August 2010 Archives
This week's links to NAJP members' work:
MJ Andersen on Picasso and Degas (The Providence Journal)
Laura Collins-Hughes on Amanda Palmer and her drama teacher (The Boston Globe)
Thomas Conner on the American Idols Live tour (Chicago Sun-Times)
Thomas Conner on Poi Dog Pondering (Chicago Sun-Times)
Steve Dollar on Eric Rohmer et al (The Wall Street Journal)
Michael Feingold reviews "Wife to James Whelan" (The Village Voice)
Christopher Hawthorne on the Broad Collection museum design (Los Angeles Times)
Matthew Gurewitsch profiles opera patron Peter Moores (The New York Times)
Matthew Gurewitsch queries the Paris Opera's Philippe Jordan (Opera News)
John Horn on a film director's unexpected intermission (Los Angeles Times)
John Horn on the European feel of "The American" (Los Angeles Times)
Hillel Italie on fall books (The Associated Press)
Dennis Lim on documentary-fiction hybrid films (The New York Times)
Dennis Lim on Josef von Sternberg's silent films (Los Angeles Times)
Mary Carole McCauley on the resignation of Center Stage's m.d. (The Baltimore Sun)
Manuel Mendoza on "Mao's Last Dancer" in real life (The Dallas Morning News)
Tom Moon on Cee Lo Green's viral hit, "Fuck You" (NPR)
Ann Powers reviews Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" (Los Angeles Times)
Craig Seligman reviews "The Pain Chronicles" (Bloomberg News)
Douglas Wolk interviews dramatist and comics writer Tom Taylor (Techland)
Marcia B. Siegel's book, "Mirrors and Scrims: The Life and Afterlife of Ballet" (Wesleyan University Press), has won the American Society for Aesthetics' 2010 Selma Jeanne Cohen Memorial Prize.
I've been trying my best to resist, but the subject of Eli Broad is just too tempting. Earlier this week, the L.A. art collector and billionaire won final government approval to build a headquarters for his foundation and contemporary art collection across the street from Disney Hall and down the block from the Museum of Contemporary Art. He promptly announced that he had chosen the New York firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro as architect of the planned 120,000-square-foot building.
There were no surprises in the announcement. It had basically been a done deal for weeks. So here are a few final thoughts on it:
1. The Broad Foundation collection is already based in a very nice building in Santa Monica. Although it is not open to the public, anyone with an interest in art who wants to view the collection can make an appointment to go see the work of blue-chip artists like Koons and Warhol in very nice and big galleries.
2. Open year-round to the public is the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the mid-Wilshire area of the city, which opened in February 2008. There you can also see lots of work from Broad's collection, including sculptures by Richard Serra and more paintings by the likes of Koons and Warhol.
3. Although Broad said he had been considering Santa Monica and Beverly Hills as possible sites for the new location of the foundation, he was obviously using them as bargaining chips with the city of L.A. and just wasting the time of the officials from those other cities. For years, Broad has been championing the redevelopment of downtown L.A. Putting his building downtown would help that process along and get him premium attention, too. Officials from those other cities should have realized that Broad made much of his fortune in insurance, and that's all they ever were.
My favorite, among this year's very strong batch, was a concert called "Aftermath: 1945" that featured three pieces one wouldn't normally hear programmed together--mainly because each one is strong enough to knock your socks off, so they jostle each other mightily when put together. Shostakovich's Eighth Quartet (dedicated to the memory of the "victims of war and fascism"), Benjamin Britten's stirring vocal piece titled The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, and Richard Strauss's strange, disturbing Metamorphosen are all masterpieces of their type, and it is a type that makes you want to quail or weep or make some other gesture of submission in the face of the powerful music. In this case, the intimacy of the auditorium strengthened the effect, so that we in the first few rows were almost blown backward by the remarkable tenor voice of Matthew Plenk, who sang the Holy Sonnets with musical verve and perfect diction. The other musicians (the pianist Ken Noda in the Britten, the Miró Quartet performing the Shostakovich, and an assortment of Lincoln Center regulars doing the Strauss) were equally good, and it was a stunning experience to hear one of these works after another in a single evening. My only suggestion would have been to have two intermissions rather than one, so as to allow each piece the breathing room it needed--though it almost seems churlish of me to make any suggestion at all about what was otherwise a perfect evening.
Among the things quantified, of course, are the deleterious effects of information bombardment on our mental functioning--well, often their mental functioning. Not that there was any quantification to speak of in "Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime," the chatty Matt Richtel piece Moon recommended in his comment today, which I'd forgotten I'd read this morning (on paper) by the time Moon brought it up. (Many others liked it more--it's at the top of the paper's most-emailed list! Does checking out most-emailed stories count as mental downtime? Or more distraction?) On the one hand, duh--I don't text, don't Twitter, don't have a Facebook page though maybe I should, and in general think information overload is a bane. On the other hand, that's exactly what someone of my age (and Moon's and Hanrahan's somewhat younger ages) is inevitably going to think, and I don't trust my command of this issue enough to make a big thing of it. It all sounds a little too familiar. Professors have been whining to me about how students don't read books for at least 30 years; I've been writing about information overload since my big New York Dolls essay in 1977, maybe longer. I wonder, just who are the sociologists and neurological researchers who are doing these studies? How old are they? What are their prejudices? I probably share those prejudices--a lot of them, anyway. But as I told Hanrahan when we discussed this point, I read too many articles 20-30 years ago about how you'd improve your infant's life by making sure s/he heard lots of Mozart before age one. What ever happened to that one?
Well, anyway, the big thing is: ARTicles--tremendously valuable. Post or comment now.
We are in the midst of a good long run of movie releases in which dance is a central focus, and there are no signs of it letting up.
These films abide by a popular formula, making them perfect movie fodder: handsome man or woman putting forth superhuman effort to become an artist; Faustian sacrifices for the rewards of fame and stardom; "exotic" lifestyle; et cetera.
The Red Shoes, the Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger classic from 1948, is the example par excellence, though it's certainly in a class by itself and of a loftier ilk. It boasts an astonishingly distinguished cast, including ballerina Moira Shearer, choreographer Léonide Massine, and danseur Robert Helpmann.
Herbert Ross's The Turning Point (1977) had the advantage of introducing the U.S. to the newly arrived Russian sensation Mikhail Baryshnikov. There's been nearly a dance film a year since then, from hip-hop to ballroom. Many -- certainly more than I realized -- take on the world of classical ballet.
The latest one opened Friday in limited release: Mao's Last Dancer, Australian director Bruce Beresford's (Tender Mercies) adaptation of Li Cunxin's real-life story.
This week's links to NAJP members' work:
Larry Blumenfeld on pianist-composer Guillermo Klein (The Wall Street Journal)
Larry Blumenfeld on pianist Matthew Shipp (The Wall Street Journal)
Robert Campbell on Design Research (The Boston Globe)
Laura Collins-Hughes reviews David Rabe's Vietnam War novel (Los Angeles Times)
Thomas Conner on "America's Got Talent" (Chicago Sun-Times)
Thomas Conner on Aerosmith (Chicago Sun-Times)
Francis Davis on Keith Jarrett and Cecil Taylor (The Village Voice)
Steve Dollar on "1-Bit Symphony" (The Wall Street Journal)
Steve Dollar on Tokyo Police Club (Time Out Chicago)
Michael Feingold reviews Paul Weitz's "Trust" (The Village Voice)
Matthew Gurewitsch on a Salzburg milestone for Riccardo Muti (Beyond Criticism)
Matthew Gurewitsch profiles young conductor David Afkham (Beyond Criticism)
Christopher Hawthorne on downtown L.A.'s renaissance (Los Angeles Times)
Ann Hornaday on a silent film about Louis Armstrong (The Washington Post)
Ann Hornaday on Washington stories in the movies (The Washington Post)
Hillel Italie interviews David Mamet (The Associated Press)
Lawrence B. Johnson on stalled talks at Detroit Symphony Orchestra (Detroit News)
Lawrence B. Johnson on what the two sides are proposing (Detroit News)
Julia M. Klein on Phyllis Lambert (The Wall Street Journal)
Laura Sydell on female musicians and social media (NPR)
Laura Sydell on science fiction as inspiration for engineers (NPR)
Jerome Weeks on animatronic dinosaurs (KERA, Dallas)
Douglas Wolk interviews Dark Horse Comics' "Star Wars" editors (Techland)
A crazy thing happened as I read Peter's post entitled One Across The Bow from July 23. First I found myself nodding my head, which is unlikely enough given my general crankiness. Then I found my thinking going down darker and ever more dystopian avenues. Generally dour thoughts I've been avoiding, or ignoring. Peter, this missive pulled together a bunch of ideas and questions that have been rattling around in my fevered head for weeks. Not just about the broke-down state of this particular jalopy, but also the enterprise of arts journalism itself. That string of zeroes you mentioned has plenty to tell us. About how, leaving the problems of NAJP aside for a moment, there's likely not much of a market for these wares. Maybe, just maybe, it's Game Over and we're simply slow to face reality?
I confess to a personal prejudice in favor of John Baldessari. He's the 79-year-old California artist who's the subject of the retrospective exhibition, ironically entitled (we'll get to that) "Pure Beauty," on view through September 12 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. First, he's the author of one of the funniest impromptu lines I've ever heard in casual conversation. He and I had been invited to be jurors for the annual student art exhibition at Arizona State University in Tempe. After a long day's selecting--during which undergraduate volunteers would haul works of art into our view, pause so we could evaluate them, and then carry them, as it were offstage--John and I were walking to a party for participants given in one of those gigantic apartment complexes commonly adjacent to big universities. One of the student assistants joined us at an intersection's long red light. Not sure exactly who Baldessari was, she asked him, "Oh, Mr. Baldessari, do you live in the complex?"
"No, my dear," he said looking down from his six-foot-six height, "I live in the simple."
Then Marc Hogan wrote a graf arguing with my assessment of Win Butler's anti-hipsterism, and Ann Powers said something rich as usual, and I was too busy to weigh in but looked forward to a few more intelligent opinions--the comments here are easily the smartest I see anywhere. Instead in wades "Jerry" telling me to go fuck myself, only less elegantly. And then comes three comments (two by the same guy, my own personal star commenter Dean Jones) insulting Jerry, and a fourth taking a potshot at Jerry before going on to out the unnamed "horrible stupid" critic of my post and further describe his sins. So let me say a few things about Jerry.
First, Jerry didn't write spam and I never hesitated to publish his comment. He was responding in his own horrible stupid way. But then there's a strategic matter. My belief is that the best way to hurt horrible stupid people like Jerry is to act like they aren't there. They want to deposit their dog doo-doo on the pavement, don't get any on your shoe. They only want attention and are too horrible and stupid to understand your cutting riposte. Only then this morning I got a cutting riposte I actually thought effective, from someone pretending (I assume) to be Jerry's parole officer.
So here's another thing about ARTicles comments. Sometimes we approve a comment and it never shows up in the thread. That seems to be what happened. What's more, I approved it from my spam folder--yet another thing about ARTicles comments is that that's where they sometimes end up on my computer for some no doubt AOL-linked reason--and so now it's gone. Would said parole officer be so kind as to resend?
As for anti-hipsterism, well, what Douglas Wolk said at EMP is right--these days, the main thing we know about hipsters is that they're someone else. But I would like to say that I started ID'ing myself as an anti-bohemian bohemian nearly 40 years ago, and that I think this is a sane and honorable stance as long as the underlying cultural analysis is realistic, which Butler's is. "Die Hipser Die"--stupid T-shirt. "We used to wait," or "How you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight"--right on, brother.
This week's links to NAJP members' work:
Robert Christgau on Swedish ex-teenqueen Robyn (MSN Music)
Robert Christgau on the Arcade Fire (B&N Review)
Laura Collins-Hughes on a new play about Edward and Jo Hopper (The Boston Globe)
Steve Dollar on the Master Musicians of Bukkake (Time Out New York)
Steve Dollar on "Gong Show Live" (The Wall Street Journal)
Michael Feingold reviews "Secrets of the Trade" (The Village Voice)
Sasha Frere-Jones on major vs. indie labels (The New Yorker)
Sasha Frere-Jones on Scissor Sisters (The New Yorker)
Christopher Hawthorne on architecture in "Inception" (Los Angeles Times)
John Horn on marketing "Eat Pray Love" (Los Angeles Times)
John Horn interviews ex-"Top Chef" contestant Kenny Gilbert (Los Angeles Times)
Ann Hornaday reviews "Eat Pray Love" (The Washington Post)
Ann Hornaday reviews "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" (The Washington Post)
Hillel Italie talks e-books with Pat Conroy (The Associated Press)
Hillel Italie on the death of publisher-agent Elaine Koster (The Associated Press)
Laurie Muchnick reviews Justin Peacock's "Blind Man's Alley" (Bloomberg News)
Craig Seligman reviews Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom" (Bloomberg News)
Michael Z. Wise on North Korean artworks in Vienna (The New York Times)
Douglas Wolk on "Star Wars" and subtitles (Techland)
Douglas Wolk on the widescreen layout in comics (Techland)
As the Cleveland situation asserted, no critic has a "right" to a compensated opinion. We serve at the pleasure of our employers. And yet we're only worth reading when we push our luck and ourselves, and remember that without a sense of freedom, coupled with a sense that we cannot squander it, we're just filler. As David Mamet said to a gathering of theater critics back in 1978: If you are not "striving to improve and to write informedly and morally and to a purpose, you are a hack and a plaything of your advertisers."
The advertisers are fewer now. Times are not easy. But a critic must write as if he has everything and nothing to lose, just as a filmmaker or an artistic director or a music director should have no choice but to aim high and dig deeply and damn all the rest of it. Otherwise, it's steady as she goes and one more paycheck (if you're fortunate) gratefully received, and that simply is not good enough.
Approached the wrong way criticism is an inherently arrogant and narcissistic pursuit, yet what I'm left with, increasingly, is how humbling it is. It's hard to get a review right for yourself, let alone for anyone reading it later. It's even harder to be an artist worth writing and reading about, because so much conspires against even an inspired artist's bravest efforts.
I recommend re-reading James in any form, because once you know the plot, you can slow down enough to enjoy all the wonderful turns of phrase, and especially the jokes. The Bostonians, in particular, is filled with sharp humor that at times made me laugh out loud -- as when an editor advised Basil Ransom, the sometime hero of the book, that his ideas were a few hundred years out of date and some magazine of the sixteenth century would no doubt have been glad to publish them. I say "sometime" hero, because the other hero of this book, given equal standing with Basil, is the intense, anxious Olive Chancellor, staunch feminist and intimate friend of Verena Tarrant, the pretty red-headed girl whom Basil is trying to lure away into marriage. The word "lesbian" does not surface in this novel -- even the idea, as sexual relationship, does not surface -- but the notion of a Boston marriage was common enough in James's time to lend that connotation to the book's title.
I finished the book a few days ago, but the characters are still with me: not just Basil and Olive and the beautiful but slightly vacuous Verena, but also the wonderful Dr. Prance (the "lady doctor," perhaps the sharpest intelligence in the book, who is concerned with specifics and realities rather than the airy theories of feminism, and who slyly lets Basil know that she thinks Verena "rather thin"). My thoughts have lingered as well with the unscrupulous, man-chasing Mrs. Luna and her brat of a son, Newton, and with the kind-hearted old Bostonian, Miss Birdseye, who represents the classic New England reformer. I even treasure the loathsome Tarrants -- Verena's father, a "mesmeric healer," and her mother, the pathetic, social-climbing daughter of a well-known abolitionist -- for their near-Dickensian vividness and ludicrousness. This is a novel in which no one is spared but in which everyone earns at least a grain of James's sympathy, and sometimes (as in Olive's and Basil's case) much more than that.
After its initial 1886 appearance, James never republished this book; even when he brought out his uniform New York Edition, he left it out, perhaps in part because the folks back home in Boston had such violent objections to it. From the letters he wrote and received, it would seem that the objections centered mainly around the character of Miss Birdseye, who was taken as an unkind portrait of the well-regarded Miss Peabody. But there's lots more to object to than that, and many people who read it in 1886 probably hated it for exactly the reasons that make one love it today. I would even recommend paying for a paper copy, an actual, old-fashioned, bound-in-covers book. That way you can keep it on your real (as opposed to virtual) shelf when you have finished it, and be able to loan it out to friends, and have it handy for future re-readings that might take place decades hence, when -- even as digital files may have changed their format -- print will remain eternally legible.
1) Supposedly, the Arcade Fire's 2004 Funeral was the album Pitchfork made, the album that made Pitchfork, or both. In some limited sense, both. David Moore's rave, and 9.7 rating, certainly speeded up a bandwagon that was already rolling, and as Funeral began its march toward gold-level 500,000 sales (which took till this year), the magazine's underground rep as a kingmaker--especially as of editor Ryan Schreiber's rave for the much more subcultural Canadian band Broken Social Scene a year before--was duly noted in the MSM. What I always wondered was the extent to which Schreiber had ordered up the review, as was widely but not therefore credibly rumored (backbiting rumor-mongering being even more rife in the online rockmag world than in the rest of journalism). One informant guessed but didn't claim to know for sure that Schreiber softened up the then 20-year-old college student Moore and then handed him the assignment on a band he wanted to make sure was very positively reviewed. So I got hold of Moore and obtained his version. Moore told me that there was some back-and-forth with Schreiber, but via IM rather than in person--he was a student at Ithaca College at the time. For sure it was clear that Moore would write a positive review, but he felt no pressure and got no instructions. Until, that is, it came to the rating. Moore wanted to give the record a perfect 10.0 (which he knows now was a little silly--"I was young, there was a lot I didn't know"). Pitchfork--Moore doesn't remember who--told him they didn't give 10s, so he suggested a 9.7 compromise. Which as a longtime grader I'd say is still a little silly. Within a year or two Moore had lost his passion for alt-rock--his crush on Funeral was based largely on its emotional avoidance of indie irony--and now writes a blog called Cureforbedbugs that's big into girlpop. He loves Ashlee Simpson. His ideas read better when you don't know the music in question. He makes his living running an enrichment program for lower-income elementary-school kids in Philly.
This week's links to NAJP members' work:
Charles Aaron on Spiritualized live (Spin)
Larry Blumenfeld on Nat Hentoff's "At the Jazz Band Ball" (Truthdig)
Larry Blumenfeld on Afro-Peruvian singer Susana Baca (The Wall Street Journal)
Thomas Conner on X Japan (Chicago Sun-Times)
Thomas Conner on Lady Gaga at Lollapalooza (Chicago Sun-Times)
Michael Feingold reviews "A Little Night Music" (The Village Voice)
Sasha Frere-Jones on Hallogallo (The New Yorker)
Christopher Hawthorne on shaping public space in L.A. (Los Angeles Times)
Christopher Hawthorne on downtown L.A.'s gentrification limbo (Los Angeles Times)
John Horn on the porn-site ad campaign for "Middle Men" (Los Angeles Times)
John Horn on "Top Chef" (Los Angeles Times)
Ann Hornaday reviews "Life During Wartime" (The Washington Post)
Ann Hornaday interviews Robert Duvall (The Washington Post)
Hillel Italie on the death of Tony Judt (The Associated Press)
Karen Michel on jazz bassist Dave Holland (NPR)
Karen Michel on the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History (NPR)
Renee Montagne interviews the musicians of Balkan Beat Box (NPR)
Ann Powers on Terry Gilliam's Arcade Fire webcast (Los Angeles Times)
Douglas Wolk on out-of-print comics that deserve reprinting (Techland)
I know, it's too much to ask: Could we please, pretty please, have an "American Idol" judge who knows what he/she is hearing? Doesn't matter if said person is a celebrity or not -- just possesses a bit more of an aesthetic than the last two judges....
In the words of one potential candidate: "Dream On."
This week's links to NAJP members' work:
Larry Blumenfeld on Olu Dara (The Wall Street Journal)
Robert Christgau on M.I.A.'s Hard Festival on Governors Island (MSN Music)
Robert Christgau on Tokyo Police Club's "Champ" (NPR)
Laura Collins-Hughes on Mike Daisey, Apple and Chinese workers (The Boston Globe)
Laura Collins-Hughes on the offstage drama at WHAT (The Boston Globe)
Thomas Conner on Lady Gaga (Chicago Sun-Times)
Steve Dollar on the Asphalt Orchestra (The Wall Street Journal)
Michael Feingold on "See Rock City" and "Battle of Stalingrad" (The Village Voice)
Christopher Hawthorne on "Architecture of the Sun" (Los Angeles Times)
John Horn on studios' embrace of fanboy-genre newcomers (Los Angeles Times)
Ann Hornaday reviews "Dinner for Schmucks" (The Washington Post)
Hillel Italie on Anne Rice, ex-Christian (The Associated Press)
Hillel Italie on Authors Guild response to an Amazon deal (The Associated Press)
Craig Seligman on Gary Shteyngart's "Super Sad True Love Story" (Bloomberg News)
Craig Seligman on traveling through Le Marche (Bloomberg News)