Calendar’s picks for your pickiest


Even with round-the-clock online shopping, it’s getting down to the wire -- the final 180 shopping hours before Christmas. Surely there are names yet to be checked off your gift list. That father-in-law who has everything. The persnickety older sister. The college pal who dresses like a GQ model.

We’re here to help. Weekend asked Calendar’s writers and critics to assemble a selective list of gifts that should please film buffs, rock fans, TV addicts and the artistically inclined.


Robert Hilburn

Pop music critic

Bright Eyes gift set

Conor Oberst, the guiding force behind this rock band from Omaha, Neb., may just be the best young songwriter in America, and he delivers his most compelling work yet in “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning,” an acoustic album due in January from Saddle Creek Records. In the CD, Oberst reminds you of the best of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, John Prine and Jackson Browne as he writes about youthful discovery -- touching on personal relationships, self-identity and even the war in Iraq. The single available now, “Lua,” is a stark, poignant story about how what seems reasonable in a relationship (and life) in the evening can look insane by morning. I can’t imagine anyone who hears it not counting the days until the full album arrives. My suggestion: Buy the single for the pop lover on your list, with a gift certificate for the full-length album.


Bright Eyes’ “Lua” single, $4, and a $15 gift certificate for the “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” album at the record retailer of your choice.

‘Chronicles Volume One’

For anyone who found Dylan’s ‘60s novel “Tarantula” impenetrable, sitting down with another book by the greatest songwriter of the modern pop era might not sound like the best idea. But “Chronicles” proves to be a wonder: a series of reflections and outbursts that are beautifully crafted and consistently illuminating. He talks about the heady early days when he was so excited about making music that he didn’t want to go to sleep at night, and then about the low spots decades later when he felt he was just riding on his reputation. He doesn’t tell his story in conventional, chronological fashion, but Dylan has never been conventional. Volume Two, please.

Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles Volume One,” $24 at most bookstores.

Nirvana box set

Kurt Cobain’s brilliance as a songwriter was that he could turn youthful insecurity and defiance into graceful and affecting art. As a result, Nirvana ranks among the greatest rock bands ever -- a group that was approaching a Beatles-like devotion among its hard-core followers when Cobain committed suicide in 1994. “With the Lights Out,” a warm, revealing box set, uses three CDs and one DVD to chronicle Cobain’s musical growth. Some of the music is frightfully raw, some disarmingly tender. Among the video footage: the first time Nirvana played “Smells Like Teen Spirit” live.

“With the Lights Out,” $59.98, available at all music retailers.


Kenneth Turan

Film critic

Krzysztof Kieslowski films

Perceptive, empathetic, enigmatic, Poland’s Krzysztof Kieslowski was perhaps the greatest filmmaker of our time, someone who saw as deeply into the human condition as any director ever did. His untimely death at age 54 robbed us of the films he might have made, but now, for the first time, his earliest theatrical features are available on DVD and VHS.

Although Kieslowski is best known for his incomparable “Decalogue,” a series of 10 one-hour films dealing with the Ten Commandments, he made five features before that. Four of them -- “The Scar” (1976), “Camera Buff” (1979), “No End” (1985) and “Blind Chance” (1987) -- are being brought out by Kino. Also available: 90-minute versions of two “Decalogue” segments.

Krzysztof Kieslowski on DVD and VHS, $29.95 each. Kino on Video. (800) 562-3330 or


McFarland & Co. books

McFarland & Co. is more than a publisher, it is a way of life. Situated well off the beaten path in Jefferson, N.C., McFarland specializes in book-length studies on a mind-boggling array of subjects, things you wouldn’t think anyone cared enough to write a book about. While “Reading Early Hammett,” an examination of the stories before “The Maltese Falcon,” fits in as traditional scholarship, where do you place “British Car Advertising of the 1960s”? Or “Yuengling: A History of America’s Oldest Brewery”? The publisher’s film titles are especially strong. “The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickland and the MGM Publicity Machine” looks at press relations in Hollywood’s golden age, while “Killer Tomatoes: Fifteen Tough Dames” profiles independent actresses whose characters wouldn’t be pushed around.

McFarland & Co. Inc., Publishers. (800) 253-2187 or

Silent films

Silents are making the strongest possible comeback on DVD. “Judex,” a riveting, truly thrilling serial shot in 1917 by the French pioneer Louis Feuillade, details the exploits of one of cinema’s first superheroes in 12 episodes that unfold over five hours. When the French critic Georges Sadoul called this “a superb blend of realism, fantasy and visual poetry,” he was not exaggerating.

At the other end of the spectrum is an extremely rare Chinese silent, 1934’s “The Goddess,” which tells of a woman who turns to prostitution to support her young son. Its star was the legendary Ruan Lingyu, known as the Greta Garbo of Shanghai, who took her life a year later at age 24. And don’t forget “Winsor McCay: The Master Edition,” in which the still-delightful creations of animation’s first genius -- delightful efforts like Gertie the Dinosaur -- are revealed for us to marvel at and enjoy.

“Judex,” $39.95,

“The Goddess,” $29.95, “Winsor McCay: The Master Edition,” $29.95, (800) 603-1104 or

Save the Fox Fullerton

When the great movie palaces were built, everyone thought they would last forever. But forever is only decades long where California real estate is concerned, and the glamorous 1925 Fox Fullerton, built by the team that gave us Grauman’s Chinese and the Egyptian, nearly fell victim to the wrecking ball before a last-minute donation last month saved it.

The Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation estimates that an additional $9.3 million is needed to renovate the theater, and naming opportunities exist in large numbers. A mere $2,500 will get you a seat with your name on it. A donation of $25,000 gets you the original box office. And, if you have the means, you can have the entire theater named after you for $2 million. Anyone who’s ever seen a film in one of these stately pleasure domes knows what an enrapturing experience it is. Help save the past for the future. Give a gift you know will keep on giving.


Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation, (714) 607-0884 or


Carina Chocano

Film critic

Fossil Wrist Net Smart Watch

Helloooo and welcome to the gift of never having to listen to the Moviefone guy’s voice again, brought to you by MSN Direct and Fossil. The perfect gift for the techie movie lover in your life, the Wrist Net watch has a groovy rubberized leather band, a slim case and a changeable face that receives movie times, news, weather, stock and sports updates and lottery information when you sign up for the MSN Smart Plan.

Fossil Wrist Net Smart Watch, $199; MSN Direct Smart Plan, $39.95 per year. The watch is available at department stores, Fossil stores and For more information on the MSN Direct Smart Plan, go to

Scene It?

Another outlet for rampant cinephilia, Scene It? DVD games lob trivia questions as well video and audio clips (courtesy of 20th Century Fox, DreamWorks SKG, Universal Studios, MGM and Sony Pictures). The company has added sequel and junior editions, as well as the super-geeky Scene It? Disney Edition, the Scene It? Turner Classic Movies Edition and the Scene It? James Bond Edition. Flaunting trivia has never been this high tech.

Scene It? Deluxe Edition, $49.99, Scene It? Deluxe Sequel, $24.99, and Scene It? Jr., $34.99. All available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and Good Guys, and at

The Life Aquatic

Who among us doesn’t thrill at the sight of Bill Murray in a wetsuit? For very big fans of Wes Anderson’s new film, “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” the L.A. County Parks & Recreation Dive Site offers basic and advanced scuba diving instruction and certification. The scuba center, which has more than 50 years’ experience training divers, offered the first recreational certification course in the country. Courses are staffed by dedicated volunteers, and advanced diver programs and underwater instructor certification courses include lectures by experts.

Underwater instructor certification courses, Los Angeles County Department of Parks & Recreation, (310) 965-8258 or


Don’t Call It the Ball Thing, Call It Pure Being

Say this piece of newsprint represents all the matter and energy in the universe, OK? This is me, this is you, this is your loved one who really, really loved David O. Russell’s “I {heart} Huckabees.” And over here, this the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, a Buddhist practice center in Marin County that offers meditation training in the Japanese Soto Zen tradition. Located in a valley that opens onto the Pacific, Green Gulch features an organic farm and garden and a guest house and, from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, is offering a six-day New Year’s Retreat during which participants can meditate on awakening the Bodhisattva spirit while reflecting on the year ending. Who knows? Maybe they can finally figure out how they are not themselves.

Green Gulch Farm, 1601 Shoreline Highway, Sausalito. $75 per day, double occupancy; $100 single, if available. Three-day minimum. (415) 383-3134 or


Kevin Thomas

Film critic

‘Wong Kar-Wai Collection’

Five films that put dazzling Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai on the map have been assembled into a terrific set by Kino Video. Wong’s 1989 debut, the gangster movie “As Tears Go By,” is his most conventional work but reveals a fresh eye in its composition. The streaking images he employed there became part of his trademark style, which came into full flower with his first international hit, “Chungking Express” (1994). The films reveal Wong to be as unpredictable as Tarantino or Jarmusch. “Days of Being Wild” (1991) offers the flip side of “Chungking Express,” a romantic fable starring the late Leslie Cheung, Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung and Carina Lau. “Fallen Angels” (1995), an exhilarating rush of a movie, stars Michele Reis, who lines up hit jobs for Leon Lai, and Takeshi Kaneshiro, as a mute but handsome petty thief. The wrenching, deliberately jagged “Happy Together” (1997), starring Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung, offers a harsh charcoal sketch-like chronicle of a gay love affair coming apart in Buenos Aires. The camerawork of Christopher Doyle, Wong’s usual collaborator, is extraordinarily expressive.

“The Wong Kar-Wai Collection,” Kino Video, $99.95, available at most home video retailers. A 25% discount available at through the holidays.

‘The Bennetts’

Constance Bennett, best remembered as the sophisticated blond ghost in “Topper,” and her sister Joan, whose career peaked in the ‘40s as a brunet femme fatale in Fritz Lang films, are fondly remembered in “The Bennetts: An Acting Family.” Brian Kellow, a diligent researcher and a perceptive, graceful writer, covers their careers and sometimes tumultuous private lives, as well as illuminating the life of their father Richard Bennett (1870-1944), an innovative 1920s stage star who was also hot-tempered and hard-drinking. Kellow also calls attention to the third, all-but-forgotten Bennett sister, Barbara (1906-58), also talented but whose insecurities early on led to alcoholism. This is a terrific read, and Kellow had the invaluable help of the Bennett sisters’ children, most notably Joan’s daughter Diana Anderson.

“The Bennetts: An Acting Family,” $39.95. Available at most bookstores.


Since Tallulah Bankhead has already been the subject of at least two respected biographies, the arrival of the superior “Tallulah!: The Life and Times of a Leading Lady” is a surprise. Bankhead, the Alabama-born daughter of longtime congressman William Bankhead, established herself as a star in London’s West End in the 1920s and conquered Broadway in the 1930s. Her flamboyant off-stage personality, her uninhibited bisexuality, her bouts with drugs and alcohol made her a showbiz legend early on. In by far the best account of her life and career, Joel Lobenthal painstakingly extricates the woman from the image to reveal a risk-taking actress overcome by an irreversible self-destructiveness. For all her excesses -- and they were myriad -- Bankhead emerges as a likable, indomitable woman, loyal, courageous, witty. And, of course, outrageous.


“Tallulah!: The Life and Times of a Leading Lady,” $29.95. Available at most bookstores.


Christopher Hawthorne

Architecture critic

Heath Ceramics bowl set

The company founded more than 50 years ago by ceramicist Edith Heath went through some lean years in the 1990s. But Catherine Bailey and her partner Robin Petravic, two industrial designers in their 30s, turned things around after they bought the company last year. Now the old, low-slung Heath factory in Sausalito is operating near capacity and its classic pattern-free plates, bowls and vases -- some brought up to date with a new palette of colors -- are returning to California’s most design-conscious households. As in Edith’s day, Heath products, like this set of turquoise bowls with a square matte-brown serving tray, combine a sleek modern look with the appeal of the handcrafted.

Heath Ceramics bowl set, $100. Available at or (415) 332-3732.

Superlight chair

This wisp of a chair designed by Frank Gehry was one of the hits of this year’s Salone del Mobile, the big furniture fair and design show in Milan. It’s so light, in fact -- just 6 1/2 pounds -- that reps from its manufacturer, Emeco, made a point of holding it aloft with a couple of fingers. The chair, inspired by Gio Ponti’s Superleggera chair from the 1950s, features a single, curving sheet of aluminum laid rather loosely over a tubular aluminum frame. The design allows for more give than your average dining chair, though it can feel just plain wobbly at first. Still, it has an irresistibly model-thin profile, and can be used indoors or out. And it’s the only chair we know of that has its own documentary: Eames Demetrios, grandson of Charles and Ray Eames, made a short film charting Gehry’s design process.

Superlight chair, $350. Available at Design Within Reach studios in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Newport Beach, Pasadena and Santa Monica, or at

Jasper Morrison coffee machine

Fans of minimalist designer Jasper Morrison have been waiting for this particular item more impatiently than caffeine addicts stuck at the back of the Starbucks line. Finally, after several frustrating delays, Morrison’s coffee maker -- the manufacturer, Rowenta, prefers the British term “coffee machine” -- has arrived on American shores. The design is perfectly compact: a brushed stainless steel carafe (big enough to hold 10 cups) sits snugly inside a rectangle of white plastic, with a measuring cup and a space for filters hidden under the lid. It’s enough to make your Italian espresso maker, which probably has gotten used to being the coolest thing on the counter, a little jealous.

Jasper Morrison coffee machine by Rowenta, $175. At both Fitzsu Society stores: 7970 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 655-1908, and 65 W. Green St., Pasadena, (626) 564-1908.


Dan Neil

Automotive critic

Racing school

When it comes to driving most of us are -- if you will pardon the pun -- autodidacts, which is to say, we teach ourselves to drive. The debris fields lining the freeways speak to the results. One of the benefits of sending your gearhead loved one to a “racing school” is that they come back with a heightened appreciation of this terribly underestimated motor skill.


Among the best schools is Frank Hawley’s NHRA Drag Racing School at Pomona Raceway. The introductory, half-day package includes two 1/8 -mile passes in what’s called an “adventure dragster” -- a 26-foot dragster with a big-block, 700-hp Chevy motor -- enough, certainly, to keep one’s attention. The full-day package adds two full 1/4-mile runs.

For those wanting to get involved with the sport, the school offers the Super Class, a two-day curriculum in either a super comp dragster or super gas Firebird -- either of which provides more acceleration than most people have ever felt outside of an amusement park. The class includes all safety equipment and six full runs, as well as instruction on staging and burnout procedures.

For adrenaline of a different flavor, there is the Jim Hall Kart Racing School in Ventura. An introductory, one-day class puts you into the cramped, unpadded seat of a 100-cc “sprint” kart. They look like toys right up to the moment you gas ‘em, and then, look out. These are quick, treacherous, demanding machines; most open-wheel race drivers began their careers kart racing. Your neck will be sore and so will your face -- from smiling.

Frank Hawley’s NHRA Drag Racing School, half day $159; full day $398; Super Class $1,795. Information at (888) 901-7223,

Jim Hall Kart Racing School, half-day classes, $175; full-day class, $320. Information at (805) 654-1329,

Garage lift

There are tinkerers and then there are mechanics -- the difference is a home lift. These garage-style hydraulic or electric devices raise cars off the concrete to make service and repair easier and safer. For most hobbyists, a two-post unit with at least 7,000-pound weight capacity is about right -- big enough to handle most any car or truck, small enough to fit in most workshops.


These are big-ticket purchases, so if you’re trying to surprise your beloved greasy monkey on Christmas, tread carefully. The lift needs to be “asymmetric,” so the lift posts don’t interfere with the car door openings. Keep in mind the ceiling height of the workshop. Also, many of these units require 220-volt power. America’s Pride sells a two-post model with 110-inch overhead and adjustable swivel pads.

Garage lift, $1,795 and up, plus shipping, from America’s Pride, (800) 348-4244,

Driving gloves

You could argue that in an era of climate-controlled cabins and heated steering wheels, driving gloves are passe, a risible affectation, even. You would win that argument.

However, if your loved one owns a vintage British car -- in which the only warmth comes from a hot engine -- or some old Italian heap with no power steering, string-back driving gloves are still a wonderful accessory, a design that has stood the test of time. Hammacher Schlemmer sells the real deal -- made in Italy, with lambskin palm and hand-crocheted cotton string-back top with a button flap.

Driving gloves, $59.95 from Hammacher Schlemmer, (800) 321-1484,


Christopher Knight

Art critic

‘Robert Rauschenberg Door’

Usually, it’s a terrible idea to buy art as a gift. There’s no accounting for taste, and that’s especially the case with art. But the fusion of art and design means that many painters and sculptors now make functional objects as well. And the store at the Museum of Contemporary Art has just the thing.


The “Robert Rauschenberg Door” is, well -- a door designed by Robert Rauschenberg, one of the artists who changed the terms for making art in the 1950s. A standard-size, fully functional door, it even has a historical pedigree in Marcel Duchamp’s 1927 sculpture “Door, 11 Rue Larrey.” The mixed woods, paints and polka-dot patterns of the assemblage give the door a shanty look, which is exactly right for a sculpture by a master that costs $50,000. But here’s a tip: First buy a MOCA membership for $65, and then you get 10% off in the museum store.

“Robert Rauschenberg Door” at the MOCA Store, 250 S. Grand Ave., downtown L.A., and 2447 Main St., Santa Monica. $50,000 ($45,000 with member’s discount),

‘What’s the Matter With Kansas?’

There’s a culture war on and you need ammo. Thomas Frank, founding editor of the Baffler magazine, explains why so many ordinary Americans are thrilled to stand up and proudly vote against their own self-interest. He does it with sly wit, sharp insight and sobering candor -- and, yes, a dash of art criticism.

Chapter 4 includes a telling analysis of “The Garden of Eden,” a folk art environment constructed in the early 20th century in the tiny town of Lucas, Kan., by a feisty old populist named J.P. Dinsmoor. Frank compares this famous work, which has concrete sculptures praising labor unions and denouncing big business, with a more recent right-wing folk art environment created by one M.T. Liggett in the equally tiny Kansas town of Mullinville. Among Liggett’s sculptures: a giant swastika with boots and a blond head and labeled “Hillary Clinton / Sieg Heil / Our Jack-Booted Eva Braun.” That’s why it’s called a culture war, not a culture disagreement.

“What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America” by Thomas Frank, $24. Available at most bookstores.

Video projectors or LCD flat-panel monitors

Video art got started in the late 1960s, when inexpensive video cameras and recorders were first introduced. But collecting video art never caught on, partly because the equipment to show it was cumbersome and just plain goofy. Consumer electronics have since caught up, however. Small portable video projectors and large, sleek flat-panel monitors put video into the familiar pictures-on-the-wall context. When friends drop by for a holiday party, nothing is more chic than having your Jennifer Steinkamp video-abstraction nonchalantly pulsing away over the fireplace.


Video projectors, $999 and up; 30-inch LCD flat-panel monitors, $2,200 and up. At electronics stores everywhere. Jennifer Steinkamp artwork extra ($2,500 and up).


Booth Moore

Fashion critic

Gift Gear for the Stylish Gent

According to conventional wisdom, the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys. Another difference is that boys will actually tell you what presents they want. If the man on your list is mute, Darren Gold and Christos Garkinos of the new lifestyle boutique Alpha can help with one of their custom gift crates, geared to sporty or classic types, guys who groom or have a taste for luxury. The Stylish Gent gift set, packaged in an Oxford alligator suitcase, features a Cristi Conaway cashmere scarf, Pantherella argyle socks, a stainless-steel bar set, Tateossian abalone cufflinks, Tom Ford’s new book, a lighter, poker chips and more. It’s just one of the offerings at this one-stop shop, which stocks cutting-edge apparel from Nike’s retro White Label and Yohji Yamamoto’s Y-3, as well as tailored looks from A.P.C., John Bartlett and Paul Smith. Alpha carries grooming products, leather goods and baby gifts too. Gold and Garkinos also can help a guy pick out the perfect gift for his girlfriend. Now that’s full service.

Gift Gear for the Stylish Gent set, $790. Available at Alpha, 8625 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (310) 855-0775,

Petro Zillia beach cruiser

Forget serious cycling; bring back banana seats and streamers. Nony Tochterman, the pink-haired L.A. fashion designer behind the Petro Zillia label, decorated this perfect retro beach cruiser with her signature rainbow stripes and pompoms for Carlsbad-based Electra Bicycle Co. Right now it’s available by special order only, but a more affordable road-ready version is coming in the spring. Meantime, Electra has plenty of styles to choose from, with hibiscus flower or Rat Fink detailing, two-tone wheels, mud flaps and yes, even streamers. Lance Armstrong never looked so good.

Petro Zillia beach cruiser, $2,000 by special order. Other models, $200 to $400, from Electra Bicycle Co., (800) 261-1644 or

Wickedawesome gift bag

Airbrushing is so last Christmas. How about a photo of Fido on your forefinger? Or a snapshot of Hubby in a Santa hat on your thumb? All your manicure dreams can be realized at Varnish, a new salon from Jennifer Noonan and Kim McIntyre, the sisters behind the chic maternity shop Naissance just a few doors down. It’s one of the few places in town to feature ImagiNail, a technology that can transfer more than 3,000 cataloged images -- fine art, cartoons, florals and more -- onto your talons. Or bring in your favorite photo to be scanned. The “wickedawesome” gift bag features a T-shirt, flip-flops, a key chain, cuticle balm, a $25 gift certificate and a bottle of Varnish polish.


Wickedawesome gift bag, $75. ImagiNail art, $1 per nail. Available at Varnish, 8245 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 852-9822 or


Lewis Segal

Dance critic

Ballets Russes Portfolio

The ultimate dance gift for 2004 may be an impossibly rare 1913 portfolio containing four pages of text and 14 hand-colored lithographs of the fabled Sergei Diaghilev Ballets Russes. Based on the company’s 1910-11 seasons, the lithographs are the work of German painter and stage designer Ludwig Kainer, and the text quotes are from legendary stars Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina. (They also are shown in many of the lithographs, but don’t believe everything you see: Several of Kainer’s images are the artist’s inventions -- the source-ballets reconceived in his mind’s eye.) One of only 250 copies published, the portfolio comes in a 20-by-14 1/2 -inch folder of black cloth gilt (nicely rebacked, says the seller), with designs of Nijinsky on the cover.

“Ballets Russes Portfolio,” $8,000, available at Golden Legend Inc., 211 S. Beverly Drive, Suite 114, Beverly Hills, (310) 385-1903 or

‘Margot Fonteyn: A Life’

At 672 pages, Meredith Daneman’s exhaustively researched biography is the kind of gift you give yourself. It documents all the career milestones you’d expect, but is most notable for overturning a number of sentimental preconceptions about British ballet royalty. For starters, we learn how Fonteyn’s chaste image was carefully cultivated and sustained despite her appetite for younger men. And, in particular, we watch Royal Ballet founder Ninette de Valois diminish or cripple the careers of every British ballerina who might have challenged Fonteyn’s primacy.

One of those potential rivals was Moira Shearer, forever identified with the classic 1948 film “The Red Shoes,” a story about the impossibility of having both a happy marriage and a major ballet career. In fact, Shearer achieved both; it was Fonteyn who was forced to dance way past her prime to pay the medical bills of her philandering husband, who was left paralyzed by a man he’d made a cuckold.

“Margot Fonteyn: A Life” by Meredith Daneman (Viking). $32.95, available at most bookstores.


ABT program

Autographed photographs of dance icons always make excellent gifts, and EBay offers a cornucopia of possibilities. Just search for “ballet, signed” or “dance, signed” to check. If you’re seeking high-profile artists (Fred Astaire or Mikhail Baryshnikov, for example), beware of the “pre-printed” items: photos in which both the image and the signature are dupes. Especially tempting among current offerings is a 42-page souvenir program from the 1958-59 American Ballet Theatre season, signed by more than a dozen celebrated ballet stars of the era, including Alicia Alonso, Igor Youskevitch, Alicia Markova, Erik Bruhn, Violette Verdy, Claude Bessy and Lupe Serrano. The seller says it’s in fair-to-good condition and guaranteed authentic.

American Ballet Theatre souvenir program, 1958-59. Available from EBay seller squaredeal20637, item No. 3856007587, starting bid $9.99. Auction ends Sunday, 6:30 p.m.


Don Shirley

Theater writer

Weekend with the Davidsons

Gordon Davidson leaves his post atop the Center Theatre Group (overseeing the Mark Taper Forum, Ahmanson Theatre and Kirk Douglas Theatre) in a few weeks, but he might still have months of schmoozing donors ahead. It depends on how many take him up on this offer: Make a donation of $100,000 to the CTG’s new Gordon Davidson Endowment for Artistic Excellence and get a weekend trip custom-designed for theater lovers with Davidson and his publicist wife Judi -- plus that warm, fuzzy philanthropy feeling. It’ll probably be a weekend in New York or London, said CTG producing associate Ann Wareham. Because only high rollers need apply, Wareham added, “We hope they might have their own plane.”

Weekend with the Davidsons, $100,000. (213) 972-3139.

‘Banned Plays’

Reference books make great gifts, because they don’t obligate the recipient to read every sentence and report back to the giver. But they also can be a little dull -- unless they focus on something controversial. Enter “Banned Plays,” which offers synopses and “censorship histories” of 125 stage scripts. Objections to these plays were over sex, politics, religion, mores -- all those subjects that can perk up the conversation at a holiday family reunion.

“Banned Plays,” by Dawn B. Sova. Checkmark Books, $16.95, paper; available at Samuel French in Studio City, (818) 762-0535, or Hollywood, (323) 876-0570, and online booksellers.

‘Acting With an Accent’

Accents on stage are a minefield. They have to sound authentic -- but also be comprehensible. This series of CDs and tapes -- one for each of 25 accents -- can help you sort out your cockney from your Scottish, your Polish from your Yiddish. The lessons are designed for actors, but who couldn’t benefit from sounding Kennedy-esque on occasion?


“Acting With an Accent,” by David Alan Stern, $21.95 each or $450 for all 25 from Dialect Accent Specialists, (800) 753-1016 or Also available at Samuel French and via online book and music retailers.

Theater gift certificates

All the benefit of giving tickets with none of the guilt if the production is bad. An $80 gift certificate will admit two to any of the plays in the regular season at South Coast Repertory ($40 for the children’s season). A Play7 pass gets its owner in to shows at 25 of L.A.’s most adventurous small theater companies for only $7 per ticket. For more conventional tastes, the new Broadway Gift Card can be used to buy tickets at 39 Broadway playhouses and for Broadway tours in 140 cities.

Theater gift certificates at South Coast Repertory, $40 or $80. (714) 708-5555 or; Play7 pass, $27. (323) 960-7772,; Broadway Gift Card, $155, $195 or $225. (888) 276-2392,


Don Heckman

Jazz reviewer


Here’s a way to hang the vitality of jazz on a living room wall. Painter Norton Wright has been a fan since his college days in the ‘50s, when he hung out at Manhattan’s Hickory House. After a lengthy career in television (producing, among other shows, “Sesame Street”), he returned to his first love -- painting -- combining it with his affection for jazz. The result is “JazzWorks,” a series of wildly colorful paintings in the form of jazz improvisations -- each inspired by one of Wright’s favorite musicians. The titles include “Good Vibes (Saluting Terry Gibbs),” “Mysterioso (Saluting Thelonious Monk)” and “What Four (Saluting Miles Davis).”

“JazzWorks” paintings, $2,500 to $7,500, available from Schomburg Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., E3A, Santa Monica. (310) 453-5757,

‘Jazz Play-a-Longs’

Is there a frustrated saxophonist lurking somewhere in your house? A dusty trumpet or trombone in the corner just waiting for some first-rate jazz musicians to play with? Let them fantasize no more. Decades ago, Jamey Aebersold, looking for a way to practice his own alto sax, began producing play-along jazz recordings. There are now more than 100 CDs in the catalog, all with excellent rhythm sections, some with full string orchestra. The titles cover virtually every area of jazz, from “St. Louis Blues -- Dixieland” (Vol. 100) to “Charlie Parker -- All Bird” (Vol. 6) to “Fusion Plus” (Vol. 109). Singers weary of cheesy karaoke should check out “It Had to Be You” (Vol. 107).


“Jazz Play-a-Longs,” $14.90 to $19.95, available at music stores or at (800) 456-1388,

Mosaic’s Limited Editions

Want to give a gift that appreciates? Try this. Reissue collections have been an essential part of the jazz record business since the ‘40s. But Mosaic Records, whose albums encompass themed collections (“Classic Capitol Jazz”) as well as individual artist compilations (Miles Davis, Stan Kenton, Sarah Vaughan, etc.), licenses music from major labels for release as numbered, limited editions in 12-by-12-inch boxes with detailed liner notes. Valuable as collectibles (many editions are now available only in the secondary collectors market), the Mosaic productions also set a high standard for quality audio and packaging. Current releases are the five-CD “The Complete Roulette Dinah Washington Recordings” ($85) and the seven-CD “The Complete Argo/Mercury Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet Sessions” ($119).

Mosaic’s limited-edition CDs, $68 for four-CD sets to $192 for 12-CD sets. Mosaic Records, (203) 327-7111,


Mark Swed

Music critic

‘The Oxford History of Western Music’

Where to begin with Richard Taruskin’s massive 4,272-page confrontation with the music of Europe and America? Try Page xxi, which is where the Introduction (“The History of What?”) begins. And then just keep going. Taruskin is, I think the majority of the music world would agree, the most brilliant, readable, provocative, comprehensive and infuriating musicologist anywhere. I’ve only had these books for a week and am already picking fights with Taruskin, learning things and trying to clear all other books off my desk and keep them off for what will evidently be a long time. Like Mozart, Taruskin makes you smarter. If you can possibly afford it, please give this unconscionably high-priced but indispensable six-volume set to someone who loves music, knowledge, ideas and the world we live in. If you can’t afford it, your Christmas gift to music could be a letter of outrage to Oxford for its greed.

“The Oxford History of Western Music” by Richard Taruskin. Oxford University Press. $500 at until Jan. 31, $699 thereafter.

‘Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts’

Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts used to be for kids. Now they’re a part of history for those of us who were kids when they were broadcast in the ‘50s and ‘60s and are now consumers of classical music. Today we watch these addictive old videos, some in pretty low-tech black-and-white, to watch how Bernstein makes music mean something. His tricks were without limit. His talent was without limit. His charisma was without limit. He’ll show you plenty about music and a good time. But the Young People’s Concerts aren’t suitable for today’s children; Bernstein’s world and his allusions are not theirs. These relics from the past exist instead to inspire us adults to find our own relevant ways of teaching music. And, of course, to remind us of our youth.


“Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts,” nine-DVD set, $149.95; available at music and home video retailers.

‘Voices of Light’

Here’s a test. Turn off the Christmas tree lights (better yet, don’t even use Christmas tree lights). Put on this new Dawn Upshaw recording of songs by Olivier Messiaen, Debussy, Osvaldo Golijov and Faure and see if a subtle glow doesn’t eventually emanate from the CD player, like a halo, and then gradually bathe the room in radiance. I guarantee it will happen if you believe in the power of a radiant singer to get to the heart of transcendental song. Messiaen and his angels are her starting point. Her ending point is ... well, that’s just the point. Radiance exists to make us aware of infinity. And here its origin is a 5-inch silvery disc that is the modern-day equivalent of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

“Voices of Light,” Dawn Upshaw, soprano; Gilbert Kalish, piano (Nonesuch), $16.98; available from most music retailers.


Paul Brownfield

TV critic


Give the miracle of TiVo at the holidays. This is a gadget for anyone who says to himself: “I absolutely love the program ‘Fear Factor.’ I would watch it every time it’s on. I just wish it were easier to keep up with recording ‘Fear Factor’ every time it airs.” The digital video recording device, which starts at around $100, records shows so you don’t have to. Activate a season pass to your favorite shows and never worry about missing “Fear Factor” ever again!

And here’s something else: New, more expensive machines incorporate TiVo and DVD recorders. Save each moment of “Fear Factor” for posterity.

TiVo box, $99 and up. Humax DVD recorder with TiVo, $400. Gift subscriptions, $38.85-$299. Available at electronics retailers or (877) 289-8486,


‘SCTV Vol. 2’

Working in the frozen tundra of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, this troupe created a fictional television network in a fictional town. From there was comedy genius born -- skits like “Benny Hill Street Blues” and characters like Count Floyd, Joe Flaherty’s Dracula-howling kiddie show host. The rest of the cast? Up-and-comers including Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis, the late John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Andrea Martin, Martin Short, Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas. The show originated in 1976 on the CBC before being picked up as a late-night TV entry by NBC in 1981, and this Vol. 2 DVD contains those first episodes seen in the U.S., including Candy as the village idiot in the Russian TV show “Hey Giorgy!”

“SCTV Vol. 2,” $89.98. Available at home video retailers.


Robert Lloyd

TV critic

‘Fractured Flickers: The Complete Collection’

At very long last comes Jay Ward’s complete “Fractured Flickers,” seen rarely, if ever, since its 26-episode initial run in 1963. Ward and Bill Scott, the brains behind “Rocky & Bullwinkle,” added dialogue -- in the many voices of Paul Frees and June Foray -- and sound effects to re-edited silent movies. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was transformed into a tale of the soda pop industry and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” into a football story (with Lon Chaney’s Quasimodo turned into yell leader Dinky Dunsten), and so on. Hans Conried was the apologetic on-camera host, also “interviewing” a strange succession of guests, from Fabian to Rod Serling to Bob Newhart to Ursula Andress. It’s smart and subversive, in the manner of a bygone age. Funny ha-ha, funny strange.

“Fractured Flickers: The Complete Collection,” $39.99,; available at Amoeba Records, 6400 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 245-6400.

‘Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television’ by Jerry Mander

Television is a candy store, full of pretty and colorful things that might provide a momentary lift but are otherwise no good for you at all. (And not like a Leonides Belgian chocolate store, or even a See’s.) The point of this 1978 tome by former adman Jerry Mander (his real name), still in print and as applicable to our 500-channel world as it was to that of VHF/UHF, is that it doesn’t really matter what’s on TV: The medium itself is bad, exacting tolls both spiritual and physical as it replaces actual experience with hypnotically addictive bursts of light. Mander’s anti-tube campaign is quixotic, his science anecdotal, his strokes broad -- but his sense is uncommonly common.

“Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television,” $13.95, available from most online booksellers, or by special order from local bookstores.

Canon XL2 3CCD MiniDV Digital Camcorder Kit

TV is a top-down medium -- you take what you’re given, and what you’re given is determined by an ever-contracting small number of corporations. But with the capability to record, edit and reproduce professional-quality video increasingly within reach, and with DVD players rapidly becoming ubiquitous, television may finally sprout a decentralized “indie” ethic/aesthetic analogous to that of alternative music and film. Seize the means of production with the Canon XL2. It isn’t cheap -- it lists for $6,500 and generally sells for $5,000 -- but it won’t soon be obsolete. (And there are TV sets that cost more than that.) It’s packed with cool features, including a 20x optical zoom lens, image stabilization, standard and widescreen aspect ratios and adjustable frame rates (for that cinematic look).


Canon XL2 3CCD MiniDV Digital Camcorder. $6,500. Information at


Susan King

Staff writer

‘The Mickey Mouse Club’

This limited-edition two-disc set is a must have for baby boomers who grew up watching Annette, Cubby, Karen, Doreen, Jimmie and Roy weekdays from 1955 to 1959. Revisit premiere week with the first five episodes of the full hourlong ABC series -- more nostalgic fun than the half-hour versions in syndication and on the Disney Channel. Extras include Leonard Maltin’s interview with several of the Mouseketeers and a tribute to soft-spoken host Jimmie Dodd, who died in 1964. There’s also a clip from the group’s first appearance at Disneyland’s opening in the summer of 1955 and the opening title sequence in color.

“Walt Disney Treasures: The Mickey Mouse Club,” $32, available at most video retailers.

‘Ultimate Matrix Collection’

If size counts when it comes to DVD sets, then this one is akin to a Hummer. The 10-disc set includes the three “Matrix” movies, plus the extras discs released with each. Also included are “The Animatrix,” containing nine Matrix-y short animated films, and three additional discs: “The Roots of the Matrix,” “The Burly Man Chronicles” and “The Zion Archive.” Topping the set like a cherry on a sundae is a limited-edition figurine of “Matrix” star Keanu Reeves.

“The Ultimate Matrix Collection,” $130, available at most video retailers.

‘Star Wars Trilogy’

George Lucas almost makes up for the disappointing last two entries in the “Star Wars” saga with this splendiferous digital set of the first three flicks. You know, the good ones. “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” come complete with soaring documentaries and intelligent and often funny commentary from Lucas, his crew and “Princess Leia” (Carrie Fisher). It will restore your faith in the Force.

“Star Wars Trilogy (Widescreen Edition),” $69.98, available at most video retailers.