Sunday, September 21, 2014

Seurat? Seurat, Dept.

I was fortunate enough to see last night's performance of this sold-out revival of a Sondheim favorite Sunday in the Park with George at the intimate Signature Theatre.  Fourth row left, but not a bad seat in the house.  The leads, Claybourne Elder and Brynn O'Malley, are terrific, bringing a new fire and rawness to the show's central relationship, which is saying a lot for roles that were originated by Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin.

I last saw a production during the Sondheim festival at the Kennedy Center in 2002.  At that time, Melissa Errico and Raul Esparza played Dot and George in a terrific, well-staged revival.  But Signature's smaller scale is perfect as a showcase for a show that's ultimately about a painting as the frame for the relationship between two people.

And to watch, 20 feet away, George arrange the dozen characters onstage into the positions they finally assume in A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte as they sing "Sunday," one of Sondheim's most moving anthems, is a breathcatching moment.

BONUS SOBSISTER SONDHEIM REALIZATION: Here's my OMG moment for the day: While researching the 2002 revival, I noticed that, among the cast of A Little Night Music--which, along with Sunday..., was one of the six plays produced for the Sondheim Celebration--was a Kristen Bell as "Fredrika Armfeldt." It couldn't be that...I mean...I saw that production and...really?  But sure enough: Ms. Bell played that role two years before she broke out as TV's Veronica Mars.

DOUBLE BONUS SOBSISTER SONDHEIM REALIZATION: Here's my even-bigger OMG moment for the day: 2002 Sondheim Celebration.  Company.  Which I also saw and is one of my--and many people's--Sondheim faves.  The lead role of "Bobby" was played at that time by...John Barrowman.  John "Captain Jack Harness" Barrowman?!!  Are you freakin' kidding me?!?!  Now, granted, this was three years before his first appearance as that character on Doctor Who, but, dang, I guess precognition is not my mutant power.

TRIPLE BONUS SOBSISTER NON-SONDHEIM REALIZATION: The sidewalk outside Signature Theatre was jam-packed with high-schoolers, 60?, 70? of them.  My friend, who was the kind and generous soul who bought the tickets, and I were more than a little concerned that they would be attending Sunday... and swamping the small space.  Sure enough, we took our seats, and in came the teens, chittering, giggling, waving at each other across the space.  I was even less optimistic at that point, thinking that the performance would be punctuated by texting, whispering and endless fidgeting.  And...your sobsister was completely dead wrong.  The show, which, as a meditation on art and creativity, ain't exactly Hairspray or Wicked, engaged the entire audience from the late-middle-aged gay couple eighth row center to the row of African-American teen girls right in front of them.  And everyone stood to appreciate the cast with applause and cheers at show's end.  So, bully for these kids and their teachers, and shame on me for (mis)judging books by their covers.  A lovely evening was had by all.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Losers and Winners, Dept.

Poster for Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

So your sobsister caught this one in >>>3D IMAX<<< yesterday a.m.  And, yeah, it really is as charming as the reviews may have led you to believe.

Five "losers," i.e., each has lost something important to him/her/it, but, truth be told, they're not exactly a bunch of overachievers either, band together, at first unwillingly, to recover a thing (something important in the Big Story Arc that Marvel is constructing among its Disney titles but also a MacGuffin) in order to make a spaceboatful of money.

If you're familiar with the Marvel Universe, seeing long-time villains such as Ronan the Accuser and Thanos (played, respectively, by Lee Pace and Josh Brolin; Pace particularly terrific) is a kick.  Karen "Amy Pond" GIllan as Thanos' daughter Nebula is perfect.  Dave Bautista, who, I just learned, is a pro wrestler, does a great job as Drax the Destroyer--like "real actor"-great, not "ironic novelty casting"-great.  The two animated characters--Groot, a rather tall ambulatory tree who can only say "I am Groot," and Rocket, an itchy-fingered enhanced raccoon on the grift--are voiced, respectively, by Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper and, surprisingly, are the heart of the movie.  Sci-fi blockbuster queen Zoe Saldana is Thanos' other daughter, Gamora, whom daddy likes better than Nebula, which sets up a scene or two.  She's a killing machine who runs up against/into Chris Pratt's Peter Quill, a kid from the '70s abducted by aliens who grows into a wisecracking Indiana Jones treasure collector-meets-Han Solo interstellar lover boy.  There's some heteronormative boy-meets-alien/alien-kicks-boy's-ass/boy-charms-alien byplay between Quill and Gamora, but, really, there's just so much other stuff going on that it's, like, fourth or fifth in line in terms of meaningful character relationships.

That's just a start of a summary.  Throw in the most comic Marvel screenplay to date, a primo '70s AM soundtrack, a flock of other guest stars (Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro, John C. Reilly), excellent FX and design, and a very unexpected cameo after the credits (no, not Stan Lee), and you've got the best Marvel flick since the first Iron Man movie or The Avengers.

GotG has shattered the record for an August opening by $25+M and will likely benefit from a lot of multiple viewings/good word-of-mouth over the next few weeks.  That Marvel could hit one out of the park with a property unknown to all save fanboys says everything about the strength of the casting, acting and directing as well as the imperishable value of an entertaining movie rooted in character rather than eye candy.  I didn't know what to expect beyond the trailer, and I was charmed, tickled and even moved.  Looking forward to DC's explanation about why it can't do a Wonder Woman feature after GotG, not even in Marvel's second tier of heroes, can crush the summer season.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

This Bong Kills Fascists, Dept.

Another 4/20--Where does the time go?  This year, however, it's not just Nazis and nugs, as this momentous day falls on Easter Sunday.  So, let's think a little about that, shall we?
Adolf Hitler, born today in 1889--125th anniversary!--was a bad man whose teachings have been used to oppress people and sow hatred since his death.

Cannabis, with us since the Garden of Eden, is an herb about which propaganda has been used to oppress people and sow hatred since Mexicans brought it into the United States.

What's that?, you may ask.  Anti-drug propaganda used to sow hatred?  Tragically true, dear friends.  Here's some 1937 congressional testimony from the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger:
I wish I could show you what a small marihuana cigarette can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents. That’s why our problem is so great; the greatest percentage of our population is composed of Spanish-speaking persons, most of who are low mentally, because of social and racial conditions.
Oh, if only Fox News had existed back in the '30s!  Well, it did, actually, but it was called the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft.

Tying this together, in the course of my research online, I found a number of folks who are, in fact, celebrating Der Führer's ("Der" to his friends) natal day.  Mostly on sites such as Vanguard News Network (slogan: No Jews. Just Right.--I only wish I were kidding), where, on one posting celebrating the birth of Mrs. Schicklgruber's little boy, the following statement was made:
If Hitler had won we wouldn't be seeing the human garbage displayed here:
Which links to a Twitter search page for "happy 420."

If neo-Nazis, who are demonstrably bad, hate marijuana, then it stands to reason that marijuana is demonstrably good.  QE2.

Further, there are a huge number of "praise and blaze" postings to Tumblr today, celebrating the confluence of Easter and 4/20.  And isn't one of the sayings currently in vogue "stay lifted"?  Couldn't we say that that is, in fact, what Jesus did at His Ascension?  (I'll plant the flag right here and say, Torch a fatty on 5/29, y'all.)

At any rate, blaze a bud, then, on this day, and strike a blow against Fascism. 
It's what Jesus would want you to do.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Minor Triad, Dept.
So, I was listening to an album of songs by Binnie Hale, a British stage and screen star most popular in the '20s and '30s, and I recalled that there was a British stage named Sonnie Hale, who, upon investigation, turns out to have been her brother (theatrical family, don'tcha know).

Well, Sonnie Hale was involved in one of the more lurid divorces of that entre-deux-guerres period, as steamy love letters penned by his co-respondent and This Year of Grace co-star Jessie Matthews were found by Hale's wife, theater star Evelyn "Boo" Laye.

The letters, read at the June 1930 divorce proceedings, cause the somewhat-priggish judge to fulminate, "It is quite clear that the husband admits himself to be a cad, and nobody will quarrel with that, and the woman Matthews writes letters which show her to be a person of an odious mind."

One excerpt, cited here, follows:
"My Darling, I want you and need you badly, all of you, and for a very long time. I am lying here, waiting for you to possess me. The dear little boobs, which you love so much, are waiting for you also."
The small world of the West End must have seemed just that much smaller for this trio.

To provide some sense of their respective styles, here is Binnie Hale singing "You Don't Know The Half Of It" from 1935's Hyde Park Corner, here is Jessie Matthews in a sparkly body stocking singing "It's Love Again" from the 1936 film of the same name (read the comments for discussion of Fred Astaire's interest in co-starring with her) and here is Evelyn Laye singing "Love Is A Song" from 1934's Princess Charming.

And here is the play that brought Miss Matthews and Mr. Hale in close proximity, which, quoting Dante (Inf., V., 137-8), I share with you:
Galeotto fu 'l libro e chi lo scrisse:
quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Love and Death, Dept.

Yeah, so your sobsister correspondent was metroing around town Saturday.  Very slowly, because Metro has been taking advantage of the weekends to fuck over anyone who doesn't own a car in the city effect track improvements. And I noticed packs of 20-something men and women (hereafter "Youngs"), some wearing colorful headgear, weaving noisily through the Metro Center subway stop at irregular intervals.

Surfacing at Farragut North because the train I was riding decided that that was now the last stop on the westbound Red line, I walked up Connecticut Avenue and saw a humongous line of people.  At least a couple hundred.  Youngs, men and women, mainly Caucasian, although some Youngs of Color were also lined up.  Was money being given away?  Jobs?  Photo ops with the president?

No, silly sobsister!  It was just people waiting a long time to get into one of a number of venues in the greater Dupont Circle area participating in the Cupid's Bar Crawl, "the country’s largest and most electrifying Valentine’s Day themed pub crawl" in which you are invited to "join thousands of fellow crawlers and take a shot at love at some of Dupont Circle’s most popular bars."

And, sure enough, they were out by the thousands.  An alarming number of the women were wearing what I'd describe as spring dresses, lightweight, above the knee, with maybe a shrug or light top.  It was 32 degrees at Dupont Circle when I walked by, and humid.  So, what I, an Old, would consider bone-chilling cold, these blithe female Youngs considered a judiciously selected opportunity to display their wares in "a shot at love."

Of the really made-up holidays, Saint Patrick's has always been an occasion for public inebriation because, faith and begorrah, we honor the memory of that missionary saint by puking green on public property.  Cinco de Mayo because you have to wait all the way till the end of the month to commemorate our fallen servicemen and -women by killing a six before the barbecue.  And now, St. Valentine's Day, more nakedly than ever about drugging someone to participate in your attempt to quell the white-hot flames of libido and fear.

Oh, Industry.  First, you create it, and then you degrade it.  Well played.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Doobie More Clever, Dept.

Weed: Been There. Done That.
Hey, Cap'n Bringdown, you're harshing my mellow!  *ha ha*  No, but seriously, NYT columnist David Brooks writes about how he "outgrew" pot because of "embarrassing incidents"--no, not as good as you might hope--such as getting tongue-tied in English class.  See, at first, he and his equally immature boon chums would occasionally fire a fatty, blow a bone, fumarse un porro, just for shits'n'giggles, but then he and they "developed higher pleasures."  No, not the Lucky Pierre, although that was my first guess for him, too.  He repeats that they "graduated to more satisfying pleasures"--again, not the Lucky Pierre--that I have to share with you:
The deeper sources of happiness usually involve a state of going somewhere, becoming better at something, learning more about something, overcoming difficulty and experiencing a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Because, you see, you filthy, unmotivated slave to that resinous scrotum of Satan, only those whose lips know not the will-sapping weed are capable of personal advancement and growth.  You are too mired in your "dubstep" and your "Adventure Time marathons" to know the joys and satisfactions of achievement and knowledge.

Even as he sneers at potsmokers for being sketchy underachievers,  Brooks (street name: What Passes for Conservative Intellectualism Nowadays Yo) then weasel-words the following:
Not smoking, or only smoking sporadically, gave you a better shot at becoming a little more integrated and interesting. Smoking all the time seemed likely to cumulatively fragment a person’s deep center, or at least not do much to enhance it.
The "only smoking sporadically" allows a lot of people in his peer or demographic group to say, Oh, yeah, we're not like total wake'n'bake losers, and lets them buy into the rest of his specious argument.  Which only applies to "those potheads," amirite, guys?

But that is an intellectually dishonest rest stop on the Speciousness Highway.  Because, really, what he's saying is POT IS BADPeriod.  No medical MJ, no nothin'.  But he has to cut you, the reader, a little slack in order to get you on his wavelength.

Brooks is known for being among the less cretinous of the conservative columnists.  But this essay wants serious rethinking and rewriting.  On "healthy societies":
I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship.
In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.
Oh, David, your conservative Whiteopia, where government is subtly interventionist.  Not all regulatin' an' whatnot, but hovering like a benign guardian angel, sky-high and translucent white against the blue horizon of American Hope, nudging us to go to Shakespeare in the Park.

I'll close with this wowser:
Most of us figured out early on that smoking weed doesn’t really make you funnier or more creative (academic studies more or less confirm this).
David, I am so with you.  I look at my record racks and see acres of music produced by abstemious men and women, strangers to intoxication.  How could the sticky ick possibly fire someone's creativity?  "Academic studies more or less confirm this"?  Yeah, I'm gonna go with "less."

There's so much to criticize, just go, read.  "Clueless Puritan Privilege Doesn't Like Something"--film at 11.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

You Can Buy Anything but Class, Dept.

This photo, courtesy of Kim Kardashian, is from that inexplicably famous woman’s sojourn to Las Vegas to celebrate her 33rd birthday.  Because time marches on no matter how many new faces she buys.

Looking at this snap, I didn’t think of Las Vegas so much as Staten Island.  Like a Sicilian bachelorette party.  But, hey, that 15-carat rock that Kanye bought her to seal the deal probably really classed up the outing.  At least more than the Daisy Mae Yokum wedding dress she’s wearing.

America: When we take out the trash, it goes on the front page™.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

In Other Words, Dept.

Translation, particularly of Ancient Literature, interests me.  The rendering into modern or archaic English of texts whose significance and resonance to their contemporary audiences we can only sketch.  The knife's-edge walk between fidelity and flair.  But more than that, the simple ability to reach back 2,500 years and hear the voices and grapple with the thoughts of those who have not walked in the sun's bright since those days.

As an example, following are the first eight lines of Aeschylus' Agamemnon, spoken by the night-watchman.  Four translations follow these, the first by Herbert Weir Smith, the classicist and author of Greek Grammar, the second by the poet and translator Richmond Lattimore, the third by poet Ted Hughes and the fourth by poet and classicist Anne Carson (all rights to the respective holders).

θεοὺς μὲν αἰτῶ τῶνδ᾽ ἀπαλλαγὴν πόνων
φρουρᾶς ἐτείας μῆκοςἣν κοιμώμενος
στέγαις Ἀτρειδῶν ἄγκαθενκυνὸς δίκην,
ἄστρων κάτοιδα νυκτέρων ὁμήγυριν,
καὶ τοὺς φέροντας χεῖμα καὶ θέρος βροτοῖς
λαμπροὺς δυνάσταςἐμπρέποντας αἰθέρι
ἀστέραςὅταν φθίνωσινἀντολάς τε τῶν.

H. Weir Smyth translation (1926):
Release from this weary task of mine has been my cry unto the gods throughout my long year's watch, wherein, couchant upon the palace roof of the Atreidae, upon my bended arm, like a hound, I have learned to know aright the conclave of the stars of night, yea those radiant potentates conspicuous in the firmament, bringers of winter and summer unto mankind, the constellations, what time they wane and rise.

Richmond Lattimore translation (1953):
I ask the gods some respite from the weariness
of this watchtime measured by years I lie awake
elbowed upon the Atreidae's roof dogwise to mark
the grand processionals of all the stars of night
burdened with winter and again with heat for men,
dynasties in their shining blazoned on the air,
these stars, upon their wane and when the rest arise.

Ted Hughes translation (1998):
You Gods in heaven -
You have watched me here on this tower
All night, every night for twelve months,
Thirteen moons -
Tethered on the roof of this palace
Like a dog.
It is time to release me.
I've stared long enough into this darkness
For what never emerges.
I'm tired of the constellations -
That glittering parade of lofty rulers
Night after night a little bit earlier
Withholding the thing I wait for -
Slow as torture.

Anne Carson translation (2009):
Gods! Free me from this grind!
It's one long year I'm lying here watching
   waiting watching waiting--
propped on the roof of Atreus, chin on my
    paws like a dog.
I've peered at the congregation of the
    nightly stars--bright powerful creatures
    blazing in air,
the ones that bring summer, the ones that
    bring winter,
the ones that die out, the ones that rise

Which, I think you'll agree, is quite a diverse set of readings.  What's the literal translation of the text?  Here's your sobsister's rough rendering of the lines:

The gods I ask deliverance from this drudgery,
my full year's watch, lying, dog-fashion,
on my arm on the roof of the Atreides,
and I contemplated the assembly of night stars,
those radiant rulers bringing summer and winter to man,
conspicuous stars in heaven,
whenever their setting or rising.

Have I mentioned that I'd make Greek and Latin compulsory through all four years of high school?  This is our cultural patrimony.  To read it, even haltingly, in the original is one way in which our species defeats Death.  As you'll have seen, translation is an art and a space where the poet and technician can meet and strike brilliant sparks.  But to hear and understand the words in one's own head, even if chipped one by one out of the text's dark walls as beginners such as myself must do, that is truly a treat.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Your circuit's dead/there's something wrong, Dept.

Poster for Gravity

Just saw this today.  Two words: IMAX 3-D.  See this on the largest screen that you can and strap on those Roy Orbison depth shades.  It is a visually amazing and utterly immersive experience.

The story is simple.  No spoiler alert is necessary to tell you that it's the story of an orbital space mission gone horribly wrong.  And the rest of the film is about survival.  There's backstory given to Bullock's character that I think is unnecessary in terms of the audience's sympathy or engagement.  Backstory that I don't think would've been given to a man in her role.

I remember reading about this film on one of the Hollywood biz blogs when it was first announced a few years ago.  A lot of questioning as to whether Sandra Bullock could hold you for 90 minutes--she's pretty much in every shot of the movie.  Well, she does, aided by the astonishing visuals and, yes, edge-of-your-seat, Perils-of-Pauline action.

I'm calling her for Best Actress and Gravity for Best Picture noms next Oscar™ season.  On the one hand, the film is at the edge of our technological abilities in the medium, and every dollar spent shows up on the screen.

But this is no mere CGI-wankfest.  The film is centrally about human survival under the most adverse conditions, and it's driven by Bullock, much of it in head-and-shoulders shots.  Her reactions to the rapidly shifting circumstances--and dangers--are ultimately what keep your ass in the seat.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Shake It Off, Dept.

NYC subway poster for The Michael J. Fox Show

Michael J. Fox is returning to television in a show about a former TV personality returning to television.  In both cases, the reason for leaving television was the onset of Parkinson's.  The trailer for the show actually doesn't suck, both because Fox has always been one of the most likeable personalities in television/film and because a TV show premised on someone overcoming a disease is unusual enough--one that treats the situation with a bit of gallows humor is noteworthy.  Whether this show can outlast and transcend its premise (how many times can MJF joke about his tremor?) remains to be seen.  But the poster is an intriguing comment on the situation and meta-situation.

First off, the tag "Still got it" refers to both Fox's character and to Fox, presumably as a cocky affirmation (and reassurance) to the viewing audience that he's back and as good as ever.

More notably, Fox contradicts the symptoms of his illness by being the still center of the photo (with his adoring size 2 wife draped over him) even as everyone else is frenetic in motion.  That contradiction plays to the choice of tagline.

I wish him and the show well.  He's getting a one-hour season premiere and has the job of leading audiences into NBC's 10 p.m. programming, which is Parenthood, moved to Thursday night after three years of critical admiration and diminishing audiences and looking to benefit from the same demo that would dig MJF's show

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Fashion Weak, Dept.

Men, do you find that not enough people at your workplace jeer at you?  Do you feel that more bystanders on the street or congregants at your place of worship should be calling you things such as "dumb fuck," "colorblind weasel" and "dumb fuck"?

Well, fret no more, mon freres!  Because Brooks Brothers (motto: "We wouldn't know good taste if it landed on our tongues™") has just released its faboo "Buffalo Check" fall line!

Yes, plunk down a mere $1,300, and you can walk out of the showroom wearing the lovely ensemble you see above left--high-water cuffs at no additional cost!  Like the cashmere cable-knit turtleneck sweater that completes the outfit?  Another $1,200, and it's yours, brother!

What's that? You're more in the mood to flash some gam?  Well, the socks-optional outfit on the right--three-piece shorts suit! what will they think of next?!--is a mere $1,900 away!  Throw in the shirt and tie for another $320, and you've got a Look!  Not a "look"--a "Look."

As I've mentioned before, Brooks Brothers demonstrably hates human beings.  More specifically, it hates men and seeks to emasculate, infantilize and ridicule them by designing outfits a '70s pimp would find garish.

The more I think about it, the more it occurs to me that Brooks Brothers is the haberdashery dominatrix: it debases you entirely then charges you for the privilege.  La Belle Dame sans Goût.

So, run down to your local BB now!  These babies are flying out the door!  Or, if you want to save time, take $2,000 in twenties and fifties, throw the bills in a metal container and set them on fire.  Either way.

Monday, August 26, 2013

You Can't Spell "Bimbo" Without "Bomb," Dept.

Right.  So, Miley Cyrus at the VMAs.  Lots of churn about this today.  I watched her performance just now.  A few thoughts.
  • Has her management decided that the Humbert Humbert demo is her sweet spot?  Also, are plushies the new gay?  Because I liked the old gay way more.
  • Miley apparently suffers from an affliction that prevents her from keeping her tongue in her mouth--the poor creature gurns like Keith Prodigy after a wasabi gargle.
  • "La-da-di-da-di, we like to par-ty" is the stupidest line in an English-language song since Vortigern invited the Saxons to Albion.  Fact.
  • During the latter half of this number, after she's shed her PaedoPals™ outfit in favor of a bra and panties because clothing is so, ohmygod, clothingy, Miley employs a large white foam hand in a variety of ways, but primarily to point at her and others' genitals.  I have never been a supporter of abstinence education.  Until now.
  • Is Robin Thicke the George Michael of his generation?  Because he sucks, and George Michael didn't.  So, that made me wonder.
  • No, but really: what the fuck is up with the stuffed animals?
  • Miley likes to twerk.  But not in a boner-inducing way.  More like in a poodle-on-your-leg way.
  • If you have to ask the crowd at the VMAs to "make some noise," you're not doing your job. 
As part of my research, I also watched the video for "We Can't Stop"--because life is too short to do worthwhile things--where I learned a few more things about Miley: (i) she likes black people's bottoms; ii) she is open to the idea of sex with girls, but not in a flannel-shirt-Indigo Girls-Home-Depot-habitué way; (iii) she's like Fiona Apple without the edge or intelligence or musical ability; (iv) she photographs well.

So, I listened to the Big Three singles for this summer by women and watched the corresponding VMA performances: Miley's "We Can't Stop," Lady Gaga's "Applause" and Katy Perry's "Roar."  Then I thought of the book Girls Like Us, which chronicles the lives of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon as they took off from the '60s into the '70s.  Let's think back 40 years.  Carole King had released Tapestry two years earlier, Joni was between Blue and Court and Spark, Carly had just released No Secrets and "You're So Vain" was everywhere.

I don't think it's an unfair comparison; only Miley is considerably younger than the other five at the same point in their lives.  Carole, Joni and Carly were not art-rock princesses playing rarefied airs to the intelligentsia; they were mainstream "pop" artists, none more so than King who had minted millions of 45s as a songwriter in the shadow of the Brill Building.  Of Miley, Gaga and Katy, only Gaga has the craft and smarts to be playing anywhere near the league of their foremothers and, even then, the shtick gets in the way of the songs.

So, yeah.  Sorry, kids.  Your music sucks like an open chest wound.  But, hey, twerking plushies!  That's gotta count for something, right?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Perfect Storm, Dept.

Maria Callas, "Un Voce Poco Fa, Hamburg, May 1959

When people ask you "What's the big deal about Maria Callas?", you can just dial up this live performance and hit 'play.'

From 1959, the year of Onassis, and with him very much front of mind--their lives, once only tangential, now, mostly by design, were about to collide--she brings intensity, a houseful of charisma and the last of her good voice to a recital in Hamburg.

For many years, there has been discussion of the role of Callas' sudden weight loss in the ultimate deterioration of her voice.  How she could no longer support the huge voice she had with a much smaller frame.  Watching this performance, I saw Maria Callas in her designer ensemble looking beautiful and projecting beauty as being strongly informed by the absence of the negative body self-image she had when she was heavier.  One may wish that she had accepted herself at her earlier weight rather than attempt and achieve such a dramatic change.

That noted, I would think that there would be a profoundly satisfying energy to achieving one's society's ideals of beauty--and even helping to define them--for most people.  Take, then, an intense, driven, hugely talented and intelligent woman who had suffered from being the "ugly ducking", to use her words, in the shadow of her more conventionally and perennially beautiful sister for all of her youth and adolescence.  Post-Weight Loss, she could go toe to toe with Grace Kelly in the looks and glamour departments and did.  For good or ill, I don't think the Maria Callas we know would have been a non-weight loss Maria Callas.

Una voce poco fa
qui nel cor mi risuono
il mio cor ferito e' gia
e Lindor fu che il piago.
Si', Lindoro mio sara
lo giurai, la vincero
Il tutor ricusera
io l'ingegno aguzzero
Alla fin s'acchetera
e contenta io restero
Si', Lindoro mio sara
lo giurai, la vincero

Io sono docile,
son rispettosa
sono obbediente,
dolce, amorosa
mi lascio reggere,
mi fo guidar.
Ma se mi toccano dov'e'
il mio debole
saro' una vipera
e cento trappole
prima di cedere faro' giocar,etc.

A voice a while back
echoes here in my heart;
already my heart has been pierced
and Lindoro inflicted the wound.
Yes, Lindoro shall be mine;
I swear it, I will win.
My guardian will refuse me;
I shall sharpen all my wits.
In the end he will be calmed
and I shall rest content...
Yes, Lindoro shall be mine;
I swear it, I will win.

I am docile,
I'm respectful,
I'm obedient,
gentle, loving;
I let myself be ruled,
I let myself be guided.
But if they touch me
on my weak spot,
I'll be a viper
and a hundred tricks
I'll play before I yield,etc

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Rag Trade, Dept.

Brooks Brothers hates children.  Arguably, it hates human beings, because, really, who the fuck wears lime green pants?  But especially children.

Let's see...we have the painfully thin girl who's dressed as a waitress at the Existentialist Diner; we have the mixed-race girl because an actual black child would cause BB's target demo to soil its patchwork Madras skirts and aforementioned lime green pants, and, really?, the last person who could carry off the tie-as-belt was Fred Astaire; and a boy whose outfit pretty clearly says to his classmates, "Beat the shit out of me. Please. Take an army sock full of quarters and whale the fuck away on me."  And they're all carrying signs that read "My School Is."  Run out of paint, then?  At least the cretin ad agency didn't do the backwards "S" that's shorthand for "childlike script."

Ugh.  Brooks Brothers: Where good taste goes to die™.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Où sont les neiges du futur?, Dept.

Mondo 2000 (Nina Hagen, pictured)

Oh, Mondo 2000.  Where are my smart drugs and my teledildonics?!  I didn't get my cyberpunk future.  Nina Hagen is not pope.  The sky over Milk Chocolate City looks like an Ad Reinhardt outtake, not television, tuned to a dead channel.  I was gonna be a hacker, Mondo, 1337. 1n5734|) 0|= 4 |3|_|m vv|-|1(|-| 15 vv|-|47 1 4m.

Let's Get Physical, Dept.

Curtis Mayfield's America Today is one of my favorite album covers ever.  And the source photo, 1937's "At the time of the Louisville flood," by Margaret Bourke-White, is specific and textured and gorgeous.  The variations from the photo to the album cover are minor but pointed.  The woman's expression.  A different boy in a different mood.  Fido is cropped.  Why isn't Mom smiling?  Does President Roosevelt have a cold?

The music is every bit the match of the cover.  Sexy.  Warm.  Curtis spreads the love even as he tells it like he sees it.

I found a beautiful original pressing today at a bargain price after many years of searching.  To hold it, hear it and behold the cover makes a good vinyl day.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Frayed Genes, Dept.

The above-pictured is "Mama June" from something called Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

Now, your sobsister has been insulated from this show and its cultural impact, but from what I can tell, it's as if the banjo-picking kid from Deliverance pitched a sitcom and got it green-lighted.

You see, kits and kittens, in the olden days, people used to go to sawdust-strewn sideshows off the dark end of the midway and gawk at the "Freaks of Nature" therein displayed: the Dog-Faced Boy, the Bearded Lady, the Geek who would bite the heads off of live chickens.

Nowadays, we have TLC on basic cable.  Where--let's check tonight's schedule...--you can watch three hours of Cake Boss interrupted only by an episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

TLC used to be called "The Learning Channel."  Did you know it's owned by Discovery?  And here's what they discovered: people don' lahk learnin'.

Here's how the latest season of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is kicking off: Get your Watch 'n' Sniff card ready and smell what Alana and her family have been up to during the premiere of "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo"!

By comparison, watching Christians being eaten by wild animals and gladiatorial fights to the death seems uplifting and even edifying.

Jenifa, oh Jenny, Dept.

Jenny McCarthy is the Gen X Suzanne Somers.

Not just because both had short-lived careers in television.  Not just because both support medically/ethically/rationally dubious therapies.  Not even because both bared their tits for Playboy.  But because Jenny McCarthy, like her fellow Irish Catholic Suzanne Somers née Mahoney, is indomitable in the extension of her meager claim to fame into decades in the limelight.  When the world's cities are rubble, and roaches claim the streets, Jenny McCarthy will still be holding signings for her latest book on the lighter side of pregnancy.

This posting is prompted by the news that McCarthy is replacing Elisabeth Hasselbeck on that 21st-century successor to the Athenian symposium, The View.  Whether replacing a woman best known for being a football player's wife,  a finalist on Survivor and a conservative mini-pundit with a fame whore who has manipulated the anti-vaccine issue into a reliable revenue stream can be considered a net positive for the show, in the final analysis, it's The View.  They could feature bull baiting and dwarf tossing, and the intellectual tone couldn't be any lower.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Vinyl? Vinot?, Dept.

Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter, cond., Brahms/Symphony No.1

Had an interesting dollar record shopping day.  Alongside vinyl from Callas and Casals, who, if they ever appeared together must've pissed off the guy who had to put up the marquee--

"Bill, do we have any more 'L's?!"
"No, man! We only got two with this cheap-ass set!"
"And we lost one of the 'C's!"

--I picked up this album entirely for the cover.  I'd never heard a Brahms symphony before.  It's not like the cover, which looks more like a Joseph Cornell collage IRL.  With this cover, I'd expect a Satie theater score for a floral-themed proto-absurdist comedy.

And then, at the second place I went, I found the original cast recording of A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, which is a 1980 Broadway musical that grafts onto a camp '30s backstage musical pastiche (is that redundant? it's redundant.) an imaginary Marx Brothers movie that features a 1980 Tony Award® Best Featured Actress in a Musical performance as Harpo by Priscilla Lopez, best known as "Diana Morales" in A Chorus Line.

Does film exist of this?

Friday, July 05, 2013


Coffee, Tea or Me?, Dept.

Poster for Los Amantes Pasajeros (U.S.: I'm So Excited)

As you can see, the graphic, shall we say, thrust of this film's poster shifted north in translation.
I saw this today and thought it a hoot.  I think there's a disadvantage to apprehending this film through subtitles, as the rhythms and wit of Almodóvar's dialogue are crucial to the fun.  But this is the director's camp discourse on sex and death.  Mostly sex--gay, straight and bi--with knowing nods to his earlier films, including cameos from Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.  The English title refers to a lip-synced version of the Pointer Sisters' hit performed by a Greek chorus of three flight stewards who are among the flounciest characters Almodóvar has committed to film and who provide commentary throughout the film on the goings-on.

In short, the flight to Mexico on which the characters find themselves may or may not be able to land in one piece due to a stuck landing gear, and, so, the possibility of their imminent demise puts the passengers in business class in a tell-all mood.  Helped by the mescaline-laced cocktails the crew serves to lighten their spirits.

Some sourpuss film critics (and, here, I'm looking at you, Manohla Dargis) seem to want Almodóvar to stay in serious gear, ignoring the fact that his ability to turn out sex-farcical trifles is what put him on the map.  His inability to provide Ms. Dargis with a "coherent, sustaining gestalt" troubles her and some of her fellow critics.  My suggestion might be that she knock back one of the Valenciano cocktails the crew liberally dispenses and pop the cork out of her...critical mindset.

A perfect bit of foam and fizz for this hot July, with just enough substance to keep it all from floating away.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Well, Shut Mah Mouth!, Dept.

There's a word.  When, you know, you take delicious Freude from someone's Schaden?  I swear, it's on the tip of my tongue.

Oh, Paula, Paula, Paula.  Your vision of ol' Rastus from down de Big House, smilin' an' shuckin' an' stoopin' an' bowin' before de Massa Lady has doomed you to shocking pink skin and a pungent, lasting stink.

Today, she was fired off Food Network, which originally launched her, her death-by-lard repertoire and her two personality-free sons into an orbit of dripping celebrity.  Her reputational recovery challenges aside, the question for her empire is: Does a sizable enough portion of her audience and clientele speak in private, even to the present day, as she did?  And is there another slice of her demographic deep-dish triple-cream pie chart that'll say: Well, she's sorry, you know, it's Chrischun to forgive?; hey, pass th' butter-fried butter and th' bacon treacle, would'ja, hon?

Are they in preproduction for Meryl Streep's Paula yet?

Friday, June 07, 2013

Beware of Crete's Barren Glyphs, Dept.

Margalit Fox, The Riddle of the Labyrinth

Just finished this a few days ago, and it was quite excellent.  A history of the effort to translate the tablets written in Linear B that were found on Crete as part of Arthur Evans' 1900 excavation at Knossos and subsequently on the Greek mainland.  The book focuses on the three principal players in the translation effort: Evans; Michael Ventris, the British architect and language prodigy who eventually cracked the code; and Alice Kober, the American classicist and college professor whose meticulous efforts laid the groundwork for Ventris' eventual success.

As much as a fascinating history of this intellectual crusade, the book is an effort to claim for Kober the credit she'd been denied in her time and since.  She died young, before Ventris finished, and her own reticence and painstaking diligence prevented her from making the sorts of claims that would've drawn attention to her efforts and successes.  And, of course, she was a woman academic at a more-benighted time in American history.

Two thumbs up.  The author is a New York Times journalist--she works in The Grey Lady's obituary department--who trained as a linguist, so she is doubly qualified to write about both overlooked lives and those spent in the pursuit of the key to a language.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Water Life, Dept.

Film actress Esther Williams has died at 91.

Despite being a musicals fan, I don't think I've ever seen an Esther Williams film straight through.  Since childhood, I've known what they look like.  And, thanks to That's Entertainment!, feel that I've seen all the best bits of her MGM oeuvre.

She did not, from what I read today, have an easy life, between abusive or parasitic men and the wear and tear (ruptured eardrums, broken neck) of doing all her own water work.  And, from what she wrote in her autobiography The Million Dollar Mermaid, her co-workers weren't any help.

According to the book, when she, in likely her biggest non-swimming role, made 1949's Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Stanley Donen and co-star Gene Kelly, who co-wrote the story and collaborated on the musical staging, were utter dicks who made her the butt of their jokes, an experience she describes as "pure misery."

She also can't have been pleased, eight years later, when Silk Stockings featured Janis Paige in the role of a dipsomaniacal swimming movie star who constantly whacks at her head to knock out the water though she's nowhere near a pool and who answers a reporter's question regarding what she thinks of Tolstoy (whose War and Peace she's filming as a musical)by saying, "There's absolutely no truth to the rumors; we're just good friends."

At any rate, she left behind a ton of onscreen charisma and some of the most OTT musical numbers in film history (the above done by Busby Berkeley, somehow unsurprisingly).  If you've never seen her, That's Entertainment really is the best collection of, and introduction to, her work.