Beyond Seuss at the Springfield Museums


As They Saw It: Women Artists Then and Now

            Through January 14, 2024

A Gathering: Works from Contemporary Black American Ceramic Artists

            Through March 24, 2014

Ways of My Ancestors: We Are Nipmuc

            Through February 25, 2014

Springfield Museums


The five building complex at 21 Edwards Street in Springfield, Massachusetts doesn’t get as much love as it deserves. Other than the Basketball Hall of Fame, the city is best known for its association with Theodore Geisel, aka/ Dr. Seuss. Many visitors never even enter the Seuss museum; they head for the sculpture park to let their kids climb on the oversized statues there (signs forbidding it notwithstanding). Three current exhibits give reason to check out a few non-Seuss treasures.


As They Saw It is a 60-piece sampling of women’s art displayed in the D’Amour Museum of Fine Art culled from the museum’s own collection and borrowed from the MFA in Boston and the Fenimore in Cooperstown, New York. It wasn’t that long ago that women’s art wasn’t taken seriously by the art world and the handful of those whose work hung on museum walls were pretty much confined to domestic themes. Mostly the ones seen weren’t artists at all, rather the subject for men with paintbrushes, cameras, and chisels. Is it any wonder that in the 1970s feminists began using the phrase “the male gaze?” 


Mary Ann Wilson



The earliest piece in the exhibit comes from Mary Ann Wilson whose “Maremaid” [sic] was made in 1815. It’s a delightful folk art image from an artist from New York State whose work remained unknown until 1943. I was struck, though, by the number of women who turned to self-portraiture. Call them the original selfie creators, though what they created in far more interesting than today’s cellphone snappers. Ellen Day Hale (1885) created hers in a manner evocative of John Singer Sargent until you take a closer look at her boyish face peering outward with… well, what exactly? Defiance? Insouciance? It mesmerizes me when it hangs in Boston and I appreciated getting closer to it in Springfield. Oriole Farb (1978) used looser lines to capture herself in a visual pun. It’s a painting but she’s looking in a mirror, holding a camera, and is poised to snap a selfie decades before such a word appeared! And then there’s Mary Bero’s modernist and abstracted look at her bare-breasted self (1980s).


Ellen Day Hale


Oriole Farb

Mary Bero



As one can easily observe, women often bring a different way of looking at the world. That is certainly true of Dorothea Lange, who would get my vote as the greatest of all American photographers. In the 1930s, there were still folks around who were once enslaved. Lange turned her lens on one such individual in 1937 and gave it a telling title: “Ex-Slave with a Long Memory.” Isabel Bishop evinces Reginald Marsh in her 1942 “Ice Cream Cones.” It’s two young women eating their frozen treats on a street corner without constraint as if they couldn’t care less what anyone thinks. There’s certainly a don’t mess-with-me vibe in Cara Lucia Arla’s 2020 photo “Lucia.” In which we see a Native American woman staring full face forward and dressed as a befeathered Wonder Woman.  And then there’s Faith Ringgold, the preeminent African American fiber artist. Note that her subjects are literally untethered in “Dancing on the George Washington Bridge” (2020). 


Dorothea Lange

Isabel Bishop

Cara Lucia Arla

Faith Ringgold




Aisha Harrison


I’m usually not a big fan of ceramics, but I adored A Gathering, which shows works from the very first traveling show of Black American ceramic artists originally organized by the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis. The moment I saw Aisha Harrison’s “Ancestor 1” I wondered, “What  in the blazes took so long? Ellamaria Foley-Ray’s “Earth Seed Quilt” is as it sounds, ceramics as fabric. For poignancy, there is  Earline Green’s “Henrietta.” It’s amazing in how she gives us the illusion of drapery in stiff form, but note the name in at the bottom left. Green evokes Henrietta Lax, the African American woman who died in 1951 whose cell line has been used in research since her death–without family permission. A more recent unsettling homage is Janthiel Shaw’s “Grief for Philando Castile,” a reference to a young black man’s 2016 death at the hands on Minneapolis police officers. You can be excused if you want to wonder back to Kristina Batiste’s calm “prospect and refuge” to recenter. 


Ellamarie Foley-Ray


Earline Green

Janthiel Shaw

Kristina Batiste



There’s a small exhibit in the Museum of Science to the Nipmuc, Massachusetts Algonquin peoples. Stories of Native Americans are often those of extermination but the photographs behind a diorama of traditional life tell a different tale. They silently scream, “We’re still here and we’re proud.” They also want you to know they are "freshwater people." Mission accomplished. Take a peek and you’ll need no words from me.






Rob Weir







Raw Deal a Decent B-Movie


Raw Deal (1948)

Directed by Anthony Mann

Eagle-Lion Films, 79 minutes, Not-rated.






Film noir is best known for its lighting, not dazzling production values. That is certainly the case of the 1948 film Raw Deal directed by Anthony Mann. The cinematography from John Alton is often stunning, even when externals of the picture appear chintzy. Moreover, it’s a pretty decent story that invites us to overlook cinematic drawbacks.


Joe Sullivan (Dennis O'Keefe) is a minor hooligan working for a major one. As is often the case in such arrangements, when things go wrong it’s the low-level guys like Joe that take the rap. Joe agrees to take the fall and go to prison in exchange for a promise from syndicate head Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr ) of $50,000 when he is released. Joe begins to get stir crazy and conspires with his girlfriend Pat Reagan (Claire Trevor) to go over the wire. Coyle even helps with the planning of the breakout, though his secret motive is the hope that Joe will be killed in the effort and he won’t have to pay out.


The jailbreak is semi-successful, only semi because the getaway car is damaged during the escape. This forces Joe to hideout at the home of Ann Martin (Marsha Hunt), his legal caseworker. She decides to help Joe because she is attracted to him and as days go by, she finds herself falling in love with him. Meanwhile, Coyle orders a hit on Joe and orders his

goons to do the job. They are searching for Joe as, of course, are the police.


When the cops close in, Ann fears for Joe’s safety and pleads with him to surrender. Instead, she finds herself on the lam with Joe and Pat. In such cases–a love triangle, an escaped criminal, pursuing assassins, and a sociopathic mob boss–things have a very high probability of going wrong. In this sense, the script of Raw Deal is cut from the same cloth as other film noir movies. Nevertheless it's an interesting film that features a kidnapping, a double cross when the femme fatale reveals herself, an attempt to flee the country, and the proverbial Big Confrontation finale. As I have reminded readers before, don't root for any of the lawbreakers because under the Hollywood code of the day, you couldn't depict a criminal profiting from his inequity. The delight of all film noirs, including Raw Deal, is watching how things play out.  


Raw Deal is not a piece of brilliant filmmaking and is generally considered a B-movie. Anthony Mann is best known for the Westerns that he made in the 1950s, though The Glenn Miller Story (1954) was probably his best directorial effort. He did have the sense to allow John Alton to practice his craft and paint the screen in light and shadows, which he did brilliantly. Raw Deal works because of Alton and the cast, especially O’Keefe, Trevor, Hunt, and Burr. The first three were then riding high on the screen popularity list, and Burr would soon win television fame for his leads in both Perry Mason and Ironside.


In its day, the movie got mediocre reviews. Of course, back then film noir pictures were quite common so it faced stiff competition. Today, it holds up well because of the synergy between its principals. B-movies like Raw Deal get that label because you don't see a lot of money on the screen. To reiterate, though, if the lighting is right and the script sufficiently gritty, you don’t need an opulent backdrop.


Think of Raw Deal as a cheap deal. In my view, it’s definitely worth the investment of watching. What they heck, it’s only 79 minutes long. If you’re like me, you can certainly waste more time doing something less worthy.


Rob Weir  




The Rules of the Game: Rediscover a Masterpiece



The Rules of the Game (1939)

Directed by Jean Renoir

Gaumont Film Company, 110 minutes, Not-rated.

In French with subtitles.





Timing is everything. The Rules of the Game is a case in point. French auteur Jean Renoir was fresh off two highly acclaimed films, but The Rules of the Game was filmed as war was on the horizon and released several months after Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, the official beginning of World War II.


When audiences got a look at the film, it was booed and became a box office dud. Renoir’s pacifism and Communist Party sympathy didn't help, nor did the film’s uncertain fit among movie labels. It is a classic mixed genre, a satire wrapped in a drama, and tied together with a comedy of manners bow. This may have confused viewers, or perhaps a simply weren't in the mood for what could be misunderstood as frothy entertainment.


How quickly the worm turns. The Rules of the Game is now seen as not just a superb movie, but as one of the 10 greatest films ever made. Such lists are subject to intense debate, but there are many reasons to see it as a major cinematic accomplishment.


It is loosely structured as a drawing room comedy dressed in 1930s’ circumstances and post-Jazz Age mores. Call it a who-is-sleeping-with-whom film. Aviator André Jurieux (Roland Toutain) has just landed at a Paris airfield. Remember that in 1939 the line between pilot and daredevil was a thin one. André is thus surprised and depressed to see his friend Octave (Renoir) there, but not his girlfriend Christine (Nora Gregor).


You might think that Christine had reasons to be AWOL; after all, she’s married to Robert (Marcel Dalio), a marquis living in a sprawling country house. But that matters less than you would imagine; Robert knows about Christine and André and has a mistress of his own, Geneviève, though that relationship is fraught, as she too has another lover. The maid, Lisette (Paulette Dubost), is married to the jealous, loutish gamekeeper Schumacher (Gaston Modot), but she is also being pursued by Marceau (Julien Carette), a poacher Schumacher catches in the act. Rather than prosecute him, Robert hires him as a servant. Marceau isn't very good at that role, but it makes his pursuit of Lisette easier. For her part, Christine's problem isn't one man too many, it's her vanity and her propensity for using others as her moods dictate.


Such social arrangements usually work better in the abstract than in reality. Everything conspires and builds to an unhappy endings, including a fatal case of mistaken identity. That also may have contributed to the film's less than enthusiastic reception. It's not as if French audiences we're pining for more anxiety.


By most accounts, the set of Rules of the Game was this chaotic as the lives of its principles. Famed photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson worked in the production and opined there were no rules in the filming of Rules of the Game. Renoir was said to have adopted a style so laissez-faire that much of the dialogue was improvised on the spot.


So why the reassessment? First of all, Renoir and cinematographer Jean Bachelet pioneered in deep-focus camera work. That is, they opened the lens aperture to get the foreground, middle ground, and background in sharp focus throughout. That's standard stuff now, but it wasn't in 1939.


More importantly, the messy relationships can be seen as stand-ins for the temper of the times. Gadabouts Lissette and Christine embody leftover recklessness of the Jazz Age, and Christine some of the haughty overconfidence that led to France’s defeat a year later. Schumacher is not only crude, he's Germanically so. André is at turns hysterical and morose, hallmarks of the Depression era and mounting danger. Overall we have a cast and set of circumstances that portend disaster.


If you wish, though, you could just see the film as a soap opera involving foolish people headed for a fall. Even when we feel sympathy for a character, but we are seldom tricked into thinking any individual is self-aware enough to tumble towards a blissful fate.


Rules of the Game is indeed a masterpiece that should be on the bucket list of any serious cineaste. Put another way, there are reasons why Jean Renoir is considered one of the finest directors in movie history. Be sure to see the rediscovered 110-minute cut of Rules of the Game, not the 85-minute version.


Rob Weir