Hangover Square/The Lodger. The first DVD release of John Brahm’s much-admired but infrequently screened mid-Forties thrillers, both featuring first-rate scores (Bernard Herrmann scored Hangover Square, Hugo Friedhofer The Lodger) and spectacularly sinister performances by Laird Cregar. The three-disc package also includes a third Brahm film, The Undying Monster, and a wealth of interesting bonus features. Splendid stuff (TT).
Archives for September 2007
The Dining Room (Clurman, 410 W. 42, closes Saturday). A lovely revival by the Keen Company of A.R. Gurney’s 1982 play–it’s really a string of interlocking sketches–about the decline and fall of the American WASP. Most of the sketches are comic, but the effect is intensely elegiac, for Gurney has mixed feelings about the upper middle class that spawned him, and he isn’t afraid to let them show. The six actors in the excellent cast play a total of fifty-seven people, all of them portrayed with telling exactitude (TT).
Erin McKeown, Lafayette (Signature Sounds). Our favorite rocker, live at New York’s Joe’s Pub in January of 2007 with a smoking-hot band. If you’ve never seen McKeown on stage, this CD will give you a very good idea of what you’ve been missing all these years. I was there, and this is exactly how it was (TT).
Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (FSG, $30). A major new history of modern classical music, written from a passionately anti-ideological point of view by a critic-blogger with a lively style and an above-average endowment of common sense. By far the best and most reliable account of musical modernism ever to be published (TT).
I mean to respond more fully to OGIC’s lovely post about the children’s classics you first discover as an adult, occasioned by her reading of The Hobbit. For now, though, I just wanted to share an excerpt from a TLS article I recently came across which describes Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and their writing circle.
Tolkien and Lewis formed the spine of the Inklings, regularly convening to read and discuss one another’s work in Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College. There were nineteen members in all, and Glyer excels at depicting their world, with its petty rivalries, joshing honesty (“he is ugly as a chimpanzee”, wrote Lewis of fellow Inkling Charles Williams), its wit and learning and championship of scholarship for its own sake. The Inklings were often supportive and sympathetic (“the inexhaustible fertility of the man’s imagination amazes me”, wrote Lewis in 1949 on receipt of another instalment of The Lord of the Rings), but were capable of ferocious criticism if it was felt that a member had done anything less than his best (“You can do better than that. Better Tolkien, please!”). Tempers must surely have become frayed at times – as Tolkien became unyieldingly critical of Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (“about as bad as can be”) or as the English don Hugo Dyson met the latest bulletin from Middle Earth by (according to Tolkien’s son Christopher) “lying on the couch, and lolling and shouting and saying, ‘Oh God, no more Elves'”.
I read The Hobbit for a junior-high English class, but didn’t read The Lord of the Rings trilogy until college. It was summertime, and I was visiting my parents in Asheville. I have a vivid memory of finishing the first volume in the middle of the night and sitting in the parking lot outside the Little Professor Bookstore (at a soon-to-be-defunct location) the next morning, waiting for it to open so I could buy the next book in the series.
For those of us who live in backwater movie markets: Dana Stevens notes that the Wes Anderson short Hotel Chevalier, an accompaniment to the filmmaker’s new movie Darjeeling Limited, is available on iTunes. Even better, it’s free!
A.O. Scott’s review mentions that the 13-minute film is being shown at tonight’s New York Film Festival, but won’t otherwise appear in theaters. It will, however, be included on the DVD of the film.
Interestingly, the notices for Hotel Chevalier have been far more positive than the mixed reception for Darjeeling Limited, so it’s worth checking out.
A couple of weeks ago I ran across a hugely interesting essay called “Confessions of a Community Theater Critic.” The author, John Barry, covers amateur and semi-pro theater in Baltimore for the Baltimore City Paper, an alternative weekly, and his confessions were both amusing and on the mark:
This is not a gig for the weak of heart. It’s for the eternal optimist, the dead-end journalist who doesn’t believe in dead ends. It’s for the tolerant, the cheerful, the brave and gratuitously creative. It’s a job for someone who doesn’t have a lot to do on weekends.
Barry’s essay inspired me to write a “Sightings” column for tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal about the problem of what I call “appropriate standards.” How do you judge a low-budget performance, or one given by performers whose ambitions outstrip their skills? Do you let the critical chips fall where they may–or shorten your critical yardstick?
To find out, pick up a copy of the Saturday Journal and turn to the “Weekend Journal” section. I’m there. (Starting on Saturday, subscribers to the Online Journal can read my column by going here.)
I’ve received a lot of responses to my posting inviting you to help me come up with a title for my Louis Armstrong biography. Unfortunately, I also received an unprecedented amount of spam and press releases this week. I’m still doing my best to sort out the good stuff. I’m afraid that for once, too many of you have written (and are still writing) for me to send individual replies. To all of you, my heartfelt thanks for sharing your thoughts with me. I take your input seriously!
At some point in the next couple of weeks, I’ll post the results of my informal poll. Watch this space for details….
Who knew? I went to Baltimore last Saturday to review a revival of a mossy old chestnut for today’s Wall Street Journal, and it turned out to be as fresh as tomorrow’s bread:
What’s so funny about mass murder? Nothing–unless you happen to be watching a performance of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” whose principal characters have piled up two dozen corpses between them, with No. 25 about to quaff a glass of elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine and cyanide as the curtain falls.
The phenomenal durability of Joseph Kesselring’s only successful play is a matter of record. It opened on Broadway in 1941, ran for 1,444 performances, was filmed by Frank Capra, and has since become God’s gift–or, rather, Satan’s–to community theaters and amateur actors. But it tends not to get done by first-class companies nowadays, and so CenterStage’s crisp, well-cast revival is something of a revelation. I knew “Arsenic and Old Lace” was funny, but I didn’t know it was this funny. Anyone who doesn’t shatter a rib laughing at CenterStage’s production is…well, dead.
Also on my plate was the Keen Company‘s production of The Dining Room:
Of all A.R. Gurney’s studies of life among the WASPs of northeastern America, the best one might just be “The Dining Room,” whose Off Broadway premiere put him on the map. “The Dining Room” is celebrating its 25th birthday this season, and the Keen Company has marked the occasion with a very fine Theatre Row revival that makes the strongest possible case for a theatrical craftsman who doesn’t get nearly enough respect.
Inspired by Thornton Wilder’s “The Long Christmas Dinner,” “The Dining Room” takes place, according to Mr. Gurney, in “a dining room–or, rather, many dining rooms.” The play consists of a series of cunningly dovetailed dramatic vignettes in which the author explores his preferred theme, the postwar erosion of upper-middle-class self-confidence, with the utmost skill and variety. The six actors in the cast play a total of 57 roles, so many that the “characters” in “The Dining Room” come across not so much as individuals as deftly sketched archetypes. Most of the playlets are comic, but the overall effect is intensely elegiac, in large part because of Mr. Gurney’s mixed feelings about the lost world that spawned him. He knows its limitations, but he also appreciates its virtues, and it is this honest ambiguity that makes “The Dining Room” so involving.
No free link, so to read the whole thing, follow the usual drill: either buy today’s paper or go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, which will allow you to read my column–and the rest of the Journal‘s arts section–on the spot. You know it’s a good deal. What are you waiting for? (If you’re already a subscriber, the column is here.)
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees.
Alfred Tennyson, “Ulysses”