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Archive for the ‘Theater and Movies’ Category

​​Yesterday I joined my fellow antique citizens for a performance of Cosi fan Tutte (=EVERYONE does it) –a grand performance of Mozart’s fab opera as put on by the Met and delivered to our local movie theater, at a tiny fraction of the cost and vexation of seeing it in New York.
I don’t know why young people are not loving opera, but so it is. Perhaps opera will not end after my generation dies, but I must report that the audience at this event was nothing but whitehairs. And we staggered, clumped, and wheeled our way into the theater.
For this production, it was decided that Coney Island in the 1950’s would be a fun location for the action. Why? Well, opera producers get bored of those damn powdered wigs and gigantic petticoats, I suppose.
The music is completely beautiful–angelic harmonies, amazing singing, astonishing and miraculous. But I was somewhat shocked by the libretto–I am an old lady now, and not as forgiving as I was as a young woman.
The story is about 2 loving couples, under attack by an immoral older man, who persuades the 2 men to disguise themselves and tempt their beloved women to betray them, which they do, successfully. And thus, breaking their own hearts. I have seen reviews saying that Mozart was brilliantly confronting the limitations of the enlightenment, of a world based on reason. Here is what Despina, the star of the show, says:
What is love? Pleasure, convenience, taste, enjoyment, amusement, pastime, fun– it’s no longer love if it becomes a burden and instead of pleasure brings pain and torment.

But that is false, of course. Or at least, false for grown ups. Teenagers frantic for sex may so define love, but surely those more mature would not.
Love is more than sex.
Listening to that heavenly music, I thought, how could anyone believe such crap, despite the gorgeous singing, despite the elegant stage set, despite the charming freak show inhabitants–the snake charmer, the sword swallower, the dwarfs and giants, whose weary cynical faces figured so dramatically in each scene.

Yes, they said, the world is wicked, the world pays us to show how crazy it is—but, you know, the world is not completely crazy. And love is more than pleasure, convenience, taste, enjoyment, amusement, pastime, fun. And this was a mean spirited show, though the music is so wonderful, reminding us that music is how we honor god.

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In my laudable quest for suitable entertainment I have been sampling the wares of many fine European countries—Italy! Germany! Ireland! And recently, a handsome Swedish actor all dressed up in 18th century gear caught my eye—like a youthful Charles Dance, such a pretty lad.

He was playing a doctor in a show called Anno 1790, a decent chap recently arrived in Stockholm: gentlemen in powdered wigs! ladies in elaborate curls and swirling petticoats! Seemed a good bet.

MY, Stockholm was very dark back then—lit by a few dim streetlights. Very authentic of course, but sometimes hard to tell who it was striding through the streets. The good doctor saved an innocent man from being executed for murder, and managed to keep his hands off the adorable wife of his employer in the first episode. But there was some fairly horrid stuff and the third episode started in such a grisly fashion that I fled to…

SING!

Idiotic and yet very likeable animated film, brimming with all the tedious messages that such films always urge on us (Pursue Your Dream! Everyone is Above Average!) –it’s Let’s Put on a Show, in a city filled with humanoid animals. But actually, rather nice. I particularly liked Johnny the soulful Gorilla.

Idiotic as I said, but rather charming. And there were no children whipped to death which cannot alas be said of Anno 1790. See, that is the kind of plot device that tends to dismay the grannies.

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To those who claim I am impatient and intolerant let me just point out: I WATCHED THE ENTIRE MOVIE OF CLOUD ATLAS.

You will ask why on earth I should undertake such a thankless task.

Well, the alert movie watcher quickly understands that the actors have been persuaded to take many different parts in this large trundling drama, each one with its own particular makeup–some of which are so shockingly horrid as make one gasp with outrage! For instance, here is the actor who played Elrond in LotR, garishly tweaked into an oddly ghastly Asian.

So, so…wrong. ALL the actors have been similarly maltreated, but the process which turns westerners into pseudo-easterners is the most vicious. The parade of unbelievably bad transformations was mesmerizing, and it was the game of guessing who they were that kept me watching. For instance, Hugh Grant appears as Greedy Oil Tycoon—and then, as Gruesome Hawaiian Cannibal Chief!

The hours these actors spent being painted and glued—well, well, they get well paid for it, I suppose.

The worst trick is the one played on poor old Tom Hanks—oh my! He looks worse in every get up (SIX of them), and in the persona of a Simple Native sometime in the ghastly future, he not only looks terrible, but he speaks in an ineffably embarrassing sort of Peasant Slang, which a kindly watcher might wish to simply mute the sound on: “Oh, lonesome night. And babbits bawling, the wind biting the bone . . . The fangy devil, Old Georgie hisself. Mm. Now your ear up close, and I’ll yarn you about the first time we met, eye to eye.

Sigh. Still, I patiently watched the whole thing.

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I know many of us–well, some of us–well, a few of us–are eagerly anticipating The Last Jedi (#8 in the Star Wars Saga)! I have recently learned that it is A THING for eminent personalities to don the white helmet and march in step with the storm troopers–and among the throng will be none other than Princes William and Harry!

​Perhaps THAT will change your mind about being such a pointy-headed snooty snob on the topic? NO? Me neither.

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Cultural Event

I’m sure you are all familiar with college theater, which can be surprisingly good–and of course, surprisingly horrid–but which is always available, and very grateful to the wallet. I just attended such a show–of the surprisingly good variety–and during the perhaps a TEENSY BIT long fund-raising spiel that preceded the show, the worthy dean mentioned that tickets for the show cost less than parking at the Kennedy Center. Well of course, MOST things cost less than parking at the K Center, but still, I see his point.

The show was at the Hartke Theater, of Catholic University, where my parents used to take us back in the stone age–they were ever on the lookout for thrifty ways of introducing their children to culture. For more expensive shows, they chose one amongst us on a rotating basis. (I will never forget that black day when the grim chore of child sacrifice to culture fell on me and I experienced Handel’s Messiah for the first time. A quick perusal of the text had fostered the comforting illusion of brevity—HA! A vile trick! I was outraged to discover that having once sung whatever it was–they went and SANG IT OVER AND OVER AND OVER. Hours and hours passed by. The infant Hope fumed.)

So now, some 60 years later, my kindly nephew and his family invited me to see the Hartke Theater’s boffo version of Kiss Me Kate, that grand show. I had seen it at the Shakespeare Theater a couple years ago, and this show was actually more fun, if of course less professional. Fine singing, good sets, and if some of the costumes were heinous, I have seen worse. (Though perhaps not MUCH worse than the fairly ghastly attempt at a cod-piece which possibly was meant to be humorous but which covered the groin like a frontal diaper. Spare my blushes, Catholic University!) However, nothing could be more garish than the costumes of the original production.

One of the songs has aged badly, alas, and is something of a trial for modern audiences-gamely performed by the charming young singers, but they must have had inward misgivings:

I’m a maid who would marry
And will take double-quick
Any Tom, Dick or Harry,
Any Tom, Harry or Dick.
Dick, dick, dick,
A dicka dick,
Dick, dick, dick,
A dicka dick,
Dick, dick, dick,
A dicka dick,
Dick, dick, dick,
A dicka dick!

Which brought to mind a VERY NAUGHTY SONG by Frank Zappa which I will not sully these pages by quoting but will just add a teensy link. I always liked Frank Zappa–what might he have accomplished if he hadn’t died so young!

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The first dance performance of the season–for which I virtuously purchased season tickets, thus demonstrating my support for the arts–was a dazzling performance of The Red Shoes, a full length show based on the old movie. The Washington Post reviewer was disappointed to find it not quite up to the movie—never having seen the movie, I allowed myself to be enchanted.

The show was created and choreographed by that naughty wunderkind, Sir Matthew Bourne–famous for his gay version of Swan Lake. Which, I will own, I did not entirely love. But then neither do I entirely love the traditional version. Quite the reverse, in fact–deadly old chestnut which you would have to pay me to watch. But the Bourne version is not winning my vote either…

However, The Red Shoes is another thing altogether, charming and witty. The music is a mélange of music by Bernard Hermann, who composed scores for films: Citizen Kane, Fahrenheit 451, and many others. You’ll be thinking, whoa, what a dog’s breakfast, but in fact it works very well. The show was absolutely stunning, with gorgeous dance, astonishing sets, deliriously silly and wonderful costumes. Bourne’s dancers are very athletic, and the women are much more, how to put it, voluptuous, than traditional ballet dancers. The dancer playing Victoria Page (= ensorcelled by the red shoes) actually had breasts—unheard of for most ballerinas. Possibly Bourne allows his dancers to eat the occasional cupcake, something which traditional ballerinas can only dream of.

Flamboyant scenes, one after another—dancers rehearsing, cigarettes hanging from those beautiful mouths—dancers partying at the beach, wearing the most amazingly garish swim suits while bouncing matching beach balls–

—and, oh my, the brilliant ballet-within-the-ballet, which at one point became nothing but elegant black silhouettes against a white backdrop. This was a SHOW, comrades. I came out of the theater still smiling.

Next week: La Bayadère. Sigh.

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While listlessly trolling through the entertainment options on the various services, I noticed that Academy award winner La La Land had appeared amidst the thronging contenders–and in a moment of unwarranted optimism, clicked.
BLAM!
We’re in Los Angeles! A freeway, clogged with thousands of cars, honking, beeping–and then, one woman starts singing, gets out of her car–AND EVERYBODY STARTS DANCING!

High jinks!
Well, medium jinks actually.
Slipping towards low jinks, even.
The music is unmemorable, the dancing is merely competent, the costumes uninspired.
But wait, perhaps it was just my jaded point of view–stop being such a KVETCH, old lady!
So (despite all temptations to move to other stations) I doggedly kept watching.
The ladies, really, quite lovely! The young man quite handsome! Plus, he plays the piano!
So, the young couple, finally together, are on a hill with the city lying before them, all magic and twinkling lights! A song is building! Our young hero twirls on a handy lamp post–!
And alas, having foolishly invited the deadly comparison with Singing in the Rain, the movie sinks like a stone.

Ryan Gosling is a likeable lad, but he is no Gene Kelly.
Sigh. The music so pallid, the dancing so uninspired. This is Hollywood? How are the mighty fallen.
Really, for a shot of pure brilliant joy, just watch Singing in the Rain. It may be 65 years old but it has that wonderful youthful happiness so lamentably absent from La La Land.
Back in the 50’s, dear friends, Hollywood was truly dazzling.

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