Golden Oldies

When you reach a certain age, artists you grew up with, whom as a critic you championed, become sufficiently established for not only prestigious performances in which they're hailed as icons, but for more or less hagiographic films. This late summer in New York saw not only a series of Lincoln Center Festival performance of Laurie Anderson's latest piece, "Homeland," graced with a cameo from her husband, Lou Reed, but for films about Reed from Julian Schnabel, about Patti Smith by Steven Sebring and about Philip Glass by Scott Hicks. Glass has a cameo in the Smith film, too.

"Homeland" was disappointing. Any artist who creates a distinctive style in their youth -- and all of these artists did just that -- runs the risk of repeating the formula. Anderson's sequences of quirky, witty, touching vignettes, with her droll, middle-American intonation, often altered electronically, her washes of electronic sound and her fiddle interpolations, work fitfully now but predictably. "Homeland" is a sadder and more despairing than most of her earlier work. But the real problem is the overfamiliarity of the format. Reed's cutting guitar solos kicked up the energy in a very welcome way.

Whatever you think of Schnabel as a painter, he had become a remarkable filmmaker. His documentation of the 2006 Brooklyn performances of Reed's 1973 album "Berlin" do not transform what was already a theatrical experience in which had had already had a hand, complete with film footage of Emmanuelle Seigner as the heroine who comes to a bad end. But gradually you realize what a wonderful job of framing the music he has accomplished.

"Berlin" was tepidly received 35 years ago. As the rock critic of the New York Times, I was one of the few who liked it. It may not contain songs on a level with Reed's (or the Velvet Underground's) greatest, but the arc of the album sustains a compelling aura of sadness and empathy. Reed's presence, singing and playing and scowling, stands out, but the band is fabulous and Schnabel's balance of subservience and subtle artistry is pretty thrilling. For proof, see Reed's reaction shots, his facial expressions of affection, paternal pride and awe, as the ethereal Antony -- body language from Joe Cocker, with a voice that translates Roy Orbison into ever more blissful gender confusion -- sings an encore.

The Smith film is an obsessive oddity, shot over a decade of devoted following about, with Sebring shooting anything that happened to come to mind, his or hers. Whether it will mean much to non-Patti devotees, I don't know. I'm a devotee, so it meant a lot to me.

There is too little music ("Horses" is oddly bifurcated with the litany of dances -- "Do you know how to Pony?" -- preceding by half an hour another performance of the introducion; the transition from intro to rock is one of her magical moments of Smith's art, and Sebring misses it). And yet the details of her life, her loves, her memories, are compelling. I was sucked happily into its dreamy flow.

The Glass film, too, offers insights for the admirer, though Glass himself shies away from personal revelations and much musical self-analysis. There are lovely shots of his Nova Scotia hideaway and his many friends and collaborators. The oddity is the weight placed on his most recent wife, Holly; it seems a lovely family unit until it suddenly dissolves, painfully, toward the end. Glass himsef is reportedly upset, presumably as much by the exposure of his personal, private life as by the loss of his wife.

And yet for all the uneveness and sameness and overproductivity of his work, Glass's masterpieces are truly masterly, and there are enough audio and video excepts from the early ensemble work (not enough of that, actually), "Einstein on the Beach," "Satyagraha", "Koyaanisqatsi" and more to keep any Glass fan happy. Like me.  

August 14, 2008 6:48 PM | | Comments (0)

Leave a comment

Blogroll

For an ongoing conversation and news reports about arts journalism, go to the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program, here.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by John Rockwell published on August 14, 2008 6:48 PM.

Presumptuous Presumptions was the previous entry in this blog.

Half of Hair is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads


AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

culture
About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Dewey21C
Richard Kessler on arts education
diacritical
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Flyover
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

dance
Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

jazz
Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
ListenGood
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Rifftides
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

media
Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Overflow
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
PianoMorphosis
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
PostClassic
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Sandow
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

publishing
book/daddy
Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

theatre
Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

visual
Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
Artopia
John Perreault's art diary
CultureGrrl
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.