Sunday, January 27, 2013

Film - The Horse's Mouth (1958)

Alec Guinness did his own adaptation of Joyce Cary's novel The Horse's Mouth directed by Ronald Neame in 1958.  Painter Gully Jimson (played by Guinness) is a single-minded bastard who lives only to transfer what is in his head to paint - and to drink occasionally. The story is hilarious and excruciating.  It let's one imagine what the world would look like if everyone were pure, unregulated id.  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Theatre - Opus No. 7

Saw this last weekend - wonderful improvisatory and lively piece of theatre.

Opus No. 7
Dmitry Krymov Lab - Moscow School of Dramatic Art
St. Ann's Warehouse

Film - Almost Peaceful (2002)

Because of my dissertation writing schedule, I'm feeling a little restricted in the additional writing I can do.  One book post per week seems to be the limit right now, but that shouldn't keep me, I'm now thinking to myself, from posting a picture or a few words on the other cultural or scientific encounters of my NY existence.  So I'll start with the film I saw last night.  No review, just an image or two from Almost Peaceful, a French film released in 2002 about a group of Jews who work for a tailor in Paris after World War II and how they try to get back on their feet.  The film really focused on the meaning of people being with people.  You know how you can sometime know you are going to like a film because of the way people are arranged in the frame?  Well, I feel I can, at any rate.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Birds eye view (Books - Fly Away Peter by David Malouf)

David Malouf, an Australian writer, was new to me.  His novella  Fly Away Peter (Vintage International, 1982) has an elegant, even polished voice and an pensive, elegiac tone.  It concerns two young men, Ashley Crowther, an English-educated Australian man of means who returns to live on his father estate.  He hires Jim, a man well-versed in the birds of his native land, to document all the species which live on his property so that they might start a sanctuary.  Through this work, they become much more friendly than men of their distinct classes might ordinarily become.  When World War I breaks out, both men join up and serve.  That's it.  If you're looking for action-packed writing you should look somewhere else. This is a contemplative reading experience about interaction between men and nature, men and themselves, men and each other.  Usually World War I is put forward as the start of mechanized warfare and the birth of a new brand of cruelty, but Fly Away Peter, while not selling the horror of the war short, also sees it as a leveler. Along with the death of chivalry, came the death not of class exactly, but death of the notion that the higher born were somehow more favored by the gods.  If a bomb went off in the trench, it could kill a poor woodsman or an Oxford-educated estate owner equally efficiently.  Fly Away Peter is about the rewards of gaining the perspective of other men or other creatures and, in that it offers some solace amidst all the inhumanity of war.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A socio-political, musical, map that is the zeitgeist of NW London (Books - NW by Zadie Smith)

Zadie Smith is an artist of our time.  She brings an acute ear for the rhythm and melody of contemporary speech to compositions that feel like the music of our multi-cultural urban life. At the same time, she brings an educated awareness of the narrative form that never lets the reader forget what she knows. In her first novel White Teeth, it was that musical ear that was emphasized in its sprawling story and rococo diction.  In On Beauty, a leaner story of racial politics in academia, it was her formalistic prowess that shone in a brilliant appropriation of E.M. Forster's plot of  Howard's End.  In her new novel NW (The Penguin Press, 2012), Zadie Smith synthesizes her two sides to fashion a work that feels equal parts her gifts and her technique.    

Saturday, January 5, 2013

In the harsh light of day... (Books - Swimming Home by Deborah Levy)

Deborah Levy's Swimming Home (Bloomsbury USA, 2012) made a lot of critics favorites lists for 2012 as well as being shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize but, although Levy is effective at setting a pervasively creepy atmosphere, I was not as completely taken as everyone else.  A few paragraphs from the retrospective opening offer a good example of Levy's modern, brightly-illuminated diction.
He leaned his head out of the window and felt the cold mountain air sting his lips.  Early humans had once lived in this forest that was now a road.  They knew the past lived in rocks and trees and they knew desire made them awkward, mad, mysterious, messed up.

To have been so intimate with Kitty Finch had been a pleasure, a pain, a shock, an experiment, but most of all it had been a mistake.  He asked her again to please, please, please drive him safely home to his wife and daughter.

'Yes,' she said.  'Life is only worth living because we hope it will get better and we'll all get home safely.'
Her prose shines the garish light of a hangover over all she surveys - things are too brightly colorful, too clear, they make your eyes hurt, and her characters get now how perfectly obvious the whole mess was before.  The thing is, I've not been drinking, and I felt like I got it from the start.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 - the year that was

A New Year's Day meme. I did this last year and it turned out to be a pretty good year, maybe it will work again. Feel free to steal and modify it.

 1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?
Published an article in a non-science journal. Created a book club. Ate zucchini, hazlenut chocolate cake while looking at the Julian Alps.

 2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don't know what I said I would do last year and, doubtless, I didn't do it.  This year I will write my dissertation and defend it.  That is the one and only plan I am making.

 3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes, a friend in the midwest.

 4. Did anyone close to you die?
Parents of childhood friends and a remarkable Prof in my PhD program.

5. What countries did you visit?
England, Austria, Slovenia, and Italy. 

 6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?
A PhD.  A salary.  Hair on the top of my head, but let's be reasonable.

 7. What dates from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
My 50th birthday.  Well, because it was my 50th and the Ragazzo got really sick, and 20 children lost their lives in CT.  It couldn't quite be called joyous.

 8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Reaching 50, I guess, although all I did was look before I cross, buckle in, and take my vitamins.

 9. What was your biggest failure?
I said this last year but I'm not sure that I improved: I talked more than I listened. I answered more than I asked.

 10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Aside from a rotten sinus infection, and an annoying stomach thing, I was pretty fortunate.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I got a great tie and scarf in Vienna and saw a lot of terrific theatre performances. 

 12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
President Obama stood up for gay marriage in an election year.  How the world has changed.   

 13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Is it too much of a cliche to say most of the United States legislature?

 14. Where did most of your money go?
To living in New York, but I wouldn't say that it's not worth it.  You don't get something for nothing.

 15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Obama's standing up for gay marriage.  Our train trip to Slovenia.  Cute puppies.  Seeing the play Scenes From an Execution after imagining it for 25 years.  The Halloween party we did at work for the kids two days after Hurricane Sandy. A meeting that I had regarding future work. Seeing a number of my old students perform.

16. What song will always remind you of 2011?
None comes to mind.

 17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
 a) happier or sadder?

 b) thinner or fatter?
 c) richer or poorer?
 - you don't say in what, so if we're not counting dollars and cents, definitely  richer.

 18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Had meaningful exchanges with friends, family, and new acquaintances. Written. Followed through.

 19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Acted without awareness. Made commitments I couldn't keep.

 20. How did you spend Christmas?
At the in-laws making schnitzel, cucumber salad, opening presents with the kids, and singing carols.

 21. Did you fall in love in 2011?
Once or twice.

 22. How many one-night stands?
None, thanks for asking.

 23. What was your favourite TV program?
The BBC adaptations of A Dance to the Music of Time and Daniel Deronda were both very good.

 24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Yes, and I'm much better at it.

 25. What was the best book you read?
See non-fiction, biography, and fiction.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I'm loving Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's recording of Les Nuits d'Ete

and Radu Lupu's recording of Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor


  27. What did you want and get?
A more unified experience of myself.

 28. What did you want and not get?
Although gay people can now marry in nine of the United States and D.C., the federal government does not confer more than 1,000 benefits upon us that it gives straight people who have paid the same fee and sworn to the same terms of that contract.

29. What were your favourite performances this year?
Margaret (2011)
Another Year (2010) - appropriately enough
Blue Valentine (2010)
This is Not a Film (2011)
Copie Conforme (2010)
Red Riding Trilogy (2009)

Uncle Vanya by the Sydney Theatre Co. w/ Cate Blanchette
Orpheus and Euridice chor. Pina Bausch by Paris Opera Ballet
Scenes From an Execution - Nat'l Theatre, London
Timon of Athens - Nat'l Theatre, London (HD simulcast)
Donka: A Letter to Chekhov - BAM
The Other Place - Broadway w/ Laurie Metcalf
30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I worked, went to a very elegant restaurant and turned 50.

 31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Equal treatment under the law, as detailed in #28.

 32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?
I manage to get dressed every day, occasionally that included a tie. Fashion concept?  Let's not go crazy.

 33. What kept you sane?
Did something keep me sane?  If so, it was probably the Ragazzo.

 34. What political issue stirred you the most?
Where do I begin?  I am appalled at the resistance to offering healthcare as a basic right of citizenship in this rich and technically advanced country.  I am amazed that when so many people are murdered in cold blood all some can think about is their personal right to own a gun.  I am terrified that Antonin Scalia actually imagines that he or anyone else interprets the Constitution exactly as it was written.  We would still have slavery and women would not be able to vote if that were the case. I continue to be amazed that relatively smart people imagine that the only thing between them and better lives is government.  They are in denial about how reliant we all are upon each other for basic services.  If they want electricity coming to their homes, trash collected, safe meat and dairy to eat, coordinated help after hurricanes, relatively safe household products, we need to have regulation and we need to pay taxes.  Making everything answerable only to profit has been disastrous for so many industries - look at the airlines, health insurance, for-profit prisons are a true desecration of justice.     

 35. Whom did you miss?
My dad. My grandparents.

 36. Who was the best new person you met?
I met a really cool woman at a wedding two days ago who works on biodiversity in cities.

 37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011:
I worked on being more mindful of things as they are.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
This doesn't sum up my year, but I think Noel Coward is as good a way as any to ring in the New Year.

Quite for no reason
I'm here for the Season
And high as a kite,
Living in error
With Maud at Cap Ferrat
Which couldn't be right.
Everyone's here and frightfully gay,
Nobody cares what people say,
Though the Riviera
Seems really much queerer
Than Rome at it's height,
Yesterday night-

I went to a marvelous party
With Nounou and Nada and Nell,
It was in the fresh air
And we went as we were
And we stayed as we were
Which was Hell.
Poor Grace started singing at midnight
And didn't stop singing till four;
We knew the excitement was bound to begin
When Laura got blind on Dubonnet and gin
And scratched her veneer with a Cartier pin,
I couldn't have liked it more.

I went to a marvelous party,
I must say the fun was intense,
We all had to do
What the people we knew
Would be doing a hundred years hence.
Dear Cecil arrived wearing armour,
Some shells and a black feather boa,
Poor Millicent wore a surrealist comb
Made of bits of mosaic from St. Peter's in Rome,
But the weight was so great that she had to go home,
I couldn't have liked it more.

People's behaviour
Away from Belgravia
Would make you aghast,
So much variety
Watching society
Scampering past,
If you have any mind at all
Gibbon's divine Decline and Fall
Seems pretty flimsy,
No more than a whimsy,
By way of contrast
On Saturday last-

I went to a marvelous party,
We didn't start dinner till ten
And young Bobbie Carr
Did a stunt at the bar
With a lot of extraordinary men;
Dear Baba arrived with a turtle
Which shattered us all to the core,
The Grand Duke was dancing a foxtrot with me
When suddenly Cyril screamed "Fiddledidee"
And ripped off his trousers and jumped in the sea,
I couldn't have liked it more.

I went to a marvelous party,
Elise made an entrance with May
You'd never have guessed
From her fisherman's vest
That her bust had been whittled away.
Poor Lulu got fried on Chianti
And talked about esprit de corps.
Maurice made a couple of passes at Gus
And Freddie, who hates any kind of a fuss,
Did half the Big Apple and twisted his truss,
I couldn't have liked it more.

I went to a marvellous party.
We played the most wonderful game,
Maureen disappeared
And came back in a beard
And we all had to guess at her name!
We talked about growing old gracefully
And Elsie who's seventy-four
Said, "A, it's a question of being sincere,
And B, if you're supple you've nothing to fear."
Then she swung upside down from a glass chandelier,
I couldn't have liked it more.