A photo book, a documentary about Elaine Stritch, and the public domain
"Ague & Fever," a drawing from the public domain
"Ague & Fever," a drawing from the public domain

A photo book, a documentary about Elaine Stritch, and the public domain

Public Domain Review

“Public domain” isn’t a very sexy term—broadly speaking, it’s where work goes when its intellectual property rights expire—but when you start to actually dig through all those works, it gets a helluva lot more interesting. Works in the public domain include silent films, turn-of-the-century science-fiction novels, and a rhyming dictionary from the 16th century. The online journal and non-profit project Public Domain Review collects many of those works, and the website is a rabbit hole of fascinations and pleasures: a series of animated GIFs of people coughing and sneezing, from a post-war propaganda film about the dangers of sneezing; Flemish mask designs in the grotesque style; a compilation of Jelly Roll Morton sessions; and, in a particularly bizarre window into the pop-culture world of 1906, “guess the celeb behind the driving garb.” It’s endlessly and deeply absorbing. [Laura M. Browning]

Continental Obscura: From Birmingham To Bellingham

Music photographer Ryan Russell is perhaps best known for the Nervous Energies sessions–a web-series that films intimate acoustic performances with artists in a variety of locales, usually in his native Birmingham, Ala. Last year Russell decided to leave Birmingham for Washington state, and instead of treating the move as a chore, he transformed the eight-day, cross-country trip into a document of his last days in Birmingham, his first experiences in his new home, and the people and places he discovered in between. Russell builds context and relation for the reader by including introductions for each section of the trip, giving a name to every face, a story to every structure, and a feeling of riding along with Russell throughout. Though the start and end points of the trip offer the most evocative imagery—as Russell says goodbye to the place he’s known and loved, while also approaching Bellingham with the wide-eyed excitement only the first days in a new city can inspire­—Continental Obscura expresses the project’s bigger picture without losing any of the minutia that went into it. Ultimately, the book succeeds because of Russell filling every page with his own bittersweet wonder as he waves goodbye to his past life and warmly embraces what is to come. [David Anthony]

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

The recent death of Elaine Stritch provides an ample opportunity to watch the documentary about her life released earlier this year, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me. Even people who have absolutely no interest in 20th century American theater should give Shoot Me a shot. Having made her stage debut in 1944, Stritch had one hell of a run, commanding stages for close to 70 years. Despite having a parade of famous faces as the talking heads, the film is at its most affecting when it doesn’t try to explain its subject, just presents her. Stritch is under no illusions about her limitations. She’s preparing her 2011 one-woman Sondheim review despite her crippling insecurity and physical frailties. She’s terrified yet excited about retiring from the theater (and has an especially good line when she asks, “What does the end of pretend look like?”) She ponders her mortality and her legacy often as her health begins to deteriorate. An early scene with James Gandolfini is especially poignant, given the film is less than a year old and they’ve both since died. Yet it’s not all doom and gloom: Stritch is clearly enjoying herself as she recounts her old love affairs and describes her idyllic yet short-lived marriage to playwright Jack Bay. On the set of 30 Rock, she’s trading barbs with Alec Baldwin, trading hugs (and demands) with Tina Fey, and trading blood-glucose levels with fellow diabetic Tracy Jordan. At the end of its brisk 81 minutes, the Shoot Me has done a fine job painting a portrait of a Broadway legend who had a ferocity and a vulnerability that seemed to be at war with each other at all times. And if none of that interests you, there’s also a candlelit dinner with John Turturro where they discuss her first orgasm. [Andrea Battleground]

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