.


The undergarments of comedy are built of daily tragedies

Hidden details of Jacques Tati’s life invoked new speculation in the last two years, due to the posthumous animated film The Illusionist (L’Illusionniste).

The recent film is based on a buried script penned by Tati, but made by animator/cinematographer, Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville).

The release of The Illusionist brought up a lot of unsavory questions about Tati and his first romance— which resulted in a child he never saw.  

Those old, resurfaced rumors intimate that this script was Tati’s apology to his first daughter, but it is, as many things are, utterly unverifiable.

I watched twenty minutes of The Illusionist and had to stop. 

While Tati’s original films put a baffled man at the center of a baffling world, The Illusionist takes a darker turn. The Illusionist puts an unnamed performer in a world that does not need him anymore.

These days, I am not interested in the story of someone who no longer belongs to this world.

And if I am going to read, watch, or listen to the story of a man displaced by modernity, please show me the comedic moment— take me deeper into the truth inside the truth.

Laughter is keyed to open those hard locks.  Give me laughter.

Give me Tati’s Mr. Hulot, trying and failing to understand the nuances of the fresh and unfamiliar.

Let me see his wide eyes once more, blinking wonderfully at a future filled with the bright gadgetry of distraction, and then, I will laugh.

And I think you will laugh too.

Mr. Hulot is familiar. Mr. Hulot? He is us.



BLUEBIRD LOVE NOTE: *This is driving me nuts, but I am going to need one more day to get things squared away. I really, really, really bombed out my computer. I mean, I screwed up root user permissions and everything. This is the stuff my worst writing nightmares are made of.

I am going to the Apple Genius Bar sometime on Tuesday, and meanwhile, I will be scrubbing every last bit of code out of my Mac today, as well as getting some writing done, and hopefully, talking to you. Thanks for your patience. I know this is ridiculous, so I do appreciate your levity and your kindness. — Courtenay Bluebird.

This story was originally published on April 25, 2012. I adore Jacques Tati. I hope after reading this you’ve found a little space for him in your heart too.

5-Minute Dance Party [One-Point Perspective]



Folks have a variety of feelings towards filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s movies, but most people agree that the man was a visual geeeenius.

This short film by artist Kogonada shows one technique that Kubrick used a great deal in his movies: The Golden Mean (also called One-Point Perspective).

Ready? Ready. Let’s go!


Thanks to Maria Popova, the brainchild behind Brain Pickings (love this site!), for posting this on Twitter recently. And thanks especially to creator Kogonada for this fascinating look at Kubrick’s sense of proportion.

The Marriage Interpreter (No. 20)


March 4, 1909


No! His name was Snake Plissken!

Bluebird and The Husband are sitting in the living room. It is a Saturday evening.

Bluebird: (Holding up red envelopes) Our Netflix came in!

The Husband: Did you get me Downton Abbey?

Bluebird: Was I supposed to?

The Husband: Yes.

Bluebird: Didn’t you just watch all of it? Why do you want to see it again so soon?

The Husband: (Eyes brighten) Well… it’s got a great story.

Bluebird: Okay?

The Husband: (Looking at ceiling while he thinks.) It’s about a castle family that’s pretty broke because, um, they don’t own the place. They rent.

Bluebird: Mm-hmm?

The Husband: The father is an uptight face who says, “Balderdash.” And, “How DARE YOU, Sir!” I say it all the time. And I say, “Balderash!,” too. The mother is Peggy Sue. She’s American.

Bluebird: Peggy… Sue?

The Husband: (Nods) Peggy Sue. There are maids and man servants and a ditzy teenager girl who empties out the, um, whatchamacallits. Her name is Paulie Girl.

Bluebird: (Holds up palm) Wait. That can’t be right. Paulie Girl?

The Husband: (Tilts head) I’m not sure about the names, but I love the show. I’ve seen every episode. (Getting into it.) There’s a lot of high tea drama. That’s high drama during high tea. It’s very British. You have to be from… the Britain to know what I am saying. The Britain-ish of that time were happy if they were rich and if you weren’t, you couldn’t own a nice hat.

(Bluebird is confused, but keeps nodding.)

The Husband: (Oblivious to the Bluebird’s confusion) Matthew, the new rightful heir, meets Mary for the first time. She’s the daughter of the Lord of the Dance… Hall. Her dad’s name is Edward. He’s the uptight face. His daughter was rude to Matthew. She wore a top hat with a scarf on the hat the day they met. It was very nineties. Like Flash from the Axl Rose Band. No! His name was Snake Plissken!

Bluebird: (Weak-voiced) Is there… more?

The Husband: (Doesn’t even hear her.) Anyways it was the same kind of hat with a scarf and she was out riding. Matthew was nice and she was rude because she thought he was a commoner. A commoner doesn’t have a real job, like being a duke or something. They have to work. In actuality, Matthew was a licensed barista.

(Bluebird starts laughing.)

The Husband: You know— a lawyer. What’s so funny? A banister?

Bluebird: Matthew is a banister. Okay.

The Husband: And… Matthew wasn’t royalty and he always went everywhere with his mother. She is a skinny Eleanor Roosevelt. She shaved refugees from… a place. England? No, we’re in England.

The Husband: (In the home stretch) Well, anyways, the family is worried he’s going to take over the bouncy castle and kick them all out because they just rent, you remember? And they aren’t baristas like Matthew, so they can’t get real jobs. And the man with uptight face? His mother would always say, “Now, Edward.” (Pauses) Oh! Mary, his daughter with the top hat, has an affair with a Turkish dandy-man and he dies!

Bluebird: (So, so confused) Anything else?

The Husband: (Thinking. Looks up.) This is the first season. I am going to buy a top hat. Then I will tell you about the second season some other time.

Bluebird: I have a headache.

The Husband: Why?

Bluebird: I… don’t know.

The Husband: You need a top hat.

YOU VOTED for the next story and The Husband explained it, sort of! Voting is ongoing, so please do vote and make suggestions and I will see if I can capture the… special words that The Husband uses to describe movies and TV.

LET THE HUSBAND EXPLAIN Dune to you. No really. In two parts. Part one. And part two.

NEXT WEEK, OUR SUNDAY BEST will return to it’s regularly scheduled weekly slot. Happy Sunday, my friends!


It’s Us, Again! (Some Pix and A Readers’ Poll)


This slideshow requires JavaScript.



Mash Note Dept. : Wes Anderson



I am sprawled across the tomato bisque colored couch listening to the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums.

One song slides into another, creating a flawless, cool-hearted, melancholy mood— the handiwork of Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo who has become a composer and film arranger in a big way in the last 25 years).

There’s very little crash or bang in the soundtracks that Mothersbaugh created for Anderson, which makes them ideal for writing.

They build a solid mood.  You can slide forward with them.  And they will go along with you, anywhere.

Wes Anderson’s films, notably Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, are three touchstones that I return to again and again when I am trying to figure out some intangible in my own work.

Anderson’s films inspire a really strong reaction in most people.

Folks either lovelovelove his flicks or they hatehatehate them.

One trait shared by the fans and dissenters alike is being LOUD about their feelings about the Anderson oeuvre.

I’m one of the lovelovelove folks, so please forgive me my adoration.

And now, before you commence with your eye-rolling exercises at the mere thought of watching an (insert expletive here) Wes Anderson film, give me a few minutes to tell you why I adore his films as much as I do.

I promise to stick to the basics.  I promise not to go overboard.  And I promise that I won’t hold it against you if you don’t agree.

Just hear me out.  That’s all I ask.

(You may commence with the grousing and the grumbling in the comments section at the end.)

Okay.  Give me a second to get this sleeping dog off of my legs.

Ah.  Much better.

My personal story about Wes Anderson really has to do with the three films I mentioned:  Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

In my head, these three films are an informal thematic trilogy about discontent, transition and age.

Rushmore represents the intersection of the sweet terribleness of a teenage crisis of selfhood that crashes right into a grown man’s violent emotional drift following a caustic divorce.

The Royal Tenenbaums revisits the same theme in a grouping of 20-something siblings, all once legendary wunderkind, all now pitched forward by the casual indifference of failure, accidental death, and misguided love.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou picks up the same themes and throws them into the midst of one man’s gigantic mid-life crisis touched with a nice side dish of that same man grieving the loss of his best friend.


Adolescence, early adulthood, midlife— each intersection of a person’s life presents a baffling amount of lumpy cafeteria-style choices laid out behind a sneeze guard on stainless steel steam trays.

Anderson, Owen Wilson (actor and his writing partner on Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums), and Noah Baumbach (filmmaker and Anderson’s writing partner on TLAWSZ) represent the early midpoint of Generation X[i]

Anderson’ and his co-writers approach to the coming crisis of age and intersection sidesteps the flavorless platitudes of lesser movies and goes straight for the good stuff.

Overeager and lost Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) in Rushmore falls inappropriately in love with a newly widowed young teacher at the same time as his new freshly-divorced older friend Herman Blume (a career-shifting role for actor Bill Murray).

Each inappropriate male tries to show his love to the rose-and-milk skinned Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams) with increasingly baffling results.  As Max and Herman realize they are both in love with the same woman, they go to war with one another.

Chas, Margot and Richie Tenenbaum move back home almost simultaneously to their mother Etheline’s brownstone in order to nurse their breaking, broke, broken hearts.  Each adult reached the end of the line with their own careers and lives and do not know where to go from here.

Richie (actor Luke Wilson), the tennis star, is in love with his adopted sister, Margot (in an unexpected role by Gwyneth Paltrow). He displays his confusion to the world by sitting down on the ground in the middle of a major match— just after sighting Margot in the stands with her new husband in tow.  He comes back from a season at sea to (ostensibly) help his brother.

Margot did not fulfill her early promise as a playwright, nor can she hack marriage to much older Raleigh St. Clair (a repressed and hilarious Bill Murray).

Chas (another great cast choice!  Ben Stiller!) lost his wife in an airplane accident.  Instead of grieving her loss, he develops a paranoia about house fires, terrifying his twin sons in the process.

After all three Tenenbaum children get settled into their old rooms in the magical brownstone of their childhoods, their wayward creep of a father arrives on the doorstep seeking shelter.

And that’s where the story begins to take off.


Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), the title character of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (TLAWSZ), is a famous ocean explorer and documentary filmmaker (a direct homage to Jacques-Yves Cousteau) who cannot go forward after his best friend and partner, Esteban du Plantier, is eaten by a species of shark he’s never seen before. 

His life’s mission from this point on is to get funding to find the strange shark and destroy it for killing his friend. After that, who knows?

“Possibly with dynamite,” he says at a screening in Portugal of part one of the documentary that ends with the death of Esteban du Plantier.

Then, a son he did not know he had shows up with enough capital to fund this expedition to find the elusive jaguar shark.

But, there are risks and complications before they even leave the dock.

(In any good film, there are certain risks and complications.  That’s called telling a story.)

What I wonder, often, when I think of Anderson’s trilogy is whether the distaste for these films has to do with a fear of an unfamiliar style of storytelling.

You see, I have a theory— Anderson and his co-writers are making films that feel like novels. No, seriously!

Look at the use of titles and chapters. Check out the FONTS.

With Anderson’s films, you are always going to want to watch a second and third time for the backgrounds. The specific details make a novel, novel, and in a film this idea translates equally.

The plot and the dialogue hinge on an extremely stylized post-modern novelistic approach. 

The dialogue is the opposite of the naturalistic patois we are used to— one might even call Anderson’s dialogue baroque. 

When people speak to one another in his films, the words themselves have a stilted, eccentric cadence and a pretty music to the ear.

The body language of the actors mirrors the charming discomfort of the dialogue.  Characters check their watch as a nervous tic over and over again, like Chas Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums

Other characters interact as though they have already left the room, a trick bon vivant wife of Steve Zissou, Eleanor Zissou (Anjelica Huston) uses to great effect and meaning in TLAWSZ.

As I noted earlier, the plots themselves mix the improbable with the all-too-common resulting in endings that feel sentimental without being cloying or twee. In other words, they are just like well-written novels.

Even as I try to diagram the intangibles of Anderson’s appeal, I yearn for more transparency in the way I feel about his work. It moves me. 

Still, there’s something about his movies that brings out my own Byzantine behavioral quirks.

Permit me to shake off these ornamented, careful, pronouncements and get a little raw.

Because I love novels, I was transfixed by all three movies.

Because I was/am an extremely driven person fighting standard-sized doubt, these movies spoke to my desires and fears and confusions about how to proceed.

The quirks of the set decoration in all three films mirror my own cracked taste, and the tiny specifics included in each shot speak to my obsessions for visual minutiae.

I love these films because I am a mid-range Gen Xer, and I don’t often feel as though I could find, do find, films that speak to me.  (We’re a tiny group, Gen Xers, and our buying power is negligible, hence Gen Xers themselves can’t financially justify creating movies or TV for their own generation.  Really.)

I love these films because each one is a little treasure box of visual beauty and thematic colors[ii] and the stories are about fragile people trying to come to terms with difficult aspects of their lives.

And, most of all, I love these films because Anderson’s rise to alternative prominence gave me a good reason to go to the movies every few years when I had a hard time watching movies at all.

After seeing Rushmore in the theater, I believed that if someone like Anderson was out there making movies?

Well, there had to be others.

It was only a matter of time before they had the funding to tell their stories too.

A SPECIAL TREAT: I found the trailer for Anderson’s new film, Moonrise Kingdom, in theaters May 25th!


[i] Ooookay.  I’ve been arguing about the parameters of Generation X with the husband for years.  Statistically speaking, Generation X starts in 1966 and ends in 1979.

Wes Anderson was born in 1969, as was Noah Baumbach.  Owen Wilson was born in 1968.

[ii] The color palette for the trilogy is as follows—  Rushmore:  Dark red and Oxford cloth blue, accented by wood tones;  The Royal Tenenbaums:  Orange red and the palest baby blue then pale yuppie pink and green;  The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou:  True red and silvery-blue, plus hues from vintage postcards.


5-Minute Dance Party [Intolerable Cruelty]



To quote Bender from Futurama: “I’m back, baby!”

I have had fourteen hours of sleep and more probiotics than I can count. 
And while I managed to keep writing through all this, um, funkiness, you may have noticed that I’ve been a little less excitable than my usual Bluebirdian self.
Thank you all so much for your patience and your kindness over the last few days as I get past the sinus crud.
Now… about this trailer.  Consider this a strong hint for tomorrow’s post.
Listen closely and you’ll hear every single thing you need to know.
Because tomorrow isn’t just another day— it’s Sunday.

And on Sunday,  we break out our Our Sunday Best.  Just for you!


Our Sunday Best | A Quick One While She’s Away


Unidentified woman in projection booth at Chris McGuire's Theatre: Fort Lauderdale, Florida


SCENE: A television studio. The set is dressed to look like a personal library. Everything is a little bit flimsy.

BLUEBIRD: (Sitting in wingback chair with a fine leatherback coloring book on her lap.) On Bluebird Blvd. this week, we’ve talked about everything from the universe to The Beach Boys to jump ropes to tabloid magazines to profanity.

BLUEBIRD: (Looks directly into the camera.) To celebrate a week filled with words, I want to give you a somewhat different treat. Here are five clips from movies I adore that help me fill the well of my own creativity,  soften my sense of this world,  and finally,  bring me great joy.

BLUEBIRD: (Some of these you may have seen; some you may want to see; some may not be your cup of tea.  All of these clips are SFW. Unless, of course, you want to go back to talking about profanity again…. No? Another time, then. I hope these clips bring you a little joy today. (Goes back to coloring with crayons in leather bound book.)

BLUEBIRD: (Shouting over shoulder.) Okay, start the projector! What do you mean the film is smoking? OOOOH NOOOOO! Where’s the fire extinguisher? Never mind. It’s fine now. Sharpen that focus, Skip! Where’s the volume knob? Let’s play it loud! Turn off the lights! Roll ’em!

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou






The Ghost and Mr. Chicken



Young Frankenstein



The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy



Bluebird’s Modern Dictionary | The Ukulele and Kazoo Version


Newmarket Railway Kazoo Band, 1915

A kazoo band is cool.

An ironic Ukulele and Kazoo Version of a kazoo band would not be cool.

This can be scientifically proven. Any questions?


The ukulele and kazoo version

 /ˈthē/ /yü-kə-ˈlā-lē, ˌü-/ / ən(d)/ kə-ˈzü vər-zhən, -shən
n. phrase   An artwork that appears brilliant at first look, and middling-to-goshawful in retrospect:  Albert thought American Beauty was brilliant, until he saw All About Eve.  He then realized, to his horror, that American Beauty was the ukulele and kazoo version of a classic American film.  

{Orig.  Mod. Bluebirdian parlance, Texas-specific}


Library Appeal , 1973