Tuesday, January 30, 2007
The return to New York reality was so much harder then, and the sight of all the well-heeled Met patrons callously ignoring a freezing homeless woman panhandling by the exit was nauseating.
To all of you rushing to your cabs and limos without pausing to give someone in need a few bucks: Fuck you, assholes!
To all of you who thought she made for a downer end to a wonderful, wonderful evening at the opera and wasn't Karita's upper register tremendous: I'll suspend my disbelief of this grab-bag of superstitions known as religion long enough to tell you to roast in hell.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Sunday, January 28, 2007
All this to say that Meow Meow—who had already stolen the show at Weimer New York the previous week—should not be missed next time she's in town, whatever town that is. She is more punk rock than your average emo goon, and drags cabaret kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Friday, January 26, 2007
The artistic team of Jenny Rogers and Clove Galilee (both in Trick Saddle) transposed Maria Irene Fornes' 1977 play Fefu and Her Friends, which takes place in a New England house in 1935, to a transatlantic flight in the early 1970s.
All right, this is where it gets totally genius: They reconfigured the theater so it looks like you're inside the plane. The audience sits in three sections and the cast is impeccably dressed and coiffed (note that the hair is now three times the size it was in the photo) like period stewardesses—and these women are most definitely stewardesses, not flight attendants. They greet you at the door with boarding passes doubling as programs, navigate trolleys down the aisles, and offer you warm nuts and vintage copies of Life magazine. They're so in character that when I leaned back from my first-class seat to see what was going on in business, one of the passing stews whispered "Knees and elbows, knees and elbows" without breaking her glide. When the captain turns out to be Peggy Shaw, in a fun little cameo, you're not even surprised anymore.
But Wickets wouldn't amount to more than an elaborate stunt—and a godsend to fans of both Flying High and Angie Dickinson in her prime, like, oh I don't know, me—if the new concept didn't work so well with Fornes' play. The text itself is beautiful and its surrealism gives it flexibility when it comes to the setting, while the ensemble cast superbly rises to the challenge; if you spend way too much time at the theater, as I do, you'll know this is a rare combination indeed. The production also embraces the play's unabashedly feminist themes without Nth-wave irony but with plenty of slinky humor. Also it's often, um, hot.
Have I mentioned that Wickets costs only $15, and you don't have to take off your shoes?
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
MP3 Fujiya & Miyagi "Ankle Injuries" from Transparent Things (2007)
And now to the fun stuff, meaning the ka-razy Weimar New York show last Friday at Joe's Pub. Curated by Earl Dax (and previewed by my colleague Adam Feldman in TONY), Weimar New York is a diabolically entertaining revue that purports to revive the politically aware and subversively decadent spirit that once infused the cabaret scene during the Weimar Republic. Or did it? It's hard not to suspect that said scene is now largely idealized, but who cares when the new version is so wild?
The inspired organizing principle behing Weimar New York is that it packs a lot of acts into a couple of hours but they only do one number, two at most, so if things hit a lull, you know it won't last. How to describe the atmosphere? For me Penny Arcade nailed it when she exclaimed "I feel like I'm back in 1993!" Perhaps it was the heady sight of half-naked downtowners cavorting around a tiny stage. Perhaps it was a Belgian chantoosie wailing Brrrrrrrel next to a burlesque queen being molested by a severed hand next to a freakazoid (I say this with great admiration) flashing his anal piercing to the crowd. Perhaps it was Justin Bond singing Patti Smith. And perhaps it was that friggin' Penny Arcade was there! I guess that's what comes "from too much pills and liquor."
Next to that, Trisha Brown at the Kasser in Montclair over the weekend was quite sedate, but at the same time it was heady to see Brown herself get onstage at the end of I love my robots. If a 70-year-old woman choreographically engaging with robots (ie remote-controlled cardboard tubes on casters) isn't aggro in our age of youth obsession, I don't know what is.
Two of the three pieces used music by Laurie Anderson, and I was reminded of how well her work suits dance. It actually made me listen to bits from United States again—no matter how good Anderson sounded at the Kasser, there's still no way I could sit through anything she's released in the past ten years.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Now, replace "small nation" with "minority." What Kundera writes pretty much describes what's at stakes for, say, gay or African-American scribblers in the US, and explains both why some gay or African-American writers refuse to be labeled such, and why others embrace a role closer to adovation.
It also illustrates what to me is a toxic, creativity-stifling attitude from some critics and readers, who expect writers to offer "positive role models" and represent for their peers. Kundera writes: "A nation's possessiveness toward its artists works as a small-context terrorism that reduces the entire meaning of a work to the role it plays in its homeland" Just read a popular website such as afterellen.com—where every show, movie or album is judged by simplistic criteria such as "But does it make lesbians look good?"—to see that small-context terrorism in action. All right, so deriding a pop-culture website for its critical acumen is easy, but this applies to more highbrow reviewers as well, and it places on writers/artists who are not straight white men (these guys never have to justify anything—just ask people as different as Jay McInerney, Cormac McCarthy or Stephen King) a whole different burden of expectations.
Unrelated: Kundera goes on to remind us that Gombrowicz once wrote a text titled "Against Poets," in which he reacted "to the view of poetry as the untouchable goddess of Western modernism." Yay, someone taking a stand against poetry!
Friday, January 19, 2007
This story started picking up steam early December, and it shows no sign of letting up. Basically, the old-guard French museum establishment is up in arms because the Louvre is the latest in a small group of French museums (including the Pompidou Center opening a branch in Shanghai) to spread out abroad. It has signed an agreement to license its name and loan items from its collection to a new museum in Abu Dhabi. The use of the "Louvre" name itself will cost 400 million euros, according the the contract that was leaked to Le Monde; other museums should eventually strike similar deals, and it all could bring $800–$1 billion to French museums.
Curators and art figures have been signing petitions and raising a ruckus, claiming France is "selling its soul" and art cannot be treated as crassly as wine or those cute little Vuitton
bags Abu Dhabi residents also buy by the truckload.
While one can legitimately question the specific choice of an authoritarian, clanic emirate for a Louvre outpost, it bugs the hell out of me to see those defenders of the artistic patrimoine dump on the exportation of French museum brand names in general.
So it's great to endlessly whine about US-led globalization and how it stifles French culture, but when we have a chance to actually take advantage of globalization—and, it seems to me, in a manner that makes cultural and financial sense—everybody's screaming bloody murder. How stuck-up, reactionary and downright foolish can the French art elite get?
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
For many, Vannier is known only as the man who did the luxuriant arrangements (which Beck shamelessly plagia…er, borrowed from on a Sea Change track) on Serge Gainsbourg's 1971 concept album Histoire de Melody Nelson. Vannier's profile was raised in the US and the UK with last year's CD reissue of his own 1972 album L'enfant assassin des mouches. Vannier and a starry cast of guest singers performed both Melody Nelson and L'enfant live at the Barbican in October ’06. Over the years he's also released solo albums; you can find some MP3s at the excellent Filles Sourires site.
But I love him best when he works with pop singers, and in a few glorious years in the late ’60s–early ’70s, he produced/arranged/cowrote with the best of them. Vannier could do it all, but his forte was decadent strings that suggested vaguely illicit pleasures and veiled menace. My personal favorite is the venomous "Chanson de Slogan," written by Gainsbourg for Pierre Grimblat's 1969 movie Slogan; it's a baroque exploration of decadent aesthetics that epitomizes the incredibly fruitful Vannier/Gainsbourg collaboration.
MP3 Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin "Chanson de Slogan"
It made sense that Vannier would also work on the albums Gainsbourg wrote for Jane Birkin in the 1970s. The trio's collaboration was most effective on her first solo effort, 1973's Di Doo Dah, from which these two tracks are taken.
MP3 Jane Birkin "C'est la vie qui veut ça"
MP3 Jane Birkin "Leur plaisir sans moi"
Another superb Gainsbourg track, this time from the 1967 TV musical Anna; the song was recorded by both Marianne Faithfull and Anna Karina. Just check out that fantastic bass line.
MP3 Anna Karina "Hier ou Demain"
Watch Marianne sing "Hier ou Demain" in Anna
More Gainsbourg with an instrumental from his soundtrack for the 1970 Pierre Granier-Deferre thriller La Horse. Banjo and harpsichord? Sure, why not!
MP3 Serge Gainsbourg "La Horse"
Françoise Hardy, another 1960s icon, didn't work that much with Vannier, which is too bad because her breathy vocals combined well with his arrangements. The strings whirl on "L'amour en privé" reminds me of that on David McWilliams' "The Days of Pearly Spencer" (produced in 1967 by Mike Leander).
MP3 Françoise Hardy "Dame Souris Trotte" from Soleil (1970)
MP3 Françoise Hardy "L'amour en privé" from Message Personnel (1973, written by Gainsbourg for the movie Projection Privée)
Vannier cowrote and produced the first song on Brigitte Fontaine's most pop album as well.
MP3 Brigitte Fontaine "Il pleut" from Brigitte Fontaine est… (1968)
Vannier also collaborated with one of the great French singer/songwriter/pop stars—and certified eccentrics—of the 1960s and 1970s, Michel Polnareff. This song has one of the greatest chorus buildups in the history of pop music.
MP3 Michel Polnareff "Dans la maison vide" a single from—when else?—1969
Saturday, January 13, 2007
The interview is priceless about Bresson's working methods. Wiazemsky (who has a wonderful radio presence) speaks about working with him when she was 17-18. When they first met, she was totally into commercial cinema, reading about stars in pop magazines, and she wasn't familiar with his work. For her audition, Bresson made Wiazemsky read lines from his own first movie, the 1943 nun flick Les Anges du peché. Her grandfather, Catholic writer and Nobel Prize–winner François Mauriac, authorized her to work with Bresson, with the warning that the director was on the odd side.
The first thing Bresson did on the shoot was to order Wiazemsky to live in the same house—she had to go through his bedroom to reach hers, and they shared a bathroom. She could talk only to him, had to have all her meals with him; she was completely separated from the rest of the crew (which nicknamed her "the little captive"). But Wiazemsky also recalls that the captive was complicit, and that she enjoyed submitting to the older man's authority and knowledge. She is really insightful about the love Bresson had for his actresses, including her, a love he sublimated in his movies. Funnier are anecdotes about Bresson going nuts about the donkey, which he apparently tried to direct exactly like the human actors. Walter Green, Wiazemsky's costar, was so shaken by the experience that he gave up acting and became a dentist; he also went on to marry 1970s star Marlène Jobert and sire…Eva Green.
The year after the movie came out, Wiazemsky married Godard. (How's that for a transition?) When Bresson learned about it, he called her and told he she was nuts to marry Godard, who was too old for her; Godard got furious that a director he admired so much would meddle in his private life. The show then played a clip of Godard calling Bresson both a great inquisitor and a humanist, adding that people who go to the movies once a year should make that movie one by Bresson, since a Bresson movie is the world.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
But wait a minute! Operetta's not all Viennoiseries. Not only did France contribute a little Alsatian dude called Offenbach, but operetta remained a viable artistic and commercial form there way into the 1950s. (Francophones can check out this thorough, instructive site on French musical theater.) On a trip to Paris last year, for instance, I caught a charming revival of Toi C'est Moi, composed by the Cuban exile Moïse Simons in 1934, with loony lyrics by (mostly) Albert Willemetz. The show was a frothy mix of Parisian humor and the Latin rhythms Simons incorporated into his score, and I think it could seduce Broadway fans here. The yummy Susan Graham actually covered Toi C'est Moi's "C'est ça la vie, c'est ça l'amour" and "Vagabonde" on her 2002 CD dedicated to French operetta, but here's the show's comic highlight in a 1933 recording by Pauline Carton and the mononamed Koval. Now forgotten, Carton once was one of the most popular character actresses of French stage and film (think Marjorie Main).
The style is tricky to bring back to life though: For every brilliant staging of Offenbach by Laurent Pelly, you get a failure like Alain Resnais' stultifying 2003 film adaptation of Maurice Yvain's 1925 Pas sur la bouche. (I'd love to have seen last year's Châtelet revival of Francis Lopez's catchy Le chanteur de Mexico—which upped the kitsch factor by starring Rossy de Palma and boasting a flamboyant poster by Pierre et Gilles.)
Our most outspoken advocates in town are Jean-Philippe Clarac and Olivier Deloeil, artistic directors of L'Opéra Français de New York; they know how good French operetta can be—their enlightening six-part TV doc about it in 2002 is required viewing for anybody with an interest in the popular music of the 19th and 20th centuries—and last November put together a program titled "Les folies de l'opérette" that included Yvain next to Offenbach. (The company's music director, Yves Abel, is no operetta slouch either, since he worked on Graham's CD, among other accomplishments.) Let's hope these guys help raise the consciousness level so we can start seeing more French operetta in New York—including some Offenbach other than Tales of Hoffman, please. I'm totally convinced that Offenbach shows such as La Belle Hélène, Orphée aux Enfers and La Périchole could draw New Yorkers, and possibly start off a classical fashion similar to baroque.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
My esteemed colleague Steve Smith has praised The First Emperor's instrumental interludes and I completely agree with him. Most of the arias are uncommonly dull (notable exception: the seduction scene between Elizabeth Futral and Paul Groves), while the music leading in and out of them is often fantastic, especially the rolling clouds of ominousness. In other words: Tan Dun writes great soundtrack cues. No wonder much of the music reminded me of Japanese soundtracks of the 1950s and 1960s.
Zhang Yimou's grandiose staging would also be familiar to Met goers accustomed to mammoth scales, and I found it visually pleasing but also rather static. Of course a 140-strong choir will look good on stage; it's the universal rule of mass attraction: more is more. But if you just plop people down there, chances are the audience's eyes—and mind—will wander. Compare and contrast with Anthony Minghella's take on Madama Butterfly, which was aesthetically somptuous and had a real sense of dynamic movement.
Speaking of mass: I threw a real hissyfit when Fox cut both school-band routines during the Ohio State-Florida halftime on Wednesday. I had endured the stupidest sport of all for way too long just to see those bands and then Fox went to commercial! In America the opera and marching bands are the main refuges for those of us in love with the use of bodies on a large scale. Gigantic human tapestries…now that's something the old communist countries knew how to do.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Saturday, January 06, 2007
To get in the mood, here's a selection of MP3s by some favorite underground extremists, harvested from various European fields. Think of it as Travel + Leisure for the maleficent set.
I find extreme metal makes for invigorating listening, which some may find odd considering it's a genre dedicated to nihilism and eeeevil. But the sheer intensity and ultra-dense texture of these sonic tapestries is unparalleled; the listening experience is very tactile. And I realize I may torpedo whatever cred I have left by writing this, but this stuff also works great at the gym. The crazy-fast BPMs would get anybody going on the treadmill, and the looks from people next to you hearing the primitive shrieks bleeding through the earphones? Priceless.
England's Anaal Nathrakh pretty much laid down the rules for the necro subgenre on its debut, The Codex Necro. The duo plays some of the most stomach-churningly violent music I've ever heard, and its latest, Eschaton, shows no sign of slack. I reviewed it for TONY a few weeks ago, and here's a taste:
MP3 Anaal Nathrakh "The Necrogeddon" from Eschaton (2006)
France, where metal and hard rock had always faltered, has recently emerged as a rather fertile ground for mysterious—even by BM's standards—combos that take black metal in unpredictable, often experimental directions, making the Scandis sound like the nerd squad in a John Hughes comedy. Hailing from the darken lands of Normandy and Burgundy, as well as the hellhole known as Paris, I give you Malcuidant, Arkhon Infaustus and Blut aus Nord.
MP3 Malcuidant "…et la complainte se tut…" from L'Hymne de la Ghilde (2005)
MP3 Arkhon Infaustus "Epsilon: Saturn Motion Theology" from Perdition Insanabilis (2004)
MP3 Blut aus Nord "The Howling of God" from The Work Which Transforms God (2003)
The aforementioned Enslaved is only the top of the Viking metal iceberg (so to speak). Good thing that the field's crowded, too, because frankly you can never have enough albums hatched in forges by burly men claiming to be inspired by valkyries and ice-covered paganism. Speaking of ice, deaths in extreme metal are known to be pretty dramatic: Musicians die of exposure, or they fall from a bridge and break their neck on a frozen river—which at least isn't as bad as allegedly eating your dead bandmate's brain.
Tyr comes from the Feroe Islands and offers a melodic, almost dreamy, folk-inspired version of the Viking genre; the production values are relatively high as well, which seems to be a folk-metal trademark (think of Estonia's Metsatöll or the grandiose Finntroll). On the other hand, take Graveland, hailing from the well-known Viking province of, er Poland, with a big grain of salt. The band aims for the majestic with no small success but it's a really good thing we can't understand what they sing about—in interviews leader Darken espouses the kind of stupefyingly dumb theories sadly common in a certain black-metal fringe, eg Burzum et al., and among such Neofolk and industrial outfits as Death in June and Der Blutharsch. The power of the music is hard to deny; the politics stink to high heaven.
MP3 Tyr "Olavur Riddararos" from Eric the Red (2003)
MP3 Graveland "Prayer for My Ancestors" from Fire Chariot of Destruction (2005)
Similar ethical issues emerge with the Ukraine's Drudkh, though its take on Slavic pride is a lot more literate—the lyrics to The Swan Road are influenced by the work of 19th-century Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko.
MP3 Drudkh "Eternal Sun" from Lebedynyy Shlyakh: The Swan Road (2005)
Finally, a short trip across the Mediterranean to Israel and Tangorodrim—hey, if Israel can compete in the Eurovision Song Contest, I can include it in a post about European extreme metal. The band's latest is on Southern Lord, ensuring easy access in the US at least.
MP3 Tangorodrim "Bestial Scent" from Unholy and Unlimited (2006)
And speaking of the US, Americans aren't well known for BM (or Viking metal for that matter) but there are exceptions, and they tend to be one-man bands like Xasthur, Leviathan and my favorite of all, rehtaF ruO. Hailing, I believe, from Florida, rehtaF ruO has made a demo CD and one proper album, Boiled in Goat Blood, a monument of paradigmatic bedroom metal. The entire thing is terrifying, a mess of lo-fi hisses, buzzes and inhuman screams, but this track has got to be the worst of all.
MP3 rehtaF ruO "Child Sacrifice" from Boiled in Goat Blood (2000)
Thursday, January 04, 2007
As for style, every other sentence drips with the kind of affected toughness that contaminates the worst noirs. Sakey has obviously read his elders and betters, but he hasn't absorbed what it is that makes them good—moral ambiguity—and only regurgitates chunks of ultra-pasteurized clichés; it boggles the mind that he could be mentioned in the same breath as James Ellroy or even the overrated Dennis Lehane (has anybody praising him actually read his preposterous Shutter Island, from 2003?).
But perhaps it's Sakey's reading of his peers that's the problem. As he says on his website, "Mostly I read crime and lit-fic, but every now and then you gotta branch out" (this in regard to Philip Pullman's wonderful The Golden Compass). Well duh! No wonder Sakey's novel feels so limited: It draws not from life or fiction in general, but from a narrow sliver of fiction. As Gordon Ramsay would put it: Oh for fuck sake!
The saddest thing is that the Sheila and I were among only a handful of women at Joe's Pub yesterday. I can't even remember the last time I was in such an overwhelmingly male environment. Being surrounded by men isn't the sad thing, of course; no, what's sad is that women just don't seem to get into this kind of shows, even though it's hard to think of a more "empowering" (ahem) spectacle that Leslie Kritzer bringing down the house through pipes of steel and sheer star wattage. Ages ago I wrote a piece for The Village Voice about the lone condition of the show tune–loving lesbian. Things have not changed one bit, and I'll just say once again how much it pains me that lesbians still flock to the worst guitar-strummed, clichéd modes of female expression while ignoring the deliciously subversive wonders of the musical-theater world.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Just got an announcement that Elizabeth Marvel will participate in Classic Stage Company's reading series, the First Look Festival. This year it's dedicated to Chekhov, and Marvel will be one of the actors reading Three Sisters on February 12. Engrave this on your calendar, as any appearances by this most charismatic of performers must not be missed. Her Hedda Gabler (pictured) and her Blanche Dubois, both under the direction of Ivo Van Hove at New York Theater Workshop, are among the greatest performances of the past decade, and she manages to wring haunting moments from the most undercooked plays, like Terrorism or Dark Matters. I actually make it a point to see everything she does, and so should you.
Oh yeah, the rest of the First Look lineup ain't too shabby either: Kathleen Chalfant in The Cherry Orchard (January 22); Dianne Wiest, John Mahoney and Michael Stuhlbarg in The Seagull (January 29); Peter Dinklage in Uncle Vanya (February 5). This is why we live in New York, folks.