Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Of moral compasses and light-meters - on becoming sensitive (Books - The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont)

Amber Dermont's much-talked-about novel The Starboard Sea (St. Martin's Griffin, 2012) begins when a wealthy, intelligent teenager, Jason, experiences the death of his friend and sailing partner, Cal, to suicide and everything that once worked in his life goes to hell.  His father arranges his transfer to Bellingham, the last chance in prep schools, the school to which boys and girls are transferred when they have screwed up one to many times.  There, a boy who by most standards has it all - decent looks, smarts, he plays the piano, he's a star on the sailing team, he's rich, and he even fits in - there Jason proceeds to pull to the side-lines, notice the hardships of other people, and become an outsider who cares. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Film - Songcatcher (2000)

A university-educated musicologist (the passionate Janet McTeer) goes 'up the mountain' to collect the authentic folk music of Appalachia.  Songcatcher (2000) is not the strongest script in the world, but it has Janet McTeer and Pat Carroll in it and it tells a good story about having the strength to go one's own way.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Film - The Iron Lady (2011)

Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent are wasted on The Iron Lady (2011) dir. Phyllida Lloyd. The film tries desperately, if not to portray Margaret Thatcher sympathetically, at least to trace the origin of her rabid fiscal conservatism and inhumane governing choices.  It doesn't succeed.  Being a shopkeeper's daughter or being laughed at by school chums needn't make one unempathic. In fact, it could easily do the opposite.  Meryl Streep has so much age makeup on that she looks like a lizard, and the film chooses to tell its story of fairly recent history via so many cliched montages, with such a baldly commercial soundtrack, that I wondered why they didn't make a 10 minute music video and have done with it.  The endless montages - Maggie at home, Maggie losing the election, Maggie winning the election, Maggie ruining the British economy, the masses mad at Maggie and rioting in Brixton, Maggie fighting in the Falklands, in addition to being banal, seemed to wish to skirt actual scene writing so that the film wouldn't have to have an opinion on her politics.  Want a lesson in what austerity does to an economy, America?  Look at Thatcherism.  Anyway, her austerity was a lie.  She was glad to spend millions of pounds when it came to a war in the Falklands.  Given the way she decimated funding for the arts in Britain, as a director I certainly wouldn't have wanted the job of directing her biopic.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

What we go to art for (Books - Artful by Ali Smith)

I fell over a review of Ali Smith's Artful (The Penguin Press, 2012) by happenstance this past week, thought it sounded interesting, and then walked into my favorite bookshop the next day looking for something else, and I thought - there's that book I read about.  I can never resist browsing the books stacked on the big tables at Three Lives Booksellers.  I read a page and thought - oh, I really do have to read this: its art criticism but it's also a dialogue between a woman and her dead lover, and it was originally delivered as a series of lectures, which really means she has written a dramatic dialogue.  So anyway, I bought Artful as well as the novel I had come in for and even though I was really looking forward to reading the novel, something made me start Artful on the way home in the subway that evening and I was stunned, hooked instantly.  I did not want to stop reading it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ted's Library Tour!

Danielle takes a wander through my stacks at her blog - A Work in Progress.  Pay her a visit and check out my library while your at it!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The solo voice in NYC

The 105th Helicon Symposium, a series of salon-like chamber music concerts in intimate settings, presented solo works by Bach, including Johnny Gandelsman playing the Chaconne from the violin Partita #2 in D Minor. It's meditation listening to an extended piece for a single instrument while New York's own never-ending score plays in the background.

Brooklyn Rider
The Knights

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Film - L'Illusioniste (2010)

L'Illusioniste, a melancholy and beautifully detailed animated film from the makers of The Triplets of Belleville

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Breathing life into a world of hoplessness and decay (Books - The Witch of Exmoor by Margaret Drabble)

I wonder sometimes if Margaret Drabble has it easier or harder as an author being the sister of one prolific, well-respected writer, and the wife of another.  But she herself has written 17 novels so it doesn't seem to have compromised her productivity any. I have read her memoir The Pattern in the Carpet (2009) which I wasn't crazy about, the novel The Peppered Moth (2001) which wasn't bad, and the novel The Needle's Eye (1972) which I thought was quite good. Recently, I picked up her The Witch of Exmoor (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and although I read it through, I found most of its characters irritating, its voice snide, and the foray into experimental magical technique in the final pages a stretch that didn't pay off, but that is not to say that it is not worth reading.  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Being private in public - Film: Amour (2012)

It really is as good as everyone says it is.  Amour directed by Michael Haneke with Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, and Isabelle Hupert depicts an elderly couple as the circle that encompasses their active lives shrinks to a point when one of them becomes ill.  The camera takes it's time, watching them as they eat their dinner, read, listen to music, wash the dishes.  The action is what takes place inside them.  These are actors who know that their job isn't posting billboards with their thoughts and feelings written all over them. Their job is to fill themselves.  Then they can do something or they can do nothing, any behavior will reveal them.  If only that were simple.  Among the many remarkable qualities of this film is the sense that these characters seem so private.  It is not just that they become isolated in their lives, they do, but when the camera is close up on the face of Jean-Louis Trintignant as he walks down the hallway of his apartment, I had the feeling he really was completely alone.  No camera.  He was in some private space in his head, subsumed by the events of his life, and the camera was an invisible witness.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Film - Looper (2012)

Rian Johnson's Looper with Joseph-Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis is a really well-done time-travel/dystopian thriller, but the real star of the flick is a performance by 8-year-old Pierce Gagnon - wonderful actor. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

I hear god's voice: symptom or calling? (Books - Lying Awake by Mark Salzman)

Sister John of the Cross is a nun, a member of an order that despite being located smack in the middle of Los Angeles, devotes itself to prayer and contemplation as Carmelite orders do.  After her initial calling, she spends her life in service to the church, but never really feels the touch of god.  She goes through years of patient, unremarkable service and then, finally, ecstasy is rained down on her.  She feels the presence of her god, and begins prolifically writing poems, but at the same time, she experiences violent headaches.  Sister John is finally diagnosed with temporal-lobe epilepsy as the result of a meningioma and given the option of surgery to relieve her debilitating headaches and seizures. Generally, with this type of epilepsy, the seizure activity does not manifest itself in full-body convulsions and the frothing at the mouth that are commonly associated with epilepsy.  The symptoms here are more psychological in nature.  They can include mystical hallucinations and prolific writing such as that seen in Sister John.  In fact, there are those who attribute St. Teresa of Avila's visions to temporal-lobe epilepsy.  The meat of Mark Salzman's short, interior novel Lying Awake (Vintage, 2000), itself an act of contemplation, is Sister John wrestling with the decision of whether to take this treatment available for her pain and risk losing the sense that she is finally graced with the presence of god or whether to stay as she is.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Film - Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (2010)

Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child directed by Tamra Davis captures the feel of the early 1980s NYC downtown arts scene and the vibrant painter Jean Michel Basquiat.  He went from living on the streets of the Village to being a millionaire in a couple of years.  He was called some sort of savage innocent, but Basquiat thought that they wouldn't have used such language if he had been a white painter. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

New York's Mayors In the Spotlight

He was a three-term mayor of New York City from 1934-45.  Just five feet tall and energetically motivated to do right by the common person.  They wrote a Broadway musical - Fiorello! - about him in 1959, which I saw last night, presented by Encores.  He was Fiorello H. LaGuardia.

He was another three-terrm mayor of New York City from 1978-89.  Irrepresively fiesty, he pulled the city out of near bankruptcy.  There's no musical...yet, but a documentary film about him premiered just a few days ago.  He was Ed Koch and he died this morning at 88.