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About Last Night
TERRY TEACHOUT on the arts in New York City
(with additional dialogue by OUR GIRL IN CHICAGO)

Friday, November 3, 2006
    OGIC: Ask a smart question...

    Matt Zoller Seitz asks, "When did you first realize that movies were directed?" and describes his own enlightenment while seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark here. A great question and a fascinating answer.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, November 3, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Time out

    I'm burned out—too much travel, too much writing, too many shows. On Tuesday I leave for Washington, D.C., to spend three days in conference with the other members of the National Council on the Arts, and once I get back I'll be seeing four plays in a row.

    All this suggests that it's time for a break from blogging. I'll post the daily almanac entry, Thursday's theater guide, and Friday's Wall Street Journal drama column and "Sightings" teasers, but otherwise I'm taking next week off. Our Girl will post if she feels like it. If not, not.


    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, November 3, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: How wonderful a sound can be

    In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column, I report on two of the shows I saw last weekend in Portland and Seattle, Portland Center Stage’s West Side Story and Intiman Theatre’s Native Son:

    Even for a solidly established regional company like Portland Center Stage, “West Side Story” is a stretch, and I expected to see an ambitious but not wholly successful production about which I’d have felt honor-bound to write a tactful, encouraging review. Well, guess what? This “West Side Story” needs no apologies of any kind. Among other things, it’s the best-sung revival of a musical that I’ve ever seen, whether on or off Broadway.

    Strong words, I know, but all the leads have splendid voices and compelling personalities, especially Carey Brown, who sings well enough to remind me of Kristin Chenoweth….

    Intiman Theatre has done itself proud with “Native Son,” Kent Gash’s new dramatic adaptation of Richard Wright’s still-shocking 1940 novel about a young black man from Chicago who lays belated claim to his ravaged manhood through the act of murder. Few great novels have been put on stage without losing their souls along the way, but Mr. Gash, who doubles as director of this production, has wisely stuck close to Wright’s original text, cunningly shaping it into a Brecht-like chronicle play whose occasional moments of narrative stiffness do nothing to diminish its slashing intensity….

    No free link. To read the whole thing, go out and buy a copy of today’s morning's Journal, then turn to the “Weekend Journal” section. Better yet, go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, which will give you on-the-spot access to the complete text of my review, plus a plethora of other good pieces. (If you’re already a subscriber, the review is here.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, November 3, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Flies, bees and buttterflies flew in through the open window. The flies and bees settled on some spilled sugar. A butterfly hovered over a slice of bread. It didn't eat, but seemed to savor the odor. To Herman these were not parasites to be driven away; he saw in each of these creatures the manifestations of the eternal will to live, experience, comprehend. As the fly's antennae stretched out toward the food, it rubbed its hind legs together. The wings of the butterfly reminded Herman of a prayer shawl. The bee hummed and buzzed and flew out again. A small ant crawled about. It had survived the cold night and was creeping across the table—but where to? It paused at a crumb, then continued on, zigzagging back and forth. It had separated itself from the anthill and now had to make out on its own."

    Isaac Bashevis Singer, Enemies, a Love Story

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, November 3, 2006 | Permanent link
Thursday, November 2, 2006
    TT: So you want to see a show?

    Here’s my list of recommended Broadway and off-Broadway shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews in The Wall Street Journal or on “About Last Night” when they opened. For more information, click on the title.

    Warning: Broadway shows marked with an asterisk were sold out, or nearly so, last week.

    A Chorus Line* (musical, PG-13/R, adult subject matter, reviewed here)
    Avenue Q* (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
    The Drowsy Chaperone* (musical, G/PG-13, mild sexual content and a profusion of double entendres, reviewed here)
    Heartbreak House* (drama, G/PG-13, adult subject matter, reviewed here, extended through Dec. 17)
    Jay Johnson: The Two and Only (one-ventriloquist show, G/PG-13, a bit of strong language but otherwise family-friendly, reviewed here)
    The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (musical, PG-13, mostly family-friendly but contains a smattering of strong language and a production number about an unwanted erection, reviewed here)
    The Wedding Singer (musical, PG-13, some sexual content, reviewed here, closes Dec. 31)

    The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children old enough to enjoy a love story, reviewed here)
    Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris (musical revue, R, adult subject matter and sexual content, reviewed here)
    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (drama, R, adult subject matter and nudity, reviewed here, closes Dec. 9)
    Slava’s Snowshow (performance art, G, child-friendly, reviewed here)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, November 2, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Political thinking has become so distorted and corrupted during this long, long half century that one has to begin by tearing it out, roots and all, from one's soil to prepare the ground for a healthy and humane politics that fosters the virtu of the free citizen."

    Aleksander Wat, My Century (trans. Richard Lourie)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, November 2, 2006 | Permanent link
Wednesday, November 1, 2006
    TT: Pit stop

    (1) I updated the Top Five and "Teachout in Commentary" modules in between deadlines today. Check out the right-hand column and you'll find lots of interesting new stuff.

    (2) I agree with everything Our Girl says immediately below about Rachel Ries. She is the real deal.

    Now, back to work!

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 1, 2006 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Close quarters

    The other day Peter Suderman wrote here about the rare thrill of seeing pop music giant Beck perform in a tiny DC club.

    For those of you outside the music nerd sphere, it's the musical the equivalent of going to a local sports bar and watching a game with President Bush. It's like having Conan O'Brian do a show from your living room. It's like meeting up with Quentin Tarantino to watch Death Wish on a 27" TV.

    And it's exactly how live rock music should be seen.

    For all the trippy, awesome excess of stadium and large venue rock shows, I've never been all that impressed with them. You drop a wad of cash to listen to overprocessed, might-as-well-be-CD music while standing a quarter-mile away in a crowd of zillions. Live music isn't just about hanging out and hearing music-you can do that at a bar with a DJ any night of the week. It's about getting a sense of the musician, about being close to them, watching how they interact with both the crowd and with their music.

    Having been in active avoidance of stadium shows since college, I couldn't agree more. And it just so happens that I recently had an experience along the lines of Peter's that I've been meaning to write about it; his post is the perfect occasion to finally do so.

    If you've been paying attention to our Top Five in the right-hand column of this page, you may remember my recent blurb on the album of a Chicago singer-songwriter, Rachel Ries. My friend David and I happened upon Ries last year when she opened for Erin McKeown at Schuba's. Knowing nothing about Ries at the time, and running low batting averages when it came to unknown opening acts, we prudently approached her set with low expectations. The fact that she came out hoarse and apologetic—she was getting over a cold—didn't do very much to heighten them. But the moment she started singing, we were both taken.

    There's a rawly emotional, yearning quality to Ries's voice that made her slight hoarseness on this occasion a plus, adding another dimension of vulnerability. The stripping away of a layer of polish, somewhat like the intimacy of the setting in which Peter saw Beck, served to make us feel closer to the artist. And it lent itself particularly well to the kind of music Ries makes. When I wrote about her album "For You Only" for the Top Five, I may have come off as confused because I wanted to give short shrift to neither the emotional immediacy of her singing nor its artfulness. It's the former that's most striking and affecting, but the latter, certainly, that's responsible for these effects. The vulnerability attaches to both the songs about joy (in which sweetness and erotic charge are so enmeshed as to become practically synonymous) and the songs about pain (in which, refreshingly, the narrators are as likely to be the stories' villains as their protagonists).

    This September David and I went out to Oak Park to see Ries perform as half of a two-person show held in the living room of this local music blogger and his family. It was the most intimate musical performance I'd ever attended, and especially powerful because I'd finally acquired Ries's CD only a few weeks earlier and had spent those few weeks playing it on a continual loop—washing dishes, working out, driving, getting ready for work in the morning. I'm like that with new musical crushes; I want that music burned into my brain and typically don't rest, or listen to anything else, until it's effectively recorded there. By the time of the Oak Park concert, I was still high on discovery and knew half the tracks backward and forward.

    So this autumnal September evening in the suburbs was a rare delight: not only did I get to cap my three-week captivation with Ries's songs and singing by witnessing her live performance, but she was playing only a few yards away from where I sat comfortably couched, glass of wine in hand, surrounded by amiable strangers. Ries was sharing the stage with her friend and frequent collaborator Anais Mitchell, to whom this show was my happy introduction, the pair taking turns performing. Between sets I even chatted with (perhaps gushed to) Rachel, who received all my praise with exemplary grace. During the second set she even played my request, the brilliant and brutal song "Unkind," which is like a short story whittled down to its essential contours but still suggesting a world of texture and detail.

    For those of you in Chicago, Rachel Ries performs this Friday night at the California Clipper—not quite someone's living room, but intimate enough to promise another memorable show. Her email announcement paints the bar as a kind of home away from home for her:

    This Friday I can be found at my favoritest bar of all time, the California Clipper. As I can often & on any given night be found there, it's nearly business as usual. However, I've never played their stage so therein lies a vast difference: on Friday I'll be dressed up and singing into a mic as opposed to dressed scrappy and humming at the bar whilst losing at Scrabble.

    So come out Friday night and have your socks charmed off (by songs like "You Only") and the hairs on the back of your neck stood on end (by songs like "Unkind"). I'll be the rapt one in the burnt orange velvet scarf—be sure to say hello.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Wednesday, November 1, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Many of our intellectual civilization's problems, our intellectual problems, arise because people do not read aloud. An enormous percentage of literature would simply vanish if the authors had to read their works aloud, only aloud. They would be ashamed; the falsehood would be obvious. When people read only with their eyes, all the falsehood can enter imperceptibly even the most critical eye. The mouth is for speaking the truth or lies, whereas the eyes are really esthetic. The eyes see whether something is beautiful or ugly, useful or useless."

    Aleksander Wat, My Century (trans. Richard Lourie)

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, November 1, 2006 | Permanent link
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
    OGIC: Where's OGIC?

    For the last two weeks, sick as a dog and huddled hermitlike in my bed. Before that, there was a truly fabulous and entirely computer-free Vegas junket plus the requisite week to prepare and week to recover. Add it all up, and you have one absurdly long absence from this blog, for which I apologize.

    Though I'm now on the mend and making public appearances, i.e., at my workplace, I'm not completely recovered. From time to time the coughing up of a lung still seems imminent, and I'm still on my delightful but soporific cough medicine, which seems to come down to an expectorant heavily cut with vicodin. (Which reminds me: new episodes of House return tomorrow, so set your DVRs.) Since the possibility of a secondary pneumonia was raised by my doctor, I'm playing this one conservatively. I'll be posting this week, but in all likelihood my contributions will be brief and few as I aim for early bedtimes and a reclining rather than upright posture whenever possible. Still and all, it's nice to be back.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, October 31, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "As of now at least, more good people are to be encountered in America than in Europe. Theirs is, however, a somewhat coarse and seemingly careless goodness because there is a low level of psychological intensity in human exchanges here, both of the good and the bad."

    Czeslaw Milosz, foreword to Aleksander Wat, My Century

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, October 31, 2006 | Permanent link
Monday, October 30, 2006
    TT: En route

    I'm on the way back from Seattle. See you Tuesday!

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 30, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: West Coast story

    I'm writing from Seattle on Sunday night, having finally come to the end of a long, hectic weekend of theater-related travel and adventures.

    On Thursday I flew to Portland, Oregon, where my traveling companion and I picked up a rental car, headed for Hayden Island, and there took up residence on a yacht. That makes our accommodations sound a bit fancier than they really were: the Grand Ronde Place, the yacht-and-breakfast where I spent my two nights in Portland, is a thirty-four-foot sailboat whose interior is comparable in size to a motor home. The "stateroom," not surprisingly, was a bit on the snug side, but I'd always wanted to sleep on a boat, the owner-host was wonderfully considerate, and all in all we couldn't have been happier. Should you find yourself in Portland and feel like staying somewhere out of the ordinary, I recommend the Grand Ronde Place very enthusiastically.

    On Friday morning we drove south to the Gordon House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building in the Pacific Northwest that's open to the public. Designed in 1957 and built seven years later, it's a two-story Usonian house that came within weeks of being torn down when a Philistine with too much money bought the lot on which it stood and decided that he'd prefer living in a McMansion. Thanks to a last-minute rescue effort by the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy, the house was dismantled in 2000 and moved twenty-four miles to the Oregon Garden, where it can now be viewed by interested visitors. We spent an hour and a half touring the house and grounds, and—as always—I came away wishing I could live in so perfectly conceived and executed a building. In the evening we saw Portland Center Stage's production of West Side Story, performed in the company's brand-new Gerding Theater, a 599-seat proscenium-stage house located in what used to be the Portland Armory.

    At noon on Saturday we took the Amtrak Cascades to Seattle, an afternoon-long train trip through Oregon and Washington that left us with just enough time to dine on crabcakes at the Dahlia Lounge. Sunday, by contrast, was a triple-header: brunch with Mr. Rifftides, a matinée performance of Native Son at Intiman Theatre, and an evening performance of Steve Martin's The Underpants at ACT Theatre.

    I'm in transit all day Monday, at the end of which I'll reclaim the Teachout Museum from Ms. in the wings, who's been housesitting for me. (She flew to New York from San Francisco last week to give a couple of concerts, staying at my apartment while I was on the West Coast.) I'll be spending Tuesday and Wednesday hitting a pair of deadlines, opening my mail, and recovering from the events of the past few days. Our Girl, who's been under the weather, will post if she feels up to it, but don't expect to hear from me again until Thursday.

    Have a nice week!

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 30, 2006 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "The soul is no traveler; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance that he goes, the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign and not like an interloper or a valet."

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Monday, October 30, 2006 | Permanent link
Friday, October 28, 2005
    OGIC: The vanishing

    So where have I been?

    In no particular order: at the office, watching baseball in bars, at the godforsaken Bears-Ravens game in the cold stubborn rain (mitigating factors: disenchanted traveling Baltimore fans in the next row coldly assessing the state of the game, viz., "This is like watching the Ravens play the Ravens"; national anthem performed by Styx), subsequently in bed for the better part of a day, to the airport to pick up a friend who stayed here for several days, at the movies seeing something wicked this way hop, watching the 8-1 Red Wings at a kind friend's house when they were on OLN, watching the 9-1 Red Wings here when they were on local television (all leading up to watching the 10-1 Red Wings in the flesh this Saturday at the United Center, whee!), eating out at the Twisted Spoke, Lula Cafe, and the Original Pancake House, getting my hair cut, to Best Buy to purchase a Tivo, back to Best Buy the next week to enable a friend to do the same…and, far, far too much of the time, messing around in the Puzzle Boat (thank you, Eric. I think). Whew.

    More relevantly to the concerns of this blog, I popped my head in at the Lit Blog Co-op today, in the comments, to join Golden Rule Jones and C. Max McGee in their enlightening discussion of Nadeem Aslam's Maps for Lost Lovers (which you really should read). I may have a review essay in print this weekend, in which case I'll post a link. And in the coming days, I hope to ease myself back into regular blogging again. Until soon.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, October 28, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: In the bud

    A friend writes:

    It was only in the last few years I developed the spine to stop reading a book if I don't like it. Now I even throw one in the trash if I really hate it. The one from which I most recently defected was "The Great Fire" by Shirley Hazzard, and I feel guilty because so many classy people like it, but it just irritated the hell out of me.

    Alas, I have no opinion of Shirley Hazzard (sorry, OGIC), but I wholeheartedly endorse pulling the plug on books you don’t like. Nor have I ever had a problem with doing so, though it may have more to do with my being a professional journalist than having a well-developed spine. Journalists, after all, are chronic skippers and skimmers. We have to be, since we spend much of our working lives “getting up” subjects about which we too often know little or nothing prior to being assigned to write about them. I’ve reached the point in my career where I pick most of my own subjects, but back when I wasn’t in a position to be so choosy, I was more than willing to say yes to any assignment, however arcane. I learned to simulate the appearance of knowledge—this is what is meant by the well-known saying that a journalist’s mind is a mile wide and a quarter-inch deep—and one of the ways I did it was by learning how to strain the gist out of a book without reading it from cover to cover.

    It stands to reason that Dr. Johnson, one of the all-time great skippers, should have spoken the last word on those who insist on “reading books through”:

    This is surely a strange advice; you may as well resolve that whatever men you happen to get acquainted with, you are to keep them for life. A book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through?

    Except for my correspondent, the only person I can think of who has had such a problem was Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Justice Holmes was constitutionally incapable of putting down an unfinished book until he reached extreme old age and finally came to his senses. But, then, Justice Holmes was a prime specimen of that queerest and least comprehensible of breeds, the secular puritan. As Edmund Wilson explains in Patriotic Gore:

    His reading is dominated by a sense of duty and a Puritanical fear of idleness. He feels that he must grapple with certain works, quite apart from any pleasure they give him, and, once having begun a book, no matter how dull or verbose it is, he must read every word to the end. He is always imagining—this is humorous, of course, but it shows a habit of mind—that God, at the Judgment Day, will ask him to report on the books which he ought to have read but hasn’t.

    I greatly admire Holmes, but I love Dr. Johnson, and this is one of the reasons why. He had what he called “a bottom of good sense,” and for all his extreme peculiarities, it rarely let him down. Whatever the subject, you can usually count on him to cut through the posturing and get to the point. I, too, take it for granted that God has better things to do than inquire as to my reading habits—though He may well want a word with me about one or two books that I reviewed in my incautious youth without first having read them from cover to cover!

    These lapses notwithstanding, I'd say Dr. Johnson hit it on the nose. I expect a lot out of the books I read, and when they fail to deliver the goods, I toss them aside with a clear conscience and no second thoughts. Life is so very short—and so often shorter than we expect—that it seems a fearful mistake to waste even the tiniest part of it submitting voluntarily to unnecessary boredom. Bad enough that my job sometimes requires me to sit through plays whose sheer awfulness is self-evident well before the end of the first scene. So if you really want me to read each and every page of your thousand-page biography of Millard Fillmore, send me a check. I have my price.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 28, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: The continuing crunch

    If you're wondering why I haven't answered any of your e-mails in recent days, the answer is that I'm swamped and floundering. Too much work, not enough time, arrgh, yikes.

    Stand by. It may take another day or two, but this, too, shall pass.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 28, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: The re-Producers

    Today is Friday, meaning that this morning’s Wall Street Journal contains my weekly drama column. I wrote about three shows, two on Broadway and one near it: Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, Wendy Wasserstein’s Third, and Rick Najera’s Latinologues. In all three cases, my feelings were mixed:

    Instead of Oscar, the slovenly sportswriter, [Nathan] Lane should have played the maddeningly fussy Felix—and I bet he knows it, too. Maybe that’s why he spends the first act channeling Groucho Marx. Not until after intermission does he find his own path into the part, and even then you keep thinking about how Walter Matthau read the same lines in the movie….

    Were Mr. Simon’s insert-flap-A-in-slot-B jokes ever funny? I remember chortling at them as a boy, but now they mostly leave me cold. In fact, the whole first act of “The Odd Couple” feels less like a comedy than a set of instructions for making an audience laugh....

    Wendy Wasserstein, who has been absent from the New York stage for the past few years, has returned with “Third,” now playing at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater. I wish it were good. I wanted it to be. Ms. Wasserstein, who won a Pulitzer in 1989 for “The Heidi Chronicles,” is one of our best theatrical journalists, a keen-eared social observer with a knack for summing up cultural watershed moments like the coming of age of the baby boomers and putting them on stage to memorable effect. But “Third” is neither memorable nor convincing in its portrayal of a radical feminist beset by midlife doubts. Instead, it’s sentimental to a fault—and false at its squishy-soft core….

    Why is it that most ethnic humor, were it to be spoken out loud and in public by someone not of the ethnic group in question, would be considered a hate crime? In Rick Najera’s “Latinologues,” an evening of standup comedy monologues spliced together to simulate a four-person play, every Latino-related cliché I’ve ever heard is trotted out and served up as gospel truth…

    No link, naturally. To read the whole thing, buy a copy of the Journal, or go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, Web-based journalism’s best bargain.

    P.S. "Sightings," my biweekly Journal column about the arts in America, will be in the "Pursuits" section of tomorrow's paper. Check it out.

    UPDATE: The Journal has posted a free link to today’s drama column. Go here to read the whole thing.

    Mr. Something Old, Nothing New thinks the Odd Couple TV series was superior to the play, and explains why—persuasively. (Most of the comedy professionals I know agree with this assessment, by the way.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 28, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Rerun

    October 2003:

    As anyone knows who’s been in journalism for more than the past 20 minutes or so, fact checking is an increasingly lost art. Time was when many magazines—if not most—rigorously checked every factual assertion made in every story they published. When I was writing profiles for Mirabella nine years ago, the checkers even required me to give them my interview tapes. But by the time I got to Time, the rigor had loosened considerably. My Time stories about the arts were "self-checked," a wonderfully Orwellian euphemism meaning that they weren’t checked at all—it was assumed that I knew what I was talking about….

    (If it’s new to you, read the whole thing here.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 28, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Advance paid in 1973 to Stephen King by Doubleday for Carrie: $2,500

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $11,038.50

    (Source: Stephen King, On Writing)

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 28, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "To watch King Lear is to approach the recognition that there is indeed no meaning to life and that there are limits to human understanding. So we lay down a heavy burden and are made humble. This is what Shakespearian tragedy accomplishes for us."

    Peter Ackroyd, Shakespeare: The Biography

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 28, 2005 | Permanent link
Thursday, October 27, 2005
    TT: Here but not here

    I'm temporarily preoccupied with writing for money. Excuse me while I earn a living! You'll find lots of places to visit in the right-hand column, assuming you've already read everything in this column.

    See you tomorrow.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, October 27, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: So you want to see a show?

    Here's my list of recommended Broadway and off-Broadway shows, updated each Thursday. In all cases, I either gave these shows strongly favorable reviews in The Wall Street Journal when they opened or saw and liked them some time in the past year (or both). For more information, click on the title.

    Warning: Broadway shows marked with an asterisk were sold out, or nearly so, last week.

    Absurd Person Singular (comedy, PG, adult subject matter, closes Dec. 18, reviewed here)
    Avenue Q* (musical, R, adult subject matter, strong language, one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
    Chicago* (musical, R, adult subject matter, sexual content, fairly strong language)
    Dirty Rotten Scoundrels* (musical, R, extremely vulgar, reviewed here)
    Doubt* (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, implicit sexual content, reviewed here)
    Fiddler on the Roof (musical, G, one scene of mild violence but otherwise family-friendly, closes Jan. 8, reviewed here)
    The Light in the Piazza* (musical, PG-13, adult subject matter and a brief bedroom scene, closes Mar. 26, reviewed here)
    Sweet Charity (musical, PG-13, lots of cutesy-pie sexual content, reviewed here)
    The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee* (musical, PG-13, mostly family-friendly but contains a smattering of strong language and a production number about an unwanted erection, reviewed here)

    Orson's Shadow (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, very strong language, closes Dec. 31, reviewed here)
    Slava's Snowshow (performance art, G, child-friendly, reviewed here)

    The Caterers (drama, R, violence, strong language, explicit sexual situations, reviewed here, closes Sunday)
    Sides: The Fear Is Real… (sketch comedy, PG, some strong language, reviewed here, closes Sunday)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, October 27, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Royalty paid in 1940 to Aaron Copland for each performance of his score for the Eugene Loring ballet Billy the Kid: $40

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $532.28

    (Source: Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis, Copland: 1900 Through 1942)

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, October 27, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Not since Moses has anyone seen a mountain so greatly."

    Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters on Cézanne

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, October 27, 2005 | Permanent link
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
    TT: Elsewhere

    Recent reading, randomly arranged:

    • Here, at last, is the rest of the story about the German edition of Deidre Bair’s biography of Carl Jung:

    Random House has ended a literary dispute over a biography of Carl Gustav Jung by publishing a new version this month in Germany without special annotations and material from the Swiss heirs who had complained about "factual errors" and "misleading" information about the psychiatrist.

    The biography by Deirdre Bair, which was published earlier in the United States, has been the subject of a struggle between the author and some members of Jung's family who disputed many facts in the book…

    Fearing a potential lawsuit, Random House in Germany decided to insert two pages of the Jung family's version of descriptions and facts in the book, which one of its imprints, Knaus Verlag, planned to publish this month. But last week the book appeared in German bookstores without the family's material….


    • Mr. Outer Life identifies an important cultural phenomenon:

    So it was with some surprise a few weeks ago that I recognized a celebrity in my daughter’s classroom. We were there for back-to-school night and he walked in late, causing every head to turn. As the heads turned back and the room erupted in silent whispers of “Is that him?,” I knew it was, for he starred in a sitcom I’d watched when I was a kid and his well-preserved face had denied and defied the intervening decades.

    As soon as the teacher stopped talking the celeb made a beeline for the door, leaving the rest of us to mill about and speak of his presence in awed, hushed tones. Apparently he’s not a washed-up has-been, fodder for “Where Are They Now?” features. No, he’s still a real celebrity, starring on a hit TV show and living with his beautiful wife and beautiful children in a beautiful house in the most beautiful part of town.

    As they talked, I detected celebrity validation in the air, that peace of mind we get when a celebrity endorses us by doing what we do….

    • Ms. Pratie Place’s daughter/co-blogger, who lives in Manhattan, puts her finger on a mystery:

    I was at boyfriend's house the other day (parents' house, in the suburbs) and I went down to get something the basement. And just as I hit the bottom of the stairs, I got the oddest feeling. I felt—not quite sick—but just very strange. And what I realized it was, was, silence. There was no traffic, no office, no TV. There was no noise. My ears were ringing with silence. And it was good, but I didn't feel quite as good as you might think….

    I never sleep well the first night I’m back in Smalltown, U.S.A., on a visit. It’s too quiet.

    • Excellent green-room advice from Mr. Think Denk:

    I just finished this last weekend playing the Franck Quintet for piano and strings, a piece which apparently many people have trouble taking seriously. Last season I played this work at the end of a tour in Sayville or Islip (I don't quite remember) and a man afterwards said some very unkind things about the piece, in a tone of voice I cannot forgive. This kind of dismissiveness I find very upsetting. Suddenly it seemed to me the five of us had driven out in the rain in a rental car, very tired, had nearly gotten lost in Long Island, and had worked hard in an unpleasant-sounding hall to bring the piece across, and some jerk had to mouth off...I worked myself into an inner rage about this, and came as close as I ever had to yelling at someone backstage. The Franck Quintet is, anyway, the Franck Quintet; either you "buy it" or you don't. And if you don't buy it, don't take it out on the musicians...

    As it happens, I used not to buy it—but now I do. (For what it's worth, the older I get, the more music I like.)

    • Mr. Something Old, Nothing New remembers the late Charles Rocket, who cut his throat the other day:

    His best-known TV guest appearance was probably as Bruce Willis's brother in the second season premiere of "Moonlighting," competing with Willis for the attentions of Cybill Shepherd. He was a failed con man who started the episode by trying to plug the ultimate miracle product, "Rich 'n Thin," by doing the first and (deliberately) worst rap number by a white guy in prime-time TV….

    Not only do I remember that episode, but until a few years ago, God help me, I could have recited most of the lyrics from memory. Strange how cluttered a middle-aged head gets….

    • Ms. Household Opera asks (and answers) a wonderful question:

    Which movie scenes always make you cry (and which ones always make you laugh)?

    I’m not in the mood to generate original content today, but suffice it to say that our lists overlap.

    • Says Mr. From the Floor:

    Today, one doesn’t even need to have basic technical skills to publish a website. There is only one barrier to entry remaining for someone who wants to become a voice in the culture at large: the ability to think and write clearly. Granted, that’s still a large barrier, but there have always been more people interested in being journalists and critics than there have been publications to support them. Today one doesn’t need the backing of a major publication to develop a voice and establish a dedicated readership.

    Today the editorial, printing, and distribution functions have almost no impact on how a writer develops credibility and reaches an audience of readers. Readers are rapidly migrating away from pay-for-use information services (in print or on the web) and turning to free sites hosted by print publications and to other information providers (like bloggers) for current cultural content. Researchers are becoming more reliant on search engine results for information and less reliant on proprietary systems and pay-for-use archives. By hiding their writers behind a curtain that readers must pay to open, mainstream publications are diluting their historical roles in the culture as conveyors of information and tastemakers….

    Yes I said yes I will yes. The problem, alas, is that my bosses at The Wall Street Journal (unlike nearly everybody else in the newspaper business) turn a tidy profit by making the Journal’s contents available on a subscription-only basis. I wish I could link to the stuff I write for them—but I’m awfully fond of earning a living, too. A paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox!

    • Rich food for thought from Mr. Superfluities:

    I can only go by the evidence of my own experience, small and insignificant in the larger scheme as that is. But it is this: that art, so far from engaging the world, should provide the means by which we are encouraged to transcend it. Turning from the ridiculous to the sublime, it is this which differentiates works like, say, Tristan, the canvases of Mark Rothko and the music of Morton Feldman from works like Angels in America, the canvases of Rauschenberg and the music of—oh, I don't know, everybody from Eminem to Kander & Ebb. As Kant will happily tell you, there's no escaping the boundaries of human sensual experience, but as Schopenhauer will whisper in your ear, you can always seek to transcend it through renunciation of the world and through the highest expressions of sensuality itself. Art and religion provide the means for that renunciation….

    • Er, this is my life.

    And by the way, Ms. A, thanks for the plug:

    Who is your favorite political blogger? Favorite non-political blogger?

    Political: Instapundit. Nonpolitical: About Last Night.

    We always scroll down.

    • Oh, yes, Lileks has been peeking, too:

    Me, I love lunch. So little hangs on lunch; your expectations are low and easily met. So it’s hard to be pleased by however it goes. Some people like variety; others have the same thing every day because they can, and because it’s the one meal where a family man really has complete control. Breakfast might be drawn from the shifting stores of cereal and fruit; dinner is variable by law, because we’d all rebel if the same thing was served each night. Even the single man objects. The single man in his lowest state rotates between fast-food outlets, because even the dullest example of the genre knows there is something inexcusable about eating McDonald’s every night....

    As for me, all I can say is that if I didn't live two blocks away from Good Enough to Eat, I'd be reduced within days to the most desperate and pitiful of singletonian culinary extremities—sort of like one of Barbara Pym's characters, only male, if you know what I mean.

    • No matter what you do for a living, this is harder.

    • Says Mr. CultureSpace:

    I don't know how accurate Capote is, and, to a certain extent, it doesn't matter. A film, I have always believed, must work within its own parameters; its faithfulness to its source material is secondary, if it matters at all….

    O.K., I take the point—but what if the “source material” is the historical record? Does it “matter” if an artfully made docudrama contains significant distortions that large numbers of ordinary folk come to regard as the whole truth and nothing but?

    Just asking.

    • San Francisco’s de Young Museum has moved to a new building. My favorite blogger offers a characteristic report on the change of venue:

    The northwest corner of the new de Young Museum twists skyward, as if it's been pinched between an oversized thumb and forefinger and given a good tug. Maybe Jack's giant wanted the museum back but (wary of the San Franciscan) decided against it and let go. And so the tower remains, with nowhere to hide and with a mesh-like copper exterior that simultaneously conceals and reveals its vague internal movements. It takes a few moments to realize that what moves is actually a swarm of people up on the observation deck. The lively shimmer and shadow tones down the tower's looming ominousness and promises fairytale views to all who enter the museum proper….

    [W]hat is the function of an art museum—of the building itself—and what are the effects of being contained within one? Holding art still, a museum invites stilled observations, yet a well-designed floorplan creates movement, a necessary counterpoint to all the stillness….

    How I wish I’d been there!

    • Says The Little Professor:

    A few years ago, I had several students who declared, somewhat indignantly, that they couldn't "relate" to The Tempest. ("Well, I should hope not," I wanted to respond—but didn't.) I understand the desire to find something familiar in a text, the yearning to find one's own priorities and needs nested there. But there's something so depressing about "I can't relate to it": it presumes that the reader's mental activity can end once she stumbles across unfamiliar (or unpleasant) ideas….

    Amen, sister.

    • Lastly, if you haven’t seen this, look at it right this second. (You’ll need QuickTime to view it.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, October 26, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Fee paid in 1942 to Agnes de Mille by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (exclusive of subsequent performance royalties) for choreographing Rodeo: $500

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $6,273.97

    (Source: Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis, Copland: 1900 Through 1942)

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, October 26, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "There are critics who love the theatre, who manage to express a sort of positive enthusiasm for the theatrical craft even with shows they dislike, and despite having had a wretched evening, remain infectious, enthusiastic and lacking in malice.

    "On the other hand, there are those who neither know nor care about theatre. They are disgruntled sports writers or fashion reporters, doubtful poets or failed dramatists, who've been promoted sideways into what their editor considers to be a fairly harmless area—rather as prime ministers tend to reward colleagues who have fallen from grace by making them arts ministers.

    "Many of us in the theatre spend our lives being concerned about the views of such people. My advice is don't. Be grateful for the good or constructive ones and disregard the bad ones. If possible read neither, certainly not until much later. Life's too short."

    Alan Ayckbourn, The Crafty Art of Playmaking

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, October 26, 2005 | Permanent link
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
    TT: Rebirth

    American Ballet Theatre, which is appearing at New York’s City Center through November 6, is dancing Apollo, George Balanchine’s first collaboration with Igor Stravinsky and his oldest surviving ballet (Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premiered it in 1928). What’s more, they’re doing it with the rarely performed birth scene, which I’ve only seen twice on stage in my eighteen years of dancegoing.

    Not surprisingly, I have a lot to say about Apollo in All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine, including this explanation of how and why Balanchine cut the birth scene:

    Apollo is a portrait of the Greek god of song and music, danced by a cast of seven and accompanied by a small string orchestra. As the curtain rises, Leto gives birth to the young Apollo, who is freed from his swaddling clothes by two handmaidens. He takes up his lyre and plays, then dances about the stage, exploring his godly powers. He is joined by Calliope, the muse of poetry; Polyhymnia, the muse of mime; and Terpsichore, the muse of dance. Each muse dances a solo variation for Apollo, “instructing” him in her art. He dances with Terpsichore alone, then with all three muses. Having achieved his maturity, he then ascends Mount Parnassus to join Zeus, his father, in Olympus, followed by the muses, as Leto and her handmaidens bid him farewell from the earth below.

    In 1979 Balanchine eliminated the roles of Leto and the handmaidens, cut the birth scene, and rechoreographed the finale so that Apollo and the muses pose in a sunlit peacock-like formation at center stage instead of ascending to Olympus. He apparently felt that the opening scenes had become dated and were out of keeping with the tone of the rest of the dance. (“I know why I changed it, I took out all the garbage—that’s why!” he told an interviewer in 1981.) New York City Ballet now performs Apollo only in this shortened version, originally created for Mikhail Baryshnikov, but many other companies continue to dance the birth scene.

    I think Balanchine was dead wrong, and the performance I saw on Sunday afternoon, in which Ethan Stiefel danced the title role, showed why.

    This is what I wrote about Stiefel several years ago for a Time profile that never made it into print:

    In recent seasons, Stiefel has appeared in a startlingly wide range of ballets—Le Corsaire, Billy the Kid, Balanchine's Apollo, even contemporary works by Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp—moving from role to role with a casual virtuosity and unmannered grace that are as all-American as Fred Astaire. No less typically American is his eagerness to take chances: “I’m not saying that I can do everything, but I’ll definitely try everything. I don’t want people to say I’m a great classical ballet dancer, or a modern dancer, or any one kind of dancer. I’m a dancer, period.” Well, not quite. In fact, he is the greatest American-born male ballet dancer to come along since Edward Villella, and quite possibly the most exciting, of either sex and from any country, since Baryshnikov. Period.

    I stand by those words, and Sunday’s performance gave me fresh reasons to do so. Unlike any other Apollo I’ve been lucky enough to see on stage, Stiefel understands that the young Apollo is young and unformed, and that it is the muses who must teach him the meaning of beauty. Accordingly, his dancing throughout the first part of the ballet is raw and wild—just what you’d expect from a newborn god, in other words—and it is the prefatory birth scene that puts the wildness in context. On Sunday I found it nothing short of revelatory.

    You have four more chances to see Apollo in New York, on October 27, November 2, and at both performances on November 5. Stiefel will only be dancing Apollo once more, on November 2, but all four performances have been staged by Richard Tanner, and so I expect they’ll be worth seeing no matter who’s in them. Go—especially if you’ve been disappointed in recent seasons by New York City Ballet’s slick, flattened-out performances of the ballet Balanchine called “the turning point of my life.”

    (Incidentally, Andante has put out a three-disc box set of performances by Stravinsky which includes, among other things, the very first CD release of the little-known recording of Apollo Stravinsky made in 1950 with a pickup ensemble of top New York string players billed as the RCA Victor Orchestra. It’s a little scrappy in spots but for the most part incredibly vivid and revealing, and I commend it to your attention as well.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, October 25, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Walking the walk

    Last night I went downtown in the pouring rain to see a workshop performance of In Private/In Public, a double bill of one-act plays written by George Hunka (also known as Mr. Superfluities) and directed by Isaac Butler (also known as Mr. Parabasis), two dramabloggers of strong opinions not always identical to my own! I got soaked—but it was worth it.

    Both plays deal with relationships gone grossly wrong. In Private, the curtain-raiser, is a darkly drawn sketch of obsessional love, while In Public, the longer of the two, is a “serious comedy” ŕ la Alan Ayckbourn that's chockful of unsettlingly sharp-edged punch lines. Not only are the plays deftly staged, but the acting, by Darian Dauchan, Abe Goldfarb, Daryl Lathon, Sasha Taublieb, and Jennifer Gordon Thomas, is first-rate. Remember those names—you’ll hear them again, and not just from me.

    Alas, there’s only one more performance, tonight at eight o’clock at manhattantheatresource, right around the corner from Washington Square Park. The theater is very small, so if you want to come—and I hope you do—call 212-501-4751 to make a reservation.

    For more information, go here.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, October 25, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: I couldn't have put it better myself

    A friend writes:

    “We had dinner last week in a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Connecticut. It was beautiful—everywhere the eye went it found something to delight it. Wright's big public rooms have found a ghastly afterlife in today's McMansions. He's not responsible for that, but he is responsible for the tiny kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms, the smoking chimneys, and the leaky roof—all traits, the owners assured us, of other Wright houses (they belong to a Wright homeowners' association).

    ”I suppose the Parthenon would be drafty.”

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, October 25, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Aaron Copland's total income in 1941: $4,577.61

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $60,311.58

    (Source: Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis, Copland: 1900 Through 1942)

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, October 25, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    “I mean, this may sound ridiculous, but I’ve never to this day really known what most women think about anything. Completely closed book to me. I mean, God bless them, what would we do without them. But I’ve never understood them. I mean, damn it all, one minute you’re having a perfectly good time and the next, you suddenly see them there like—some old sports jacket or something—literally beginning to come apart at the seams. Floods of tears, smashing your pots, banging the furniture about. God knows what. Both my wives, God bless them, they’ve given me a great deal of pleasure over the years but, by God, they’ve cost me a fortune in fixtures and fittings. All the same. Couldn’t do without them, could we. I suppose.”

    Alan Ayckbourn, Absurd Person Singular

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, October 25, 2005 | Permanent link
Monday, October 24, 2005
    TT: Just in case you didn't notice

    Four new Top Fives went up this morning and over the weekend. Take a look.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 24, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Chimes at midnight

    I haven’t seen much opera lately—Broadway has been keeping me hopping—but when the Met announced that Bryn Terfel, whom Our Girl and I admire greatly, would be singing the title role in Falstaff, my favorite opera, I knew I had to be there. The only question was who to bring along. Having recently subjected the beauteous Maccers to a third-rate play, it struck me that she might be a worthy seatmate, and though she’s been preoccupied with starting a cult, she agreed to join me on Saturday for dinner and Verdi.

    On Thursday afternoon the Met press office left a message on my voice mail in New York. I was holed up at an undisclosed location, taking J.J. Gittes’ advice (a fat lot of good it did him!), so I didn't find out until late that night that Terfel, whose longstanding back problems have made him a chronic canceller, was bailing out of Saturday’s performance, the last of the run. Sighing deeply, I left a message for Maccers assuring her that she was more than welcome to do the same. No way, she replied the next day, and sure enough, she arrived at the Teachout Museum on Saturday night, no more prepared than I for the comedy of errors that was about to ensue.

    I should have known we were headed for harm's way when we showed up at the restaurant and found that its doors were locked (a water main had broken). Unfazed by this ill omen, we improvised a tasty dinner next door, then hustled down to the Met, where things got off to a surprisingly decent start. Louis Otey, who replaced Terfel, is no Falstaff, but he’s a good singer and a good sport, and he threw himself into the impossible task of covering for one of opera's most electrifying performers. It helped that Jean-Paul Fouchecourt, the funniest character tenor around (he plays the ugly frog in Mark Morris’ staging of Rameau’s Platée), was up to his usual tricks as Bardolfo. Moreover, James Levine, who for the past few seasons has been very much an in-and-out runner, rose to the occasion, conducting in a positive and involving manner from the first downbeat on.

    The curtain fell on the first scene, and we waited…and waited. “There’s trouble in paradise,” I whispered to Maccers, and sure enough, a nervous-looking gentleman in a suit materialized seconds later and informed the audience that Fouchecourt had slipped, fallen, and hurt himself during the scene change, and would be replaced by his cover singer. “I think the thing to do is take the first intermission now,” the spokesman said. No sooner did the house lights come up then Maccers and I scooted to the bar for champagne, wondering what the next disaster would be.

    What happened instead was a not-so-minor miracle, made possible in part by the galvanizing presence of a first-rank artist. I can’t say enough good things about Patricia Racette, who was singing Alice Ford on Saturday, so I’ll simply repeat here what I wrote about her in the New York Daily News a few years ago on a similar occasion:

    Patricia Racette was faced with the unenviable task of replacing the much-loved Renee Fleming as Violetta, the doomed courtesan, in Franco Zeffirelli's expensive new production of La Traviata, which opened Monday at the Metropolitan Opera House. A lesser singer might have clutched under the pressure. Instead, Racette swung for the fences—and smashed the ball out of the park.

    Racette is no airheaded coloratura canary, but an outstandingly gifted singing actress who uses her bright, vibrant voice as an instrument of high drama. She caught the hectic desperation just below the surface of the forced gaiety of "Sempre libera," and moved boldly from the black despair of "Addio del passato" to the heart-tearing false hope of the death scene. The wild cheering at evening's end was fully deserved: rarely has an American soprano made so much of so great an opportunity…

    Racette was every bit as good on Saturday, and her determination to prevail set her colleagues on fire. Instead of staggering around looking stricken, the cast, Otey very much included, had a ball. It was Maccers’ first Falstaff, and she went home happy. It must have been, oh, my twentieth, and so did I.

    Was it a great performance, or merely a great occasion? Falstaff, after all, is no knockabout farce but one of Western art’s most searching commentaries on the vanity of human wishes, no less so because it says what it has to say with a smile. What makes Verdi's Falstaff immortal is the comic finality with which his remaining delusions of potency are dispelled—and the nobleman's grace with which he accepts his reversal of fortune. Verdi, who was seventy-nine years old when he completed Falstaff, understood such matters in his bones, which is why Falstaff is the most Shakespearean of all operas. Sir John may be a fool to chase after Alice and Meg, but if he is, so are we all, and there is nothing even slightly absurd about the piercing moment when he assures Alice that he was not always the fat, tumescent rake who stands before her:

    When I was page to the Duke of Norfolk,
    I was slender, a mirage,
    light and fair, gentle, gentle.
    That was my verdant April season,
    the joyous Maytime of my life.
    Then I was so lean, so lithe, so slender,
    you could have slipped me through a ring.

    Arrigo Boito’s original Italian words are deliciously light-footed—Quand’ero paggio del Duca di Norfolk/ero sottile, sotille, sotille—and the miniature aria Verdi spins out of them, barely a half-minute long, is no less delicious in its scampery, self-mocking grace. To hear it is to peel away the layers of bluster and behold the humanity of a buffoon who, long after his “verdant April” has turned to chilly October, still craves the comforting sweetness of young love. A little later we see him humiliated, and though he deserves it a hundred times over, we feel a tug of sympathy, knowing there is more to him than mere roguery. Is there a more poignant moment in opera than when he stands before the mocking crowd and joins bravely in their laughter?

    Rare is the Falstaff, be it in the opera house or the theater, who understands this (Orson Welles did, with good reason). One could hardly have expected Louis Otey to improvise at the last minute so complex an interpretation, and he didn't: instead, he played Sir John for laughs all the way, and got them. Nor is the Met’s ancient Falstaff, performed in the crumbling shell of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1964 production, likely to inspire such interpretative subtleties in those forced to work within its constricting limits. Fortunately, Verdi’s quicksilver music tells us everything we really need to know, and when the whole cast comes downstage at the very end and joins Sir John in a rousing fugue whose first line is All the world's a joke, it’s hard not to suspect that you’re hearing more or less what Robert Browning had in mind when he spoke of “the C Major of this life,” the key in which young lovers are wed, a husband and wife reconciled, an aging blowhard humbled and forgiven, and the world made whole again.

    Of course I cried. Comedy does that to you. So does life.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 24, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Marching orders

    Found in a fortune cookie at dinner on Sunday:


    I'm still waiting....

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 24, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Rerun

    June 2004:

    Could it be that I’m through with series TV for good? I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s not that I’m a snob about TV. The problem is that I no longer care for the idea of committing myself to weekly installments of anything as repetitive as a dramatic series. I suppose it’d be melodramatic to say that life’s too short to spend it watching the same set of characters each week—but melodramatic or not, I think that might be the best way to explain be how I’m feeling these days. For the moment, anyway….

    (If it’s new to you, read the whole thing here.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 24, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Number, please

    • Elia Kazan's fee in 1950 for directing the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire: $175,000

    • The same amount in today's dollars, courtesy of Inflation Calculator: $1,356,567.27

    (Source: Richard Schickel, Elia Kazan)

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 24, 2005 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    Give me the keys. I feel for the common chord again,
    Sliding by semi-tones till I sink to a minor,—yes,
    And I blunt it into a ninth, and I stand on alien ground,
    Surveying a while the heights I rolled from into the deep;
    Which, hark, I have dared and done, for my resting-place is found,
    The C Major of this life: so, now I will try to sleep.

    Robert Browning, "Abt Vogler"

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 24, 2005 | Permanent link
Friday, October 29, 2004
    TT: Almost forgot

    I wrapped up my foliage-related travels this afternoon so that I could hear Wesla Whitfield at Danny’s Skylight Room tonight. I just got back. Wow! I’ll be writing about her opening night in next Sunday’s “Second City” column, so I don’t want to steal my own thunder, but if you’re loose on Saturday or Sunday, go hear her. Nobody—but nobody—sings standards better.

    For more information on Wesla, go here.

    For more information on Danny’s, go here.

    If you can’t go and want to hear what you’re missing, buy this CD.

    See you Monday.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 29, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Twelve noisy stereotypes

    I returned to Manhattan, picked up today's Wall Street Journal, and what did I see? Me, writing about the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men and the New Group’s production of Michael Murphy’s Sin (A Cardinal Deposed).

    I liked Twelve Angry Men in spite of myself:

    For those unfamiliar with the plot (there must be a few of you out there), “Twelve Angry Men” tells how a New York jury decides the fate of a minority-group teenager accused of stabbing his father to death. At first the vote is eleven to one in favor of conviction, but the lone dissenter, played here by Boyd Gaines (“Contact”) and in the film by Henry Fonda, is determined to convert his furious colleagues, one at a time. Each of the jurors, who are identified only by numbers, is presented as an ethnic or cultural stereotype—an unintentionally absurd touch, seeing as how the script, in earnest ’50s style, seeks to persuade us that the defendant is a helpless victim of circumstances ŕ la Stephen Sondheim’s “Gee, Officer Krupke” (“We ain’t no delinquents/We’re misunderstood/Deep down inside us there is good!”)….

    Mr. Gaines is admirably understated as the saintly Juror No. 8—not even slightly like Fonda, who milked the good-guy angle for all it was worth and then some, and then some more. (He was even dressed in a white suit!) Philip Bosco’s otherwise fine performance as the belligerent Juror No. 3, by contrast, is a shade too reminiscent of Lee J. Cobb, Fonda’s nemesis in the film. Everybody else is good or better, and Allen Moyer has reproduced a grubby big-city jury room circa 1954 with eerie exactitude, though I found it a bit cute when the whole set rolled sideways to reveal the men’s room.

    Needless to say, “Twelve Angry Men” is a feel-righteous period piece, a choice specimen of what I think of as the American version of socialist realism. All its ambiguities are pat, and when the curtain comes down you know exactly what you’re supposed to go home thinking. It’s as if you’ve just been worked over by a politically correct masseur who pummels you in all the right places. Fortunately, you don’t have to swallow the message to enjoy the massage….

    I also liked Sin (A Cardinal Deposed), with some qualifications:

    John Cullum plays Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who was forced to resign as archbishop of the diocese of Boston when a pair of civil suits revealed that he had covered up horrific allegations of child abuse by numerous priests in his charge, including the now-notorious John Geoghan and Paul Shanley. The script is derived from the transcripts of a pair of videotaped depositions in which Cardinal Law, who initially blamed the cover-up on his subordinates, was confronted with an avalanche of damning written testimony proving that he was fully aware of the charges—and chose to disregard them.

    I tend not to be a fan of documentary plays. For one thing, transcripts aren’t theater, as the Culture Project’s recent production of “Guantánamo” recently proved at tedious length. Not only do such “plays” tend to be shapeless, but such inherent dramatic power as they may have is too often drowned out by the noisy clatter of the stacking of political decks. I feared that “Sin” might suffer from the latter problem—especially when I saw that the liberal Catholic group Voice of the Faithful was handing out leaflets at its performances—but Mr. Murphy, to his credit, plays it down the center. To be sure, he’s edited and reshaped the transcripts extensively, compressing two suits into one and several lawyers into two, but his purpose was to be true to the substance of the proceedings, and so far as I know he has not distorted them in any significant way.

    For the most part “Sin” also works as theater, though I think Mr. Murphy has made a big mistake in following Cardinal Law’s devastating testimony with a brief epilogue in which one of the victims is allowed to speak—the curtain should fall as the humiliated Cardinal walks slowly out of the room. Otherwise, “Sin” scrupulously avoids pulpit-pounding, instead letting the horrors speak for themselves, which they do….

    No link. To read the whole thing, buy a copy of this morning’s Journal, or do this.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 29, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Efficiency of a practically flawless kind may be reached naturally in the struggle for bread. But there is something beyond—a higher point, a subtle and unmistakable touch of love and pride beyond mere skill; almost an inspiration which gives to all work that finish which is almost art—which is art."

    Joseph Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 29, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Paul Taylor, again

    Picking up where I left off:

    For a dance about hell set to music from hell, Dante Variations is impressively chipper. A considerable portion of the piece is frankly comic: one solo dancer gamely performs with her hands tied behind her back, one with shackles on his ankles, another trailing something from one foot (or perhaps suffering a hot foot). These sections veer toward cuteness, however; they rely a milligram too heavily on props and conceits for their charm. The darker sections of the dance make a stronger impression. Especially wonderful are the pyramidal tableaux in which the dancers freeze at curtain-up and curtain-down, like figures in a lurid frieze; and the fantastical Boschian creatures, built out of dancers, that lumber and menace throughout. Intensifying the whole thing is the jaw-dropping lighting by Jennifer Tipton. Sometimes she bathes the back of the stage in darkness that a dancer can all but disappear into, eerily remaining just faintly discernible; at other points she lights the stage in such a way that the dancers cast giant shadow monsters—no bunnies here—on the back wall. These effects are nothing less than fantastic, and go a long way toward making the piece so deliciously like nightmares.

    And then Promethean Fire. Ah, hell. How am I going to write about this dance without sounding like a publicist? Here goes nothing.

    In an interesting bit of sequencing, Taylor followed his dance about hell with a dance that is widely believed to be about 9/11. I first saw Promethean Fire in New York City last March, so I knew what I was in for Sunday night. And I didn't know. This dance is so powerfully beautiful, I can't imagine ever being truly ready for it, even if I'm lucky enough to see it a dozen times. It does seem to be about the attacks. But the dance is also more universal and more abstract than that; what it mostly represents is the complex of emotional responses those events provoked. Or, to put it still more generally, the kinds of emotional responses they provoked. I doubt that Taylor set out to choreograph on 9/11; rather, he seems to have written a dance that unavoidably reflected the psychic ground he inhabited in the months following the attacks.

    What was that psychic ground? Suffering and shock are in the dance, and consolation, love, renewal. I honestly don't know how to describe its content any more specifically. It was beautiful and thrilling to watch. I alternated between trying to read it—knowing as I did that it had been pegged as Taylor's 9/11 dance, and being as I am the type that looks for the story in everything—and being saved from thought altogether by the over-the-top beauty of the thing. A couple of times during those brain-dead spells, I thought of a flower opening. Something inexplicably but inarguably, factually gorgeous.

    But Terry, I think I've been skirting your question:

    But it happens that you saw a Taylor dance, Promethean Fire, which is widely thought to make oblique but nonetheless intelligible reference to the events of 9/11. Did you see such allusions in Promethean Fire? And if so, how did they affect your response to it? Inquiring co-bloggers want to know.

    Well, when you put it that way…yes. I saw fire, falling, and collapse in the dance. Just in glimpses, but there all the same. And on paper, you know, that sounds as though it could be such a terrible idea. But you feel the same way I do about the dance. So—to bat the ball back to you again—why does it work? I have a notion about this, beyond the simple fact of Taylor being a genius. But I kind of want to hear what you think.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, October 29, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Easily amused

    Tonight I walked by someone's elaborately ready-for-Halloween house in my neighborhood, Hyde Park. Four fresh faux graves graced the front yard. Two of the inscriptions on the gravestones:

    SEE, I
    I WAS



    I giggled all the way home.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, October 29, 2004 | Permanent link
Thursday, October 28, 2004
    OGIC: Paul Taylor, continued

    As Terry mentioned, the Paul Taylor program I saw Sunday night at the College of Du Page's McAninch Arts Center included Taylor's great 2002 dance "Promethean Fire." The other dances on the program were "Klezmerbluegrass," in its world premiere, and "Dante Variations," another new dance that premiered earlier this year. This was my second time seeing Taylor's company at the comfy McAninch Center. Despite the longish drive from Chicago, it's a nice place to see a performance. There's not a bad seat in the house.

    "Klezmerbluegrass" was vivid and delightful, alternating jubilant sections danced by the ensemble with more wistful solos and duets. The group parts reminded me of two of my all-time favorite dances, Eliot Feld's "The Jig Is Up" and "Skara Brae," both of which are set to traditional Irish music and make me want to dance all the way home. The ensemble parts of "Klezmerbluegrass" had that same care-extinguishing exultation about them, which never felt very far away, even during the most brooding solo. Commissioned by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture (with support from the McAninch) to commemorate 350 years of Jewish life in America, Taylor's new dance convincingly celebrates the capacity of the communities we form to blunt the occupational angst of individual existence. It doesn't, much to its credit, pretend that they can cure it.

    I have more to say about the other two dances on the program, especially "Promethean Fire," but it will have to wait a bit. I'm blogging sub rosa right now, and I don't want to push my luck….

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, October 28, 2004 | Permanent link
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
    OGIC: A bit of boosterism from my corner

    In The New Republic, another critic discovers the merits of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, even if the mountain had to come to Mohamet. Robert Brustein minces no words in praising Rose Rage, just closed in New York, and reserves the most extravagant plaudits for the production's devastating Richard:

    Part III features the emergence of the most fascinating character in the play—Shakespeare's first well-written villain, Richard Crookback. This hedgehog, born with a full set of teeth, is a man destined "to bite the world." As played by Jay Whittaker, he not only brandishes a straight razor, he is a straight razor—you can cut yourself simply by touching him. Anticipating his intent to murder Edward's two sons in the tower, he licks the kids' faces with his viperish tongue. Glowering, sneering, a tuft of beard beneath his lower lip, a rakish black homburg on his head, Whittaker is as blistering and cruel and witty a Richard as I've ever seen—and I've seen a lot of good ones, including Olivier, McKellen, and Branagh.

    In this particular as well as several others, Brustein's review is in agreement with the one Terry wrote for the WSJ last winter, which I in turn agreed with wholeheartedly. As for his wake-up call about Chicago Shakespeare generally—and one feels the rest of Chicago theater can't be far behind in getting his attention—

    To single out individual actors from the production is to disregard the general excellence of this remarkable company. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater has been in existence now for eighteen years, and I am ashamed to say that until Rose Rage I had never seen it in performance. If this production is typical of the company's work, then it is clearly one of the most talented, electric, and dynamic theaters in the country.

    Aw. Being scooped is never fun, but there's no shame in it.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Wednesday, October 27, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Fortune cookie

    "C. D. paused under the archway, breathing dedicatedly. Picture if you will a C. D. gone mad. A bull in a china shop—an aesthetic bull that is—a bull run mad on aestheticism. For if American education had struck him as eclecticism run mad he was striking me as aestheticism run mad. His eyes shone and darted about ferociously coveting all they beheld. His mouth salivated (at least he licked it several times in a kind of mopping up gesture), his hands clenched and unclenched, his brow perspired; a most unnatural fever seemed to have overtaken him. And then he got a grip on himself, marched boldly into the room, took a good look around him and relaxed. And he looked upon everything and he looked everywhere in that old man's way of his that struck me now as being also so very like that of a very young baby—so lovingly, so gently, so wonderingly. But with an avidity too, that avidity special to C. D. A hungry look cast upon each object of beauty as it flowed and filled and satisfied the innermost reaches of his soul. His eyes would seize upon the object with the impatience of youth, then—here was the difference—come to terms with it; set it down: the eyes avidly picking up each beloved object in salutation—putting it down gently in farewell. Eyes look your last! Strange old man, heart-breaking, heart-broken old man—to be so moved by the polish of wood, the curve of a chair-leg, the glint of crystal, the fade of Aubusson. As though he were missing it all already. There. There. Don't mind so much; don't let yourself miss it."

    Elaine Dundy, The Old Man and Me

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Wednesday, October 27, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: P.P.C.

    I promised to tell you all about my trip to Minnesota, and I will, but not yet. I just got home from the New York premiere of Sin (A Cardinal Deposed), and I'll be getting up first thing in the morning to review it for Friday’s Wall Street Journal. After that I’ve got to knock off a quick piece about Bright Young Things, Stephen Fry’s film adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies. Once that’s finished and filed, I’m planning to stuff a couple of CDs in my shoulder bag (most definitely including this one), go pick up a rental car, and hit the road. I’m heading for the Hudson House Inn, where I expect to spend a couple of days sleeping late, eating well, and looking at the fall foliage.

    I’ll be back some time Friday afternoon…but you know what? I might not blog again until Monday! How about that? It’s more likely that I’ll at least post my Friday Journal teaser and an almanac entry, but if I don’t, fear not—I shall return.


    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, October 27, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Far afield

    I really like what Our Girl posted yesterday about the advantages of letting your mind wander while listening to music. I do it, too—I think everybody does, though some of us are more reluctant to admit it than others. For that matter, I suspect that many, perhaps even most musicians not infrequently let their minds wander while playing music. The late Dick Wellstood, a wonderful jazz pianist who had an intellectual streak, once told Whitney Balliett in an interview that people might be surprised to know what “ordinary daylight things” he thought about while soloing (I’m quoting from memory—I loaned the book in question to a friend a few months ago, and just realized that she hadn’t returned it yet).

    I felt a prick in my memory as I read Our Girl’s posting, and suddenly it came to me that E.M. Forster had written something on this very subject. I couldn’t quite recall what or where, but thirty seconds’ worth of Googling led me to the fifth chapter of Howards End, in which Forster describes Helen Schlegel’s thoughts as she listens to a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony:

    For the Andante had begun—very beautiful, but bearing a family likeness to all the other beautiful Andantes that Beethoven had written, and, to Helen's mind, rather disconnecting the heroes and shipwrecks of the first movement from the heroes and goblins of the third. She heard the tune through once, and then her attention wandered, and she gazed at the audience, or the organ, or the architecture. Much did she censure the attenuated Cupids who encircle the ceiling of the Queen's Hall, inclining each to each with vapid gesture, and clad in sallow pantaloons, on which the October sunlight struck. "How awful to marry a man like those Cupids!" thought Helen. Here Beethoven started decorating his tune, so she heard him through once more, and then she smiled at her Cousin Frieda. But Frieda, listening to Classical Music, could not respond. Herr Liesecke, too, looked as if wild horses could not make him inattentive; there were lines across his forehead, his lips were parted, his pince-nez at right angles to his nose, and he had laid a thick, white hand on either knee. And next to her was Aunt Juley, so British, and wanting to tap. How interesting that row of people was! What diverse influences had gone to the making! Here Beethoven, after humming and hawing with great sweetness, said "Heigho," and the Andante came to an end. Applause, and a round of "wunderschoning" and pracht volleying from the German contingent. Margaret started talking to her new young man; Helen said to her aunt: "Now comes the wonderful movement: first of all the goblins, and then a trio of elephants dancing"; and Tibby implored the company generally to look out for the transitional passage on the drum….

    (Read the whole thing here. I don’t like Forster in general or Howards End in particular, but I do like this chapter.)

    Now tell me something, dear OGIC. Here’s what you wrote about watching Paul Taylor the other night:

    I spent most of the evening bouncing between asking myself "What does it mean?" and simply forgetting the question. Forgetting about words and language themselves, really, as something especially stunning or delicate unfolded on the stage. For me, anyway, this shuttling mode in which I seem to watch dance offers the best of both worlds. As a dance begins I inevitably find myself pushing lightly toward an interpretation, but when the work does something that exceeds or confounds the interpretation—as it continually does, if it is any good—I happily give up thinking and, as Terry says, eat it up. I love this ebb and flow of thought, the thinking and the being drawn away from thinking by fresh experience.

    I couldn’t have put it better. “Forgetting about words and language themselves” is exactly what you have to do in order to experience a non-verbal art form in all its rich ambiguity. But it happens that you saw a Taylor dance, Promethean Fire, which is widely thought to make oblique but nonetheless intelligible reference to the events of 9/11. Did you see such allusions in Promethean Fire? And if so, how did they affect your response to it? Inquiring co-bloggers want to know.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, October 27, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Haiku for opera buffs

    A reader writes:

    Shouting "Brava!", sir,
    Might impress your friends from Queens,
    But not Joe Volpe.

    I wish I were that clever….

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, October 27, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Others must fail

    A reader writes:

    For your next blog perhaps you can explain for the rest of us just why New Yorkers are suddenly enamored of the word schadenfreude. I had heard it once or twice until a couple of months ago and now suddenly it's everywhere. What gives? And now there it is in today's New York Times, on the front page of the Arts and Leisure section. There must be an explanation.

    I don’t read Frank Rich’s column—it hurts my ears—so I didn’t notice that he’d had occasion to deploy one of my own favorite words. I try not to drop foreign words or phrases into my writing (in fact, I told a member of my criticism class yesterday to remove C’est vrai and Gesamtkunstwerk from the piece of his that I was editing). Once in a while, though, there’s no good alternative, and schadenfreude is one of those rare exceptions to my personal rule. To derive malicious joy from someone else’s troubles is, if I may be so bold as to say it, precisely the sort of concept for which one would expect the Germans to have coined a word, and it seems to me altogether fitting that we should have taken it over without change.

    I must admit, though, that I hadn’t noticed any sharp uptick in the popularity of Schadenfreude: The Word. I checked just now and noticed, somewhat to my surprise, that it appeared only twice on this blog before today. Google returned 127,000 hits when I searched the word a little while ago, among them a couple of blogs and Web pages for a Chicago comedy ensemble and “a monthly deathrock and gothrock night in Washington, D.C.” (that one I like). I also ran across several references to Joseph Epstein’s clever little book about envy, whose treatment of schadenfreude I commend to your attention (he calls it “a hardy perennial in the weedy garden of sour emotions").

    Be it in German, English, or pig Latin, I expect schadenfreude is here to stay—and no matter what happens at the polls next Tuesday night, I also expect that a large percentage of voters will be experiencing it come Wednesday morning. That might just explain why my correspondent has been encountering the S-word so frequently of late. Nice it’s not, but it’s definitely part and parcel of the human condition, at least for those of us who aren’t saintly.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, October 27, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    “Unrequited love is the only relationship in which I have ever been able completely to realise my capacities as a human being.”

    Edward Sackville-West, diary entry, Feb. 12, 1953

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, October 27, 2004 | Permanent link
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
    OGIC: Great entrances

    Erin O'Connor has a thread going at Critical Mass about memorable first paragraphs. One of my all-time favorites is from an utterly unknown book, Elaine Dundy's The Old Man and Me. I've posted it on the blog before, and do you know what? I'm going to post it again:

    There is a sort of coal hole in the heart of Soho that is open every afternoon: a dark, dank, dead-ended subterranean tunnel. It is a drinking club called the Crypt and the only light to penetrate it is the shaft of golden sunlight slipping through the doorway from time to time glancing off someone's nose or hair or glass of gin, all the more poignant for its sudden revelations, in an atmosphere almost solid with failure, of pure wind-swept nostalgia, of clean airy summer houses, of the beach, of windy reefs; of the sun radiating through the clouds the instant before the clouds race back over it again—leaving the day as sad and desperate as before.

    I sort of can't get over this paragraph. I think it is just about perfect. I hope Ms. Dundy wrote it after she wrote the rest of the novel, because if I were her I would have stopped dead after writing those two sentences, thinking "My work is done here." (But the rest of the novel is very good too.)

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, October 26, 2004 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Surrender

    Last week, Terry asked me about my experience watching dance. His question was a timely one; just last night I pilgrimaged west to see the Paul Taylor Dance Company in a one-night-only performance (the kickoff, mind you, of a fifty-state tour) in the suburb of Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Terry's book, his recent blogging about dance, and the questions he posed to me were on my mind.

    If I remember correctly, the first dance I saw was Balanchine's Jewels, circa 1992, with Terry (natch). We sat in an upper level of the auditorium, which proved useful for my rather anxiously held purposes: to get it, and to be able to prove that I had gotten it by having something thoughtful, or if possible penetrating, to say about it afterward. From our high-altitude vantage point, the dance looked like architecture in motion. It was on that level—not in terms of the dancers' individual moves and gestures but in terms of the kaleidoscopic formations and patterns they all made together—that I tried to grasp what I was seeing. This was my way of trying to intellectualize it: to make it into something I could read. In keeping with what Terry wrote, I don't think I got as much out of that initial outing as I did from subsequent dance performances where I was more at ease watching. That first time out, I felt almost as though I was performing. I was intent on having the correct response. But there's no such thing.

    I want to make a brief detour here and talk about live classical music (don't blink—it won't last long and it may never happen again!). Terry drew a distinction between narrative and non-narrative art forms, grouping painting, dance, and music as not essentially intellectual. For me, a more operative divide has always been the one between performing and non-performing arts; my grasp of the latter is decent, of the former pathetic. When I came to Chicago, though, I started going to the Symphony semi-regularly—say, half a dozen times a year (a habit that has now, sadly, dropped off). Somewhere in that time, I reached a deeply satisfying understanding of how to enjoy a classical concert, if you happen to be me. I realized that if I let my mind wander a bit, I would actually hear the music better than if I spent the whole concert policing my concentration. At some point I started accepting the meandering thinking I was doing at concerts, however far-flung, as an associative response to the music rather than a philistine, well-nigh punishable distraction from it. At that point I moved from thinking of concert-going as vaguely hard work that just might confer virtue (like church-going) to thinking of it as an authentic sensual luxury.

    Because Terry had started this conversation and I had been mulling a response, I was quite conscious of my minute-to-minute reactions to the Paul Taylor dances I saw last night. Speaking generally—though I'll have more to say later about the individual pieces—I spent most of the evening bouncing between asking myself "What does it mean?" and simply forgetting the question. Forgetting about words and language themselves, really, as something especially stunning or delicate unfolded on the stage. For me, anyway, this shuttling mode in which I seem to watch dance offers the best of both worlds. As a dance begins I inevitably find myself pushing lightly toward an interpretation, but when the work does something that exceeds or confounds the interpretation—as it continually does, if it is any good—I happily give up thinking and, as Terry says, eat it up. I love this ebb and flow of thought, the thinking and the being drawn away from thinking by fresh experience.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, October 26, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Teacher's pets

    I’ll be heading up to the Columbia School of Journalism first thing this morning (too damn early!) to teach what I guess could be called a master class in thumbsucking. I’m spending three hours with eight arts journalists from small and medium-sized cities who’ve come to New York City under the auspices of the National Arts Journalism Program, an NEA-sponsored project whose purpose is to raise the level of arts coverage in American newspapers. They're attending classes, going to performances, and allowing themsleves to be hectored by a bunch of art-biz personages. For me, their job was to write an eight-hundred-word “critic’s notebook” essay—the kind of opinion piece that newspaper critics typically knock out every Sunday or so. My plan is to spend twenty minutes editing each piece line by line, with the rest of the class instructed to pile on at will. I did the same thing with my criticism classes at Rutgers University, a weekly ritual one of my wittier students dubbed “Human Sacrifice.” It took the kids a couple of weeks to get used to being put on the spot like that, but once they finally loosened up, we had a lot of fun and (I hope) learned a lot, too. I’m hoping the same thing happens today, perhaps a bit more quickly.

    At any rate, I’m going straight from Columbia to a couple of midtown galleries, then back to the Upper West Side to knock out the first half of this Friday’s Wall Street Journal drama column, then down to Theater Row to see the play I’ll be reviewing in the second half of my drama column, immediately followed by eight hours in the sack. Busy, huh?

    For all these reasons and more, don’t expect to hear anything else from me today. If for some reason you do, please send me a stern e-mail asking why the hell I’m blogging when I should be working (or napping!).


    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, October 26, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Here endeth the lesson (sort of)

    A reader writes:

    I can answer Tommasini's question about identifying "a gay sensibility in music." It's the opposite of Ted Nugent's sensibility in music.

    I dunno—some of my best friends are very butchy. But, then, not all of them are men….

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, October 26, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Sweet dreams (aren't made of this)

    Speaking of naps, a reader writes:

    I've been catching up on the blog as I was busy/not plugged in last week. Wonder if I'm the only reader who actually prints it out to take to bed to read? Kind of defeats the purpose of a paperless medium, but it sure feels good to be back in your own bed with something good to read.

    I only know of one other person who prints out “About Last Night” to read, and he does it because (so he says) he’s too old to do serious reading off a video screen. Not me. Like H.L. Mencken, I read better when lying down, but I’d no more print out a blog and read it in bed than I’d read a magazine while driving a car. Bed is for books, most recently Linda Danly’s Hugo Friedhofer: The Best Years of His Life, Gregory Dicum’s Window Seat: Reading the Landscape from the Air, Michael Dregni’s Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend, and the forthcoming third volume of Letters from a Life: Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten, the last of which I plan to finish before I turn out the light tonight, unless I decide instead to pick up Brian Garfield’s Hopscotch first.

    All this notwithstanding, I’m glad to know that my correspondent (who is a West Coast-based cabaret singer) is so dedicated to the everlasting search for cultural illumination that she takes “About Last Night” to bed with her! If anyone else out there indulges in this particular perversity, drop me a line—it’ll make me smile.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, October 26, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "The biography of a great writer is not that of a man of the world, or a pervert or an invalid: it is that of a man who draws his stature from what he writes, because he has sacrificed everything to it, including his lesser qualities."

    Jean-Yves Tadié, Marcel Proust (trans. Euan Cameron)

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, October 26, 2004 | Permanent link
Monday, October 25, 2004
    OGIC: Thrills and chills

    For the rest of this week, I won't be able to blog during work. Circumstances. So I will have to wait until tonight to tell you about the grand weekend, highlighted by the mesmerizing Luciana Souza and the golden Paul Taylor. For now, just one tantalizing tidbit: it wasn't until we had taken our seats last night out in little Glen Ellyn, Illinois, that OFOB and I realized we would be seeing the world premiere of a new Taylor dance. Golly.

    Later, alligators.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Monday, October 25, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Get unused to it

    Here’s Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times, writing in Sunday’s paper on Nadine Hubbs’ The Queer Composition of America's Sound: Gay Modernists, American Music and National Identity:

    This is an ambitious, provocative and impressively documented work, with more than 70 pages of detailed footnotes for a 178-page text. It tries to prove that what has come to be considered the distinctive American sound in mid-20th-century American music—that Coplandesque tableau of widely spaced harmonies and melancholic tunes run through with elements of elegiac folk music and spiked with jerky American dance rhythms—was essentially invented by a group of Manhattan-based gay composers: Copland, of course, and Virgil Thomson, Paul Bowles, David Diamond, Marc Blitzstein, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber and Ned Rorem….

    My gay brothers and sisters should welcome Ms. Hubbs's account of the pivotal role played by gay composers in the development of a musical idiom that as the book argues, still signifies "America," not just in the concert hall but also in movies, television and commercial culture.

    Yet, I suspect that many musicians, however fascinated by Ms. Hubbs's treatise, will share my discomfort over the notion of trying to identify anything as elusive as a gay sensibility in music. It's significant, I think, that most of the advance praise for the book ("a landmark study," "breathtakingly original history") comes from cultural historians, not musicians….

    Perhaps a sense of separateness emboldened this circle of gay composers, who shared an affinity for French culture and aesthetics, to distance themselves from the domineering, aggressive (meaning rigorously German) brand of 1920's modernism.…

    By the late 1930's, Copland, with his language now simplified as well, was writing the works that would make him famous, especially the ballet scores "Billy the Kid" and "Rodeo." Still, what is so gay about a symphony that uses hymns as thematic fodder, or a ballet score run through with cowboy tunes and Old West dance rhythms? What is the gay sensibility of Copland's 1939 "Quiet City" or the vibrant 1943 Violin Sonata?

    (Read the whole thing here.)

    I was thinking of reviewing Hubbs’ book, but Tony has said most of what I wanted to say, and the rest of it can be found in an essay I wrote about Benjamin Britten for Commentary. Much of what has been written about Britten since his death in 1976 has revolved around the posthumously disclosed fact that he was sexually attracted to pre-pubescent boys. As I explained in 2000:

    [R]evelations about the composer's private life, particularly the candid account of his pederastic inclinations supplied by Humphrey Carpenter in his 1992 biography, add force to the now widely accepted argument that it is impossible to fully understand his music without taking his sexuality into account. Yet such a critical perspective, while capable of providing valuable illumination, is ultimately unequal to the task of explaining Britten's enduring appeal....he is not a prisoner of identity, speaking only of and to his own kind, but a universal genius, intelligible to everyone. Even in The Turn of the Screw—perhaps his best work, certainly his most disturbing—he succeeds in transcending the particularity of his sexual character and portraying the human dilemma in terms that speak directly to all men in all conditions.

    I’ve written in similar terms about Copland and Tchaikovsky, two other great composers whose music is infinitely important to me. The fact that they were both homosexual should never be disregarded in discussing their life and work—but only an unmusical ideologue would try to explain away their genius by engaging in the kind of politico-sexual reductionism of which Hubbs is merely the latest purveyor. In the words of Tony Tommasini:

    Ultimately, what we may most value about music is that it moves us in powerful but indistinct ways. It's the one thing that cannot be analyzed or deconstructed for its expressive content, and thank goodness for that.

    I think that’s exactly right. It is, after all, the radical ambiguity of music that underlies its unique power—an ambiguity that cannot be clarified by resort to verbal analysis or description, however superficially sophisticated.

    I’ll leave the last word to Felix Mendelssohn, who put it better than anyone else, before or since: “The thoughts which are expressed to me by music that I love are not too indefinite to be put into words, but on the contrary, too definite.” By which Mendelssohn meant roughly what Igor Stravinsky meant when he said that “music expresses itself.” That’s why we love it, and never more so than in an age increasingly dominated by aesthetic politicians. It's too blessedly slippery for such misguided folk as Nadine Hubbs to put it in a box and nail the lid shut.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 25, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: On the double

    A reader writes:

    You recently mentioned reading "Brideshead Revisited" on your way to Minnesota, and you frequently allude to books you read over lunch and such. As someone who is chronically behind in his reading, I'd like to know two things: how fast you read, and how you read. You've already looking at biographies back to front, so no need to go into that again. But are you a speed reader? Or do you selectively harvest paragraphs or chapters from a book? And I gather you keep some sort of commonplace book or electronic file of juicy lines to repeat at a later date. Do you note those as you go (copy them? mark the book for later retrieval?), which I imagine might slow you down, or do you go back and fish them out later?

    And in light of all this, how, exactly, would you want people to read your books?

    I read a book on speed reading once, but it was slow going.

    I don’t know how fast I read, but I can polish off a book of normal length and density in three or four hours, and if absolutely necessary I can read a newly published book and write a thousand-word review of it between Friday night and Monday morning. (On one horrendous occasion I actually read a short book before lunch and filed a review by dinnertime, but that was a special one-time-only favor for an old friend.) Speed reading, if that’s what I do, comes naturally to me: I’ve never taken a course in it. I think I’m glad I read so quickly, but it’s like spelling really well or having perfect pitch, two of my other peculiar endowments—a convenience, nothing more, especially for a working journalist.

    It’s occurred to me more than once that I may not be getting as much pleasure out of the books I read as do slower readers. In any case, and perhaps not surprisingly, I’m a reflexive rereader, and my guess is that over the course of my lifetime I’ll probably spend about as many man-hours with my favorite books as a slower reader. If that’s true, it all evens out in the long run.

    I’ve kept an electronic commonplace book, organized by subject, for the past decade and a half, and I drew on it regularly for the almanac entries I posted throughout the first seven or eight months that I kept this blog. Now that I’ve mostly exhausted its contents, I simply post quotations from whatever book I happen to be reading at the time. Long experience as a journalist has given me an eye (and ear) for memorable quotes, and I dogear the pages on which they appear—an ugly but unbreakable habit—then input them when I’m working on the next day’s blog.

    As I wrote back in June:

    I hasten to point out that the authors of "About Last Night" do not necessarily agree or disagree, in whole or in part, with each day’s almanac entry. To be sure, I usually do, at least up to a point, but not always. (Our Girl in Chicago has nothing to do with the almanac, by the way. Instead, she posts her own "fortune cookies.") Similarly, the almanac is occasionally meant to provide oblique commentary on current events, but not normally. As a rule, my sole purpose in posting each entry is to give you something to think about—and to let you do your own thinking.

    (Go here for more on the almanac and my electronic commonplace book.)

    Regarding my correspondent’s last question, if I may be flippant for a moment, I want people to read my books after buying them! Beyond that, I’m not even slightly fussy. I’m glad when anyone cares enough to go to the trouble of reading what I write, though I do get irritated when people write nasty things about my work without having read it attentively, as occasionally happened with The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken. Take a look at the reviews posted on amazon.com and you’ll see what I mean. (I got off a lot easier with A Terry Teachout Reader, no doubt because fewer people bought it.)

    By the way, I also post quotations from readers, so long as they’re sourced and checkable. Today’s almanac entry, for example, came from a correspondent who heard me speak last week in Minneapolis. I revel in your contributions!

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 25, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: In tandem

    Your attention, please: I now share Our Girl’s obsession with Erin McKeown. She is one smart cookie.

    More later, but in the meantime, get with the program and listen to Grand. I was hooked by the end of the first cut, and I’ll be quite surprised if the same thing doesn’t happen to you.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 25, 2004 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Pictures and books are fine for those that have the time to study 'em, but they don't shoot out on the road and holler 'This is what little old Zenith can put up in the way of Culture.' That's precisely what a Symphony Orchestra does do. Look at the credit that Minneapolis and Cincinnati get. An orchestra with first-class musickers and a swell conductor—and I believe we ought to do the thing up brown and get one of the highest-paid conductors on the market, provding he ain't a Hun—a it goes right into Beantown and New York and Washington; it plays at the best theaters to the most cultured and moneyed people; it gives such class advertising as a town can get in no other way; and the guy who is so short-sighted as to crab this orchestra proposition is passing up the chance to impress the glorious name of Zenith on some big New York millionaire that—that might establish a branch factory here!"

    Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 25, 2004 | Permanent link
Saturday, November 1, 2003
    TT: Almanac

    "I was forced to know what it is like to feel oneself the prey of demonic powers, in both the Greek and the Christian sense, stripped of self-control and self-respect, behaving like a ham actor in a Strindberg play."

    W.H. Auden (on jealousy), in Modern Canterbury Pilgrims

    posted by terryteachout @ Saturday, November 1, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Small enough to hold

    I ventured out in the golden sunshine this afternoon to look at art, and went straight to the best show in town, Joseph Cornell: The 100th Birthday, up at Richard L. Feigen & Co. (34 E. 69th St. between Madison and Park Avenues) through Jan. 16. It consists of 20 objects by Cornell—mostly the boxes that brought him fame—from the collection of Robert Lehrman.

    Rather than try to describe what a Cornell box looks like, I yield the floor to Fairfield Porter, who did the job once and for all in a 1966 review collected in Art in Its Own Terms: Selected Criticism 1935-1975. Here’s an excerpt:

    The boxes are 12 by 15 inches more or less…A sheet of glass in front is held in a carefully and imperfectly made frame, whose mitered corners do not fit tightly. The finish looks worn and handled, and a foreign newspaper may be varnished over the surface. The inside is usually white, clean, cracked and peeling. The contents vary greatly. There may be a round column on one side establishing the space of the room, and a horizontal bar from which hangs a piston ring. There are actual objects like wooden parrots on a perch, coarse screening, springs, cork balls like fishing rod floats, wine glasses whole or broken, clay pipes, a bearing plate of a pocket watch, a dried starfish, bits of driftwood whose shape indicates that they were once part of something used, nails, coins; sand colored navy blue, pink, yellow, white….

    A list of the contents is misleading, because it does not tell about Cornell’s sense of how little is enough, like an actor’s sense of timing or the Japanese sensitivity to the value of emptiness and the isolated object. As composer he is director and stage designer both, with the director’s feeling for the emotional value of each actor’s part, and the most efficient use of the space allotted to him.

    I don’t much care for surrealism, but I’ve always loved Cornell’s little universes, at once troubled and serene, into which one peers raptly at a parallel world where nothing is as it seems. I’ve looked at a lot of Cornell boxes over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many at one time, and most of these are incredibly choice examples. Go, and go again. Don’t be oppressed by the fancy address and locked door—buzz and you’ll be admitted, even without a jacket and tie—and don’t be fazed by the Monday-Friday hours on the Feigen gallery’s Web site. At least for now, the gallery is open on Saturdays, and if you bring along a couple of hundred thousand dollars you can even take a box home with you. (Which reminds me to mention that one of the most intriguing aspects of the show is the price list. Why do some Cornell boxes cost more than others? As far as I can tell, the ones with more stuff in them are the most expensive.)

    "Joseph Cornell: The 100th Birthday" coincides with the publication of Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay…Eterniday, a staggeringly well-done coffee-table folio containing an all-about-Cornell DVD-ROM that’s worth the price of the book all by itself. I can't even begin to recommend Shadowplay...Eterniday strongly enough.

    I also went to a Helen Frankenthaler show, "Prints: A Survey," up at Jim Kempner Fine Art (501 W. 23rd St. at 10th Ave.) through Nov. 29. Frankenthaler is one of the greatest printmakers of the postwar era, and several of her very best efforts are on display, including Broome Street at Night, a deceptively simple, wonderfully involving aquatint from 1987 which I’d happily hang over my fireplace if some well-to-do reader of "About Last Night" would care to buy it for me, or for OGIC. We get along quite nicely and would be glad to consider a joint-custody agreement.

    posted by terryteachout @ Saturday, November 1, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Red-handed (but no zombies!)

    Dear OGIC:

    As you know, I haven’t read The Human Stain, nor am I likely to. I’m one of those unfortunate folk who is allergic to most of the Major American Novelists who came of age in the Fifties. Bellow, Mailer, Updike, Roth: they all leave me cold. But my guess is that the makers of the film version have made a good-faith effort to preserve the essence of Philip Roth’s novel, and that this is part of the problem with the movie.

    None of the characters, after all, are actual human beings—they’re all symbols made as flesh, the usual Rothian walking archetypes. And therein lies the chief obstacle to filming The Human Stain, which is that you can’t cast it. If you had to pick a movie star to play the part of an aging American classics professor who pretends to be Jewish but is really black, Sir Anthony Hopkins is obviously the last person on earth you’d choose. But…who would you choose? Who could you choose? You can write about a character like Coleman Silk, but you can’t put him on screen.

    This fundamental implausibility—the inability to believe in the existence of any of the major characters as embodied by the cast—sinks the film before the first reel is over, in spite of the best efforts of a whole bunch of talented actors. They’re so good, in fact, that they almost make you believe what you’re seeing. The emotions seem real, but the dramatic framework that holds them in place is absurd. (If it were any more plausible, of course, you’d be forced to confront all those awful Portnoy-redux clichés head on. I mean, must we sit through yet another chthonic paean to the redemptive power of sex? Puh-LEEZE.)

    As for Nicole Kidman, all I can say is that somebody in the makeup department worked really hard to give her dishpan hands.

    Bottom line: go see Lost in Translation again.

    posted by terryteachout @ Saturday, November 1, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Late-breaking

    Good news! Last Halloween, Cinetrix and the 'Fesser prudently clipped and saved the Onion list I alluded to below, and have sent it along in its entirety:

    Top Halloween Costumes, Women 18-34

    1. Sexy French maid

    2. Sexy cat

    3. Sexy witch

    4. Sexy hobo

    5. Sexy ketchup bottle

    6. Sexy prostitute

    7. Sexy Mother Teresa

    8. Sexy bus driver

    9. Sexy Teenage Mutant Ninja turtle

    What was life like, anyway, before the Onion? Can anyone remember those dark, mirthless days? I don't even want to try.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Saturday, November 1, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Do tell

    Dear TT:

    Please share! Your thoughts on the film version of The Human Stain, that is. It's part of my long-term moviegoing plan, but not particularly high on the list. A good word from you will bump it up a few places, while your disfavor could give me an unimpeachable excuse to give it a miss until video. So I'm eager to hear what you thought.

    I also took in a movie among the costumed tonight. The women mostly seemed to subscribe to the Onion school of dressing up: sexy witch, sexy nurse, sexy cat, sexy hobo…. (Alas, I could not find a link to the old Onion list of the top Halloween costumes for women 18-34—but I do have some advice: don't google "sexy hobo.") The clear standout was a guy with an expertly drawn phrenological map on his shaved head. The jury's out on whether it was a sexy phrenologically mapped head.

    As for the movie, that was the suitably scary 28 Days Later. Not spooky, mind you, but scary in that special way reserved for rapidly traveling viruses that make the people you love into flesh-eating zombies. Believe it or not, I enjoyed myself, especially during some early scenes that let you feast your eyes on an utterly deserted but mostly intact London, a great unruined ruin. The real saving grace, though, was that this flesh-eating zombie movie had a sense of humor, as did my gallant companion and the audience at large.

    So, any zombie action in your movie?

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Saturday, November 1, 2003 | Permanent link
Friday, October 31, 2003
    TT: Melancholic Friday-night playlist

    (1) Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Ravel Piano Concerto in G (slow movement)

    (2) Frank Sinatra, Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry (1958 version, from Only the Lonely)

    (3) Steely Dan, Monkey in Your Soul

    (4) Gerry Mulligan, Lonely Town

    (5) Stan Getz, Blood Count (dedicated to my damaged digit)

    (6) Julian Bream, Britten Nocturnal

    And so...good night.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 31, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: He's a what?

    Dear OGIC:

    I waded through a sea of very peculiar-looking people this evening (though I quite liked the brunette cat on 70th and Broadway, not to mention my black-clad companion for the evening, who claims to have been disguised as J-Lo) en route to The Human Stain.

    I'm full of strong opinions, but seeing as how you've read the book but not yet seen the film, I'm not sure how much I should disclose, given the fact that I'm now in the inverse condition. I'll disgorge my thoughts at your command.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 31, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Among the professionals

    I just got back from Sotheby’s, where I failed to bring home the bacon—an exquisite 1931 etching by Giorgio Morandi on which I bid unsuccessfully this afternoon—but had an exhilarating, educational, and slightly scary time anyway.

    Sotheby’s New York is near the eastern end of 72nd Street. As soon as I got there, I went straight to the seventh floor, where I registered and was given a numbered paddle, which you need in order to place bids. (No, you can’t accidentally buy a million-dollar painting by scratching your nose at the wrong moment, unless you’re dumb enough to scratch it with the paddle.) Much to my surprise, all I had to do was show a photo ID. I wasn’t asked to furnish proof of solvency. Had I wanted, I could have bankrupted myself several times over, and no one would have been the wiser until it came time to settle the tab.

    Paddle in hand, I strolled into the salesroom, a cavernous chamber on two of whose walls hung large lithographs by the likes of Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Chuck Close (this was a print auction, not a big-bucks painting auction). Placed in front of the third wall was what looked like a telethon phone bank, which turned out to be more or less what it was: Sotheby’s employees sit there with phones to ears, passing along bids from bidders who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) show up in person.

    The folding chairs filled up, and at two o’clock sharp, a gawky, cheerful-looking WASP in a suit stepped behind the podium, clipped on a lapel microphone, and called the crowd to order. On his right was a ponderous turntable which spun the "lots" into view, one item at a time. On his left was a large video screen on which the items and top bids were flashed, plus a few extra telephone operators and one woman who passed along the on-line bids (Internet bidding is fast becoming a big deal at the lower end of the auction business). The whole thing looked not unlike the set for a low-budget game show.

    Once we got started, things moved quickly—really, really quickly. My idea of art auctions had come straight from the scene in North by Northwest in which Cary Grant slips through the fingers of James Mason and Martin Landau by misbehaving in a fancy Chicago auction house and getting himself carted away by the cops. It wasn’t like that at all. The auctioneer wasted not a single word describing any of the various prints on sale, much less engaging in small talk. All he did was announce each lot number and (occasionally) the artist, and for the most part he was the only person in the room who said anything at all. Nearly everybody bid in silence, raising their paddles, a finger, or a pen.

    The bids came fast and furious, and once the top offer had been made, the auctioneer would say, "Fair warning and down it goes," rap the podium once with his hammer, and move on. It generally took about 30 seconds to dispose of each item, be it a Kandinsky, Feininger, Braque, Matisse, or Miro (of which there were what seemed like at least two dozen for sale). The prices ranged from $1,500 to $30,000, and it was unnerving to watch the numbers soar. The person operating the tote board frequently had trouble keeping up with the bids.

    At first I was shocked by the whizzing pace of the bidding, but the etching I wanted was Lot 342, which gave me plenty of time to get used to it, and within half an hour I was swept up in the discreet excitement that rippled through the room. Most of the bidders in the house appeared to be art dealers, but I spotted a few obvious-looking civilians who were clearly delighted to go head to head with the pros, 30 seconds’ worth of single combat at a time. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that when my time came to bid, I’d need to keep as cool as possible if I didn’t want to spend a lot more than I could afford. So I watched in silence, listened, and learned.

    Two hours into the auction, Lot 342 finally spun into view. I raised my paddle to place the first bid, and within five seconds I knew the odds were against me. At Sotheby’s, the auctioneer places absentee bids on behalf of customers who have authorized him to bid up to a certain amount. Each time I bid, he raised me, at first in hundred-dollar increments, then five hundred at a time. We reached the high end of the pre-auction estimate, then rolled right over it. At that point, a dealer got into the act, and all at once I was bidding above my not-a-dollar-more point—not too far over it, but far enough for me to come to my senses, kick myself, and realize that I was teetering on the verge of doing something extremely stupid. I placed one last ill-advised bid, and the dealer topped it immediately. The auctioneer looked back at me. I shook my head, just like the Sotheby’s Web site says to do, and abjectly laid my paddle on the seat next to me. A couple of heartbeats later, the hammer came banging down, and "Vari oggetti su un tavolo" went home with somebody else.

    As I left the salesroom, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. I knew it would have been incredibly easy for me to have spent more money than I could afford on that etching (which is, of course, precisely what auction houses count on). But I jammed on the brakes at the next-to-last second—and instead of slinking home with my paddle between my legs, I felt like the king of the cats. As Winston Churchill once said of combat, there is no sensation so exhilarating as being shot at without effect. I’m sure he’s right, but there’s also something to be said about nearly spending way the hell too much money in public.

    The only bad part, of course, is that I came home empty-handed. I’d let myself get my hopes up, and those of you who’ve been following this blog from the outset will recall how much I love Morandi’s work. The thought of owning a piece of it, however small and imperfect (for this particular etching was in less than ideal shape) had filled me with anticipatory joy. On the other hand, I got my first taste of auction-house blood today—and it wasn’t my blood, either.

    Will I be back? You better believe it.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 31, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Shrink-wrapped

    To those who inquired about my damaged digit, it is improving, slowly but surely. The dressing gets smaller every day, sort of like the bandage on Jack Nicholson’s nose in Chinatown. Too bad I don’t have Faye Dunaway to kiss it and make it better. (Well, maybe not—she is pretty weird in that movie.)

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 31, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Off to fetch my paddle

    Don't get your hopes up. I just finished writing a book review for the Los Angeles Times, and now I'm about to dress and depart for Sotheby's, where I will be bidding on an etching by an artist-to-be-named-later. After that, I'm going to see The Human Stain with one of my musician friends. After that, I'm coming home and crashing, but good.

    Yes, some blogging may take place in the interstices, but not necessarily. I mean, we posted ourselves silly yesterday. What do you want, blood? (You got that earlier this week, anyway.)

    P.S. Henceforth Maud (who was really good on the Evelyn Waugh centenary) will be known around these parts as the Pint-Sized Polemicist. Indeed, she is a bonny wee thing, not unlike Kristin Chenoweth, who stole my heart at the Gershwin Theatre the other night. And can she sing? Who cares?

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 31, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "I think ‘deep’ is almost always a description chosen by the shallow."

    Cup of Chicha, Oct. 31, 2003

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 31, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Elsewhere

    Charles Johnson has a cure for what ails our schools' creative writing programs, and it's not for the faint of heart (link via Bookslut). His epigraph from John Gardner gives you an idea of what he's about: "If our furniture was as poorly made as our fiction, we would always be falling onto the floor."

    Shirley Hazzard's Great Fire, about which I am officially excited, gets a nuanced review from Judith Shulevitz at Slate: "The Great Fire is a lyrical rather than social novel, its richest writing reserved for landscapes as seen in the fresh, full light of day."

    My personal plan to whip through Transit of Venus en route to The Great Fire has been slowed up by the arrival of some books I'm reviewing, as well as my compulsion to read most of Hazzard's wondrous sentences two or three times each. In this regard, and surely no other, she reminds me a little of Barry Hannah. His haywire Southern Gothic plots tend to baffle me, but his sentences are stunning enough to propel me through his novels all by themselves. (I'm at work now, but I'll give you some examples next time I blog from home.)

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Friday, October 31, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: The girl from Oz

    I reviewed Wicked, a new Broadway musical based on Gregory Maguire’s postmodern version of the "Wizard of Oz" story, in this morning’s Wall Street Journal. Here’s the gist:

    Broadway’s got itself a great big expensive new musical, complete with smoke, mirrors and (no fooling) flying monkeys. Kristin Chenoweth finally has a full-fledged star part that’s worthy of her. Stephen Schwartz has written a ballad with legs. And Joel Grey, God bless him, is back on stage. So what’s not to like? Not much, really. "Wicked," which opened last night at the Gershwin Theatre, isn’t perfect, but it’s more than good enough to run for a decade or two. If it doesn’t please you, you’re too tough to please….

    Critics aren’t supposed to get crushes, but I’ve got it bad for Kristin Chenoweth, a teeny blond bombshell who makes perkiness palatable. Ever since she first blew into town with the 1999 revival of "You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown," Broadway buffs have been waiting for Ms. Chenoweth to land a bona fide star part in a successful show. Well, this is it. She sings like a cherub on uppers and acts like a damned good actress, and Mr. Schwartz has written her a show-stopping comic turn, "Popular," which will doubtless be heard on the next Tony telecast.

    No link (gnashing of teeth), but you can read the whole thing, including my short, scathing remarks on Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, by picking up a copy of Friday’s Journal and turning to the "Weekend Journal" section. Do, please—the Journal covers the arts really well.

    posted by terryteachout @ Friday, October 31, 2003 | Permanent link
Thursday, October 30, 2003
    TT: One wheel, coming up

    I finally (no laughter, please) got a cable modem today, and now I know what a good-sized chunk of the rest of the world knows, which is that using the Web feels different when you’re always connected. Heretofore, I thought in terms of "going on the Web" as something you had to do. Now, I don’t go on the Web, I am on the Web. It's a permanent state of being. The conceptual difference is enormous, and I have no doubt that it will impact greatly on my blogging.

    Just thought you’d enjoy listening to me playing catch-up. Which new technology shall I discover next? Answering machines? Typewriters? The printing press? In a way, the really surprising thing is that I managed to start a blog in the first place, thanks solely and only to the adorable Megan McArdle of Asymmetrical Information (who egged me on) and the amazing Doug McLennan of artsjournal.com (who built the damn thing for me). Blame them.

    The only thing for which I take credit is the discovery of Our Girl in Chicago. At a cocktail party last night, a distinguished ex-editor sidled up to me and asked, "O.K., how's the finger? And who is this Our Girl? Where did you find her?" Why, under a cabbage leaf, of course....

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, October 30, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Duh and duh again

    A few readers who, unlike some of us, are paying attention have emailed to point out that my First Lines quiz from this morning is easily solved with the help of Google. Duh. I guess I didn't think of this because I had so much fun with the real McCoy that it never occurred to me to cheat.

    What makes me feel even sillier is that the Big Story in books this last week has been Amazon's new Search Inside the Book feature (which, by the way, is the subject of several interesting stories and letters at Moby Lives today). Double duh. Verrrry swift, OGIC.

    Well, if you still want to write in with your answers, just consider yourself under the honor system. And stay tuned for the perfectly anti-climactic unveiling of the sources on Monday!

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, October 30, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Elsewhere

    Erin O’Connor, who blogs at Critical Mass, is following the Senate’s hearings on academic speech codes, and she has good stuff. Click here and keep scrolling.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, October 30, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Forgotten but not gone

    I wrote earlier today, apropos of The Turn of the Screw, that "all good adaptations" of pre-existing works of art are "fairly free." Alas, John Huston’s film of The Maltese Falcon momentarily slipped my mind. It’s extremely faithful to Dashiell Hammett’s novel. In fact, it’s said that Huston’s secretary prepared the first draft of the script by simply going through the book and retyping it as dialogue. That can’t be right, but it’s not far wrong. I don’t know a more literally adapted film version of a well-known book, or a better one.

    Needless to say, the main reason why The Maltese Falcon works so well on screen—though by no means the only one—is Humphrey Bogart. He made the film, just as it made him. It focused his tough-guy persona in a way none of his previous films (except for Raoul Walsh’s masterly High Sierra, co-written by Huston) had quite managed to do. Minus Bogart, the movie would still have been good; any movie with Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor, and Ward Bond couldn’t have been bad. Still, I doubt it’d be half as well remembered today.

    Of course somebody added a line to Hammett’s original, the best line (and best line reading) in the movie. At the very end, Bond picks up the statuette and asks what it is, to which Bogart rasps in wry reply, "The, uh…stuff that dreams are made of." I gather there’s some question about how that Shakespearean snippet got into the script. Did Bogart improvise it, or did Huston write it? Either way, it’s a clear improvement on Hammett—though Philip Marlowe would have been more likely to quote from The Tempest than Sam Spade. But I never think about that when I’m watching The Maltese Falcon. In the moment, coming out of Bogart’s mouth, it rings true.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, October 30, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: You heard it here first

    I’m going to Sotheby’s Friday afternoon to bid on an etching by an artist whose name has turned up more than once on "About Last Night." It’ll be the first time I’ve ever taken part in an auction of any kind, except when I once raffled off the opportunity to dunk me in a dunking booth as part of a college benefit. (I hope this is more fun.)

    Watch this space for details—and in the meantime, cross your fingers. I soooooooo want that etching!

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, October 30, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Be funny or be quiet

    Michael over at 2 Blowhards has stories of disturbing, and possibly disturbed, moviegoers. They range from the merely annoying to the downright hilarious, and include one cautionary tale for New Yorkers.

    It's funny he should bring this up today, because there was a general disturbance when I was watching Mystic River in Oak Park the other night (more on the movie later). About halfway through, during a solemn scene involving Tim Robbins' character and his young son, there came a great whooshing from the other side of a door at the front of the theater, as of someone washing a sidewalk with a fire hose. This went on for a while, all of us sitting dumbfounded, looking at the door and missing what may have been a pivotal scene, for all I know. Finally, a brave lady walked over, opened the door, and told the unseen party outside, "we're trying to watch a movie in here!" From outside, we all heard the surprised response: "Uh…you guys can hear this?" Uh, yeah!

    Just one more: about ten years ago, a friend went to see an obscure little Russian movie at the selfsame Film Forum that figures in one of Michael's stories. The movie wasn't very good. About half an hour into it, someone at the back stood up, loudly declared, "Janet Maslin sucks!" and walked out. Everyone applauded.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, October 30, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: News of the bright

    Maybe it's just me, but when my next invitation to a Halloween party at a federal building comes rolling in, I'm thinking "gun-toting" anything doesn't get out of the first round of costume ideas.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, October 30, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Classics and commercials

    I’ve been enjoying OGIC’s posts on Henry James. (I wonder if she remembers that we saw The Wings of the Dove together?) And while I have nothing much to add to what she has so beautifully said, I do want to mention another "theatrical" version of James whose Jamesianness seems to me altogether exemplary, Benjamin Britten’s opera of The Turn of the Screw. Like all good adaptations, it is fairly free in its approach to the original, and it is precisely because of that freedom that Britten and his librettist, Myfanwy Piper, were able to create a fully independent art object. You don’t go see The Turn of the Screw to be reminded of James’ story—you see it for its own sake. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the only way to successfully translate a classic from one medium to another. Otherwise, why bother?

    I mentioned yesterday that I just saw the press preview of Wicked (about which more tomorrow), a new Broadway musical based on the novel of the same name by Gregory Maguire. I brought with me a friend who is a huge Maguire fan, and who bristled visibly at every departure from the original. Not having read the novel, I wasn’t bothered by the differences, even after my friend told me how extensively the authors of the show had altered what Maguire wrote. But I knew how she felt. If you’re going to make a stage or screen adaptation of a familiar work of art, you really only have two viable alternatives: try to reproduce the original as closely as possible, or go your own way. Anything in between is doomed to failure.

    I’ll be grappling with the same dilemma when Master and Commander, the new Patrick O’Brian film, is released in a few weeks. I know the O’Brian novels extremely well, and I have my own very strong ideas about what Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin sound and look like. If the film fails to match up with my preconceptions, I’ll be jolted. The good news is that I’ve seen the trailer, and Russell Crowe meshes quite nicely with the Aubrey of my imagination. Still, I’m sure I won’t be any easier to please than my friend was by Wicked.

    A moment ago I asked: why bother adapting the classics? Of course we all know the real answer. Producers and directors adapt movies from well-known originals in order to piggyback on their success. The Harry Potter movies (which I didn’t much like) had a huge pre-sold audience going in. Which reminds me of what Edwin Denby, the greatest dance critic of the 20th century, wrote about Seventh Symphony, a ballet choreographed by Leonide Massine to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, one of several well-known classics that Massine staged, by most accounts unsuccessfully:

    [Massine] can get away with murder. If one took him seriously, he would be guilty of murdering the Beethoven Seventh…There is of course no reason for taking Massine seriously; he doesn’t mean to be, he doesn’t mean to murder. Like a cigarette company, he is using famous names to advertise his wares. But I cannot help resenting it, because they are names of famous things I have loved. It is hardest to bear in the case of his Seventh, where the orchestra is constantly reminding me of the Beethoven original.

    Does that perhaps sum up some of your distress with the Wings of the Dove film, dear OGIC?

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, October 30, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Not ideas about the thing

    I’ve been reading Virginia Postrel’s much-discussed The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness, and finding it stimulating, though I’m struck by the failure of most reviewers to see how fundamentally political it is. Postrel, after all, is an ideologue. Specifically, she’s a libertarian, one who believes that individual liberty is an absolute value, a universal trump card that tops all other values. This conviction is indissolubly commingled with her belief, stated at the beginning of The Substance of Style, that "aesthetic value is subjective and can be discovered only through experience, not deduced in advance." Me, I’m not a libertarian, and so am able to recognize that the first half of that sentence is untrue, even though I agree completely with the second half.

    I’m also struck by the fact that Postrel, for all the delight she takes in the aesthetic appeal of our hyper-designed, choice-driven world, seems oddly, even weirdly indifferent to certain fundamental values of art. Consider the following passage from her book:

    A new art market has developed: upscale wall décor. Artists and art collectors have long mocked the idea that someone might purchase a work to go with a couch—an insult to serious art. Perhaps as a result, the wall décor industry has been the home of generic, clichéd prints. But not all visually sophisticated consumers want art to impress their friends, hobnob with the gallery crowd, or make money as an investment. Some just want a more attractive living room. In response, an unsnobbish middle market is offering prints and photographs to go with stylish furniture.

    Many of the featured artists are well-known modern or contemporary names. Eyestorm, which started as a specialized Web site and branched out into stores, offers limited-edition prints by Damien Hirst at $3,000 each and a photo of Andy Warhol by Dennis Hopper for $500. Serving the same need, Crate and Barrel sells framed reproductions of Mark Rothko paintings for $499. Sales are growing at double-digit rates. Customers are "buying for aesthetics, not collecting," says an Eyestorm executive. They’re treating art not as an investment or a status symbol but simply as a way to create a beautiful home environment.

    Excuse me for being cruel, but that passage could only have been written by someone who quite literally doesn’t know the first thing about the meaning and function of art. Put aside for a moment Postrel’s implicit suggestion that buying "a photo of Andy Warhol by Dennis Hopper" could possibly "serve" any "need" other than the need to be vulgar. Notice instead the planted axiom in the first paragraph, echoed in the last sentence of the second—the assumption that the only reason why anybody would buy "real" art is to make money or impress his friends. Why bother searching, scrimping, and saving for the real thing when you can buy a framed "reproduction" of a Rothko for five hundred bucks? It’ll make your living room look just as beautiful, right?

    I hardly know where to begin disentangling all the fallacies embedded in those assertions, but perhaps I should start by addressing a half-truth, which is that the point of a Rothko, or any other work of art, is the way it looks, not who made it. Art connoisseurs have a phrase for people who get those two things confused: such benighted folk "buy signatures," which is one baby step up from collecting autographs. And it’s quite true that the "visually sophisticated consumer" who likes Rothko’s palette and wants to have it in his home can also do so by purchasing a reproduction of a Rothko painting. If the reproduction is well printed, the colors will be similar.

    I hasten to point out, though, that Crate and Barrel didn’t create that latter possibility out of thin air. All they did was put a dishonest spin on it by marketing "framed reproductions" that purport to look Just Like the Real Thing. As anyone who’s ever hung a museum exhibition poster knows, there’s a huge difference between a well-printed poster of a painting, which doesn’t purport to be anything other than what it is (in fact, it invariably contains text, thus identifying itself for all to see as a non-painting), and a "framed reproduction," which is by definition pretentious, meaning that it pretends to be a real work of art.

    I like looking at beautiful colors, which I suppose makes me visually sophisticated, so I used to hang museum-exhibition posters on my walls. In time, though, I found myself longing for something more "real," and I started to buy etchings and limited-edition prints. I didn’t buy them for the signatures (though I freely admit to enjoying the frisson of having Helen Frankenthaler’s signature hanging on my living-room wall), but because they were more beautiful than posters. The difference between a reproduction of an etching and an actual etching is quite real, and not all that subtle, either. I bought my copy of Milton Avery’s March at a Table from a dealer in San Francisco, not having seen anything other than a catalogue photograph, and when I took it out of the package I was stunned (I actually gasped) by how much more intense a visual punch it packed. Even if it hadn’t been signed by Avery—and yes, I do own some unsigned prints, which proves my purity of heart—it would have been worth owning for that reason alone. In fact, that’s the only good reason to own it.

    I wonder if Virginia Postrel understands any of this. I doubt it. She’s so excited by the regime of unlimited, mass-produced aesthetic choice that she’s lost sight of the value of the handmade object—assuming she ever knew the difference in the first place. Lest we forget, a "framed reproduction" of a Rothko is different from a Rothko. It looks different. And that’s the point, at least for people who really love art. We don’t buy art to impress our friends—we buy it so that we can see it every day, as often as we want.

    All of which leads us to a far more complicated and interesting question: if you could create a Rothko reproduction that was all but indistinguishable from the real thing, would it be a work of art in its own right? And would it be worth having, and hanging? But of course the answers to such complicated questions are only to be found in the realm of true aesthetics, not the watery simulacrum about which Virginia Postrel has written in The Substance of Style.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, October 30, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: The lost language of goons

    I got a call yesterday from a fact checker at The New Yorker. He was working on a piece that made reference to H.L. Mencken, and very apologetically asked me if I could perhaps help him by answering two questions (one was simple, the other subtle). I told him that Mencken would have approved of his labors, which is true. Mencken did quite a bit of writing for The New Yorker in the Thirties and Forties, and referred admiringly to its fact-checking department as "Ross’ goons" (Harold Ross being, of course, the magazine’s founding editor and resident tutelary spirit).

    That call filled me with nostalgia. As anyone knows who’s been in journalism for more than the past 20 minutes or so, fact checking is an increasingly lost art. Time was when many magazines—if not most—rigorously checked every factual assertion made in every story they published. When I was writing profiles for Mirabella nine years ago, the checkers even required me to give them my interview tapes. But by the time I got to Time, the rigor had loosened considerably. My Time stories about the arts were "self-checked," a wonderfully Orwellian euphemism meaning that they weren’t checked at all—it was assumed that I knew what I was talking about (though occasionally a copy editor would query me about odd-looking names).

    By then, of course, the whole system was unraveling, at Time and everywhere else. I remember the black day when Time actually closed its in-house library, a cost-cutting measure that filled the writers of the magazine with dread. They knew, in the words of "About Last Night"’s favorite novelist, that we should never be again as we were. And we weren’t.

    All this fond reminiscence will doubtless amuse, if not astound, those readers who grew up under the aspect of the World Wide Web. Nowadays, most of the journalists I know do much of their research on line, and their first stop is Google rather than the nearest library. What’s more, I think many of us tend to reflexively take for granted the accuracy of what we see on the Web—and in the blogosphere, that great echo chamber driven by hyperlinks, such an assumption can lead very quickly to inaccuracy, grief, and libel suits.

    I am, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, decidedly pro-blogosphere, for all the reasons that all of us are constantly touting on our blogs. In particular, I love the combination of immediacy and freedom that comes with unedited self-publishing, and I’m also fairly comfortable with it, in part because I’ve been a newspaper and magazine editor and so have learned over the years how to clean up my own copy. It also helps that the Gene Fairy made me a near-perfect speller (though I am chronically deaf to the more nuanced differences between "which" and "that," a problem about which I make an unnecessary point of warning all editors unlucky enough to have to work on my stuff).

    Even so, I’m well aware, at times painfully so, that I’m working without a net. Not always—sometimes I write and publish an item too quickly to think about it—but at some point in the process I generally remind myself that there’s nobody to backstop me but you, the readers, and that you aren’t necessarily rooting for me. If you’ve followed the Gregg Easterbrook imbroglio, you know that in the highly politicized and present-oriented world of blogging, one bad mistake can cause the sharks to circle within hours.

    All of which went through my mind after I hung up on that nice fellow from The New Yorker, a magazine that (which?) still believes in taking institutional responsibility for the facts it publishes. I know, I know, things ain’t what they used to be, and I, too, have found misspelled proper names in its pages of late. I also know that fact-checking is no kind of panacea. As every writer knows, a large pile of scrupulously checked facts can add up to one great big honking lie. And all things being equal, I’d rather bear the responsibility for what I write than cede it to an editor who may or may not be capable of shouldering it.

    Nevertheless, I miss old-fashioned editing, just as I miss the common culture that has been largely replaced by the libertarian regime of choice, even though I’m well aware of the defects of the systems with which I grew up. There are no absolute earthly goods, and every virtue has its reciprocal defect. Or, to put it in American, you pays your money and you takes your choice. Me, I choose freedom, and quite happily, too—if not always comfortably.

    posted by terryteachout @ Thursday, October 30, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Name that tome

    John Dobbins and Mary Ochs's addictive "First Lines" quizzes enlivened and sabotaged my work week (thanks—I think—to Household Opera for the link). They are (yay) many. But (sigh) finite. Helplessly craving another fix, I've raided my own bookshelves for more. I beg forgiveness for the copycatting.

    Here are the first lines of 10 works of fiction, arranged by length. The works they come from were published between 1749 and 1991. One is a translation.

    1. In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster.

    2. An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money.

    3. At the time when this story begins, the Stanhope press and inking-rollers were not yet in use in small provincial printing-offices.

    4. On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.

    5. You are not going to believe me, nobody in their right minds could possibly believe me, but it's true, really it is!

    6. The mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis.

    7. The schoolmaster was leaving the village, and everybody seemed sorry.

    8. The book was thick and black and covered with dust.

    9. One never knows when the blow may fall.

    10. In Africa, you want more, I think.

    Answers will appear Monday. In the meantime, if you would like to submit your answers for recognition, email them to the usual address (but please put "OGIC" in the subject line). Top scorers will get… recognition!

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, October 30, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Cruel to be kind

    To snark or not to snark? The conversation continues on two fronts this week. Maud links to a piece bringing a Canadian perspective to bear on the great snark debate (which, if you've been living under a rock, started here). Kate Taylor puts her finger on the most absurd thing, in my eyes, about the anti-snark campaign: purveyors of snark are far, far outnumbered by "mealy-mouthed reviewers tiptoeing around the books they are reviewing, leaving readers to discern their real opinions between the lines." The last thing we need is more reviews of this sort.

    At The Morning News, meanwhile, the subject comes up about two-thirds of the way through a long, consistently interesting interview with Julie Orringer, who recently published her debut short story collection, How to Breathe Underwater, to early acclaim. There's something off about Orringer and Robert Birnbaum's discussion of negative reviewing. Their blind spot is most pronounced in remarks like these:

    The dismissive review is the one that really disrespects the time and the effort of the writing itself and that’s a horrible thing to see done to someone.

    …a bad review can be a plea on the part of the reviewer to make the writer see some truth about his work or the world. That’s extremely important.

    What—or who—goes missing when you start thinking of reviews as "pleas" to authors, or as something "done to" them? Only the reader! In the author-centric universe promoted by the snarkophobes, readers' needs are elbowed out of the way to make room for authors' sensitivities. This is exactly backwards.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, October 30, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: I'm twice the boy you are!

    Dear Terry:

    The Gender Genie is quite insistent: I write like a man. No matter what I feed it. I believe this will surprise you.

    As for your critical andogyny, I can only surmise that the theater brings out your feminine side while music cues the testosterone. Nineteenth-century detractors of the novel routinely labeled narrative literature as feminine (and thus decadent) while lauding lyric poetry as a properly manly form. Without endorsing such dusty dichotomies, I wonder whether the Gender Genie—if we even trust it as far as we can throw it—is picking up on some difference in the way you respond to and describe narrative and non-narrative art? This seems like a stretch, but it's all I've got!

    Of course, I was disappointed to find that the Genie's methods are not, at a glance, much more sophisticated than counting words. A self-respecting genie should work in more mysterious ways.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Thursday, October 30, 2003 | Permanent link
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
    TT: I'm a boy!

    Dear OGIC:

    The Gender Genie thinks I’m female when I write for The Wall Street Journal and male when I write for Commentary.


    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, October 29, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Uuuuuuuh, gimme a break!

    This blog probably belongs to Our Girl for the rest of the day (I've got a review to write and a bunch of appointments on top of that), but I did want to leave you with something to chew on before I vanished up the spout.

    It is, incidentally, tough to type when you have a great big bandage on one of your fingers, not to mention a missing "U" key (which I won't have time to get fixed definitively until I hit my last deadline tomorrow afternoon). I don't recommend it. Nevertheless, I'm doing my best, all for you.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, October 29, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Almanac

    "Music has an enormous advantage: it can, without mentioning anything, say everything."

    Ilya Ehrenburg, Liudi, gody, zhizn' (quoted in Solomon Volkov's Shostakovich and Stalin, forthcoming in April from Knopf)

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, October 29, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Mailbag (and an aggressive suggestion)

    A reader writes:

    Thanks for plugging John Marin so aggressively...frankly, from inside the museum world it seems as if his marginalization is a function of his having done his major work on paper. Museum curators are typically departmentalized by media so that American paintings specialists will often deride works on paper (as opposed to larger works or those on canvas) as comparatively minor.

    I was fascinated to hear from this correspondent, who is a curator at a well-known Eastern museum. I’d always wondered whether there was a bias in the museum biz against "small" artists, a label that could easily be attached to Marin, who left behind no large-format paintings and (as now seems clear in retrospective) did his major work in watercolor rather than oil. Sure sounds like it.

    Another reader writes, apropos of Lileks’ recent posting on Fantasia and the rise of digital animation, a theme in which this blog has also taken an interest:

    I'm of two minds regarding the changes in animation and animation tools: on one hand, I know the medium in which one works affects the work itself, often in nearly imperceivable ways -- when I hand-write a first draft I produce a slightly different style of prose than when I type straight into the computer -- and on the other hand, I have a gut sense that a tool is just a tool and after many revisions the initial effects of the medium become less important than the core of the content. In the case of animated movies, I believe the quality of the story and the skills of the animators have a greater impact than the means by which the movie was made.

    Last Thursday's "Wall Street Journal" included an article ("Disney Decides It Must Draw Artists Into the Computer Age," by Bruce Orwall) about Disney's conversion to computer-generated animation that addresses the issue from the traditional animators point of view. I will not be surprised if the conversion to CG tools is beneficial to Disney in unexpected ways: The studio's problems may have more to do with stagnation, and forcing themselves to learn new tools and develop new processes may shake things up enough to allow creativity to happen. Glen Keane's comment that he feels "like about 30 years ago, when I was first at Disney just learning" seems like as a good sign, don't you think?

    Yes, I do, and I’m encouraged by the optimism of this letter, though I’m not quite convinced by the comparison between writing on a computer and animating on one. There’s a difference between the former (in which the hand merely transfers pure symbols from the writer’s brain to the "support" of a computer screen) and the latter (in which the "symbols" are of interest in their own right rather than because of what they stand for). But I incline to agree that "a tool is just a tool," and I think it’s perfectly possible that digital animation can aspire to the warmth and imagination of hand-drawn animation. Maybe. I hope.

    Which reminds me to remind you that The Looney Tunes Golden Collection, the new four-DVD set of classic Warner Bros. cartoons—all of them created with nary a computer in sight—is now officially on sale. My copy arrived in the mail yesterday from amazon.com, and I had to pry myself away from it to get to the theater on time for the press preview of Wicked, which opens tomorrow and about which more Friday.

    I’ll be writing about the Golden Collection in the Wall Street Journal, too, perhaps as early as next week, so I don’t want to jump my own gun, but I can tell you this: IT’S FANTASTIC. Go get one.

    posted by terryteachout @ Wednesday, October 29, 2003 | Permanent link
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
    OGIC: And it was dead, dead, dead

    If you're just tuning in, we've been talking about James on film today (cue the Duran Duran, somebody). Terry's words on behalf of The Heiress this morning (scroll down just a bit) have triggered a small flood of emailed harumphs. Casey Abell writes to steer me toward it and away from The Innocents, which he says "yanks the interpretation toward the governess-is-nuts viewpoint by showing her looking at a picture of Quint before her exact description to Mrs. Grose. This spoils the key ambiguity about whether the ghosts exist outside her active imagination."

    Cinetrix also stamps The Heiress with her approval, citing only one caveat: "Montgomery Clift is as dreamy and sleazy/weak-willed as you want, and de Havilland is heartbreaking as Catherine. But Aunt Penniman—oh dear.…The movie completely defangs her. She's rendered dithery rather than menacing the way she is in the novel, where her manner of speaking and thinking infects everyone's language."

    Casey goes on to ask why all the animus from my corner toward the Wings of the Dove film. It's a good question. A very, very good question. Could it be that I have always felt unreasonably possessive of this novel and jealous of others' appropriations? Am I simply that petty? Yeah, that's part of it. I've been searching my memory, and the only specific criticism I can remember having is of how explicitly and unimaginatively the film represents the bargain struck between Kate Croy and Merton Densher. By showing their liaison in all its immediacy, director Iain Softley theoretically can let the viewer better understand and sympathize with Densher's desire and his choice.

    But if the sex scene comes off as just another ho-hum sex scene, despite the transparent and shameless employment of Helena Bonham Carter's naked rear end, as I recall, in the manner of a flashing neon sign advertising "HOT sex"—well, you risk making Densher seem like just some pathetic bounder, altogether unworthy of Milly, and tipping the delicate balance of imperatives that gives James's moral drama its life. And this is what happens. Densher sacrifices Milly for the promise of a night with Kate, that night turns out to consist of bland movie sex, and the whole story becomes hard to take seriously, the dénouement easy to misunderstand. It wasn't just the censors that held James back from depicting the sex in his novel; it was solid professional know-how.

    Still, I admit, this is slender evidence on which to hang the whole movie. In the end, I think that the parts of the novel I'm in love with are close to off-limits to Softley or any other filmmaker. Mainly I'm thinking of the big recognition scene, when Milly is snapped out of her dream of being a figure in a Watteau canvas, like the airy people around her in the Matcham gallery, and shown incontestably that she is as different from them as possible—a Bronzino, and doomed. To be honest, I can't even remember whether the movie showed the portrait. But I know it didn't make as big a deal of the scene as I thought it should have.

    After thinking this through, I'm deciding that the problem is mine, a symptom of over-attachment. Just as sometimes you can't get there from here, they can't make a movie of this novel that I will like.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, October 28, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: It comes at last, the distinguished thing

    Courtesy of DVD Journal:

    We don't have firm any street dates just yet, but our good friends at Criterion have confirmed that their January slate will include Jean Renoir's 1939 The Rules of the Game, one of the greatest films in history and a long-time MIA title. The digital transfer will be taken from a recently discovered master print with restored audio and new English subtitles, and the feature-set is deep — on board will be an introduction by Renoir, a commentary written by film scholar Alexander Sesonske (read by Peter Bogdanovich), a second track from Renoir historian Christopher Faulkner, the 1966 French television program "Jean Renoir le Patron: La Régle et L'Exception," a video essay about the film's production, release, and later reconstruction, a discussion of the 1965 restoration by Jean Gaborit and Jacques Durand, interviews with assistant cameraman Alain Renoir and set designer Max Douy, and various written tributes in the enclosed booklet.

    You know what to do.

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, October 28, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Digital update

    Don't ask me how (I'm not entirely sure), but I managed to pry a 2,600-word essay on Paul Whiteman out of myself yesterday using only nine fingers. Actually, I can strike keys more or less accurately with my mutilated digit, but not with the Astaire-like precision of my normal typing, so bear that in mind when you stumble across the occasional typo in days to come.

    I also went to a play last night, where I saw something astonishing: a playgoer in the front row of the theater had a heart attack in the middle of the next-to-last scene. The ambulance crew was on the scene within minutes, and as they charged down the aisle, I heard a critic sitting behind me mutter, "Well, it wasn't that bad."

    Today I write my Washington Post column for Sunday and go to another play tonight, but I did want to poke my head in and check on how you were. I see Our Girl is tempting you with two of her most flagrant enthusiasms, both of which I share. When I visited her in Chicago a couple of years ago, we spent most of my stay watching selected videotaped episodes of Buffy, a marathon that left me persuaded of everything she says below about that excellent show.

    As for Jamesian movies, I put my money on The Heiress, which isn't on DVD but can be rented on videocassette at well-stocked stores. Great cast (Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson), great direction (by William Wyler), and an Oscar-winning score by Aaron Copland whose awesome virtues I think I've mentioned before. It's the real reason why The Heiress is so Jamesian. Do seek it out, OGIC.

    And now I have to get back to my nine-fingered writing life. Y'all have fun now, you hear?

    P.S. Is it just me, or has that Dale Peck interview vanished from Gawker?

    posted by terryteachout @ Tuesday, October 28, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Fortune cookies

    "Your description of the impudent Cambridge winter, however, is vivid—with the earth like a stone and the sky like a feather. Here the earth is like a Persian rug—a hearth-rug, well besprinkled with soot."

    Henry James, letter to W. D. Howells (London, December 5, 1880)

    "Besides, anything sad that happens to you always seems to me sadder than the same thing happening to anyone else."

    Henry James, letter to Grace Norton (February 23, 1884)

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, October 28, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Grand tour

    I love Casey Abell's selection of the best six-step introduction to the work of Henry James (his favorite novelist and mine). His list rang at least five bells for me; it's been long enough since I read Roderick Hudson that I can't say for certain whether it would make my own list. The beauty of Casey's list is that it gives you tastes of all the important phases of James, from the discovery of many of his career's most resonant, abiding themes in Roderick Hudson to the still-Victorian high realism of The Portrait of a Lady, the attempt at a great social novel in The Princess Casamassima, the heady, virtuosic point-of-view innovations (following nearly a decade away from long fiction) of What Maisie Knew, and then full-flowering late James in The Ambassadors and The Wings of the Dove, novels of the Major Phase that manage to reconcile the psychological embeddedness of Maisie with the keen social observation of Portrait and Princess. This list will get you far.

    There's much more on Casey's James page, as you'll see for yourself if you simply scroll down. His commentary on the harder-to-find among James's published letters is both a fun read and a useful resource for anyone doing research on James. It has inspired tonight's double dose of fortune cookies (above).

    One little point of dissent: more than most filmed versions of James, I loathed Iain Softley's Wings of the Dove. Casey by no means loves it, but he's kinder about it than I could be. I thought that Agnieszka Holland's Washington Square was worthwhile, with its achingly restrained Jennifer Jason Leigh performance. For some unfathomable reason I haven't seen William Wyler's The Heiress nor The Innocents, the 1961 adaptation of "The Turn of the Screw" that is said to be so chilling.

    But the best Jamesian cinematic experience I know is Jacques Rivette's new wave film Céline et Julie Vont en Bateau. David Thomson calls it "the most innovative film since Citizen Kane" (in his New Biographical Dictionary). It's very loosely based on the obscure James novella that was brought back into print a couple of years ago by New York Review Books, The Other House—so loosely that it can't rightly be called an adaptation; rather, call the novella its inspiration. There's a little Jamesian world tucked inside the wider world of the movie, which is as far from Jamesian as possible, and the characters get sucked into it. And into it. And into it. Not unlike your trusty blogger and Mr. Abell.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, October 28, 2003 | Permanent link
    OGIC: Second things first: for aspiring Slayerites

    The great fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will be available soon on DVD. You can make a case for any of the seasons between the second and the fifth being best. Put me on the spot and I'll squirm and equivocate, and in the end take the fifth.

    The fifth season begins and ends with two great, jaw-dropping surprises. Although the second surprise is bigger, the first one is gutsier; it's completely disorienting, yet (eventually) satisfyingly accounted for. (It won't be obvious what's so surprising about it unless you've watched the previous seasons.) In between, the Slayer faces her mightiest opponent yet. True, every next Big Bad has to be tougher than the last, but by the fifth season the show had just about topped out in terms of magnitudes of villainy--there wasn't much of anywhere to go after Glory's high-heeled predations. Actually, the sixth season came up with a resourceful and potent solution to this built-in dead end; unfortunately, the individual episodes had become uneven and unreliable by then, lurching from classics like the musical "Once More with Feeling" to terrible clunkers about mystery meat.

    If you're like many friends of mine who missed out on Buffy during its run, but want to see what all the fuss was about, I have some advice. Start with the second season. The first season has its charms, but it's different in character from the following seasons and is not the best introduction. Plotwise, there's nothing you can't follow in the second season without having watched the first. If you like the second season, go back and watch the first before you pick up again with the third, and then it's smooth sailing ahead for a good sixty-some episodes before things start falling apart.

    About Last Night: you ask, we deliver. Particularly if you ask in verse.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Tuesday, October 28, 2003 | Permanent link
Monday, October 27, 2003
    OGIC: Stop me before I tailgate again

    If I've been scarce around here, you can blame my recent initiation into the fine American art of tailgating. The rumors are true; I gave over my entire Sunday to football and associated activities. You have to hand it to the diehard fans out there every Sunday in the parking lots of America with their grills and coolers; they really know how to turn a football game into a mere occasion for more important pursuits. Never let it be said, pace Oscar Wilde, that they don't take meals seriously; in this respect, at least, there is nothing shallow about them. I've only lately recovered from yesterday's demonstrations of their depth.

    Like I said, this was a first for me (and, for a while at least, a last). On the strength of my native sympathies with the Detroit Lions, I was invited to the Lions-Bears game here in Chicago. Read: sacrificial lamb. The Bears fans who brought me even provided a honolulu-blue Barry Sanders jersey for me to wear, the better to be picked out by the orange-and-navy-clad multitude as an object of pity and curiosity, if the Bears prevailed, or--well, I didn't find out what my role would entail in the unlikely case of a Lions victory. All for the best, I'm sure.

    Left in relative peace thanks to the Lions' harmlessness on the field, I was able to enjoy the $3,000 view from inside the architectural bęte noire of the year, the new Soldier Field. ($3K being what my friend paid for the license to the seat I warmed yesterday.) So I can confirm what both the stadium's detractors and the enthusiasts have said about the interior: it rocks. The new design brings the field closer to the fans, giving the proceedings an old-timey, college-bowl feel that contrasts thrillingly with the steel-glass-and-angles modernism of the structure around you. Both the interior and the exterior bring together disparate styles, but the former stages a bold, dynamic clash while the latter makes a hapless muddle (much like the Lions!).

    From the outside, the colonnade uncomfortably constricts the bowl, while the bowl bears down on the colonnade; the nostalgic effect of the one, and the futuristic effect of the other, cancel each other out. Inside, the intimate dimensions of the field below and the soaring reach of the steel above make room for each other. They lend each other high definition, with an effect that's additive rather than negating. Inside, you can imagine simultaneously that you have been spirited back to 1955 and that you've been zoomed ahead to 2103. Outside, you're in nowhereland.

    This is my third post about a building I'm exposed to a lot, whether driving or biking by it. I've taken the whole thing rather personally. I'm going to stop now and just get used to it.

    posted by ourgirlinchicago @ Monday, October 27, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Further adventures of a dedicated writer

    As I was washing the blood off my computer keyboard (now there's a sentence I've never before had occasion to write), I managed to knock the "B" key off. Have you ever tried to reinstall a key on an iBook with nine fingers? Or ten, for that matter. I finally had to give up and seek outside help.

    I am not having a good day.

    P.S. For those who asked, yes, it's the finger.

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 27, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Blog-related domestic mishap

    I just sliced a chunk out of one of my right-hand fingers on a soup-can lid. It's now wrapped tight and I've mopped up the blood (there was quite a bit of it!). The finger in question, amusingly enough, is the one with which I type "I."

    Funny what that does to your blogging. Heeeeelp, OGIC!!

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 27, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Elsewhere

    BuzzMachine is wicked on the Brad Pitt-Jennifer Aniston Middle East peace initiative, tossing off a pair of sentences I desperately wish I’d written:

    That's what the Middle East needs: a laughtrack.

    And that's the wonderful thing about stars: They have no idea how stupid they are and they have no one to tell them.

    (He really should have spelled Aniston’s last name right, though, even though the original story doesn’t.)

    Lileks, whom I wish would write about cultural stuff more often, knocks it way out of the park with today’s fugitive essay on Fantasia:

    When I look at the great animation of the past, I have the same reaction I have when I see a skyscraper from the end of the Jazz Age boom. Magnificent, utterly American - and for all the machinery involved, it all comes down to the movement of the human hand.

    The hand behind the mouse creates something different than the hand behind the pen. Better and worse and worse and better. Classical animation is dead, I think. Frescos, meet oil.

    I know he’s right. I wish he weren’t.

    Finally, don’t read this story about "earworms" (the technical term for songs that get stuck in your head) unless you want to have your whole day ruined.

    You’re tempted now, aren’t you?

    posted by terryteachout @ Monday, October 27, 2003 | Permanent link
Sunday, October 26, 2003
    TT: Latest face

    New to "Sites to See" as of today is Cup of Chicha, of which (whom?) Our Girl and I are both fans. Click here or in the right-hand column, as you like it.

    We urge you to troll through the roll, by the way. Not all the sites will be equally to your liking, but all are at least worth an irregular peek, and I check out most of them at least once every other day. Right now I am especially fond of Household Opera and Pullquote, and of course life without my daily doses of Maud, Old Hag, and You-Know-Who would scarcely be worth living.

    OGIC has her own favorites, which overlap substantially but not completely with mine. I’ll let her fill you in.

    Did I mention that we are members in good standing of the Cool Lit Club? And that you’re not?

    posted by terryteachout @ Sunday, October 26, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Music to answer e-mail by

    I don't know about OGIC, but I've answered just about all of my mail. (I understand she's tailgating today. Harrumph! No doubt she'll tell you all about it....)

    I'm heading into a four-deadline, two-play week, by the way, so you won't be hearing as much from me as usual, but I promise not to disappear even close to completely, and Our Girl has plenty of stuff on her mind. We'll keep you fed and happy.

    In the meantime, here's a playlist. I recovered nearly all my data after that horrendous hard-drive explosion, but one thing I did lose was my mp3 files, every last one of them, arrgh. The good part is that I've been ripping lots and lots of CDs in the course of the past couple of weeks in order to reconstitute my Lost iTunes Jukebox, and my listening has been nicely eclectic as a result. Here's what I played (and ripped) as I answered your mail this evening:

    1. Elgar Introduction and Allegro, performed by Benjamin Britten and the English Chamber Orchestra (one of the most underrated of all string-orchestra masterpieces, conducted by a great composer to boot).

    2. Coldplay, "Yellow"

    3. Django Reinhardt and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, "Swing 42" (I can't hear this record often enough, for some reason)

    4. Paul Whiteman, "Dardanella" (arrangement by Bill Challis, solo by Bix Beiderbecke)

    5. Gerry Mulligan and Zoot Sims, "Davenport Blues" (in honor of Bix, obviously)

    6. Luciana Souza, "Doce de Coco" (from Brazilian Duos, a CD you must own)

    7. Fauré "Clair de lune," sung by Gerard Souzay (the 1946 Decca, recorded when his pipes were young and glistening)

    8. Nickel Creek, "Seven Wonders" (Sara's singing is so pretty on this one)

    Incidentally, has anybody out there heard of a group called the Hot Club of Cowtown? I heard them on NPR the other day, and I'm thinking they might be a good subject for a piece....

    posted by terryteachout @ Sunday, October 26, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: For the record

    By way of The Corner, this letter to the editor of the Rocky Mountain News:

    Recently, a co-worker asked me if I had seen the movie Bowling for Columbine yet, I told her absolutely not! My answer surprised her, given the fact my son, Matthew, was one of the 13 murdered during the deadliest school shooting in our country's history. I explained to her that prior to the public release of the movie the families of the injured and dead were invited by Michael Moore to attend a preview screening. How thoughtful.

    Our family and others considered attending because we were genuinely interested in his message to the public regarding gun control and school violence.

    However, once we discovered he was going to charge us admission we refrained from doing so.

    It's laughable that Moore attempts to portray himself as an anti-establishment liberal who is the voice of the common folk, when in fact he is no better than the greedy capitalists he shuns. Maybe now that he has made millions of dollars off the blood of our children he could toss a DVD or two our way to view.

    Ann M. Kechter

    posted by terryteachout @ Sunday, October 26, 2003 | Permanent link
    TT: Not the place's fault

    I just got back from Wesla Whitfield’s last set at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel (right in time to reset my clocks), and I simply had to sit down and tell you how wonderful it was. The room was full of singers, among them Julie Wilson and Mary Foster Conklin, and Whitfield was well aware of it, for her singing was everything that cabaret ought to be and sometimes is: sly and playful, daring and free, musically impeccable, devastatingly emotional. (I could—and should—say all the same things about her accompanists, Mike Greensill on piano and Sean Smith on bass, for they, too, were flying.)

    The Oak Room and I have a history. I used to go there all the time to see my old friend Nancy LaMott, and when she died, eight Decembers ago (how can so much time have passed?), I found it all but impossible to go back. It took a long time before I started to feel even halfway at ease in the Algonquin, and even then my memories often made me too melancholy to appreciate whatever I happened to be hearing, no matter how good it was.

    Of course Nancy was on my mind last night, for Wesla Whitfield was the only cabaret singer she admitted to admiring, and she would have really, really loved the late show from which I just returned. The Oak Room hasn’t seen much of Whitfield in recent years, but after an evening like that, I can’t imagine they won’t bring her back for a nice long run. A one-night stand is about thirty nights too few.

    I forgot to mention in my recent posting about Whitfield that she has a new CD out, September Songs. Don’t wait for Christmas. Don’t even wait for Monday. Click on the link and order it now.

    posted by terryteachout @ Sunday, October 26, 2003 | Permanent link


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