Monday, April 30, 2007

Tongue twister

For a regular fix of home, we French expats in New York tune to France 2's evening news, shown here at 7pm. They're even subtitled for monolingual American viewers who want to experience TV news utterly devoid of neckless sportscasters. Judging from this screen grab, Nicolas Sarkozy had a refreshingly candid moment. But alas, it turns out there was a mistake in that subtitle—and no, it wasn't the repetition of "that we can." Sarko was inviting the French to rally around him, but the translator took some liberties. While many would think he or she simply verbalized Sarko's implied thought, he/she is now out of a job.

As someone who's often translated and interpreted, I can testify to the everpresent temptation to fix something. I remember an instance, in particular, when I was interpreting for an American writer interviewing the director Leos Carax. It took an enormous amount of discipline to remain neutral and not tell that idiot he was squandering a golden opportunity: Carax obviously was ready to open up but the journo blithely went down his list of questions, never following up on the various leads Carax tantalizingly kept waving in front of him. How can you not follow up when a filmmaker says "Many things went terribly wrong on that shoot…"?!?

Ponder this as you play a few rounds of this Battle Royal (tip 'o the hat to my brother in Paris for sending the link).

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A sad little medium struggling to be heard

That sad little medium (to quote from the brilliant Canadian series Slings & Arrows, which I've belatedly discovered) is theater, of course. It's true that its voice can get lost in our current maelstrom of media offerings, but its potential wonders remain unmatched. Emphasis on potential here, because we all know you have to kiss a lot of frogs to chance upon a prince.

The latest batrachian I encountered was Aldo Perez's The Curse of the Mystic Renaldo The, which I caught Friday night at the brand-spanking-new 3 Legged Dog Theater. (I also saw Legally Blonde and LoveMusik over the weekend, but more on mastodons those later.) On the plus side, the production makes a genuine effort to develop a specific aesthetic drawing from silent movies, Dada and Richard Foreman—as a friend put it, it reeked of NYU's Experimental Theatre Wing. And it was gratifying to discover a genuine stage presence in Jenny Lee Mitchell, who moves with the precision of a screwball comedienne, possesses an impressive vocal range and even plays the clarinet. But Perez seems blissfully unaware that it's doubly hard to capture your audience's interest without a narrative: You have to compensate with ideas and visuals and soundscapes, not tired vaudevillian shtick, mugging and feeble dick jokes. But hey, those got laughs, and common wisdom has it that the customer's always right, so who am I to begrudge?

À propos of Slings & Arrows, it's obvious that the fictional New Burbage Festival theater where the series is set is inspired by Stratford, but I found it hard not to thing of BAM, especially in the third episode of the first season, when Mark McKinney's general manager escapes to a weekend in Toronto and discovers the delights of Mamma Mia! after a steady diet of mediocre Shakespeare at his own institution. There is such a thing as too much Bard, and BAM is running right into that wall.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Men with long, silky hair rule

I was bummed to miss Dimmu Borgir's show at Nokia—and I'm even more bummed now that I've read Steve Smith's account. Steve is dead right about the fact that hipsters tend to laugh at bombastic black metal and prefer BM when it's recorded on hissy 4-track by misanthropic loners with mommy issues. But while I do enjoy the latter subgenre, particularly when oozing out of Burzum, Draugar, Leviathan or Xasthur's nether regions, there's no denying that over-the-top BM is giddily enjoyable, as theatrically satisfying as classic disco and an evening at the Met. I particularly love reading liner notes that include references to recording with the Riga Symphony or whatever former communist orchestra is paying the bills by backing—through gritted teeth—metallers with Wagnerian ambitions.

At least a fair number of great metal bands is due to visit us: Celtic Frost opens for Type O Negative at Irving Plaza next week; a scary-looking bill including Watain and USBMers Nachtmystium hits BB King's on May 14; Immortal is at BB's July 13, followed there ten days later by Mayhem (not crazy about Attila Csihar being back at the mike but that's not reason enough for spurning an opportunity to see Mayhem) and by Taiwan's Chthonic on August 21. You could also add Emperor (June 1) to the list, though I saw them last year and don't feel a pressing need to repeat the experience, good as it was.

And while I'm on the metal tip, the label/distributor Ledo Takas, from Vilnius, now takes PayPal, considerably easing up the purchase of extreme music from the Baltic and Eastern European countries. I have a soft spot for Estonia's Loits and Obtest, a Lithunian outfit that delivers emphatic "war metal" (with, alas, the dubious politics that tend to accompany that genre).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tech-free at last

I saw in my very own magazine (well, the one I work for, not my property—which would be, I gather, this humble blog) that some people take their BlackBerry to the beach. Let me reassure you, dear readers, that I myself am getting ready to go to the beach, but you sure as hell won't hear from me for the next six days. Nope, I'm going off the grid, as the young, the eco-warriors and the survivalists say. (I have no idea where this came from, considering I don't belong to any of these three groups.) Okay, fine, so I may try to reach out and find a computer or television on Sunday to see the results of the French election, but that's it!

At least there will be tons to talk about when I return, not so much about the trip but about the avalanche of plays opening at the end of the month and early May. Hang tight, it's sure to be a very bumpy ride.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Charlotte 4 Ever

Three pieces in the new Time Out New York: a review of Charlotte Gainsbourg's album, 5:55; a review of Elizabeth Hand's latest novel, Generation Loss; and a blow-by-blow account of my shopping trip to the Mitsuwa mall in Edgewater, NJ.

In tribute to Gainsbourg père et fille, here's a cover of their infamous duet "Lemon Incest" (which liberally borrows from a Chopin piece) by the excellent Belgian duo Vive la Fête, aka Danny Mommens and Els Pynoo.

[fixed link] MP3 Vive la Fête "Lemon Incest" from République Populaire (2001)

And before I forget: Tune in to WNYC 93.9 FM tomorrow (Thursday 19) at 2pm. I'll be on Soundcheck to talk about one of my favorite subjects—the Eurovision Song Contest. The 2007 edition is only a few weeks away after all, and it's high time we figure out who'll be singing what in Helsinki.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Whimpering across the finish line

Braving a raging rainstorm, we caught Salvage, the third and final chapter of Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia yesterday afternoon. Hours and hours of Russian philosophizing, and what do we, the hardy audience members, get? A wet blanket of a play. A timid whimper. A soap opera that dares not speak its name.

Unlike the first two installments, which offered a variety of points of view within a motley group of (mostly) Russian characters, Salvage is dominated by one person; unfortunately, it happens to be played by Brían F. O'Byrne, in one of the most single-note performances I've ever seen. It's actually rather amazing to see an actor so steadfastly avoid any range over the course of so many hours. This was already germinating in Voyage and Shipwreck, but it's a lot worse in Salvage since there's nobody else to pick up the slack: The other men are reduced to bellowing gasbags (particularly Ethan Hawke's Bakunin) and the women pretty much disappear—the etch-a-sketch treatment awarded to Malwida von Meysenbug, played with very dry humor by Jennifer Ehle, is particularly irritating.

While Jack O'Brien did a decent job of staging this whale of a show (making me very curious to see his take on Puccini's Il Trittico at the Met next month), I never, over the course of nearly nine hours, felt the thrill of watching ideas in action—and yes, it can be thrilling to watch ideas ferment on stage. Come to think of it, I never felt the thrill of watching action, period. I can only shake my head in astonishment as to how little punch The Coast of Utopia packs.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The war at home only

Just got some advance promo for Ken Burns' new marathon doc, The War, coming to PBS in September ’07. The war in question is WWII, which is described on the package as "the greatest cataclysm in history." I won't argue with that. What really gets up my nose is that The War will portray said cataclysm "through the stories of ordinary people in four American towns."

Hey, Ken, it's not called World War II for nothing!

So does this mean the doc will only cover 1941–45, when America participated, or will it generously go for 1939–45, the dates taught in European schools? Or will it be 1937–45, when Japan attacked China? Hmmm, let's take a closer look at the press materials. The first episode is titled "A Necessary War: December 1941–December 1942." So it wasn't necessary before? It's not like the U.S. wasn't aware of what was going on in Europe and Asia, including things like the ongoing Shoah.

There's more: The series "explores the history and horror of the Second World War from an American perspective." But this doesn't mean America was not concerned by what was going on in 1937–39; the rest of the world was going up in flames and you think the US was oblivious? If Burns was insistent on focusing only on the US, it would have been great if an episode had been dedicated to the war's impact here before Pearl Harbor.

Okay, enough with the apoplectic episode. We'll return to our regular programming in the next installment.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The year of wishful thinking

Wishful thinking—the prosaic way to describe Joan Didion's magical thinking, and one I feel apply better to the play based on Didion's book of the same title. And that show is nothing if not prosaic. Actually, it's barely a show at all, which is quite something to say considering that it consists of a titan of the theater, Vanessa Redgrave, alone on stage for 100 minutes.

But Didion—who adapted her memoir—should have realized the endeavor is nothing but a live book on tape. David Hare's direction didn't help either; a lot of dramatic events are recounted at the Booth stage, but none happen on stage: There's nothing theatrical about what happens in The Year of Magical Thinking. Why not have Redgrave record the text so you can play it back at home? The difference in experience would be minimal, and at least you'd avoid the Booth's horrendous seats, which are even worse than flying coach on Cattlecar Air. The theater's owners have even done something egregiously abusive: In order to add a few seats to the orchestra, no aisle breaks up the first four rows or so; if you sit in the middle, it's a very long way to go over other people's legs if you want to exit.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Glass Theft Auto

The trailer for Grand Theft Auto 4 is out and…wow, could it be Philip Glass on the soundtrack?!? Not only do the visuals emulate Koyaanisqatsi, but so does the music. At first I wasn't sure if it was the doc's actual soundtrack—I haven't listened to it in years and at this point, a lot of Glass' music melds into one big blob in my mind. Thankfully, smarter people have found the similar footage in the game and the movie and posted it. I certainly hope GTA4 will use more Glass, because he's perfect for video games; I'm surprised he isn't used more, in fact.

As for GTA4 itself, it's set in New York and looks absolutely amazing. The trailer smartly doesn't show any proper gaming; if you've played GTA, which is only nominally about driving, you'll know it's an engulfing experience and accomplishing whatever mission you're given is almost secondary. My only regret is that I quickly get carsick—go ahead, laugh!—and I can't play for more than an hour or so. Which is probably a blessing in disguise, come to think of it.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Ségolène et Nicolas

Forty percent of French voters are still undecided and the presidential election's first round is less than two weeks away. At least Caen reggaeman (I never thought I'd ever type the words Caen and reggaeman in the same sentence) Khalifa is hitting both leading candidates equally in his song "Ségolène et Nicolas." That would be Royal and Sarkozy, respectively, in case you haven't been following this soap opera. They have pretty amazing rhythm sections in Normandy, uh? No wonder: It's Sly and Robbie.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Meet my PEN pals

PEN's World Voices festival, on April 24–29, is a rare chance to see/meet/hear non-English and non-American writers in New York. (You'd think this shouldn't be such a rare occurrence in this cosmopolitan city of ours, but the state of translation in the US is pretty pathetic.) Anyway, some of the groupings are intriguing. What to expect, from instance, from a reading including Miranda July, Eric Bogosian and Algerian noir auteur Yasmina Khadra on April 28? Will I suddenly sprout the gift of ubiquity so I can go to the panel on literary thrillers with Vladimir Sorokin and Jean Echenoz that same day? And some of these writers are pretty damn busy: Alain Mabanckou is listed as participating in four events, as is Khadra (including a great-sounding panel on Mediterranean thrillers with Massimo Carlotto and Carlo Lucarelli).

Still, I can't help but whip out my red editor's pen. PEN dedicates a section to translation, something close to my heart for obvious reasons. Among other things, it includes the titles of non-English novels that deserve to be translated or are out of print in English. Amélie Nothomb's last name is misspelled twice by the very person who recommends her. Pretty scary, considering the books are nominated by PEN members.

All right, enough with the petty hating: Despite its establishment timidity, I love PEN, really I do! So let's end this post with a special shout-out to all my PEN peeps and their new prez, the stone-cold fox (librarian division) known as Francine Prose! Go Licky!

MP3 Larry Tee featuring Princess Superstar "Licky (Hervé Goes Low Mix)"

Thanks to my colleague Bruce Tantum for alerting me—and all Time Out New York readers, for that matter—to this awesome track.

Fergie time is all the time

My love for Stacey Ferguson is no mystery. I know many rejoiced when she went under—way under—in Poseidon, but I was sorry when she met her aquatic demise. The only way I could have been sorrier is if Gwen Stefani had played that part (but no, she was slumming in some movie called Aviator by that washed-out Oscar winner, Martin Scorsese). Anyway, Fergie keeps getting better and better.

First, there was the cover of "9 to 5" with Charlotte Church (who masochistically books guests who often upstage her on her TV show—just remember the instaclassic version of "Beat It" with a totally trashed Amy Winehouse).

Now, Kevipod's Music has posted a two-minute excerpt from "Impacto," an upcoming track by reggaetón king Daddy Yankee on which Fergie does a featuring. It's only April and the rip's sound quality is pretty bad, but I smell a summer hit.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Hellz Bellz

If you went to college in Paris in the ’80s, as I did, a rite of passage was to go see Hellzapoppin'. That nuttoid 1941 movie played constantly, usually at the Action Rive Gauche theater, and it was obligatory viewing for budding cinephiles. I haven't seen it in more than 20 years because the flick's fairly unknown in the U.S., a situation not helped by its unavailability on DVD (something to do with rights, I gather). Lucky for us New Yorkers, Anthology Film Archives has scheduled a rare screening of Hellzapoppin' for Saturday 7 at 7:3opm. I'd like to think the place will be packed with throngs of Hellzafans, but maybe I'm deluded.

Someone helpfully posted the film's first nine minutes on Youtube, which should give you an idea of the meta-mayhem that is Hellzapoppin'. Based on a Broadway revue, the movie recycles the show's stars and writers, Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson, and basically consists of rapid-fire Borscht Belt chaos that makes the Marx Brothers look sedate. Add at least one totally fanfriggingtastic dance number by Whitey's Lindy Hoppers (aka the Harlem Congaroos), the vaudeville charms of Martha Raye, adored second banana Mischa Auer, and you have one of the most bizarre comedies ever to come out of America—even if purists gripe, of course, that the stage version was crazier, seeing as it did not even bother with a plot (that reactionary invention foisted on cinema by Hollywood hacks, as we all know).

Monday, April 02, 2007

Support the Beeb!

Nah, not the BBC but the upcoming stage adaptation of Ann Bannon's pulp novel Beebo Brinker. I mentioned this cool project a little while ago, and now a fundraising event has been announced. Go there to sign up.

And while we're on a girly bent: I went to the Brooklyn Museum to check out its new exhibit, Global Feminisms, along with Judy Chicago's Dinner Party (pictured above). As far as the contemporary works go, I was underwhelmed by a certain lack of emphasis on craft (my own personal hangup there); I might have been more impressed if a larger share of the artists had payed less attention to their high-minded statements of intent and more to the art itself. In addition, is it politically and artistically a good idea for the museum to have a new Center for Feminist Art? Personally I'd prefer it if female artists were referred to as just artists, without being circumscribed to their own little section; it reeks too much of sitting at the back of the bus for my taste.

Overall I'm glad The Dinner Party exists and I'm glad I saw it, but I can't say I have much patience for the piece's wide-eyed womonly worship or for its palette (pinks and purples, oh my). The increasing outlandishness of the vulvae that decorate the dinner plates is amusing—I especially liked the one that looks like the egg right before the face-hugger jumps out of it in Alien—but overall the emphasis on women's nature as nurturers bugs the hell out of me. (Less vulvae, more Saabs, I say. Ba-dum-bump! Thank you, I'll be here all week!) By the end, our merry little band found itself looking for more guests to invite to the party—Angie Dickinson, Kathleen Hanna and Shane came up, but also Imelda Marcos, Ethel Merman and Eva Peron.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

We are vampires

What better way to unwind after an exhausting Saturday afternoon shopping at Century 21 (in Bay Ridge, of course, where untouched racks of Ted Baker and Ben Sherman shirts await) than listening to French public radio on podcast? Even better: One of my favorites shows—Kathleen Evin's usually sedate L'humeur vagabonde—ran into a highly entertaining glitch called Jeanne Balibar.

Balibar is a French actress with an immediately identifiable voice (not unlike that of Delphine Seyrig) and immediately identifiable intellectual aspirations (inherited perhaps from her philosophy professor of a father, Etienne Balibar, a disciple of Louis Althusser). She currently stars in Jacques Rivette's latest, Ne touchez pas la hache, a Balzac adaptation.

Evin, who liked the film, invited Rivette to discuss it; he took three weeks to decide that he didn't want to plug his flick on the radio, and so Balibar was dispatched on the promo front. Her segment would be prerecorded by one of Evin's producers then played on the air.

Balibar proceeded to show up late at the hotel room where the interview took place, wore dark glasses the entire time, and responded to questions not only grudgingly, but in a voice dripping with resentment and condescension. When the taped segment ended, Evin explained that it was all the journalist's fault: Balibar was cross because she had been prevented from smoking. But of course!

Here's a translation of some choice moments:

Asked if she had to be particularly precise when dealing with Balzac's text: "You must always be precise when you claim to give the public something artistic."

But how did she approach that particular text? "As usual, with the precision that is always mine, whether there are words or not. Burlesque and silence require as much precision as when there is language. I detest the beautiful, I only love the corrosive. What is beautiful is what Rivette and Balzac do: steel against steel."

How did she work with costar Guillaume Depardieu? "Guillaume and I are animals, wolves, vampires. Each of us howls to death when there's a full moon. That's why we made this movie together. I built the scenes around Guillaume, so you could see that magnificent soul. I literally did that: I built the language around him, the body around him, the movements around him. That's what I suggested to Rivette."

Evin, back in the studio: "We'll wish her a good vacation—I think she needs some rest."

And because I just can't get enough Balibarisms, here are a couple of excerpts from her first album (yes, la Balibar sings, too).
MP3 Jeanne Balibar "Johnny Guitar" from Paramour (2003)
MP3 Jeanne Balibar and Maggie Cheung "Hélas" from Paramour (2003)