The Sunday Magazine: Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files

Besides being a Colognoisseur I am also a full-fledged geek. Which means when I am not thinking about the world of medicinal chemistry or perfume you can be sure my mind is on a planet in another galaxy or fighting the supernatural on this planet. For the last twenty years it really has been a world where being geeky is more of a badge of honor than something to be hidden away. The fact that I love perfume as much as I do is probably thought to be stranger than my reading a comic book. As an avid reader of serial fiction within the mystery/thriller, epic fantasy, and urban fantasy genres I always take advantage of the summer months to pick up a new series of novels to binge read while spending time at the beach. I still haven’t made up my mind for this summer as it will either be Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series or Stacia Kane’s The Downside Ghosts series. If you’re looking for a series to binge read I have one to suggest you load onto your e-reader or pick up at the bookstore.

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If you’re not familiar with urban fantasy as a genre it is usually set in the modern world where supernatural creatures and magic exist. The original series in this genre is Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter followed soon after by Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series. The third leg of the foundation of urban fantasy is the series I want to recommend, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.

The series is set in Chicago and Harry Dresden is a “Wizard for Hire”. At the beginning of the first book in the series, Storm Front, Harry is under investigation by the agency overseeing the responsible use of magic The White Council. He gets hired to find a woman’s missing husband who she thought was an amateur magician but now believes he might have been more and so a wizard is needed to track him down. Storm Front does what any good first book in a series should do. It introduces you to the rules of this particular fictional world’s magic. It creates a continuing cast of characters around the central protagonist. Finally, it sets up an overarching mythology meant to stretch over multiple books. Besides all of that The Dresden Files books do the best job of fusing hardboiled detective narration with a supernatural milieu. Mr. Butcher’s prose wouldn’t feel so strange if it was coming out of Philip Marlowe’s mouth all while keeping Harry Dresden a true original. You can read the first chapter of Storm Front at this link for a sample of the style.

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Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files has now reached fifteen books with the upcoming publication of Skin Game. One of the things I applaud Mr. Butcher for doing is once he lays down something in one book that is meant to be resolved in a future book the reader is not left waiting for three or four books before returning to that loose thread. I think it is that attention to driving the overall story onward that makes The Dresden Files such an entertaining read as each entry pushes the story forward significantly and that is not always the case in serial fiction of any genre.

As you’re starting to get your beach chair and sunglasses out of their winter hibernation don’t forget to add a few books to your beach bag. If you add The Dresden Files to your summer reading list I think you’ll have a great time standing by Harry Dresden as he shouts, “Forzare!”

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Grand Budapest Hotel

When I was a child going to the movies was an event. You had to buy tickets in advance, you had assigned seating and there were intermissions. These were for the special movies shot in CinemaScope or Cinerama and projected on massive curved screens. It was the great-grandfather of IMAX. During those days the movies had multiple stars in them and the movie posters would have pictures of all of their faces. Movies like ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World’ or ‘Grand Prix’ are examples of this kind of event movie full of popular stars. As I walked by the poster for the new movie by director Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel, I was reminded of those days.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel tells the story of Monsieur Gustave H. during the year 1932 in the titular edifice located in the fictional country of Zubrowka. Ralph Fiennes plays Gustave as a man completely in control of everybody and everything in the hotel. Young Zero asks to become The Lobby Boy and it is through his narration, as an older man, the events of the movie unfold through a number of chapters. One of the best things about Gustave is he has a signature fragrance he wears called L’Air de Panache. It crops up throughout the movie as people use it to know that Gustave has recently walked by and in my favorite scene the only thing he really gets upset about not having at hand after an incarceration.

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The movie shows Gustave as a companion to elderly women who also must be blonde. The movie revolves around one of these; Madame D, played by Tilda Swinton almost unrecognizable under the makeup used to age her. After her latest visit she passes away after she returns home. Gustave finds out at the reading of the will she has bequeathed him a valuable painting ‘Boy with Apple’. Fearing the family will not let him have this he takes the painting and leaves. This starts the caper aspects of the bulk of the film as the consequences of taking the painting play themselves out. Throughout the movie there is a very breezy frenetic feel which does seem a lot like those old wide-screen comedies of my youth as another current actor makes a cameo and leaves. What sets it apart is the framing sequence where an author hears the story from the older Zero in which we see The Grand Budapest Hotel itself, in 1968, as an aging blonde dowager. No matter how successful Zero’s life has been he cannot let go of this original love of his no matter whether she is showing her age.

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Wes Anderson

I found The Grand Budapest Hotel to be a return to those old caper comedies. But through the lens of a very talented filmmaker in Mr. Anderson who allows a bit of pathos in the end to draw a tear, while wearing a smile, it has a very modern indie feel to it. To use a perfume analogy it is like the Nouveau Retro creations we are getting of defunct perfume houses. Completely feeling like a throwback but with modern flourishes.

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As for the perfume spoken about within the movie it didn’t really exist until a few months ago for the premiere. Perfumer Mark Buxton created L’Air de Panache and it was given to the cast and those at the World Premiere of the movie. When I sniffed it at Esxence it also felt like something one of the better dressed gentlemen at those event movies of my youth might have worn.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Nose- Searching for Blamage

The very last event I attended at Esxence 2014 was a screening of the documentary “The Nose-Searching for Blamage”. Director Paul Rigter followed perfumer Alessandro Gualtieri of Nasomatto around as he designed his tenth, and final, Nasomatto fragrance. Sig. Gualtieri wanted to call this last fragrance Blamage which is loosely translated as mistake. The opening of the movie shows Sig. Gualtieri talking about how some of the more famous perfumes in history were improved by adding too much or too little of an ingredient. For this last fragrance in the Nasomatto line he wanted to leave it all up to chance what he would use to create Blamage. He had his assistant blindfold him with a plaster blindfold and then walk him over to his wall of raw materials where six random ingredients were selected. These would form the core of Blamage.

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After the blindfold was removed and Sig. Gualtieri saw what he had chosen he exclaims, not for the last time, “Cazzo!” The subtitle translates it as “shit” and for the rest of the film when the word is used it goes unsubtitled. What is great about the way Sig. Gualtieri uses the word is its meaning is all dependent on the tone of his voice. When he is looking at sandalwood in Delhi, India it is said with weary disgust at the cheap materials. When he is smelling one of the mods of Blamage it is said with a smile and suppressed laugh as his task at meshing these six disparate notes is proving difficult but also fun.

Throughout the almost one-hour running time we watch Sig. Gualtieri as he visits Milan for Esxence in 2012 and goes throughout the city leaving little altars of scent, as seen in the clip above. His visit to Delhi, India on a search for raw ingredients has a funny turn as he walks by a store with a knockoff of his Black Afgano. His reaction is priceless as the artist assesses the knockoff.

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By the end of the year Mr. Rigter had to stop filming before the final version of Blamage was finished. At Esxence 2014 the bottle was on display and at the movie showing a bottle was given away to a lucky attendee who was surrounded by many to get a chance to smell the result of this intentional mistake. Mr. Rigter has captured much of what is special about Sig. Gualtieri in the world of perfumery. His irreverence coupled with his serious love of making unusual fragrances comes through via Mr. Rigter’s lens.

For anyone who loves Nasomatto I think The Nose-Searching for Blamage will make you appreciate the perfumer behind your favorite perfume. If you’ve never tried a Nasomatto fragrance I’d be surprised if you aren’t a little interested in trying one after spending an hour with Sig. Gualtieri on film. The Nose- Searching for Blamage is a wonderful insight into one of our most iconoclastic perfumers.

Mark Behnke

Editor’s Note: The Nose- Searching for Blamage will be shown at the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto, Canada on Apr 26, 27, and May 3, 2014. For more info click on this link.

The Sunday Magazine: Veronica Mars

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When it comes to television it seems like I am the patron saint of shows which are canceled fairly quickly. There are many shows through the years which I have really enjoyed which were canceled within their first year or two. Firefly, Pushing Daisies, Freaks and Geeks, Twin Peaks, Profit, Rome; even the original Star Trek could be included on my list. What is also great about these shows I’ve listed is even though they are gone they connected with a fairly passionate fan base who keep their memories alive with websites and forums dedicated to them. A common theme you will always find on these forums is the desire to somehow someway get the beloved show back into production. Almost all of the time because these shows are owned by studios who see no profit in bringing back a failed series this is all wishful thinking.

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In March of 2013 I logged into my e-mail to find a message from the “Veronica Mars” fansite urging me to go contribute to the Kickstarter campaign to get a Veronica Mars movie made. I read this with the same amount of skepticism one reads e-mail from a Nairobi Prince trying to share his fortune with you. I headed over to Kickstarter to see which starry eyed dreamer was trying to raise money to convince the studio to bring Veronica back. Imagine my surprise that it was the creator/writer Rob Thomas and the star Kristen Bell with the blessing of the studio Warner Brothers. If they could get $2 Million dollars in 30 days they could make a movie. Well this wasn’t fanciful thinking this was a plan. Over the next thirty days I and 91,584 other fans donated enough money to go well past the target to end up gathering $5.7 Million. I felt great. I felt like we the fans had actually brought something back to life that I never thought to see again. Then I started to worry that it would be bad as Mr. Thomas tried to satisfy 91,585 fans/backers and it would be another failed attempt to broaden the audience.

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One year after donating my money I sat down and watched “Veronica Mars” unspool before my eyes and when it was done I was smiling ear-to-ear. It was perfect as it was everything I had loved about the writing, the characters, and the actors who played those characters. Mr. Thomas  made a movie with lots of hidden layers in throwaway lines of dialogue which made us long-time fans giggle but never making it so much of an inside joke that others couldn’t find something to laugh about, too.

As of the writing of this I don’t know whether Veronica Mars was a success at the box office and frankly I don’t care. With the help of a group of other fans we were able to get another installment of something we all connected with years after we thought it was gone. Obviously I am hoping some of the other shows I named also have the opportunity to find their way back through a Kickstarter campaign. The success of Veronica Mars will be closely watched and imitated if it is a success.

Which leads me to wonder if there isn’t a perfume brand that faded away before its time which could be Kickstarted back to life. I do have a line I would be thrilled to see return to production and I would contribute to a Kickstarter campaign to finance it. So Victoire Gobin-Daude if you’re out there and want to bring back your original collection of Gobin-Daude perfumes I’ll be the first to contribute.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten

I was very fortunate when I started my first job, in Connecticut, to have one of my best friends from college, Joe, living in Manhattan. I was able to spend numerous evenings and weekends in New York City experiencing much of what the big city had to offer. One of the things both of us enjoyed was great food. Our birthdays are eight days apart in October and we would celebrate on the weekend in between by working our way through the four-star restaurants in the City. Whenever we talk about the best meals we ever had we always agree that our 1989 birthday dinner at the Lafayette Hotel was probably the best of them all.

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Alsatian Baeckoffe as served at Jojo in 2012

Earlier that year, Joe told me when I arrived on a mid-week night we were going to try some Alsatian food at this restaurant around the corner on Third Avenue called Brandywine. Brandywine was an aging NY Steakhouse and was undergoing a menu overhaul to start serving Alsatian food. I ordered the classic Charcroute which is a traditional dish of sauerkraut and various meats. What I had served to me was something so above what one would expect from sauerkraut. It was crunchy and tart and the meat was lamb, pork, and veal. It was luscious. Towards the end of the meal a man in chef’s whites walked over to us to ask what we thought. In my usual effusive way I gushed at how fresh the sauerkraut was and how do you make it not mushy. I received a smile and an explanation along with an introduction to Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten who was consulting on the menu revamp for Brandywine. A few months later we would be sitting at a table in his four-star restaurant in the Lafayette Hotel and he dazzled us with the tasting menu. This meal was full of the things he has come to be known for. Fragrant broths, poaching in juice, and herbal concoctions. It transformed traditional French cuisine into a comprehensive sensual experience.

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Peekytoe Crab Tempura at Jean-Georges

The use of lighter alternatives to traditional sauces add a visual component of vibrant color. Then, fragrance fans, it is the aroma of these dishes that was really enhanced by the use of these preparations. There was a cloud of culinary sillage wafting off every dish which was put in front of us. Sweet juice cut with herbal contrasts all blended as skillfully as our most accomplished perfumers. There is no chef who uses ingredients that perfume the air above his dishes as adeptly.

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Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten

Since that meal in 1989 Chef Vongerichten has become one of the Emperor Chefs who has exported his way of cooking to a number of restaurants world-wide under his imprimatur. The flagship restaurant in New York City is the eponymous Jean-Georges which is one of seven restaurants in NYC to receive three Michelin stars. Even though it has been twenty five years since the meal at the Lafayette Hotel the cuisine at Jean-Georges remains as exciting and evolutionary as it was then.

If you want a meal which is satisfying to both palate and nose look for a restaurant that Jean-Georges has opened up, near you or in a city you are visiting, and treat yourself to a singular aromatic culinary experience.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Monastrell Wine from Jumilla in Spain

The first thing I think I really strived to learn about experientially was wine. When I was in college there was an upscale mall near campus that had a by the glass wine bar in it. It also had Paul who would become my guide to the wide world of wine as I sat at the bar. Every other week my friends and I would let Paul pour us a few glasses of wine and tell us where they came from. Those were the first steps on my way to becoming what my friends call a wine snob. I love being called a wine snob because I take it to mean this, I won’t drink bad wine. I would also happily embrace the phrase perfume snob, for the same reason.

One of my rules of being a wine snob is it has nothing to do with price it has everything to do with quality. That was something Paul taught me over and over again. One of my favorite wines he served us was one of the least expensive. It was this full-bodied red wine as powerful as the California Cabernets or French Reds but it came from Spain. The wine was called Monastrell and it was from a region in Spain called Jumilla. I loved these wines and the added bit of interest was that they had a flaw that I actually liked. The grape used in the Monastrells is called Mouvedre and it is more widely known as the grape used in jug and box wines. When grown under the particular climate in Jumilla these bland grapes take on an unexpected power. Another reason they aren’t used more widely is they have that flaw I mentioned called reduction which gives it a gamey quality. In perfume terms it is like the L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzing! of the wine world.

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Phylloxera infesting a vine

The reason you haven’t heard much about these wines is because in 1989 the entire region was struck by an infestation of an insect parasite called phylloxera which destroys the vines. As a result all of the vines in the region had to be destroyed as a firebreak to keep it from spreading to the rest of the wine regions in Spain. While this was a disaster it had a silver lining which would take twenty years to become apparent. As the vineyards replanted they used the newer hybrid versions of the vines. This would make the vines a little more pest resistant and even though the vines were new, the soil and the climate remained the same.

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When I went to my wine store in 2012 and saw this old familiar silver label in the Spanish section I was very excited. The Monastrell Paul served me back in 1979 was from Juan Gil and there it was again. When I took the bottle home I was so pleased to see that nothing had really changed. Better vines and better winemaking methods have made for a better wine but the same characteristics remained.

Jumilla Monastrells are available for less than $15 and they are one of the best bargains in the wine section if you want a big red wine. It is a perfect companion for barbecued ribs, and more obviously gamier meats like lamb, rabbit, and pork. I like grilling steak with some olive oil and sprinkled with rosemary and opening a Monastrell to go with it.

Here are some labels to look for at your local store:

Bodegas Juan Gil

Bodegas Tarima

Bodegas Olivaros Altos de la Hoya

Casa Castillo

Bodegas Volver

These wines benefit from being opened and allowed to breathe. Which means not just opening the bottle it means pouring it into another container. I use an old-fashioned milk bottle as my everyday carafe.

If you’re looking for the next great red wine bargain in your wine store head over to the Spanish section and give the Jumilla Monastrells a sip.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Fashion of Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford- Fall 2014

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As fragrance fans we eagerly look forward to the next perfume release from Marc Jacobs or Tom Ford. Both of these, now, ubiquitous names started with their fashion lines before expanding into the accessories and beauty sectors. The fragrance calendar goes all year long but the fashion calendar is pretty much concentrated on two times of the year, February-March and September-October, when fashion designers show their latest couture in runway shows. The shows happen about six months before the season they are meant to be worn in. Thus the February shows are for Fall of that year and the September shows are for the Spring of the following year. It is also a traveling circus as there are fashion weeks starting in New York, then London, followed by Milan, and finishing up in Paris. For the current cycle, fall 2014, we are about halfway through with New York and London finished and Milan ongoing.

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Marc Jacobs (l.) and Tom Ford aking bows at their Fall 2014 Runway Shows

My interest in fashion is similar to my interest in the great perfumers. Both endeavors are highly informed on what has gone before with the best designers and perfumers using things from past creations as the launching point for the future. Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford are perhaps two of the savviest at doing this. Their designs are based on classic lines but always there is a bit of a modern or retro-modern twist apparent. It is a big reason why they are the most anticipated runway shows at New York where Mr. Jacobs is the closer with the last show; and London where Mr. Ford moved his shows to from New York a year ago.

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Marc Jacobs' "Cosmetic Colors" (l.) and Tom Ford's Jay-Z Knockoff of a Knockoff

(Photos George Chinsee/WWD (l.) and Giovanni Gianonni/WWD)

One of the things I always find fascinating is how each season forms its own zeitgeist as all the designers seem to work towards the same big ideas. Halfway through the Fall 2014 offerings the colors seem to contain more pastels than you see in the Fall. Spring is usually where the pastels fill the runway. These pastels are of the cooler variety. Mr. Jacobs described them as “cosmetics colors” when describing his collection. Both designers brought in sportswear themed flourishes with the most talked about of those Mr. Ford’s knock off of a t-shirt Jay-Z has been wearing on stage when he performs his hit “Tom Ford”. The sequined couture version will carry a price tag, 100 times more than the $65 t-shirt, which has its own shade of social commentary underneath.

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Marc Jacobs Fall 2014 (Photo: George Chinsee/WWD)

Marc Jacobs’ Fall 2014 collection was all about soft colors and fabrics to go with it. It was almost as if the Marc Jacobs Blush fragrance could’ve been the tagline for the fashion. There were lots of examples of great separates the best which was the chunky knit look with its own slouchy vibe to it. All of this was brought together in one look as a sparkly stunner.

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Tom Ford Fall 2014 (Photo: Giovanni Gianonni/WWD)

Tom Ford’s Fall 2014 collection was less pastel and his color palette was more focused on black, navy, and red. In a collection of dark looks it was the reds which provided impact as either a red crocodile skirt suit or a luxurious velvet dress both of which are the kind of aspirational couture Mr. Ford does so well. The middle look above represents where hemlines will be next fall as it looks like the knee and lower will be on trend.

By the time fall rolls around I am sure we will be getting new fragrances from both designers to match the looks above.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: HBO’s True Detective

I have often said we are living in a Golden Age of Perfumery because of the sheer breadth of artists working on making fragrance. When there are over 1300 new releases a year the chance for true artistry to exist within that large number is high. I also think we are living in a Golden Age of Television Drama for many of the same reasons. With 500 channels, and counting, to fill up with content; not including the streaming services like Netflix the chance for true artistry and vision to exist is high. Just before sitting down to write this I looked at my DVR to see the list of shows I record currently: The Walking Dead, The Good Wife, Masters of Sex, Homeland, Mad Men, Sherlock, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, The Americans, not to mention the recently completed Breaking Bad. Even with all of that I haven’t caught up to others which have been highly praised like Orange is the New Black and Boardwalk Empire. It feels just like the effort I have to make to keep up with new perfume releases, there just isn’t enough time to catch it all. If you are a fan of the great television currently going on I want to alert you to a fantastic new series on HBO called True Detective, it is among the best acting, writing, and directing on television I have ever seen.

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Woddy Harrelson as Marty Hart (l.) and Matthew Mcconaughey as Rust Cohle in 1995

True Detective is meant to be a seasonal anthology series like American Horror Story with each season containing one complete story. For this first season writer and creator Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Joji Fukunaga have created a story of two very different men and how the ritual murder of a woman affects them individually and as a team. The two actors at the heart of True Detective are giving stellar performances. Woody Harrelson as family man Marty Hart is about as far from his dim but lovable bartender on “Cheers” as can be. Matthew McConaughey is man with a past Rust Cohle newly assigned as Hart’s partner which is about as far from his happy stoner in “Dazed and Confused” as can be. Both actors have turned in memorable dramatic performances in the past but together in True Detective they are truly stepping it up to new heights.

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Nic Pizzolatto (Photo: Luis Sinco)

The story goes back and forth from Louisiana in 1995 as Hart and Cohle investigate the ritual murder of a young woman and 2012 where two new detectives interview them separately about the case. In 1995 both men are trying to find that common ground necessary to work together and having difficulty doing that. Hart is almost the clichéd family man detective having an affair but Mr. Pizzolatto has more to say about that as we see more of the underlying needs that make Hart tick. The reason that we see that is because Cohle unsettles him on multiple levels. He is smarter, is a better detective, and the only thing Hart has that Cohle doesn’t is a family.

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Mr. McConaughey as Cohle in 2012

The physical differences in Cohle as a younger man and older man are striking. As the 1995 Cohle Mr. McConaughey is gaunt and unrecognizable as the 2005 People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive. The 2012 version is a bit of Dazed and Confused Danny Wooderson, if viewed through a dark prism. The physical changes signal something different in the two time periods for Cohle. Woody Harrelson is physically unchanged but psychologically as different as Cohle looks physically. Mr. Harrelson lets that show in a wonderfully nuanced performance especially in the 2012 interview scenes.

Director Cary Fukunaga arrives at "Celebrate Sundance Institute" the Sundance Institute's inaugural benefit in Beverly Hills, California

Cary Joji Fukunaga (Photo: Reuters/ Gus Ruelas)

Halfway through the eight episodes True Detective has the atmosphere of the movie “Se7en” if it was seen as a Southern Gothic thriller. Mr. Fukunaga has used his framing to make some things uncomfortably close and other times the atmospherics seem as much a character as the protagonists. At the end of the fourth episode there is a six minute single take shot, called a tracking shot, of Cohle escaping a shootout that is as technically difficult to achieve as it sounds. One mistake and you have to go right back to the beginning; only the most skilled and confident attempt such a thing.

This group of four amazing artists are creating something memorable in this halcyon era of fantastic television. If you love great acting, writing, and directing add True Detective to your DVR or Netflix queue this is as good as it gets.

Mark Behnke

Providence Perfume Moss Gown Ad

Editor’s Note: I have been wearing a dab of Charna Ethier’s Providence Perfume Company Moss Gown to give me a bit of an olfactory soundtrack to go with the visual.

The Sunday Magazine: Salinger (The Documentary)

One of my favorite parts of the Sunday newspaper is the magazine section. I have been lucky to live in great newspaper towns where this Sunday section was a weekly omnibus covering the world. While I want Colognoisseur to be focused on the World of Fragrance Monday through Saturday, on Sunday I want to share with my readers some of the other things I am passionate about. What you will see through all of these is my fascination with the creative process. For this first Sunday I want to talk about the recent documentary on J.D. Salinger.

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Shane Salerno

At the end of January PBS’ American Masters aired their 200th episode, the documentary Salinger directed by Shane Salerno. Mr. Salerno is best known as a screenwriter for the movies “Armageddon” and “Savages”. His current gig is co-writing “Avatar 4” with James Cameron. Mr. Salerno’s fascination with author J.D. Salinger came about after he optioned the film rights to Paul Alexander’s “Salinger” biography back in 2000. He wanted to see if he could attract Daniel Day-Lewis into playing Salinger and had heard that Mr. Day-Lewis wanted to have as much research on the real life subjects he would play before considering a role. This was what started Mr. Salerno down the path of gathering information about the notoriously reclusive author.

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J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger is known to almost all who passed through American High Schools and Universities as the author of “Catcher in the Rye”. It is an evergreen classic and I mark it as one of the best written books I have ever read. “Catcher in the Rye” was published in 1951 and it made Salinger into a star of the literary world. He would release a couple of short story collections and with the publication of the novella “Hapworth 16, 1924” in The New Yorker he stopped publishing. In 1953 he bought a farmhouse in Cornish, New Hampshire and after that last story in 1965 that was where he lived out his life until his death in 2010.

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J.D. Salinger writing "Catcher in the Rye" Photo: The Story Factory/Paul Fitzgerald

Mr. Salerno’s documentary fills in many of the blank spaces in Mr. Salinger’s life. Starting with his experiences in World War II.  As part of a counter-intelligence division he landed on Normandy Beach on D-Day, was part of the notorious firefights at the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. In the documentary there is a description of him hugging a tree during the latter battle while explosions and bullets rained down around him. By the latter days of the war his division would liberate one of the Dachau sub-camps. During all of this he was writing “Catcher in the Rye” in the down times. The documentary shows the only known picture of him writing on a portable desk while in uniform. The documentary proposes that by the time Salinger returned to the US he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in a time where that term hadn’t yet been coined. One of his comrades in arms was interviewed for the documentary and he said that there are still days for him where artillery goes off in his front yard or living room. Considering he shared Salinger’s experiences it is reasonable to expect Salinger was also traumatized.

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The way this played out in Salinger’s life was his unhealthy obsession with very young girls, teenagers. The documentary spends time with two of these girls; the more well-known Joyce Maynard who wrote a book about her time with Salinger and Jean Miller who he began a relationship with when she was 14 and he was 30. The common threads to both stories were chilling and I found myself seeing Salinger almost as predatory. Ms. Maynard described, as her time was waning, Salinger had started the same pattern with a young au pair which made her know the end was near. This reminded me of the description of Lyndon Baines Johnson by the biographer Robert Caro as having a tapestry in which the brightest threads were laid next to the darkest threads. Salinger was a brilliant writer with a darkness that played out in his obsession with teenage girls.

The other constant throughout the documentary was that Salinger was writing every day for all of these years. Some of the interviewed subjects saw finished manuscripts. At the end of the documentary it claims that starting in 2015 we will be getting five new works by Salinger. One of them will flesh out the Holden Caulfield family history and another the Glass family featured in “Franny & Zooey”. The one I am most interested in after seeing the documentary is a World War II based novel about a counter-intelligence agent’s war experiences. Salinger also was an adherent to Vedanta and one of the new novels is said to be a story-driven manual of Vedantic principles and finally a novella about Salinger’s war experiences. One of the people in the documentary says if these do get published they would go right to No. 1 on the best seller lists. As if to prove this point two days after this documentary aired on PBS “Catcher in the Rye” shot to No. 1 for the first time.

I admire Mr. Salerno’s persistence in tracking down many of the people who Salinger knew and to get them to speak on the record. His reward was a chance to actually see Salinger when he was told to be in Cornish at a specific place and time. The video they took was of a white-haired man smiling and laughing behind a car window. I hope Salinger had finally found some peace in the final days of his life. I know I am very much looking forward to these new works and will be one of those lining up to read them as soon as they are released.

Salinger is available through Netflix or check your local PBS Station Listings for a replay of American Masters.

Mark Behnke