Archive for the ‘Theater and Movies’ Category

Back in my youth, I listened to operas, over and over, Puccini, Verdi, Britten. I LOVED them, magnificent works of art. The ones I favored, they are now etched in my brain.
These days, I mostly listen to music that is pleasant and that keeps the dark away. But every once in a while, I listen to those wonderful demanding masterpieces that I used to keep by me.
And today, I listened to Billy Budd, such a completely brilliant piece of music. Britten wrote the opera to the story by Melville, a short shipboard plot with no women and a terrible inevitable path ending in death. But how powerful the melody and singing that takes us there!
There was an excellent movie of the story, with Peter Ustinov as Captain Vere, and Terence Stamp as a fabulously lovely Billy.

The story is not simple, and the anguish of the good man who must condemn Billy to death is splendidly conveyed in both film and opera– though I can’t help but find it more moving in the opera. Captain Vere, Billy, John Claggart are men thrust together in terrible times, the 1790’s war between the British and the French.
“Don’t like the French,” sings the British sailing master, “don’t like their Frenchified ways.” “Their notions don’t suit us, nor their ideas–Don’t like their hoppity-skippety ways,” agrees the First Lieutenant– “Those damned mounseers!” A simply charming interchange.
E. M. Forster and Eric Crozier wrote the libretto, and it is masterly.
I listen to these beautiful voices, these deeply moving harmonies–and I forgive the world its stupidity, its violence, its terrible tragedies.

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While drearily flicking through Amazon’s entertainment offerings I came across a modern performance of Carousel, that antique but beloved clunker. What ho! A show at the Lincoln center, with the beauteous Kelli O’Hara as Julie Jordan and barihunk Nathan Gunn as her abusive spouse, Billie Bigelow! Both are very easy on the eyes, and both have lovely voices.

As this was a concert version, the orchestra sat solidly on the stage, and the cast darted through and around them to act and sing. And because of the nimble camera which also darts around and through, the action is gripping.
Though perhaps one could have done without some of that determined rollicking.
The story is based on a Hungarian play called Liliom, by Ferenc Molnár. Puccini wanted to base an opera on it, but Molnár turned him down–as he also turned down Kurt Weil, George Gershwin, and Richard Strauss. But he was so charmed by that wonderful show Oklahoma that he gave way, and agreed to let Rodgers and Hammerstein adapt his play. And they made a grand musical of it, as filled with wonderful songs as an egg of meat. Songs which we all know, You’ll Never Walk Alone, What’s the use of Wond’rin’ –and of course, the Carousel Waltz . YouTube has them all and all the other ones too. I gritted my teeth a trifle though that energetically enthusiastic Clambake song, and was not completely carried away by the June Busting Out All Over business–HEAVENS, such panting lewdness: “All the rams that chase the ewe sheep are determined there’ll be new sheep; And the ewe sheep aren’t even keeping score!”
But Nathan sang that fine father-to-be song like a hero, and Kelli did the same for the Wond’rin‘ song . Lovely stuff.
The charming bit with the kindly old man on the ladder who is hanging up stars led to a rather nice dance sequence–Billy fondly watching his now almost grown up daughter twirling about, and so to the end.

Then Billy trudges off to hell or heaven, we don’t know which, after a reprise of You’ll Never Walk Alone.
YAY! Applause!

PS The old man with the stars routine suddenly reminded me of Gielgud doing his Supreme Being gig in Time Bandits: “I AM the Supreme Being. I’m not entirely dim.”

But he is much sterner than the Starkeeper.

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Marvel Movie

I fear some aspect of ageing has rendered me unable to appreciate worthy movies, so that I find myself watching the most desperately silly stuff. With handsome guys! Which reminds me of my older daughter explaining why football was great: large men in tight pants. The ridiculous comic book movies do indeed feature large men in tight pants. Which is, of course, very nice.
Though, one likes to think one appreciates, you know, the finer things.
And I do! Do I not subscribe to the ballet, to the opera? YES! Do I not read complicated and excellent books? YES! Well, mostly. There are the Vampire/Werewolf in Victorian London series. I’m not proud of my eager haste in reading all of those.
Come to think on it, perhaps I am losing brain power, dear friends.
See, I started watching Ladybird, which everyone agreed was a fine well made modern movie. Alas, alas, I just couldn’t keep watching it, despite the totally believable Saoirse Ronan–a splendid young actress, who was so fine in Brooklyn.
What, Hope, already missing the guys in tight pants?
And then, Netflix slyly offered me Thor: Ragnarok, one of those Marvel Comix productions. It’s jokey, violent, colorful, imaginative–in fact, fun to watch. Silly, unbelievable–but, fun to watch.
Jeff Goldblum makes a fabulous villain, effete and self involved, with a large unamused lady aide, who keeps him in line.

Together they rule over some kind of entertainment empire, and both Thor and Loki are somehow entrapped. And both are as beautiful as the day, so that really, there is no problem with just watching them. They have good lines, too.

AND, Anthony Hopkins plays their dad, Odin. And Cate Blanchette their sister, the, uh, GODDESS OF DEATH. She has a fabulous unfolding hat with antlers, REALLY effective. She is SO BAD.
They all seem to be having a ball. And of course, they are making millions of dollars, which can’t hurt. Hiddlestone and Blanchette have made serious movies, which, come to think on it, were also fun to watch.
So maybe it’s not old age, it’s just good sense that has me watching fun movies that are, after all, made to entertain.

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​​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…


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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