Mao's Last Blender

Being uber-frugal and anticipating the release of a new movie causes angst: bypassing the theatrical release, not wanting to buy a ticket; finding the DVD online, but choosing to save the $15; regretting my status as one of the few lacking Netflix, yet unwilling to impose upon a friend who does; waiting, waiting for the library to procure a copy, then three more interminable months in a long hold queue.

With my public library's copy of the Australian film, Mao's Last Dancer, finally in the DVD player, I lean into the screen, awaiting the scene I've rehearsed in my mind since reading the book: Li Cunxin, on a cultural exchange from China to Houston in the early 1980s, steps into the kitchen of his host's home. He sees a countertop full of small appliances and gadgets he can't even identify. It's culture shock, kitchen-style.

I received these flowers, along with a book and chocolate,
from the art department for Mao's Last Dancer. 

A couple of years ago, Marian Murray, working set design, asked me to find vintage small appliances, kitchen towels, electrical outlets, and office supplies for the film. I spent days scouring thrift stores all over the city, one by one ticking items off the list. Marian is, to date, the best customer I've had on either my eBay or Etsy sites. With sales of over $1000, I suspect I profited more than some of the bit actors; additional compensation came in the form of a book, kangaroo-shaped chocolates from Down Under, and a visit from Teleflora.

As Li approaches the kitchen, I wait to see my "babies" in at least a supporting role. But, like a soccer mom jealous of the star player, I am a bit miffed to see a blender acquired elsewhere whirr into action, while my small appliances languish in an invisible corner on a crowded countertop, mere extras. At one point, my husband says, "I think that's your outlet!" We back up the DVD a few times, but I never see it; even if I had, it would be small consolation.

I'll never again look at a period film the same way. Every vintage piece onscreen likely cost the studio dearly. And for each prop seen, fifty may go unused or unnoticed, their only legacy, conspiring to raise admission enough, a frugal person would have to sell $1000 in vintage small appliances, outlets, kitchen towels, and office supplies to rationalize the purchase of a single ticket.

A kitchen utensil
sold to Martha
Stewart Living.
Now that I've seen Mao's Last Dancer, as much as I enjoyed it, I'm glad I waited in the hold queue at the library. I saved enough money to subscribe to a magazine.

You see, I'm eagerly anticipating the centerfold featuring the kitchen utensils I sold to Martha Stewart Living.

Next: It's a sad day when I realize I can no longer get away with wearing my favorite dress: When I am Old, I Shall Wear Vintage


  1. I like how you said you saved enough money to subscribe to the Martha Stewart magazine... Funny, but I don't see that EVER happening!

    Isn't it funny that the producer went to such lengths utilizing your merch and yet it was barely visible? I'll bet you're still glad you could accommodate them.

    Boycott Netflix! (Just a personal opinion:))

  2. Never thought about where studios come up with their props. Cool post.

  3. I never had thought about this either. Kind of makes we want to hang onto my junk now so I can sell it as period pieces later!


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