– I was channel-surfing this evening and ran across Unfaithfully Yours, Preston Sturges’ 1948 comedy in which Rex Harrison plays the part of a conductor. It’s a funny movie, and Harrison obviously went to some trouble to learn how to simulate conducting–but it didn’t help. Yes, he knew the beating patterns, but his movements were weirdly rigid, sort of like an excitable robot that hadn’t been oiled from the waist up recently.
This reminded me of how impressed I was by Richard Thomas’ “conducting” in Terrence McNally’s play The Stendhal Syndrome, in which he convincingly “conducts” a complete performance of the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde–facing the audience. Given all the cruel jokes that instrumentalists tell about conductors (Carl Flesch once called conducting “the only musical activity in which a dash of charlatanism is not only harmless, but positively necessary”), you’d think it’d be easier to fake convincingly. In fact, it’s just about impossible.
– In the past few days I’ve seen nine different Paul Taylor dances, several of which begin with a prelude–i.e., the lights go down, the music plays for a minute or two, then the curtain goes up. During each of these preludes, at least a half-dozen people sitting in my immediate vicinity kept on talking, often quite loudly, until the curtain rose. I wanted to tap them on the shoulder, preferably with a hammer, and tell them, “The dance starts when the music starts, dummy. Shut the hell up.”
(O.K., I’ll be honest. Having recently seen John Malkovich at work in Ripley’s Game, what I really wanted to do was drop a garrote over their heads and pull hard, but I didn’t think to bring one with me. A critic’s work is never done.)