Get Smart Gets Stupid, at least about geriatric L.A. conductors

Steve Carell's dimly amusing comedy "Get Smart" has a labored climax in which the bad guys want to blow something up (the hall? the president, who's in the hall? the city? the world? -- I saw it a few weeks ago) by triggering their explosive device to the climax of the "Ode to Joy" movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, not that as I recall there is any reference to Beethoven or the symphony itself. Carell tackles the conductor, thus preventing him and his assembled forces from finishing the symphony and setting off the explosion.

What amused/bemused me was the conductor, who was so old he looked half dead -- gaunt, frazzled, confused. How he would have survived a real tackle beats me. What was interesting was that this image, like the fat lady with the spear, breast plate and horned helmet, is how Hollywood and American pop culture see classical music: something so irrelevant as to be ludicrous.

But the odd bit was that the performance took place in Frank Gehry's Mouse House, AKA the Walt Disney Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Not only is the hall one of Gehry's finest achievements and magnetically hip and alluring to audiences old and young, but the L.A. Phil had been famously progressive about hiring young, vital and dynamic music directors: the exact opposite of the decrepit figure in "Get Smart."

First there was (and still is) Esa-Pekka Salonen, the baby-faced Finn, and soon there will be the Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel, who will be all of 28 or 29 when he assumes the music directorship and is the current boy wonder of conducting. Whether he will evolve into a great maestro remains to be seen. But he is exciting, he's young, and he could survive a Steve Carell tackle with aplomb. Of course, maybe the president or the city or the world would be vaporized, but Los Angeles's reputation for youthful conducting talent would prevail.

July 19, 2008 3:05 PM |


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