"Brother, if you can't paint [or write, or sing] in Paris, you'd better give up and marry the boss's daughter."
"Brother, if you can't paint [or write, or sing] in Paris, you'd better give up and marry the boss's daughter."
The lyrics of two of my favorite jazz standards, “My Favorite Things” and “Tea for Two,” are cheesy, insipid, even infantile bourgeois fantasies; the original vocals seem to me to be sung in that sunny psycho-killer demented spirit:
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things
Day will break and I'm gonna wake
and start to bake a sugar cake
for you to take for all the boys to see.
We will raise a family,
a boy for you, and a girl for me,
Can't you see how happy we will be.
Let’s put aside the sexism of the Fifties for just a second, though these lyrics, written by men and sung by women, obviously exude the insularity and privilege of sexism. These lyrics also bring to mind one of my favorite Chekhov quotes from “Gooseberries,” one I use to introduce a section of TRUE FAITH. “The happy man only feels at ease because the unhappy bear their burdens in silence, and without that silence happiness should be impossible.” For I believe the darker explorations of Coltrane and the skepticism of Monk engage more complicated feelings and deeper truths. Coltrane and Monk did not produce an art of consolation, of pure transcendence in the Christian sense (rising above the body. It seems inherent in their Modernism that truth must be embodied, that it lives in the body and the spirit grows out of struggle, out of that writhing in pain and pleasure.
“My Favorite Things” has a simple five note theme which works off a number of variations; “Tea for Two” alternates three and four notes in its insistent theme. I can’t stand Julie Andrews’ and Doris Day’s smile-button versions of the song. But John Coltrane, in his first soprano sax album of the same title (1960), transformed the melody into a compulsive, Eastern snake-charming nudging out the melody and then leaving it by playing two notes played in many octaves. What’s marvelous about Coltrane at this stage in his development as an artist is that he authorizes the hesitation, the holding pattern, the coming to, as part of making more transparent his musical process. In this first recorded version he often returns to the theme to ground his improvisations; retrospectively the leaps and shifts of this first recorded version seem accessible and it became one of his most popular albums.
I know of close to twenty recorded versions Coltrane made of this song: each has its range of moods and tempos (in one interesting version -- where Roy Haynes replaces Elvin Jones -- oddly has more drive than most of the versions that precede it). But perhaps my favorite version is the 18 minute version at the Antibes Jazz festival in 1965 (the second Live at Antibes album on France’s Concert label, released more than 20 years after his death).
His first solo’s relatively familiar, but the second, following McCoy Tyner’s rhythmic modal chords and trills – about eight and a half minutes in, is breathtaking in its tentative and exploratory improvisations. So many voices! He uses multiphonicsand overtones that produce wails, runs that seem like warming up, flutterings,guttural repetitions, audible searches for new fingerings andchord sequences: there’s even a momentary evocation of a samba. The solo is a series of blurrings, disassociations and crossings out of the melody: some passages are taken at break-neck speed, others almost seem like the melody’s standing still in waiting off-stage. Some moments are deeply melancholy, some seemingly frustrated while reaching for a sound, which is to say he repeats a phrase until he figures out where he wants and can only then move on. The solo’s a calling out, it’s an inner voice in church, it beseeches with dissonance and a heightened confusion (this incompletion, this longing is one way I understand the necessity of Coltrane’s shift – after meeting Alice -- to becoming a Muslim a couple of years before this recording). You’ll find infinite fragments of the melody in this version, but The solo can’t be characterized by an act of verbal transcription. What Coltrane manages here for me, with an imagination at the height of his powers, a supreme example of wide-ranging improvisation.
Traditionally the guiding principle of jazz is to take a familiar melody, a community song, and make it your own. But Coltrane revises, steps on, ignores, follows his multiple associations, until Julie Andrews’ sing-song has been deepened, overdubbed (some hip-hop covers revise Motown songs in parallel ways), critiqued, transcended (Coltrane’s spiritual longings in those passages where the voice peels the and melody away). If I had to pinpoint its power it would be that he de-familiarizes the familiar. This technique (yes it’s a technique – Coltrane worked hours a day experimenting with news fingerings and chord sequences) and this vision, these enmeshed threads of beseeching voices in progress. have had more impact on my changing my methodof writing than any poems I’ve read (though Ashbery and other avant-garde poets also see the work of art as continuous movement and change).
Thelonious Monk, in his 1955 version, from the album The Riverside trios (stay away from the late and tentative alternative take which Monk refused to authorize for the album CRISS-CROSS some years later) takes a different path to the same task of de-familiarizing. He uses a more playful and accessible minimalist approach in deforming the “Tea for Two” melody. He hammers the chords almost like a child who doesn’t want to practice: the block chords are insistent, almost simple-minded, but mostly cranky. He satirizes the melody further by tripling the notes in runsand inversions up and down the piano, managing somehow to convey the boring repetitions and burdens of family-life. The solo’s an awkward chant, in places a tantrum. The effect is the same as in Coltrane’s late version of “My Favorite Things”: the song we fell for in our youthful desire to simplify and artificially cheer up experience has been playfully dismantled (Charles Bernstein’s awkward rhyming quatrains, drawing attention to the sing-song artifice of end-rhyme, seem to accomplish similar ironic disfiguring of conventional form).
After hearing these two songs I’d think it would be difficult for a musician to return to swing versions (¾ time) of these tunes and certainly difficult to compose a swing song in that rigid meter. As Whitman said, the door to the barn (desire) is off its hinges. In these two songs, just by example, Coltrane and Monk bring attention to improvisation’s great virtue, extending the imagination to places heretofore barely explored or inhabited.
There’s nothing wrong with artists who are conservators, those who see their jobs as finding their place inside a tradition: their virtues include the nod of recognition, consolation and identification (we are not alone: we share assumptions about continuity and universality). But my personal preference is for a work of art that takes us some place we’ve never been, that challenges ourassumptions, that unsettles what we thought we knew, those works touch my heart as a new close friend might: I love the idea of thinking, I’ve never thought of life that way before, and I’ll never quite see the world in that familiar way again.
The movie wisely does not to go into a long explanation of how this miraculous event came to be, leaving this to the viewer’s imagination. The Greens don’t ask questions, they accept this gift from God or Mother Nature without hesitation and agree to raise the child as their own, all the while keeping his legs covered in long socks so as not to reveal his telltale leaves. Two things are made clear: he is a composite of all the traits the parents had wished for in a son and he seems to be of a species of botanical origin. This is apparent by his consistent show of basking in the glare of the sun throughout the movie. The kid — the Timothy of the title — of course, is perfect. So well-behaved it is almost too good to be true. The kind every parent longs to have. He goes to school, is oblivious to the jokes and pranks that bullies make at his expense, tries out for the soccer team, proves to draw expertly with a pencil, and even shows talent with a drumbeat.
Watching Timothy Green evokes the memories of similarly themed films as 1985’s superb D.A.R.Y.L. and 2001’s moodier A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Like the preteen-aged boys of those movies, Timothy is not quite human, and it shows in his quirky, offbeat behavior. Unlike the earlier films, Timothy Green fails to explore the full depths of this behavior, preferring to focus more on the parents and their observations of and reactions to this miracle child of theirs. This is a mistake on the movie’s part, as Jim and Cindy, despite the complexities of their characters and their obvious insecurities with being thrust full-time into parenthood (Jim is determined to become an improvement over his own less-than-supportive father Jim Sr., played by David Morse) do not sustain as much interest as the fantastical Timothy.
Consider the early scene where Timothy is bullied in school for his noticeable differences — he is brand new to this world and needs to be told how things work and what they mean. This theme was visited in D.A.R.Y.L when the boy-robot of the title is winked at by a girl and responds by blinking with both eyes, not knowing the meaning of the gesture. Only in Timothy Green, Timothy’s relationships with other kids are not adequately explored. His friendship with an alienated girl Joni (Odeya Rush) is presented without much dialogue at all. Joni figures out early on Timothy’s secret physical characteristics, i.e. his leaves and origins. But the interplay between the two does not go much further. Joni’s presence does not lead Timothy’s character development in any new directions. This is in direct contrast to the much more dynamic relationship between Daryl and his young friend “Turtle” in D.A.R.Y.L., where Turtle teaches Daryl that, because parents don’t want their children to be too perfect, he needs to display a mischievous side once in a while. Timothy Green does not offer Timothy such opportunities for exploration.
We're big fans of Joe Brainard and have written about him several times, most recently here. We were delighted to get an e-mail telling us of a new film about this singular artist and writer whom, we're happy to say, seems to be gaining in popularity. The film was directed by Matt Wolf and is built around archival recordings of Brainard reading from his famous memoir-poem "I Remember."
Here's what Matt Wolf has to say about his film:
I've always been a huge fan of Joe Brainard's art and writing, especially "I Remember," which is probably my favorite poem ever. When I found archival audio recordings of Joe reading the text on the online archive PennSound, I knew that I wanted to make something— to bring to life the poem, but also to tell Joe's story. I approached his best friend, the poet Ron Padgett, after reading his very moving book Joe: A Memoir, and he connected me to great photos, films, and materials to tell the story. I also interviewed Ron about his lifelong friendship with Joe from elementary school in Tulsa, Oklahoma up until Joe's death. When I was editing the film, I wanted to create a kind of conversation between Ron's recollections of Joe, and Joe's memories from the poem. I started to realize that the film wasn't just a tribute to Joe, but a film about deep friendship, and the unique bonds artists form with each other.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises stands on its own, undiminished by the success of 2008’s The Dark Knight or even 2005’s Batman Begins. Nolan delivers a story that takes clear inspiration from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Eight years have passed since the events of the previous two films. Batman has effectively retired. Gotham City, much like Eighteenth Century France, is a land of obvious socioeconomic disparity. Though the city has been virtually crime-free due to the enacting of a Patriot Act-like law, the poor and dispossessed, as represented by an underfunded home for orphaned children and an overflowing prison, have been neglected, while the wealthy elite, represented by Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne and his friends, have been “living large,” as Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman puts it, all of them blissfully unaware of the powder keg they are sitting on. Wayne, having hung up his cape and cowl now sulks around his mansion in a Howard Hughes-like existence, tended to by his faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and pursuing a romance with a lovely Wayne Enterprises board member (Marion Cotillard).
This tranquility is shattered with the arrival of the masked villain Bane and his army of mercenaries. Bruce Wayne is eventually convinced to don the cape and cowl once more in order to confront the threat to his city, aided in his efforts by the techno-savvy Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), the battle-weary Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), and a heroic young beat cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). It would seem that director Nolan is running the risk of leaving his film overstuffed with characters. However, Nolan manages to avoid this problem by successfully creating a narrative in which every character’s role is intertwined to the benefit of each. This is in direct contrast to Sam Raimi’s bloated 2007 Spider-Man 3, where none of the many supporting characters seemed to relate to each other or contribute much to the larger storyline.
Of all the many characters in TDK Rises, Bane offers the most material for analysis. Tom Hardy, succeeding the late Heath Ledger’s electrifying Oscar winning performance as The Joker in TDK, wisely presents a low-key portrayal, preferring to let the movie’s subtext carry the role. Bane is more of a crypto-Stalinist representation than a larger-than-life villain. Upon the necessary elimination of Batman, Bane’s agenda, obviously inspired by countless revolutions, is to lead a revolt of Gotham’s lower classes to overrun Gotham and “return the city to the people,” preaching “we have come not as conquerors, but as liberators.” What makes Bane seem Stalinist is the ever-present reminder that he is a strongman who leads his revolution from the top down, with him firmly in control. The complicated plan in which this is to be accomplished need not be spelled out, other than that it involves the employment of cat burglar Selina Kyle (Hathaway), a raid on the Stock Exchange, the destruction of a football stadium, and the detonation of a hydrogen bomb.
There are many references to A Tale of Two Cities, including Commissioner Gordon’s recitation of the final passage “it is a far, far better thing that I do” and (for aficionados of Dickens’ book who listen closely) the introduction of a minor character named Stryver, a direct reference to a supporting character in Dickens’ novel. In one of the best sequences of the movie, following Bane’s successful siege of Gotham, angry hoards of revolting “peasants” storm the Park Avenue penthouses of the ruling classes, helping themselves to their material spoils, and herding the dethroned members of the elite out onto the street. These unfortunate aristocrats are then subjected to mock show-trials where they are forced to choose between public hanging and “exile” onto the thin ice of the frozen harbor.
Many commentators have detected a right-wing message in this movie. It can be argued that the revolting masses are portrayed as a force to be feared and disparaged and that it takes a wealthy Christ-like capitalist savior to repel the barbarians at the gate and turn back the tide of the revolutionaries’ repressive violence. Bruce Wayne/ Batman is to Gotham City’s anarchist siege what the Scarlet Pimpernel was to France’s post-revolutionary Reign of Terror—a masked counterrevolutionary hero. Indeed, it is hard to miss the real-life parallels with the Occupy Wall Street protests that have shaken America throughout the past year, which have made the country’s wealthy elite very nervous and much more likely to throw their support to Mitt Romney (who could very well be the real world’s Batman/Scarlet Pimpernel capitalist savior) in the upcoming presidential election.
Contrary to the charges of Rush Limbaugh-esque conservatism, TDK Rises comes off not as a deliberate right-wing backlash attack on the 99 Percent movement, but rather as a liberal commentary on the social conditions that lead to revolution and the vengeful excesses that follow the current regime’s overthrow. This is the same message that Charles Dickens conveyed in A Tale of Two Cities. Nolan is therefore establishing his liberal reformist credentials, where Batman represents not Mitt Romney, but instead Barack Obama, the consensus builder designated to curb both the excesses of revolutionary activity and the wealthy elite’s exploitation of the masses.
Though not as well made as the previous two films of the trilogy, TDK Rises makes for a nicely fitting conclusion to what has been a superior trilogy. The film affirms Christopher Nolan’s status as one of Hollywood’s finest directors, if not merely one of the most imaginative.
She sings it in Some Like It Hot. Music by Joseph A. Livingston and Matt Malneck; words by Gus Kahn.
She died today fifty years ago.
The great character actress, Celeste Holm, died this past weekend at age 95. Miss Holm was a fixture in the acting world for more than six decades. The first Ado Annie in Oklahoma, she famously won the part when she demonstrated for Rodgers and Hammerstein her ability at hog-calling. In 1948, she received an Oscar for her performance as Anne Dettrey in the social drama about anti-Semitism, Gentleman's Agreement, and was nominated twice more, for Come to the Stable (1949) and All About Eve (1950). She more than held her own against Frank Sinatra in 1956's High Society. She performed extensively on Broadway and later, on television, including a recurring role in the 1980s nighttime melodrama, Falcon Crest. She was one of those wonderful actresses who can do almost anything.
But I remember her chiefly and most fondly for her role as the Fairy Godmother in the 1965 television production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. It was a yearly event awaited with great anticipation at my house, and even now, I can sing most of the score at the drop of the hat. Here's "Impossible," with Lesley Anne Warren as Cinderella. Good-bye, Miss Holm, and thanks for making this little girl happy.
[i] “Album Zutique” Text: “The Album Zutique was a communal journal for the poets and artists with whom Rimbaud associated while living in Paris....They called themselves Zutistes, a word coined from the French exclamation “zut,” which, depending on context, can mean anything from “golly” to “damn....” Most of [Rimbaud's] poems here are parodies of the work of other poets, and many are ribald in nature.” (Wyatt Mason, from Rimbaud Complete); Image: Grace Jones, from Vamp (1986)
[ii] “Blood of a Young Girl Streaks the Altar” Text: Aeschylus, from Agamemnon; Image: Michael Spinks, from Spinks vs. Tyson, 27 June 1988
[iii] “Disorganized Rainbow” Text: Albert Ramsay, from “Bright Jewels of the Mine” (Saturday Evening Post, Vol. 207 Issue 13, September 1934); Image: Miners, from “Bright Jewels of the Mine”
[iv] “Merle in Switzerland” Text: R.F.; Image: Rivi’s eyes, from Cocaine Cowboys (2006)
[v] "Shelley" Text: R.F.; Image: Amelia Curran, from Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1819)
[vi] "Take Me Away" Text: "Take Me Away" (1992), Mix Factory; Image: from Tyson
Happy birthday to the sensational Jane Russell, who was born on June 21, 1921 and passed away last year.
She caused a stir in 1954 when she sang "Lookin' for Trouble" while wearing a bodysuit with three strategic cutouts in The French Line. Producer Howard Hughes reportedly designed the film's outrageous costumes himself.
The star of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying mystifies the panelists of "What's My Line?" including Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis, Martin Gabel, and Pamela Tiffin. John Daly is the moderator. O Mnemosyne, mother of the nine muses. This is what TV was like on Sunday nights in the era of Mad Men. "Bobby" Morse in another interview says that he sometimes shows up for work on the Mad Men set singing "A Secretary is not a Toy" from How to Succeed way back when. -- DL
George Bernard Shaw famously remarked that dancing is "the vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalized by music." For proof, just watch this Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers scene from the 1934 film "Night and Day."
I love Toni Bentley's analysis of this dance in her New York Times review of Kathleen Riley's The Astaires: Fred & Adele (OUP): "Put down the Kama Sutra and its impossible acrobatics," writes Bentley. "Rent The Gay Divorcee and watch Astaire seduce a resistant Rogers, transforming her from a feisty, fast-talking, fast-walking, too-good-for-you dame into a dewy-eyed ingénue, slowed and silenced by love." She continues:
In the Cole Porter number “Night and Day,” Astaire pursues her about the dance floor with the wit of changing rhythms, sometimes syncopated, sometimes right on the beat, sometimes pausing to breathe the moment. He chases her, coaxes her, mirrors her, challenges her and goes hip to hip with her. He even spoons her, vertically. She isn’t sure, she turns away, she reconsiders, gives a little, gives a little more, then, overcome, bends backward and surrenders completely to the rhythm, the moment and the man. He flips her around, catches her, sends her off spinning alone only to meet her, unexpectedly, when she slows, pulls her in tight and takes her into a thrilling crescendo, then to a fantastically casual ending, as if to say, “That? Oh, that was nothing,” his modesty after brilliance his most disarming charm . . . As “Night and Day” closes, Astaire lands Rogers gently on a steep incline — she’s mesmerized by the magician who just took her on the ride of her life — bends over her suggestively, pulls back and says, “Cigarette?”
from one point of view it's always marilyn monroe's birthday. june 1st. these sequences are from her last movie, "Something's Got to Give" (1962).
There was exactly one international movie star who appealed equally to grunts in German, American, and British uniforms during World Wart II. Born on December 27, 1901 in Berlin at 9:15 PM, Marlene Dietrich spoke English in an accent all her own, with traces of German, schoolgirl British, and a sexy lisp. Acting in movies, performing in clubs, and doing one-woman shows in big West End theaters, she glowed in Der Blaue Engel (Josef von Sternburg, 1930) prior to a long Hollywood career working with von Sternburg again and later with Hitchcock, Welles, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kramer, and other Hollywood professionals. (Of Welles, she told aspiring actresses, "you should cross yourself when you say his name.") She played opposite Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, James Stewart, and Spencer Tracy, and took pride in having slept with three Kennedy men: Joe Sr, Joe Jr, and JFK. She lived to a grand old age and died in Paris on May 6, 1992, spoiling the birthdays of Tony Blair, George Clooney, and Professor Martha Nussbaum.
Garbo and Dietrich were one-two in virtually all international blonde bombshell competitions in the fourth and fifth decades of the twentieth century. Garbo (“I want to be alone”) had the reputation of a recluse and the silence of the lovers on Keats's Grecian urn. Dietrich, on the other hand, never could resist donning a man's top hat and sitting on top of the piano singing a sexy song in her hoarse voice and irresistible lisp. Dietrich sang in three languages (she does Piaf-like French ballads well) with a voice that made up in sheer sexual horsepower what it lacked in vocal range and power. Ich bin von kopf bis fus auf liebe eingestellt is even better in German than in the English version that begins “Falling in love again, / Never wanted to, / What am I to do, / Can’t help it.” She made that song seem autobiographical, the story of the female enchantress who can't help herself, to such an extent that anyone else singing the song sounds like an imitator. Of how many singers and songs can this be said? Not many.
Lorenz Hart rhymed “Dietrich” with “sweet trick” in “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” which I believe is a waltz but which I heard Sinatra sing at an incredibly fast tempo in a television concert in the late 1960s. Dietrich had major affairs with Sinatra, Jean Gabin, Yul Brynner, and Edward R. Murrow, and was bi-sexual. There is a rumor that she went down on Tallulah Bankhead at a party. In the dictionary of slang that Oxford University Press published, the phrase that most fascinated her was "cock holster," denoting the mouth in the act of oral sex though she could think of other apt uses for the phrase. In 1930 she measured at 35-24-33.
Marlene's natal chart reveals a lusty Capricorn with Virgo rising. Behind the scenes swift Mercury and blonde Venus play games of cache-cache inspiring all who watch to imitate the frolicking gods of Olympus. Dietrich's Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are in Capricorn, her moon in Leo. This is consistent with her talent for arousing attention, her ability to communicate desire mixed up with wickedness and danger, and her hard-boiled complexity. She can sound sardonic or melancholy, jaded or contemptuous, and this adds a layer of depth to her poker-faced personality. Her eyes say she's seen it all and a lot of "it" was shitty. :Dressed in a man’s suit, tie, and shirt with French cuffs, she holds an unlighted cigarette between forefinger and thumb, waiting for you to light her with your Lucifer. And you will.
One school of thoujght holds that when your mid-heaven is in Taurus and the constellations are in their proper order, the chances are that you will grow to a height of five feet six inches, if you're a woman, and that is exactly how tall Marlene was, and blonde, with lush lipstick that she needed to renew after every kiss she bestowed, and bedroom eyes. Her cards (the Chariot, the Moon, the Knave of Swords, the Nine of Wands) reinforce the impression of a woman of rare beauty and charm. A palm reading indicates a fluency in languages, an appetite for sex, and a pair of shapely legs. The yin in her chart outweighs the yang by a healthy margin. But there is enough stellar ambiguity to make her the object of desire of males across the sexual spectrum. She is a role model for dominant women and an icon of veneration among the submissive. It is said there are two kinds of men. One kind favors Garbo, the Swedish goddess, who played Anna Karenina; the other goes for Dietrich, who would be terribly miscast as Anna Karenina. But you had to live in the twentieth century to grasp all the implications of this statement.
The greatness achieved in the career of Marlene Dietrich implies what Frankfurt School astrologists call a "fifth house dominant personality." I do not know what this means, but it sounds right. As a young woman Dietrich starred as a sultry seductress, the cabaret singer who turns the starchy professor into a lovesick bum in Blue Angel. She is Circe mixed with Carmen, radiating confidence. She demands at least as much from a man. “Give me the man who does things, does things to my heart, / I love the man who takes things into his hands and gets what he demands.” Ein Mann, ein richtige Mann! The strong and silent type, under a big palm tree. She'll see what the boys in the back room will have and tell them she cried, and tell them she sighed, and tell them she died of the same.
Several notable aphorisms have been attributed to the charming, alarming Blonde Venus: "Most women set out to change a man, and when they have changed him they do not like him." "A country without bordellos is like a house without bathrooms."" In America, sex is an obsession; everywhere else, it's a fact."
Dietrich is the ultimate sex symbol because in any relationship with her the forces of Thanatos are constantly threatening to create a crisis that the forces of Eros must confront. That raspy, intimate, seductive, threatening voice challenged or dared the manliness of any man: you’d pretty much have to be John Wayne to impress her, or Gary Cooper in his prime. Tyrone Power thought he would double-cross her in Witness for the Prosecution. He thought wrong. She could do a “ducky” English accent. During the war she transcended the conflict: Allied and Axis soldiers alike responded to Dietrich’s rendition of “Lilli Marlene.” And she retained her status as a sex symbol well into her 70s. Her appeal is enhanced by her power to do harm or to witness destruction without blinking. In Touch of Evil, she read Orson Welles's palm and knew his future was a blank card. And she kept a straight face while telling him.
Marlene Dietrich added something vital to every movie she was in, from a second tier Hitchcock effort to Judgment at Nuremburg, where, as Spencer Tracy’s confidante, she stands for nothing less than Germany herself, a magnificent blonde who once owned a brothel. -- DL
Sasha, a brilliant young Russian violinist, needs a visa to stay in New York. He gets a fellowship to study at Juilliard and he's good, but his domineering father, a cellist from the old country, keeps interrupting Sasha's lessons with his teacher, Marie, an exceedingly attractive American pianist (Carolyn McCormick) who knows her Tchaikovsky and can down her vodka with the best of them. The young man (the extraordinarily talented Phillipe Quint) meets Ramona, a bohemian blonde keyboard player and singer (Nellie McKay), who lives hand to mouth, raiding garbage dumpsters for her next meal. Meanwhile, Papa (Michael Cumpsty) gets it on with Marie, and will Sasha bone up for his recital or will he throw caution to the winds and join Ramona's band? The movie is tender-hearted and sweet but not sentimental with great shots of street musicians on and off the subway. New York City (Brighton Beach, Lincoln Center, the Russian Samovar) is happily on display. The superb soundtrack veers from Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and ambitious cavatinas to "classic rock" songs featuring violin and keyboard and written by Mr. Quint. It's an homage to dualities: two cultures, two love affairs, two kinds of music. Brilliant. See it. -- DL
Read this interview with Beth Harrison, acting director of the Academy of American Poets, on "poem in your pocket day" (April 26), movies and poetry, and much else, from the current issue of Guernica.
An excerpt I loved:
Guernica: I noticed that one of the Academy’s suggestions for National Poetry Month is to watch a poetry movie. I must admit, all I could think of was Howl until I looked at your list. Do you have a recommendation?
Beth Harrison: Stacey Harwood compiled a terrific list of movies that include poetry, as well as a great essay on the subject, and anyone who wants their cinema with a side (or sometimes main course) of poetry can do no better than to start here.
Usually I recoil from snarky letters to the editor pointing out errors in an article, although sometimes the unseemly back-and-forth between bitchy intellectuals in the back pages of the NY Review of Books is the best thing in the rag. When I see an error I usually think someone else will run with it so I just turn the page. But in yesterday's Wall Street Journal there was a review by Frederic Raphael, an English writer of some note, devoted to Alice Yeager Kaplan's Dreaming in French, a book about three redoubtable American women who spent formative time in Paris: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis. Mr. Raphael is not terribly impressed with Ms. Kaplan's writing: not all of it is "sycophantic gush," he writes, but "banalities and imprecisions abound."
In discussing the treatment of Jackie Kennedy, Mr. Raphael writes that "A gauche juvenile poem in French ('Who knows why an April breeze / Never remains / Why stars in the trees / Hide when it rains') is gravely admired, and construed for us, by Ms. Kaplan." Although I admire the critic's adroit use of the adverb ("gravely"), the errors here are too splendid to go unremarked. The lines that the reviewer (and, I infer, the book's author) believes are taken from a "juvenile poem in French" are actually from Johnny Mercer's lyric for Hoagy Carmichael's song "How Little We Know," which Lauren Bacall sings in her screen debut in To Have and Have Not (1943). Gauche? I don't think so. It's a gem of a song, and it must be said that Jackie remained loyal to Mercer: everyone knows she adored "Moon River," which Johnny wrote for Henry Mancini's tune in Breakfast at Tiffany''s (1961).
Here's the scene from To Have and Have Not. Judge for yourself. -- DL
According to Hollywood Reporter, actor/poet James Franco (above right) has paid a record price for the film rights to "The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School," David Lehman's seminal study of the four poets (John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch (above left), Frank O'Hara, and James Schuyler) who during the mid-20th century "revitalized poetry at a moment when it seemed that everything that could be done had been done."
In a separate statement, Lehman revealed that he would likely collaborate with Franco on the screenplay. Production is scheduled to begin later this fall. Early scenes will be shot on location in Cambridge, Mass, where the young John Ashbery befriended Koch and O'Hara while at Harvard. Production will move to New York City for the remainder of the film.
"Franco is a talented writer and actor with a deep appreciation of poetry," said Lehman. "I'm thrilled that we were able to reach an agreement on the film." Word is out that actor Seth Rogan will portray James Schuyler and Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey's Matthew Crawley, below right) will play John Ashbery. Franco is tight-lipped about who will play Frank O'Hara, giving rise to rumors that he will play the ill-fated poet himself.
Negotiations for the film rights reportedly began shortly after Franco appeared as Allen Ginsberg in the critically acclaimed "Howl." At first Franco refused to disclose how much he paid for "Avant-Garde" but when pressed he admitted that he tapped several poetry-loving investors to come up with the record cash amount of continue reading here.
I just saw Telly Savalas – Kojak a little later in his life, with considerably less hair – riding a bike and hanging onto a car being driven by character actress Cara Williams, and then losing his balance and falling off his Raleigh Sports. It’s a heart-stopping moment (ha!) near the exciting climax (ha!) of the 1963 Danny Kaye comedy, The Man from the Diners’ Club. I happened to be watching this screwball gem (not quite) on YouTube early this Sunday morning (dubbed in Hungarian, of course) -- because I’d recently acquired a publicity still from the film, an image of Kaye exiting an establishment with an awning that says “Your Loss is Our Gain,” pedaling furiously on his bike, and I wanted to know what was going on, plot-wise.
Well, the black-and-white Columbia release is about a timid credit card company clerk (Kaye) who inadvertently approves a card for a mobster (Savalas) and has to get it back, or lose his job. There are G-men and gangland goons, and a lot of the action happens at the Sweat Shop Gym (hence the awning with the motto). At one point, a fleet of gangsters, disguised as florist deliverymen, quit the gym en masse on bikes. And at the same time Savalas is busy crashing his two-wheeler, Kaye is cycling at high speed trying to get to a church so he can marry the girl he loves (Martha Hyer). Lots of rear-projection and backlot stunt doubles.
It turns out that William Peter Blatty, who would later publish a little horror thing called The Exorcist, wrote The Man from the Diners’ Club screenplay (credited as Bill Blatty). Be sure to store that info for a particularly challenging round of Quizzo!
I promise my next blog post won’t be about movie stars on bikes…. Anyone have a photo of Wallace Stevens riding around on a Schwinn?
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.