Thursday, April 5, 2012

Double Indemnity (1944): Classic Film Noir

     Directed by Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity (1944) is routinely placed on lists of the greatest films ever made. It certainly has earned a spot at the top in the Film Noir genre, at least. Loosely inspired by the 1920s case of Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray, it's wild story seems plausible given the factual basis.
     An insurance salesman (Fred MacMurray) on a routine run, finds himself smitten and drawn to the beautiful wife of a client (Barbara Stanwyck)...

      Despite an initial turn-off based on her forwardness in the insinuation that she no longer desired her husband's continued existence, the salesman cannot resist her and falls victim to her alluring seduction...

     Not only does he help her plan to kill her husband, he fraudulently arranges the purchase of an accident insurance policy for the prospective victim with a double indemnity clause, allowing for a substantial monetary payoff after the crime...

     The crime goes off without a hitch, except for the ever-inquisitive claims investigator (Edward G. Robinson), who senses something is amiss...

     Secret meetings brought on by paranoia force the couple to dwell on their actions...

     and mistrust forms between the two...

     It is only a matter of time before the case is all figured out, and their roles in the crime are made apparent...

Double Indemnity- movie trailer

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Richie Havens: Profiles from the Illustrations

Richie Havens, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     On Tuesday, March 20, 2012, it was announced that Richie Havens was retiring from performing at age 71 due to health concerns. This sad news marks the end of a forty-five year non-stop tour around the world for Richie, one that brought his music and kindness to millions.

Richie Havens- Just Like a Woman (Bob Dylan)

     It all started in New York City coffee houses in the 1960s, with Havens developing a distinct, powerful style delivered with soaring vocals and furious guitar strumming in open tune. By the late 1960s, Havens had a hit album, Mixed Bag, and as a career defining highlight, whether by fate or chance he was the opening act at Woodstock in 1969... performing for hours because all the roads were blocked and the other performers had yet to arrive. His impromptu rendition of Motherless Child, "Freedom", has become a classic anthem. 

Richie Havens- Woodstock, 1969

Richie Havens, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     His interpretations of Bob Dylan and Beatles songs are legendary and his own composition ring with a sensitive truth...

Richie Havens- The Key

Richie Havens, 2012. By Travis Simpkins
Richie Havens- High Flying Bird

     Richie's absence in the performance circuit will be felt, he will be missed. But his catalogue of work and the happiness felt by those (such as myself) who were lucky enough to meet him is as great a legacy as anyone could wish for.

Thank you for everything, Richie.

Richie Havens, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion: Art and Music (Songs that Inspired the Illustrations)

Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, 2011. By Travis Simpkins

Holdin' Back


Speed of Light

Johnny Irion, 2011. By Travis Simpkins

Target on Your Heart

This Land is Your Land (Woody Guthrie cover)

Sarah and her Dad, Arlo Guthrie

Sarah Lee Guthrie, 2011. By Travis Simpkins

For more info, visit:

Monday, April 2, 2012

New Portrait Illustration: The Handsome Family (Brett and Rennie Sparks)

The Handsome Family, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     Brett Sparks and his wife Rennie have been performing together for almost twenty years as The Handsome Family. Each's individual efforts are perfect compliments to one another and essential to their unique sound as a whole (she writes the lyrics, he writes the music). Brett's baritone voice and expert guitar playing and Rennie's haunting words make them a favorite among fellow musicians. Each album they make is a work of art, and with eleven albums to their credit, The Handsome Family continues to grow artistically as well as keeping up what has sustained them thus far: They are a cool couple that write cool songs.

The Handsome Family- "So Much Wine"

Brett Sparks, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

The Handsome Family- "Bottomless Hole"

Rennie Sparks, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

The Handsome Family- "Amelia Earhart"

Brett Sparks, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

For more info, visit:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Girl Next Door (2004): Modern Cult Films (Risque Cinema)

     Although slammed by some (most notably Roger Ebert, who called the film "exploitative", and described Elisha Cuthbert's character as "thoroughly unlikeable"), I found The Girl Next Door (2004) to be an entertaining commentary on the facades we present, and what really matters in our relations to one another.
     Emile Hirsch plays a typical overachieving high school senior who hasn't explored much of life beyond academics. He is about to graduate and doesn't have any memorable anecdotes or experiences to share. This all changes when his next door neighbor goes away and has her cute, sexy niece Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) reside there as a house sitter.

     Immediately attracted to her gorgeous looks and wild attitude, he introduces her around and becomes the envy of his two geeky friends.

     One of the friends (a smut aficionado) discovers that Danielle is a porn actress, and convinces Emile that she would be an easy score.

      A poorly set plan of sexual conquest, to take her to a cheap motel backfires, as Danielle is hurt by the assumption and tells him to get lost.

     Emile has truly fallen in love with her at this point, and is willing to do anything to convince her so. His efforts are hindered by the alternating comic/psychotic porn producer boss of Danielle.

     Can he prove the sincerity of his affection for Danielle and take her away from the porn industry, which they both know is not where she desires to be?

The Girl Next Door- movie trailer

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fog Island (1945): Obscure Classic Films

     George Zucco is a very under-appreciated star from the Golden Age of film. He was a B list actor and never had that one defining role that would've cemented a legacy. Still, Zucco had a certain charm and creepiness (he mainly starred in horror films) that resonate as being genuine. Fog Island (1945) is a typical example of his work, flawed yet intriguing. 
    Zucco plays Leo Granger, a business man who has just been released from prison after serving a five year sentence for embezzlement. 

     He lives on a gloomy, secluded, fog-shrouded island with his step-daughter, the daughter of Leo's now deceased wife. 

     Leo had been framed for crime, and he vows revenge on the four people responsible. He also suspects one of them of murdering his wife while he was in prison. So, he invites all four conspirators to the remote Fog Island under the false pretense that he had stashed the money he was supposed to have embezzled there, and they will all be payed their share. 

     Like moths to a flame, they come, including the supposed psychic who should've known better.

      Leo has configured his house (which was built by pirates) with secret passages and death traps.

      The tensions involved force the conspirators to turn on each other. 

     Which of them shall survive Fog Island?

Fog Island- full feature film

Friday, March 30, 2012

New Portrait Illustration: Ron Hansen (Author/Novelist)

Ron Hansen, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     My introduction to Ron Hansen came in 2006, when I went to his lecture on "Writing as Vocation" at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. At that point, my knowledge of Ron's writing was limited to his novel, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, his historic-fiction masterpiece about the old west outlaw, that was then being made as a feature film starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck.
     Ron's lecture and the way he articulated himself inspired me to seek out his other works, many of which are now amongst my favorite books. His prose rings as beautifully true and smooth as poetry... Atticus, Desperadoes, Hitler's Niece, A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion... to name a few.
     Subsequently, Ron and I developed a cordial, friendly correspondence in which he provided me with insight, thoughts and tips, not just on writing, but on all art in general. He is a very talented artist, and a gracious, helpful and kind man. I'm glad to know him.

     And I'm glad this portrait met with his approval.

The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford- movie trailer

Ron Hansen talking about his novel, A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion

Ron Hansen Reading at Cornell University

Read more about Ron Hansen here:

Ron's classic: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (1983)

Ron's latest: A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion (2011)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

One Million Years B.C. (1966): Classic B Movies (Risque Cinema)

     Although admirable in it's effort to explore different avenues in special effects, One Million Years B.C. (1966) can't hide it's true goal and purpose: to showcase the near-flawless, sensual physique of the young Raquel Welch. Eye candy aside, the film has enjoyable story elements as well.
    A young man of the Rock people is banished from his tribe after a fight with the leader. Seemingly doomed as he wanders the landscape, he is near death when he stumbles upon the peaceful Shell people, consisting of lovely, bikini-clad women and semi mild mannered men.

     One stand-out beauty amongst the Shell ladies (Raquel Welch) takes a liking to the new Cave Man stranger.

     The two spend time together, with her teaching him the ways of the tribe (and always finding nice ways to draw attention to her beauty)...

     Their existence is calm for a spell...

     But soon the man finds himself banished from his new home as well after a fight with a rival.

     Unable or unwilling to leave her new mate, Raquel Welch follows him off into the dangerous World populated with aggressive dinosaurs...

     Their ultimate survival will depend on their support and trust of one another... and the reconciliation with their tribe...

One Million Years B.C.- movie trailer

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tom Rush: Profiles from the Illustrations

Tom Rush, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     Starting his musical career in Cambridge, MA in the early 1960s while attending Harvard, Tom Rush had already become an established performer before graduating. While other Folk musicians found a niche and stuck with it, Tom didn't subscribe to any one particular set, instead combining traditional songs, blues and country into a unique style that perfectly complimented his gentle voice.

Tom Rush- Panama Limited

     After releasing a few great albums, he hit a career highlight in 1968 with The Circle Game, which combined his own original compositions with covers of then-fledgling songwriters, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor.

Tom Rush- No Regrets

Tom Rush- These Days

Tom Rush, 2012. By Travis Simpkins

     Recently celebrating 50 years as a professional musician, Tom Rush still performs to both large and small crowds alike. His keen ear, humorous wit and smart song selection make his shows as current and relevant as ever.

Tom Rush- Child's Song

Tom Rush- Let's Talk Dirty in Hawaiian

Tom Rush- The Remember Song

For more info, visit:

Tom Rush, 2012. By Travis Simpkins