Archive for the ‘Lively Arts’ Category

Gotham Diary:
Roses
19 March 2012

Monday, March 19th, 2012

A piece of music that I have known well for most of my life (as who hasn’t, I’m inclined to ask), Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, was transformed for me on Saturday afternoon by Paul Taylor’s choreography for Roses, a ballet that we hadn’t seen before. This is Taylor at his most pastoral and elegaic. I’m embarrassed to say that I see the dancers, in retrospect, at rest, not in motion, but I also remember that there was nothing at all static about it. I was peaceably engulfed, at one moment, by the notion that Roses embodies everything that is precious to me about life, and that therefore it would make a fitting memorial, if one were wanted. Talk about pastoral! Now that I think of it, though, Roses does convey something of the tender loss that abides in all the great Poussin canvases.

The other dances on the program were Gossamer Gallants, and Promethean Fire. Gossamer Gallants, a crowd-pleaser but pleasant withal, is the sort of thing that makes serious dance fans frown down their lorgnettes at Paul Taylor. I didn’t much care for the insect headdresses that the boys wore (it made them look like early airplane pilots or, alternatively, peasants in Breughel), nor for the wings worn by everyone, but I enjoyed the swarming animal enthusiasm of the piece. What we have here, to the tune of chestnuts from The Bartered Bride, is the birds and bees minus the birds. The girls shimmy their hips, play with their springy antennae, and form a lovely desultory kick line at the end. The boys begin hungry and eager, but end up cowed and defeated. You’re reminded of the insect species of which the males do not survive the reproductive process. Perpend. Promethean Fire is a grand ballet, despite its grandiose name, which hitherto had induced me to buy tickets for programs on which it didn’t appear. It’s so good, in fact, that I swallowed my severe distaste for Leopold Stokowski’s ponderous Bachestrations, to which Taylor responds with an expert essay in structure and decomposition. There’s an extremely intriguing moment, repeated twice I think, in which the dancers each appear to be emerging from a stationary mob, but of course no one is stationary.

The Paul Taylor Dance Company is an ensemble of individuals; there is no distinction between principals and corps. It doesn’t take long to recognize the dancers, and by the third season they’re as familiar as friends. This makes writing about them difficult. You can say all the obvious things about Michael Trusnovec or Laura Halzack or Kathleen’s new favorite, Parisa Khobdeh, but quite aside from the fact that such remarks aren’t going to mean a thing to readers who haven’t seen these virtuosos dance, they don’t capture what you want to say, which is really rather foolish and personal. There is a rigor about Paul Taylor that reminds us that the dancers, whatever their private lives, exist for us on stage only; ideally, no one would know anything about them when they weren’t in costume. Anyone who has looked into Taylor’s autobiography, Private Domain, will know what I’m talking about. On the whole, his dances are so compelling that the mind does not too often wander into irrelevancies.

***

I’m very unhappy about the Dharun Ravi conviction, and I hope that it will be overturned on appeal. It’s what lawyers call a bad case, which was already evident in Ravi’s counsel’s rejection of the plea bargain. Extremely conservative when it comes to the making of laws — there can’t be too few, in my book — I have no time for the singling out of “hate” crimes, which, as here, seem to distort a proper view of causation. Call the defendant what you like, it was established to my satisfaction, by Ian Parker’s account in The New Yorker, that the role of his silly prank in Tyler Clementi’s decision to commit suicide was immaterial at best. Dharun Ravi has been punished for treating his late roommate with political incorrectness, and no one else has been punished. This seems very wrong. Rutgers University and Tyler Clementi’s parents are, to my mind, far more culpable — they were the adults in Tyler’s life, but they were useless to him. Dharun Ravi, for his part, was expected to figure out his responsibilities on his own. He may be a jerk, but I feel deeply sorry for him.

Moviegoing:
Super 8
Friday, 10 June 2011

Friday, June 10th, 2011

J J Abrams’s Super 8 is a pleasant summer movie. It’s pleasant largely because its two young stars, Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney, are not only engaging but engaging in the same way as two older actors, Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman. Whether there’s a facial resemblance I won’t claim, but Ms Fanning has Ms Kidnman’s ability to make passionate outburst look like the natural consequence of steely reserve, while Mr Courtney has Mr Bateman’s modest but genially attentive charm. The sense of kids playing at being movie stars is of course enhanced by the fact that their characters are making a movie — a zombie movie shot in Super 8 film (Mr Abrams’s film is set in 1979). You can watch Super 8, in fact, as a movie about moviemaking, ignore the Spielbergian science fiction story altogether, and have a perfectly good time. I’ll let you do the unpacking. Let’s just say that watching Charles, an enthusiastic, power-mad fifteen year-old would-be auteur (Riley Griffiths), run around exclaiming an urgent need for and ecstatic appreciation of “Production Values!” is going to be more of a treat for viewers who have actually considered  the movies than it’s going to be for those who haven’t. (The more I think about this kid’s chutzpah, the more I’m put in mind of Charles Laughton.)

Mr Abrams is to be congratulated for cloaking his movie in the Aura of Spielberg without suffocating it. It may be that he is simply the better director of actors. The pressboard clichés of Steven Spielberg’s Mittelamerika are all on display. We have a slightly dumpy and sad Ohio manufacturing town that doesn’t know what’s going to hit it — the visitor from outer space will be a benign memory once the offshoring and shuttering starts. We have perfectly nice, normal Americans, complete with their domesticated hostilities about patriarchy and propriety. We have a hero whose mother died in a factory accident the winter before the story gets going. We have a heroine whose mother abandoned her to the care of her shiftless, long-haired father (Ron Eldard, made up to resemble, very spookily, Gérard Depardieu — more references!). We have the overweight Charles, one of ten or fifteen children in a happily chaotic home overseen by a can-do mom (Jessica Tuck). The hero lives with his deputy sheriff stepfather (Kyle Chandler) in the nicer part of town, which wouldn’t be the nicer part of any village in Westchester, while the heroine lives in a more rackety pile that’s reminiscent of New England mill towns. In the climax, the town is destroyed —so maybe its citizens won’t suffer the onslaught of globalization, after all. The important thing is that the hero and the sheriff share a warmly heartfelt embrace at the finish. If the production values of Super 8 were a font, we would call it Spielberg Vernacular Bold.

The town is destroyed by special forces of I forget which branch of the armed services; Air Force probably. It would be misleading to say that Super 8 resounds with echoes of Sixties-era countercultural loathing for the military, because the sounds that you hear are much, much  louder than echoes. The special forces, headed by a tall silent type with bad skin played by Noah Emmerich, are the film’s bad guys. They will stop at nothing to prevent a brachyurous alien of nightmarish allure but superhuman intelligence from repairing its space ship and, like ET, going home. It is not its fault that the weaponry aimed in its direction misfires and destroys the town; it is only acting in self-defense. Mr Abrams insures that the creature’s final departure is a glittering, almost hypnotizing bit of Las Vegas glitz, leaving behind a wreckage of microwave ovens, console television sets, and too-large automobiles that no sane person would want anyway. If the creature does have an unfortunate habit of sustaining itself on a diet of humans, that’s just a gentle parallel of the kids’ zombie movie — which is shown in its entirety during the final credits, so sit still after the happy ending.

Super 8 may unfold in a thoroughly predictable manner, but then so does Midnight in Paris; in both cases, the unfolding is expert. As a Manhattanite, I have a thoroughly predictable preference for Woody Allen’s Gotham Comic Sans, but I had a good time at Super 8, and if you have ever thought about why you like going to the movies, you will, too.

Gotham Diary:
Magic
Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

This will be brief — I’m not good for much today. The fusebox was upgraded this morning, in an absolutely painless operation that took about forty minutes at the most. I managed to follow instructions about turning things off and then turning them back on again, and you’d never know that the power was out for a spell. If you checked my blood for traces of stressed-out levels of cortisol, however, you might gather that I was anxious about something. For five minutes this morning, making the bed, I wished I were dead, and no longer subject to contingencies. Meanwhile, a cold front is moving in, which is only making things sultrier; apparently, we’re in for an evening of storms — and drier weather tomorrow. Hallelujah! 

If I’d put in an honest day’s work, I’d have tried a more substantial paragraph or two about Midnight in Paris, because I want to propose that we consider Woody Allen more as a magician specializing in delight than a comedian specializing in laughs. Yesterday, I wrote about the idea for a movie that Gil Pender shares with Luis Buñuel — a one-line concept that we smarty-pants in the audience know will blossom into Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie. The joke is so elegantly presented (and this is what Woody Allen’s magic is all about) that we don’t stop to think how unnecessary it is for Gil to buttonhole the filmmaker with his idea. Gil knows, after all, that the film has been made; he has undoubtedly seen it many times (he’s a scriptwriter). He might as well save his breath. But the whole business is over long before this conundrum can tempt us into a headachy tangle of metaphysical speculations about causation. We’re not watching Gil; we’re not thinking his thoughts. We’re watching Buñuel shrug as he tries, without immediate success, to make sense of Gil’s idea. The cinematic actuality — Allen’s sleight of hand — is that it might never have occurred to Buñuel to make Le Charme discret, if he hadn’t been given the idea by a strange American visiting from the future. This is no more plausible, when looked at, than the whole confection of Midnight in Paris: the sequence of Gil Pender’s evenings in 1920s Paris. The minute you start thinking about what’s going on in this movie, the spell is as broken as Cinderella’s slipper. But Woody Allen makes sure that you don’t. I’ve said that he’s a magician, but his magic wand is the comedian’s most indispensable tool: an impeccable sense of timing. And even when you can see the timing (and you can; Allen hides nothing), it still works. 

I gave up hunting through my CD library for Sidney Bechet’s “Si Tu Vois Ma   Mère,” the film’s signature tune that plays the same role as Rhapsody in Blue in Manhattan, and just bought a copy of the song from iTunes. And I’m glad I did. If
I squint, it brings Marion Cotillard into my living room. By the way, I know that Cinderella’s slipper doesn’t break. Neither does Woody Allen’s spell.

Gotham Diary:
Going with the Flow
Will and Water; Paul Taylor at City Center

Monday, March 7th, 2011


Photo by Kathleen Moriarty

Until last Thursday, Kathleen and I were planning to go to Venice in September, to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Some time ago, concluding from the debris of our junked plans to visit Italy for the first time, that we’d never get there until we narrowed our ambitions to a few days spent in one city or the other, I’d asked Kathleen to choose between Venice and Rome, and she chose Venice. But on Thursday, she changed her mind in favor of another island, this one much closer to home. At dinner, Megan had said that she would like Will to spend some time on Fire Island this summer. What a nice idea, I thought — but I mentioned that Kathleen was already busy planning Venice (as well as a business trip to Amsterdam in May).

Little did I know. When Kathleen got home from a bar association meeting, I told her Megan’s wish, and she got right online and scouted the offerings for a few hours. Before we went to bed, she had four very attractive rentals in mind. The next morning, Kathleen decided that what she wanted in the way of an anniversary present was not a few days in Venice but a month of weekends (at least) with Will and his parents, on a beach where she’d been very happy as a child. The glamorous pleasure of top-drawer sightseeing in a distant Oz was replaced by the richer one of extended family time on a local sand bar. If I’m a bit wistful about Venice, it’s probably because I don’t have to travel there, not for the moment, anyway. And a month on Fire Island is actually more fun to look forward to. 

We change our plans fairly regularly in this household, which is why I avoid mentioning them. I was looking forward all week to Paul Taylor on Saturday. I’d had the bright idea of making a day of it, and seeing both a matinee and an evening show. It did not threaten to be an ordeal; in the three hours between the events, we’d do some shopping and have an early dinner. And that’s exactly what happened; it couldn’t have been simpler. When the matinee was over, we cut through the arcade that runs for four blocks south of 55th Street to 52nd Street, where there’s a men’s clothing shop that I like and that is never open when I’m in that part of town; and then we went to Cognac, where we enjoyed a very leisurely meal. Instead of shooting back to City Center, we walked up a bit to Carnegie Hall, so that I could take some photographs that I might use as  decoration here. The second show let out at about ten, and we dashed for a taxi. We were home by 10:20, exhilarated but nicely exhausted as well, our brains still popping from the day’s workout. 

No doubt because I happen to be reading James’s Gleick’s The Information, I’m seeing and recalling Paul Taylor’s dances as fountains of information — fountains as fancily up-to-date as Mark Fuller’s celebrated installation at Lincoln Center. No: fancier. Most information that we process as such comes to us in streams that are comprehensible because they’re filtered according to overall expectations. Within the context of dancers moving voicelessly, Taylor tells us a lot of things that we don’t expect to hear, not in the order in which we hear them. A good deal of it looks meaninglessly decorative, but if we suspect that this appearance is misleading, that’s because the vocabulary of movement, no matter how wide-ranging, is coherent. What seems decorative or unintelligible is as much a part of the story being told as the bits that we easily get (fists shaken at heaven, for example, in The Word, or in the very different Phantasmagoria). Taylor tells his stories in his own kind of time; it is not the linear sequence of narrative but something more neural. Meaning often feels short-circuited, as if too much information were being pushed through too narrow a pipeline; and yet this effect always seems quite calmly planned. A lot of information is addressed to parts of my brain that know nothing of logic or history. I don’t know if I’ll ever put much of it to use, but I enjoy taking it in. 

We very much liked four of the six dances that we saw, including one of the premieres, Three Dubious Memories. This dance, which Alistair Macaulay didn’t much like, overtly foregrounds three little love stories, involving a man in green, a man in blue, and a woman in red (Robert Kleinendorst, Sean Mahoney, and Amy Young); and in each iteration the point of view is that of the exluded lover. Behind them, however, a chorus, dressed in grey (and led by James Samson), plays out a larger drama that is not so easily grasped. Indeed, this dance subverts the very idea of a chorus. Here, the chorus does not comment responsively on the colorful romances but rather it resists them, as if to remind us that life is more complex than boy-meets-girl. The choristers warn, they agonize, they resign themselves. They even try out the lovers’ gestures, but experimentally, not reflectively. The lovers, for their part, ignore the chorus, and their movement is designed to look spontaneous. The effect is oddly like that of a Bach chorale, with a steady, singable tune cutting through highly worked, almost complicated counterpoint. 

I must say a word about Company B, which is set to pop songs sung mostly by the Andrews Sisters but in two instances by Patti Andrews alone. Santo Loquasto’s costumes, always interesting, are here truly superb: clothed in generously-cut, pale-colored outfits laced with bright red belts, the dancers are animated by a period ease recognizable from the old movies; but unlike the studios, Paul Taylor does not want you to forget that this is a ballet set in war time. At the end of his number, the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B (Robert Kleinendorst) falls dead under fire. It is a moment, as they used to say, of great pathos.

The Paul Taylor Dance Company is made up of sixteen dancers, some of them starrier than others. Everybody gets a chance to shine, but some manage, by whatever theatrical alchemy, to make more of the opportunity. The tension between dancers’ distinct personalities and their mastery of the common Taylor idiom is one of the company’s wellsprings of excitement. The wonderful Annmaria Mazzini danced her last season with the company this go-round, but she leaves behind three full-blooded peers in Amy Young, Parisa Khobdeh, and Laura Halzack. It’s harder to foresee what the inevitable loss of Michael Trusnovec, the company’s senior dancer, will do to the make-up. The only dancer to remind me of him is the most junior, Michael Novak; both are sly understaters who pull of the stunt of making a complete spectacle of art concealing art.

Robert Kleinendorst, on the contrary, is a virtuoso on the lines of Robert Downey, Jr or Johnny Depp; morsels of the scenery are always disappearing into his brilliant smile. In her nice reflection on Paul Taylor and this season’s performances, Gia Kourlas calls James Sansom “rigorous,” and this seems just right, if not the whole story; in Company B, donning a pair of horn-rim spectacles, Mr Sansom teases the girls in “Oh Johnny Oh!” so bewitchingly that Laura Halzack walks away spouting a spoken line: “Oh, phooey!” Of Ms Halzack, Kourlas writes, “Laura Halzack is the most versatile and beautiful company member: versatile because she’s not afraid to appear uncomely, and beautiful because she has a sense of humor,” and that seems just, too, except that, er, Laura Halzack is beautiful.

Sunday was a wet and gloomy day, and sensible people everywhere stayed at home. But Kathleen and I ventured forth to take Will for his Sunday walk, which may or may not delight him but which gives his parents an hour or so of precious time to themselves. At Tomkins Square Park, the very air was sodden, and there could be no thought of sitting on a bench of putting Will in the swings. What Will did want to do was to splash his hands in the small puddles that accumulated on the railing surrounding the dog run. He was very entertained when Kathleen flicked at the water herself, sending it flying. (This turned out to be a trick that I could not pull off.) We pushed on toward Third Avenue and the St Mark Bookshop, our usual turning point. Back in the literature shelves, an attractive Japanese woman asked with great decorousness if she could take a picture of the “cute” little boy. When she had done so, she petted Will lightly on the shoulder and murmured “arigato.” Kathleen decided that the woman must have been as surprised by a child’s being carried by a man as she was delighted by Will’s appearance, but I wonder if this is entirely fair.  

Moviegoing: Harry Brown

Friday, May 14th, 2010

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Possibly because Michael Caine referred repeatedly to Gran Torino in a recent Talk of the Town item, I expected Harry Brown to be a very different picture from the one that I saw this afternoon. The actual movie is far more interesting, more engaging, and even more beautiful. It was vastly less noisy and explosive, and there was none of that “Make my day!” fury that Clint Eastwood gives off like the heat of a sun-baked sedan. The first third — perhaps the first half — of Harry Brown is extraordinarily quiet, right out there with the meditations of Ingmar Bergman for contained feelings.

Harry Brown becomes a widower early in the movie; a daughter died years ago, in childhood. Harry’s only companion is Len Attwell (David Bradley), another resident of the council estate that has seen better days and that has been terrorized by thugs and drugs. Lynn, whose flat overlooks the subway (underpass) entrance where the boys hang out, has evidently had more than a few rude encounters, culminating in a smoky blob of burning matter pushed through his letterbox. Len tries to enlicit Harry’s support in an unspecified bit of vigilantism, but Harry very calmly tells Len that, when he got married, he boxed up his memories of serving in the Royal Marines in Ulster, and is no longer a fighting man. Exasperated, Len assaults the gang with a bayonet. He does not survive the incident. Harry finds out when DI Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer) and DS Terry Hicock (Charlie Creed-Miles) pay a call.

The dreariness of these scenes is visually unrelieved, but it is redeemed by Harry’s palpable mindfulness, and by Alice’s not very hopeful conviction that the police ought to do a better job of protecting people like Len. (Alice’s personal gravity makes her almost unsuitable for police work — one can imagine Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison losing her patience with this woman.) The camera shots are so beautifully composed that they transfigure the sepia-toned environment in which Harry spends his days and nights. Mr Caine is at times part of this decor; his eyes, once scornful pits in a smooth face, brim with a vitality that has nothing to do with “twinkling.”

The violence, once it starts, is both thrillingly imaginative and wholly unpredictable. Suffice it to say that Harry knows how to unbox what he learned in the marines with thorough dispatch.

Out and About: What I'm Talking About When I'm Talking About Music

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

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There’s a first for eveything: saying this is how we package experiences that we’d never imagined.

I went to Carnegie Hall this evening to hear an Orpheus Chamber Orchestra concert, the last of the season. The beautiful performances were not, as you can well imagine, the new experience. On the program were Stravinsky’s Octet for winds, Bruch’s First (and only famous) Violin Concerto, and Beethoven’s Second. If you have to ask, “Second what?”, send me an email.

There were two new experiences, although they were both of one kind. In the first, I listened to Stravinsky’s very playful chamber music as if my grandson Will were on my knee. Rationally, I understand that the music would not have appealed to any four month-old baby. Stravinsky did a good job of tempting me to think otherwise. Even Kathleen thought so.

Then, at beginning of the slow movement of the Bruch, Ryu Goto’s stroke of firm crescendo was as gentle as my grandson’s skin. That is really what I thought as I heard the sound — a first in my long history of responses to music. Skin!

If Orpheus’s performance of Beethoven’s Second failed to rouse any reminders of Will, that’s undoubtedly because I’d had a very early lunch, and nothing to eat since. Just at the time when I’d ordinarily be enjoying an afternoon snack, I was in a taxi bound for Will’s house in Alphabet City. His father was taking his first business trip qua pops, and his mother, I thought, could use a few moments of supporting staff. So I popped into a taxi, in tie and blazer, daring to be spit up upon (Will rose to the challenge!), and spent an hour with mother and child before heading uptown. I was so freaked about the uncertainty of snagging taxis that I arrived and departed early. I’m sure that I was of no real help to Megan at all. I’ll try to make up for that tomorrow.

But “they can’t take that away from me”: the memory of a smile that makes life not so much worth living as simply imperative.

Dear Diary: The Truth About Churchill

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

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Watching DVDs in the middle of the day is usually a bad idea, but I was dying to see Peter Richardson’s Churchill: The Hollywood Years, a movie that to the best of my knowledge has never been shown on this side of the Atlantic. The premise of the farce is that, far from being a portly, middle-aged gent with a plummy English voice, Winston Churchill was a studly American Marine. With the brave, romantic aid of Princess Lilibet, this swaggering action hero squelched the occupation of Buckingham Palace by Hitler, Goering, and Goebbels. Then he flew off into the Battle of Britain and died a hero’s death. (Not shown.)

Even with Christian Slater as Churchill, the romp is nowhere near as bad as you might think. Harry Enfield’s George VI is an atomic hoot, trust me. Antony Sher and Miranda Richardson completely refresh the look and feel of the funny-Adolf-and-Eva shtick. Jessica Oyelowo plays Princess Margaret as if she were Ava Gardner — let’s see more of her! The nicest performance, though is the one that points, inadvertently, to precisely what’s missing from Churchill. Every once in a while, Neve Campbell seems about to burst out of her Princess Elizabeth impersonation and into a fit of giggles. This makes you remember The Carol Burnett Show.

What made the sketches in Carol Burnett so much funnier than anything that anybody had ever seen before was the principal performers’ bold but somehow helpless flirtation with Losing It. The jokes were completely trumped by the agony crimped into the faces of Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, and Vicki Carr as they struggled not to break character and laugh their heads off.

The rule against spluttering laughter on stage is dictated by the quality of the comedy. If there’s no quality, there’s no rule. The Carol Burnett troupe turned this around. Their trembling jaws signaled their awareness that they were putting on tripe, but the signal itself transmuted “acting” into “improvisation” — even though, for all we know, the breakdowns were as rehearsed as the blocking.

Christian Slater’s problem, in Churchill: The Hollywood Years, is that he’s aware that his comic-book antics and shoot-em-up bravado are ridiculous. Aside from a few almost unwatchable “sincere” shots, he smirks his way through the entire picture. But it’s not the right smirk. It’s the smirk of the Big Man on Campus who’s being required by the Dean of Students to do something un-cool. Hey, his smirk says, I’m only going through the motions here. Think Eddie Haskell.

Carol Burnett never smirked. She threw herself into her preposterous roles with with the passion of an operatic diva. So did Harvey Korman. They vied for preposterousness. It was inevitable that one of them would sooner or later surprise the other with a stupendously preposterous bit, causing the predictable audience reaction right up close. (I seem to recall that Korman had a knack for strutting so strenuously that he would flub his lines — a doubly whammy for his colleagues.) Harold Bloom might say that our laughter is overdetermined.

Churchill: The Hollywood Years left a mystery in its wake: would it be best to watch it before Inglourious Basterds or after? See what Mr Teasy-Weasy does with the Führer’s hair before you answer that one.

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

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¶ Matins: In his review of Tyler Cowen’s Create Your Own Economy, Austin Frakt touches on what makes our working day possible. (Incidental Economist; via Marginal Revolution)

¶ Lauds: How Terry Gilliam completed The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus after Heath Ledger’s death. It wasn’t just technical. (Speakeasy)

¶ Prime: David Segal’s update on the failure to reform the ratings-agency biz in any meaningful way suggests that the conflict has little to do with lobbying (for once) but reveals a clash of visions, between bold (reckless) and cautious (ineffective). (NYT)

¶ Tierce: Bad as “fast food” is, it may be safer than the stuff that the government provides to school cafeterias. (Good)

¶ Sext: Does Mo’Nique really want that Best-Supporting-Actress Oscar? She sure sounds new to the Industry. (And the Winner Is…; via Arts Journal)

¶ Nones: The opera buffa in Honduras too a turn for the seriously dramatic on Tuesday, with the assassination General Julian Aristides Gonzalez, the Honduran drug czar. The crime opens a window on our view of the local economy. (BBC News)

¶ Vespers: Christopher Tayler (of the Guardian) visits Sir Frank Kermode on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday. (via The Second Pass)

¶ Compline: They all laughed… but everybody’s looking at Roadtown now. (treehugger; via Good)

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, December 4th, 2009

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¶ Matins: In an extremely thoughtful piece that may alter the grain of your thought — or, as it our case, highlight the way in which you’re already inclined to think — Tony Judt asks us to consider why it is that, in the Anglophone world, we reduce all political questions to economic equations. He proposes a very persuasive, historically-bound answer to the question. Don’t miss it. (NYRB)

¶ Lauds: Judith Jamison is looking to trade in “artistic director” for, perhaps, “Queen.” Those of us who were lucky enough to see her dance Revelations know just how aptly that very popular ballet is titled. (New York; via Arts Journal)

¶ Prime: As the giving season is upon us, Tim Ogden plans a series of blog entries about the dangers of evaluating charities by overhead alone. (Philanthropy Action; via Felix Salmon)

¶ Tierce: Melissa Lafsky urges us to stop trying to get more women to ride bicycles in urban areas, and focus instead upon making biking a lot safer than it is. (The Infrastructurist)

¶ Sext: The things that Choire Sicha digs up on the Internets! From a blog called firmuhment, a thoroughly wicked “imagineering” of Zac Efron’s newfound, post-Orson intellectual sophistication. (via The Awl)

¶ Nones: More Honduran predictability: the Congress declined, by a very large margin, to re-instate Manuel Zelaya in office for the weeks that remain to his term. The voting, 111-14 against Mr Zelaya, suggests that the ousted president is not a character worth fighting for. (NYT)

¶ Vespers: In a backlist assessment that has the whole town talking, Natalia Antonova convinces us that she loves Vladimir Nabokov’s best-known book not in spite of her history as the victim of abuse but because of it. (The Second Pass)

¶ Compline: Because it’s the weekend, we offer Ron Rosenbaum’s long and “Mysterian” query about consciousness and other unsolved mysteries as a way of killing time in the event of any dominical longueurs. Although we agree with his assessment of the the “facts” (ie questions), we do not, so to speak, share his affect.

While we recognize — insist! — that the universe remains profoundly mysterious, it doesn’t bother us in the least, because, really, it’s much too interesting to live with the mysteries that aren’t so profound. The profundity that Mr Rosenbaum highlights for us is the connection between adolescence and all forms of metaphysics. (Slate; via Arts Journal)

¶ Bon weekend à tous!

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, November 27th, 2009

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¶ Matins: On the banks of a faraway sea, Muscato connects.

¶ Lauds: Terry Teachout really likes The Starry Messenger, Kenneth Lonergan’s new play. As the author of a hit book at the moment, Mr Teachout is probably going to garnish somewhat more attention than he might otherwise do. Bravo!

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon finds a great chart illustrating the debt of Dubai.

¶ Tierce: Why the United States is even more medieval than the Holy Roman Empire, and has been, since FDR at least. (Letters of Note).

¶ Sext:  If there was ever proof that this is not one country indivisible under God, it’s in the food. (NYT)

¶ Nones: We thought that the Irish priest problem was dealt with ages ago. Apparently not. My good Catholic wife is mad as hell at Benedict XVI, and contrapuntally so. First, of course, this ought to have never happened. Second, what a distraction it all is from caring for the poor and hungry.

¶ Vespers:  Christopher Tayler says that Stefanie Marsh’s interview with James Ellroy “is a minor classic of the genre” — doubtless because Ellroy himself will never be major. (TimesOnline; via LRB).

¶ Compline: New cases of AIDS are down this year by 17%. With all the other stuff going on in the world, let’s not forget the pain and strife. It’s still a terrible shock. (Short Sharp Science)

Bon weekend à tous!

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, November 20th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Is Bob Cringely mad? His vision of the future, “Pictures in Our Heads” — well you can see where he’s going. (“And the way we’ll shortly communicate with our devices, I predict, will be through our thoughts.”) But it’s the beginning of the entry that caught our eye. The power of Mr Cringely’s assumption (with which we’re ever more inclined to agree), that the iPhone/iTouch is today’s seminal device, from which everything in the future will somehow flow, seems to mark a moment.

¶ Lauds: Isaac Butler outlines just how very hard it is to apportion praise and blame in the highly collaborative atmosphere of the theatre. Mr Butler winds up by pointing out how much easier it is to judge the performance of a classic play, because one of the variables — the text, usually unfamiliar to premiere audiences — is taken out of the problem. (Parabasis; via Arts Journal and the Guardian)

¶ Prime: Jeffrey Pfeffer discusses the “Sad State of CEO Replacement.” His remarks prompt a question: Is the typical board of directors a band of masochists in search of a dominator? The minute a self-assertive bully walks in, they tend to submit with rapture. (The Corner Office)

¶ Tierce: Dave Bry is delighted to learn that the Milwaukee M12 2410-20 won a Popular Mechanics rating for Best Small Cordless Drill (or somesuch). Not that he’s ever going to use one. (The Awl)

¶ Sext: Adam Gopnik addresses the evolution of cookbooks, from aides-mémoire intended for professionals to encyclopedias for novices, and beyond. Oakeshott and gender differences are dragged in. The recent fetish for exotic salts is explained. (The New Yorker)

¶ Nones: Another winter of discontent for Europe? Yulia Tymoshenko is cooking with gas. The new tariff will “ensure  stable supplies of gas,” quoth the prime minister. Really? (NYT)

¶ Vespers: Our favorite literary couples, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, sits for an interview with the Wall Street Journal. We knew the basics. But it’s nice to have a bit of detail. (Who knew that Pasternak’s style is “studied”?) (via The Second Pass)

¶ Compline: At NewScientist, a slideshow taken from Christopher Payne’s Asylum: Inside the closed World of State Mental Hospitals. The show, presumably like Mr Payne’s book, ends on a guardedly positive note. (via  The Morning News)

Bon weekend à tous!

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Monica Howe writes about a problem that appears to be on the increase: drive-by porn and its variants. You’re sitting in some sort of traffic, minding your own business, when the guy next to you…. (Washington Post; via The Morning News)

¶ Lauds: Yasmina Reza, in town to promote her directorial début, Chicas, with Emmanuelle Seignier — and to catch the first cast’s final performance of God of Carnage — talks to Speakeasy about all of that, and her friendship with Ms Seignier’s husband, Roman Polanski.

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon continues the debt-bias discussion, evaluating two reasons not to tax interest payments, and, not surprisingly, dismissing them even when he agrees with supporting arguments. (That’s what makes this discussion so interesting.)

¶ Tierce: The extraordinary Mandelbulb. We’ve been so hynotized by the latest in fractals that we’ve neglected to share.

¶ Sext: What to read next? Well, you could let your dreams determine the title — if you were Philip K Dick and strong enough to read “the dullest book in the world.” (Letters of Note)

¶ Nones: With a grim sort of relief, we note that intransigence is still the prevailing note in Honduran politics. (BBC News)

¶ Vespers: Terry Teachout encounters a stack of his new book(s), Pops, at the Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side. He registers his reaction as closer to Mencken than to Hindemith. (About Last Night)

¶ Compline: Two lawyers from the Genomics Law Report consider the “intriguing question” of how personal DNA data might be handled in the event (an event in Iceland) of a direct-to-consumer’s genomics company’s going bankrupt. (Genetic Future; via Short Sharp Science)

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Confidence in the once-almighty dollar is eroding. This could be a very good thing, in many ways, if it weren’t for those pesky Treasury Bills.

¶ Lauds: On the strength of Ken Tanaka’s write-up, we’ve just ordered a copy of On City Streets: Chicago, 1964-2004, by “unknown” photographer Gary Stochl.

¶ Prime: The subprime movie crisis: surprise, surprise, easy money left Hollywood unprepared for a very dry season. (via Arts Journal)

¶ Tierce: Jason Dean’s very snazzy ABCs of Branding.

¶ Sext: Box wines: nothing to sniff at.  (via Felix Salmon)

¶ Nones: The Honduran attempt at a bloodless coup is getting bloody — thanks to the return of the coupé.

¶ Vespers: Patrick Kurp waits, along with Phyllis McGinley, for “The 5:32.”

¶ Compline: Coming soon to the Internet: FTC disclosure rules.

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Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

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¶ Matins: What can you do to save the Galápagos Islands’ ecosystem? Resolve to stay away, and to urge your friends to do likewise. Don’t count on Ecuador to manage the growing mess.

¶ Lauds: Stuff White People Like takes on Banksy, Thomas Kinkade.

¶ Prime: Scott Shane: “Do Friends Let Friends Open Restaurants?” The answer is obvious, of course, but the brief discussion is interesting.

¶ Tierce: Jenni Diski plays Auntie Family, faux-outraged about those gay penguins

¶ Sext: Doodle away the afternoon with Vodkaster’s “subway map” of the 250 Best Films. (via reddit)

¶ Nones: Irish voters approve the (slightly revised) Lisbon Treaty.

¶ Vespers: Eric Banks writes about an uncomfortable truth in ”Poe’s Fading Star.”

¶ Compline: A tale that seems to come out of Dickens or Trollope or perhaps even Cruikshank or Rowlandson: while Simmons Bedding faces bankruptcy, the private equity investors and the former CEO walk away will amply-filled pockets.

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Daily Office: Friday

Friday, September 25th, 2009

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¶ Matins: David Kushner files a report from the future — where everyone drives a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle. (via The Morning News) 

¶ Lauds: Forget the Summer of Death: Blanche Moyse turns 100.

¶ Prime: Mistaking the complex for the profound — always a problem for us smartypants. David Hakes, an academic economist at Northern Iowa U, admits that he committed preference falsification.

¶ Tierce: The Aesthete notes an interesting sale at Christie’s: Ismail Merchant’s knick-knacks will go on the block in a few weeks.

¶ Sext: We like Balk’s take on the 19-pound baby.

¶ Nones: More on Manuel Zelaya:

He’s sleeping on chairs, and he claims his throat is sore from toxic gases and “Israeli mercenaries” are torturing him with high-frequency radiation.

We’re not making this up! (via The Awl)

¶ Vespers: Esquire executive editor Mark Warren writes about the surprise literary thrill of discovering Sartre’s Nausea in Baytown, Texas.

¶ Compline: Josh Bearman writes about automata, the fancy toys, such as Vaucanson’s Duck, that may bring the word “animatronic” to mind. But automata actually do things.

Bon weekend à tous!

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Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Michael Specter takes a good look at the potentially scary field of synthetic biology — and does not panic.

¶ Lauds: Booing at the Met: Luc Bondy’s Tosca. (Not to be confused with Puccini’s, no matter what they sang. Maybe Sardou’s, though.)

¶ Prime: Engineering in the Age of Fractals, or “Why Bankers Are Like Bacteria.” (via Felix Salmon)

¶ Tierce: Abe Sauer’s quite informative Essay Touching Upon the Economics of Britney Spears’s Circus Tour Show in Grand Forks, North Dakota; or, Don’t Blame Ticketmaster.

¶ Sext: It’s a bit early for us, but our cousin Kurt Holm will be on the Early Show tomorrow morning, and CBS Studios at 59th and Fifth will be the place to hang out.  (Between 7:15 and 9, I’m told.) This week at notakeout: Mark Bittman guests!

¶ Nones: Yesterday, we were reminded of Il Trovatore. Today, it’s Rodelinda. How did Manuel Zelaya get back into Honduras? The sort of question that never comes up in genuine opera seria. Maybe this is opera buffa.

¶ Vespers: The book to read before it’s sold over here: The Queen Mother: The Official Biography, by William Shawcross. Why? Because she was “Past Caring.”

¶ Compline: Mash-ups considered as the model for creative intelligence, at The Frontal Cortex.

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Daily Office: Friday

Friday, September 18th, 2009

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¶ Matins: An attempt to “urbanize” Tyson’s Corner, Virginia appears to have spooked the planners: they don’t want anything too urban!

¶ Lauds: With Julie & Julia about to open in France, a number of critics are echoing Mme Brassart.

¶ Prime: A word about arbitrage from Felix Salmon. Actually, two words:

  • Picking up nickels in front of a steamroller
  • Don’t try this at home.

¶ Tierce: As if it had been waiting for rifts within the Anglican Communion to threatens its future, Canterbury Cathedral has begun to fall down in earnest. (via The Morning News)

¶ Sext: Fast Food: The DeStyling.

¶ Nones: Has or has not fighting broken out between China and India? Officially, not. But the media on both sides pipe a different tune. Amit Baruah reports from the BBC.

¶ Vespers: A nice, long, faux-depressing, genuinely funny look at the publishing biz, by former Random House editor Daniel Menaker.

¶ Compline: Paul Graham on The List of N Things: sometimes a simple list fits the case exactly, but, too often, it’s “a degenerate case of essay.” (via  Mnémoglyphes)

Bon weekend à tous!

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Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

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¶ Matins: Caleb Crain examines the culture of economic adversity — in the Depression.

¶ Lauds: Holland Cotter hopes that we have seen the last of the blockbuster exhibition.

¶ Prime: Over the weekend, Times columnist Joe Nocera raised the “what if” question about Lehman, speculating that “it had to die to save Wall Street.” James Surowiecki isn’t so sure — and neither are we.

¶ Tierce: More about the clothing style known as “trad”: this time from Joe Pompeo, at the Observer. (via Ivy Style)

¶ Sext: We had never seen a picture of today’s Hilo Hero, Margaret Sanger, before.

¶ Nones: Is Internet opinion in China driving a trade confrontation with the United Statess?

¶ Vespers: At The Second Pass, John Williams passes on The Lost Symbol — in advance.

¶ Compline: At  Good, 10 great urban parks, seen from above at roughly the same scale.

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Daily Office: Friday

Friday, September 11th, 2009

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¶ Matins: James Surowiecki assesses President Obama’s Health Care speech, finding it a success.

¶ Lauds: A Portrait of a Man, bequeathed to the Museum as a Velásquez, demoted to “studio of Velésquez” by skeptical curators, is revealed to be a Velásquez again — after cleaning and conservation.

¶ Prime: Megan McArdle explains why investment bankers make so much money. Think: drop in the bucket. Also: movie trailer. (via Felix Salmon)

¶ Tierce: Who needs the movie? While planning your weekend getaway, you can have your fill of prison scenes at Scouting New York.

¶ Sext: It has been a while since we were treated to a gallery of weird old LP jackets. This one, it seems, comes from Russia. (Don’t be put off by the first, rather distubring one.)

¶ Nones: Hugo Chávez tears another page out of the Castro playbook, and sucks up to Mother Russia. And we thought that we’d won the Cold War once and for all!

¶ Vespers: Richard Nash writes about Ted Striphas’s The Late Age of Print. The book, which assesses the history of publishing and bookselling in clearly commercial terms, sounds compelling, but the review is an absolute must. (Grocery stores?)

¶ Compline: How two 75 year-old former bombshells couldn’t be more different, after all these years. Which would be your choice, stray cats or tomcats? (via Arts Journal)

Bon Weekend à tous!

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Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

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¶ Matins: The nation of which Amsterdam is the capital is rightly considered to be one of the most densely-populated sovereignties in the world. But it’s as empty as Arizona when compared with the former New Amsterdam.

¶ Lauds: On the eve of shooting Wall Street 2, Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas chuckle ruefully over the unintended aura projected by Wall Street, twenty-three years ago.

¶ Prime: Bob Cringely reconsiders the virtual university, and obliges us to do the same. What seems at first to be an unlikely monstrosity may indeed provide the most effective education for most students.

¶ Tierce: Assault By Actuary: the Bruce Schobel Story. Or not, since, perhaps for legal reasons, Mary Williams Walsh never does describe the crime of which the (then teenaged?) in-and-out president-elect of the American Academy of Actuaries was convicted.

¶ Sext: Tom Tomorrow catches up with Goofus and Gallant.

¶ Nones: The latest story on the Fall of Lehman Brothers, from the Guardian‘s Larry Elliott and Jill Treanor, highlights the soverignty problem in global regulation.

¶ Vespers: Ben Dooley offers a short list of books to read about Japan, in case you’re boning up for a trip. Read Murakami if you must, but for a real Japanese novel…

¶ Compline: In a Talk piece from this week’s New Yorker, ”Zoo Story,” Lauren Collins registers the general public’s dislike of the seating arrangements in Times Square, as well as its approval of the Thigh Line and the Eyeful Tower.

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