“Literature should never be at war.”
George Bernard Shaw, letter to Henry Newbolt (July 25, 1920)
“Literature should never be at war.”
George Bernard Shaw, letter to Henry Newbolt (July 25, 1920)
Tomorrow I fly to the West Coast to see plays in Portland and Seattle, and I’m frighteningly busy preparing for the trip. (If you’ve trying to get in touch with me, please don’t be surprised by unexpected delays–it’s been a long time since I was this swamped.)
In lieu of original thought, here are some fugitive gleanings from the blogosphere:
– Ms. twang twang twang summarizes the ups and downs of her life as a professional harpist:
I have asked a tramp to hold my harp at 2am outside a casino while I clamber into my car boot to unjam it from the inside. I have been dressed as a fairy, a mermaid, a 1920s burlesque dancing girl complete with red sequinned cigarette holder, been asked to play topless (no, I didn’t), been asked to wear a sailor’s outfit (no, I didn’t–although that was more because the orchestra requesting it wasn’t supplying the gear, and I don’t have a sailor’s outfit hanging next to my long black), and played behind a screen in case I gave the 100 dining Arab men wrongful thoughts. I have done countless youth concerts in a variety of silly hats, although fortunately not a WW2 gasmask, which was once given to the principal double bass. I’ve done pubs, clubs, casinos, cruises, discos, orgies, supermarkets and public lavatories. I’ve also played in private lavatories, when no ground floor warm-up rooms have been arranged. I have performed My Heart Will Go On 75 times accompanied by bagpipes, kit and a Wurlitzer Organ–together.
Jeepers, how come that kind of stuff never happened to me when I played music?
– Ms. pretty dumb things has a bone to pick–but not her usual one:
In general, things don’t happen in real life as they do in movies. That palpable difference is, after all, one of the reasons why we love cinema. Our lives do not finish in a neat narrative moment that resolves as it fades to black. We do not, in general, experience our lives as a grand unfolding of plot points that crescendo-culminate in some grandiose happening, whether dramatic or comedic or both.
Rarely do we have that succinct pointed epiphany. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a love story, a war story, a family story or a personal story; the real defies any narrative framework, perhaps because rarely is anything in real life just one story.
Which is why cinematic reproductions of therapeutic moments give me a huge pain in the ass….
You’ll never guess where she goes from here.
– Mr. Anecdotal Evidence enunciates a credo:
In art, fortunately, one is not compelled to choose sides, one poet at the expense of another. Milosz and Larkin are not mutually exclusive loves. Aesthetic love is promiscuous without being unfaithful. I feel no compulsion to be rigorously consistent in matters of artistic taste. I can love Proust and Raymond Chandler, Schoenberg and Johnny Cash. Only in that sense, I think, is art democratic….
What he said (except for the part about Schoenberg).
– If you didn’t see this story in Publishers Weekly, read it right now. The subject is the decline of newspaper book reviewing:
With newspapers under increasing financial pressure, however, is it reasonable to expect them to give extensive coverage to an industry where they get relatively little support? Among the remaining Sunday review sections, only the New York Times Book Review receives a significant number of ads. The Washington Post Book World has seen very little publisher support throughout its history. “It’s been a real problem,” said Book World editor Marie Arana. The situation is much the same at the San Francisco Chronicle, where, said editor Phil Bronstein, the section gets few ads. “It gets harder and harder to justify something that has no ad support,” said Bronstein….
That’s laying it on the line. Yikes.
– Meanwhile, Mr. Parabasis is concerned about the constricting cultural effects of copyright law:
I don’t think an artist should have ownership of their work in the conventional sense of the term. I believe that art is a gift we give the world. Cheesy, I know, but think through the implications of the metaphor. When you give a gift, you don’t own it anymore. The receiver of the gift owns it. So if art is a gift we give the world, the world owns that gift, not us.
Now I’m not saying people shouldn’t be paid for their work. They should. They just perhaps shouldn’t have as much control over what happens to it once it’s out there in the world. Because as artists, the giving activity is the useful, helpful, growthful one. Having control over that gift once it’s out there is selfish….
I know just what he’s talking about, and if I had time to weave it together with my recently published thoughts about YouTube, I would. Instead, I’ll let you connect the dots yourself.
– Mr. Lileks goes to a suburban party in Minneapolis and finds it reassuringly tame:
If this had been a Peter DeVries novel or Cheever story, someone–usually a failed but charming intellectual becalmed in the suburbs–would be canoodling with someone else’s wife in the kitchen, who responded to the classical allusions floating on the seducers winey breath with a sharp mocking retort that would end in a brisk cynical coupling seventy pages later. Sitting around the living room tonight I realized that the middle-aged overeducated vaguely alcoholic East-coast suburban adulterer is no longer the cultural archetype he used to be. Pour some Cutty on the curb for the dead homey. Or the dead homey-wrecker….
– Speaking of life in New Yorkerland, Ms. Emdashes has posted the latest edition of “Ask the Librarians,” her monthly Q-&-A with that magazine’s head librarians. As always, it’s a must.
– Finally, Ms. Tinkerty Tonk points to a site called How Many of Me that allows you to search the U.S. Census Bureau’s database to find out how many people share your first and last names. It seems there are 586,439 Americans named Terry, 1,560 Teachouts, and three Terry Teachouts.
Where do my two namesakes live? Are we related? What do they do for a living? I wonder….
“Without music we shall surely perish of drink, morphia, and all sorts of artificial exaggerations of the cruder delights of the senses.”
George Bernard Shaw, “The Religion of the Pianoforte”
Last Monday I paid a visit to the press view of Americans in Paris, 1860-1900, which opens today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s a comfy, crowd-pleasing blockbuster exhibition that contains such familiar show-stoppers as Sargent’s Madame X and The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, Eakins’ The Cello Player, and Cassatt’s The Tea, surrounded by a sea of competent canvases by turn-of-the-century American painters who went to Paris in their youth and learned their lessons well, sometimes quite wonderfully so.
Were “Americans in Paris” the only large-scale show currently on view at the Met, I have no doubt that it would be jammed with delighted viewers. But it happens that the museum is also playing host to From C
“The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; thats the essence of inhumanity.”
George Bernard Shaw, The Devil’s Disciple
A whole year has gone by since I last saw a film in a theater, and I can’t say I feel any great urge to break my fast–I’m simply too busy. But I do watch old movies on TV, and in the past week and a half I saw two that disappointed me, albeit for very different reasons.
I wouldn’t have bothered with The Seventh Seal had it not been for a houseguest who, like me, had never seen Bergman’s 1956 “breakthrough” film and longed to get her cultural card punched. I took a shot at Wild Strawberries three years ago and found it underwhelming for reasons that I set forth in this space:
When I was young, Wild Strawberries struck me as exactly what old age must be like. (Had it been a novel, I would have scribbled neatly in the margin of the last page, “This is true.”) Now that I’m middle-aged–and eight years older than Bergman was when he made it–I know better. It’s far too benign, albeit gorgeously so. It reminds me of what an old music critic once said to me about Der Rosenkavalier: “It’s by a young man pretending to be an old man remembering his youth.”
The Seventh Seal, by contrast, is utterly preposterous, an atheist parable stuffed full of symbols so transparent that the densest of viewers can see them coming a mile down the track. I found it so boring that I was forced to resort to amusing myself by trying to imagine how Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca might have spoofed it on Your Show of Shows back in the days when TV comedians were smart enough to do such things. I suppose it’s a matter of clashing sensibilities–or maybe not. Sibelius’ music, for instance, doesn’t make me giggle, but Bergman’s ever-so-Scandinavian films remind me of what Guy Davenport is supposed to have said about Goethe: “Sometimes, on reading Goethe, one has the paralyzing suspicion that he thinks he’s being funny.”
Richard Brooks’ 1967 film of In Cold Blood has an eerie verisimilitude arising from the fact that Brooks shot it on many of the actual locations where the horrific events described in Truman Capote’s book took place: the Clutter farmhouse, the courtroom where Perry Smith and Dick Hickock were tried, even the gallows on which they were hanged. The casting of Robert Blake as Smith gives the film an extra dollop of retrospective reality. Alas, Brooks’ painfully literal-minded script consists of half-digested, barely dramatized chunks of the book disgorged at enervating length by the actors, most of whom, Blake excepted, are no better than competent (though it’s nice to see Charles McGraw, the tough guy with the buzzsaw voice, in a brief but memorable cameo).
As I’ve said before, the only way to successfully translate a first-class work of art from one medium to another is to subject it to a complete imaginative transformation. Otherwise the new version will be (A) tautological and (B) superfluous. (That’s a joke, son.) Good example: George Balanchine’s masterly ballet version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Bad example: Andr
– Andy Laverne, “Maximum Density” (from True Colors)
– Buck Owens and His Buckaroos, “Memphis”
– The Police, “Miss Gradenko” (from Synchronicity)
– Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson, “Miss Brown to You”
– Steely Dan, “Monkey in Your Soul” (from Pretzel Logic)
– Fats Waller, “Moppin’ and Boppin'”
– Donald Fagen, “Morph the Cat”
– Red Norvo Trio, “Move”
– Hank Williams, “Move It on Over”
– Bud Freeman and His Famous Chicagoans, “Muskrat Ramble”
– Woody Herman and the First Herd, “Non-Alcoholic”
– Del McCoury Band, “Nashville Cats” (from The Family)
“The 18th century had more ideas about the past than it had facts: archeology and philology were infant sciences. (The 21st century has more facts than ideas.)”
James Buchan, Crowded with Genius: The Scottish Enlightenment (courtesy of Joseph Epstein)
Politics makes artists stupid. Take “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” the one-woman play cobbled together from the diaries, emails and miscellaneous scribblings of the 23-year-old left-wing activist who was run over by an Israeli Army bulldozer in 2003 while protesting the demolition of a Palestinian house in the Gaza Strip. Co-written and directed by Alan Rickman, one of England’s best actors, “Rachel Corrie” just opened Off Broadway after a successful London run. It’s an ill-crafted piece of goopy give-peace-a-chance agitprop–yet it’s being performed to cheers and tears before admiring crowds of theater-savvy New Yorkers who, like Mr. Rickman himself, ought to know better….
The cancellation of last season’s New York Theatre Workshop production of “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” triggered a noisy row in the New York theater community, many of whose members jumped to the not-unreasonable conclusion that the producers were cravenly bowing to backstage pressure from donors who found the play’s politics obnoxious. As a result, the belated opening of “Rachel Corrie” at the Minetta Lane Theatre has had the predictable result of bringing it far more attention than it would otherwise have received.
That’s the only lesson to be drawn from this exercise in theatrical ineptitude….
If you want to see real artists turning complex ideas into compelling theater, pay a visit to the New Group’s revival of Jay Presson Allen’s stage version of “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” a slicked-up, simplified version of Muriel Spark’s darkly comic 1962 novella that nonetheless manages to suggest more than a few of the book’s multiple layers of moral ambiguity. The play ran for a year on Broadway but hasn’t been seen there since 1968–the film, for which Maggie Smith won a best-actress Oscar, is much better remembered–so it is good to welcome it back to the New York stage, especially in so intelligent and incisive a production….
To be sure, Cynthia Nixon is miscast as Miss Brodie, the high-handed Scottish schoolteacher whose romantic streak leads her to embrace fascism. Imperiousness is not in Ms. Nixon’s line, and she has opted instead to play Miss Brodie as a coquette, an interpretation no more plausible than her Scotch accent. Nevertheless, she’s a fine actress, and even though her performance isn’t at all right, she mostly manages to make it work….
No free link. To read the whole thing, buy a copy of this morning’s Journal and turn to the “Weekend Journal” section, or go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, which will give you instant access to the complete text of my review, plus many other good things. (If you’re already a subscriber, you’ll find it here.)
UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has posted a free link to the first half of this week’s drama column, in which I discuss My Name Is Rachel Corrie. To read it, go here.