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The Tragic Edge of Art

Whitney Houston Remembered as Trailblazer, World Class Entertainer

February 16th 2012

Music - Whitney

Whitney Houston, who died February 11 in Beverly Hills, California, is being remembered across the globe as a trailblazer.  Here's a look back at her rise to superstardom and the songs that made her one of pop music’s most celebrated divas. Among all of Houston’s groundbreaking achievements, including a tally of more than 400 career awards, her most significant feat was her record-setting string of seven consecutive Number One singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  It broke the previous record of six set by The Bee Gees and The Beatles.  The string began on October 26, 1985 with her Grammy-winning hit “Saving All My Love For You,” and ended on April 23, 1988 with her R&B ballad “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.”  It was the fourth single from her album “Whitney” to go to Number One, also a record for a female artist.  She sold more than 170 million albums worldwide and co-produced and recorded songs for one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time, The Bodyguard.

Whitney Houston was born the daughter of famed gospel singer Cissy Houston in Newark, New Jersey.  Dionne Warwick was her cousin and Aretha Franklin her godmother.  She began as a gospel singer and pianist in her mother’s church and sometimes performed alongside her in nightclubs.  At age 15, Whitney sang backup on Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman,” a tune she later performed on The Bodyguard soundtrack.  Her multi-octave vocal range became her signature sound, and led to her discovery by Arista Records’ president Clive Davis. Read more ..

Edge of Film

'Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore' goes for Academy Award gold

February 16th 2012

Film - flying books

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, is a unique short film directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, is one of five animations slated for consideration by the upcoming Academy Awards among the very finest of genre. (See the film in its entirety here) This the first animation project released by the newly opened Moonbot Studios.  Morris Lessmore draws its inspiration from classic American sight-gag comedy, like Buster Keaton, as well as films such as The Wizard Oz. Viewers will also note references to the devastation in Louisiana that followed Hurricane Katrina.

The short  uses a variety of techniques, including miniatures, computer animation, and 2D animation, as author and illustrator William Joyce and co]director Brandon Oldenburg present a hybrid style of animation that harkens back to silent films and MGM Technicolor musicals. Given the producers' Louisana roots, the use of ‘jambalaya’or ‘gumbo’ as metaphors come readily to mind for a film that is also a delightful melange of sights, flavours, and influences. The film also pays homage to New Orleans' famed French Quarter.

The Tragic Edge of Art

In Whitney Houston's Hometown, Fans Pay Tribute

February 16th 2012

Music - Whitney Houston

American music and movie star Whitney Houston died February 11 in Los Angeles at the age of 48. Although she was known to struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, the cause of her death is still to be determined. Meantime, her body was flown to her home town in New Jersey for burial. And fans have come from near and far to pay respects to her talent. 

Outside the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, fans and friends left messages, flowers and other outpourings to say “goodbye” and thank you to the star. Scribbled notes said her voice had brought goose bumps and that her greatness will always be remembered. Houston sang as a child at the church, and it's where her private funeral will be held on Saturday. A few blocks away, Houston's body lay at the Whigham Funeral Home. Funeral director Carolyn Whigham said she knew Houston even before she was born.  She begged the media to respect the family's privacy in this time of grief. “Whitney has shared her entire life with the public.  This is her final farewell. Let her family share that time with her. It’s never easy and it’s not easy when it’s someone you know, that you respected and that you admired," she said. In East Orange, the Whitney Houston School for the Performing Arts, stands as testimony to the admiration for Houston in this part of America.

Gregory Whittle came to the school to pay his respects. He grew up with Houston and knows her entire family. "A lot of times in the basement you could hear her singing. Singing in the back by the pool. I remember when she was on the cover of Seventeen magazine. But I mean.. she was just Nippy, you know what I mean?" he said. "I didn’t think she was going to be that big of a star but she had a gift. It was strictly from God." Henry Hamilton is the school's principal. He also knew Houston well. His office is adorned with photos of her. He was fond of her. "She was real quiet, small, we called her Nippy but a very adorable youngster. All people have problems, obstacles in their life," Hamilton stated. "There were obstacles there, but before that obstacle was there, she was most successful. During those 48 years, all the records she made, the number one hits, the number of albums she sold, beautiful, on top.” Read more ..

Film Review

"Hugo" is Full of Images Recalling Film's Early History

February 13th 2012

Film - hugo

Hugo. Director: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Asa Butterfield, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Chloe Grace Monetz, Jude Law. Length: 92 mins.

The recent holiday season offered three highly touted movies about boys caught up in exciting adventures: "Hugo," "War Horse" and "The Adventures of Tintin." Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" was also one of several "reflexive" films—movies about the movies. Other reflexive films included "The Artist" (about a silent screen actor at the onset of "talkies") and "My Week with Marilyn" (about Marilyn Monroe during the 1956 filming in England of "The Prince and the Showgirl").

Each of these films is built from an excellent script, and each has a strong, distinct style. Of them, only "My Week with Marilyn" could be regarded as rather traditional, unembellished film-making. "The Artist" returns to the glittering black-and-white palette of the silver screen era and unfolds almost entirely without spoken dialogue. "War Horse" and "Hugo" are gloriously colorful period films. Impressive digital technology and motion-capture techniques (a la "Avatar," 2009) were the basis of Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin"—shot in 3-D, as was "Hugo."

In 'Hugo', Martin Scorsese's camera pays loving attention to machinery, gadgets and clockworks, which become the embodiment of human ingenuity and creativity. Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

North Korean Accordionists are Smash Hit on Internet, and Didn't Even Know it

February 12th 2012

Korea Topics - trio in north korea
Moreton Traavik in Panmunjon, North Korea

Norwegian synthpop and North Korea are an unlikely combination. But that’s exactly the mix that has spawned the Internet’s latest viral hit. A video of five North Korean accordionists playing the 1980’s song “Take On Me” by a-ha has nearly one million views on YouTube. And that’s only in its first week online. Norwegian artist and director Morten Traavik shot the video in Pyongyang last December in preparation for the Barents Spektakel, an international arts festival currently underway in Kirkenes, Norway.  It was the culmination of multiple trips to North Korea over several years.

“I wanted them to play, since they would be playing in Norway, to include some Norwegian tunes in their repertoire,” Traavik said in a telephone interview with VOA. “I brought them three Norwegian songs that are more of a classical nature, and also the “Take On Me” by our only world-famous pop group a-ha on a CD.” Traavik says he was impressed by how quickly the young North Koreans, who attend Pyongyang’s Kum Song Music School, mastered the tune.

“I gave them the CD with no notes, no annotations, nothing whatsoever, only the song on a CD on a Monday evening, and the clip that you see was filmed on Wednesday morning,” he said. In the video, three men and two women sway to the beat of the music, their arms wrapped around the accordions. “I think this has been a revelation to quite some people around the world, you can actually have a good time in North Korea as well,” said Traavik, who is known for his sensational projects, including the Miss Landmine pageants in Angola and Cambodia Read more ..

Edge of Film

Oscar-nominated Music Helps Movies Soar

February 9th 2012

Film - john williams scoring indy
credit: Tash

Most people consider film to be a purely visual medium. Yet a movie’s music, or score, plays a key role in conveying the work’s message.

Joseph Rivers, who teaches film studies and music at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, says the musical theme for director Stephen Spielberg’s “War Horse,” the epic that opens in rural England, is a good example of the way music can enhance the audience experience of a place.

With “War Horse,” this is done through sustained harmonies, broad sweeping orchestrations, sweeping melodic lines, or even with folk-like melodies imposed on the harmonies.”

Five-time Oscar winner John Williams composed the music for “War Horse,” one of the five current nominees for best score. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Musicians Abound Under the Streets of New York

February 9th 2012

Music - Musicians
New York City Subway Musicians

The New York subway system is one of the largest in the world, ferrying nearly eight and a half million people around the city every week. Riders find more than transportation below the streets; amid the dirt and the grime and the screech of the trains, there is also music. The subway system is like a free concert hall, offering almost every kind of music, from West African kora to American bluegrass to Vietnamese string instruments and Mexican mariachi bands.

You never know what you might encounter, depending on the day of the week and the particular station. At a subway platform below Penn Station one afternoon recently, Rawl Mitchell, an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago, was playing the steel drums. He said he’s been performing in the subway since the mid-1990s.


Edgy Entertainment

Madonna: Marketing and Public Relations Genius!

February 5th 2012

Entertainment - Super Bowl XLVI

In what was clearly a great Super Bowl half-time show, Madonna did a great job of entertaining the millions watching the game – and in doing so scored a Public Relations coup in reaching a new generation of fans. The guest appearances by today’s pop stars including LMFAO, Cee Lo Green, Nicki Minaj and M.I.A, all enhanced the brand that Madonna has succcessfully built since launching her fantastic career with her first hit song, "Like a Virgin" in 1984. Madonna has always proved to be be not just a megastar,  but a true marketing genius.  As a lightening rod for controversy, her songs through the years, including her first, then "Papa Don't Preach", "Like a Prayer", "Vogue", and others, have attracted acclaim, but also outrage and anger, which all helped draw more attention to her.

Clearly this Super Bowl performance continued that upward trend, showing that her genius continues well into her third decade as a performer.  Only a rare group of people can make a similar claim.

Book Review

The Cult of Choice: An Unabashed Document of the Contemporary Left

February 4th 2012

Book Covers - myth of choice

The Cult of Choice: Personal Responsibility in a World of Limits. Kent Greenfield. Yale. 2011.

Some readers have compared this book to the work of Malcolm Gladwell. It's not hard to see why; the core strategy of Gladwell mega-bestsellers such as The Tipping Point -- arrestingly simple assertion illustrated with anecdotal information from a variety of fields -- is very much in evidence here. But in an important sense, The Myth of Choice, which is about as well-written as anything in Gladwell's entertaining oeuvre, proves to be a more satisfying experience. That's because the illustrations are enlisted in the service in a more focused world view: that the libertarian cast of our sociopolitical discourse is at best misguided and at worst plays into the hands of those who manipulate our false sense of sovereignty in the service of their often pernicious agendas.

It's apparent that Kent Greenfield's life experiences have served him well. Born in small-town Kentucky, the son of a Baptist minister and a schoolteacher, he went to Brown and clerked for Supreme Court justice David Souter before taking a position at Boston College Law School. Each of these elements -- plain-spoken eloquence, intellectual rigor, a methodical cast of mind, flinty New England skepticism -- blend in his first-person voice. He writes as engagingly about a childhood contest of wills with an elementary school teacher as he does in parsing legal opinions. This is a book that can be read in a single sitting -- but also dispensed as bite-sized assignments in any number of humanities or social science courses. Read more ..

Book Review

British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement: How America's Oil Addiction Created a Legacy of Deceit and War

February 2nd 2012

Book Covers - redline agreement

British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement. Edwin Black. 2011. Dialog Press. 277 pages.

British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement: The West's Secret Pact to Get Mideast Oil is the third and latest entry in an series of books written by award-winning investigative journalist Edwin Black that tackles the issues surrounding automobiles, energy, and transportation. The previous two books are Internal Combustion and The Plan: How to Rescue Society the Day the Oil Stops. As with all of his other books, Black relies upon a crack research team to uncover and compile an exhaustive trove of heretofore unknown factual information and data.

Buy it here. See Book TV here.

To me, as a dedicated free-market capitalist and defender of American ideals, I would like to believe that the story of petroleum oil exploration should be one of entrepreneurial glory. Instead, the more I learn about the corruption and machinations employed by British Petroleum and its industry cohorts and competitors, the more I realize that we have been the victims of oil’s subjugation for well over 100 years.

With the rise of industrialization and the advent of the automobile and other forms of engine-powered transportation, the world needed a standardized source of fuel for the new machines. That fuel could easily have been a fuel produced by virtually anyone using organic materials. However, a fuel based on simple vegetation or human waste, and a common distillation process that couldn't be patented left little on the table for those who sought unbridled power and wealth. British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement reads like the most exciting Tom Clancy novel entwined with a devious international conspiracy worthy of Ian Fleming’s wildest James Bond adventure; although even for a 007 yarn it might run the risk of being considered too implausible a plot. Buy it here. Read more ..

Israel and Iran

The End of Days in Palestine

February 1st 2012

Book Covers - Palestine the Book
Palestine the Book, by Jonathan Bloomfield

What would we do if we lived in a flood plain with no egress at all, or along a hurricane evacuation zone that just prolonged the inevitable without taking you out of the path? It is probably something few really consider until the storm is bearing down on them and reality is about hit hard. Living in the New York metropolitan area, having experienced hurricanes, nor'easters and blizzards that destroyed property, wiped out beaches, killed people and devastated lives and families, many of us can imagine the sense of urgency when an emergency is near.

Most recently, last April and May we watched the 24 hour news channels as large regions of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi were hit by the largest storms since the early 1900s, and the Morganza Spillway was intentionally opened, destroying nearly 5000 square miles of inhabited land to spare total destruction of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, on the heels of the 2005 hurricane that nearly wiped out the whole Gulf region. What if the people who lived there or were visiting the area then had no way to escape?

The prospect is frightening and for just about all of us, unimaginable. Now imagine the threat is not a tidal wave, rushing floodwaters, a violent tornado or some other natural disaster, and something that can wipe out life as we know it for years to come, destroying not just property, but everyone and everything in its wake. Imagine the threat is a nuclear explosion, the mushroom cloud in the distance, the flash of light and the torrent effect of the ripple that tears through everything in its path, leaving death and darkness then nothingness.

This is a fear that we face living in a nuclear world, but one that we here in the United States feel is either so remote or could hit elsewhere, but not in my backyard. However, in Israel, the fear is real. With the entire country being just 8,019 square miles; extending about 200 mi north to south and just 70 miles east to west; with its narrowest point being only 12 miles across, there is nowhere to go to outrun a nuclear attack, nowhere to hide and nothing to do but watch the end of the world take hold. Read more ..

Theatre Review

Oswald: A Play about a Murder that Never Goes Away

February 1st 2012

Art Topics - oswald

Oswald: The Actual Interrogation. Write Act Repertory Theatre, Hollywood CA.

Last summer, I strolled into a small New York East Side playhouse and sat down to watch Dennis Richard’s play Oswald,a story about the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, one of the most dramatic events in the country’s history.  I expected yet another drama filled with forensics investigations, sound analysis, movie clips and extended wild conspiracy theories, like all the others over the years.

Oswald was not like that at all. It was a riveting story about the police investigation of the Kennedy murderer based on the actual notes of Captain Will Fitz, the veteran Dallas police detective who talked to Oswald for most of the two days he was in custody.  The story unfolded from the time of the shooting to the moment Oswald himself was gunned down by Jack Ruby, live, on national television, two days after Kennedy died.

Throughout, Richard built a riveting story and created a devastating character in Lee Harvey Oswald, an angry young man trying to fast talk his way out of the interview. Hour by hour, though, day by day, Captain Fitz built an unassailable case against Oswald.  He proved, without question, based on evidence and eyewitness testimony, that Oswald killed Kennedy.

The beauty of Oswald was that even though you knew how the story ended, you were transfixed by the play.  Now Oswald has re-opened at the Write Act Repertory Theater in Los Angeles for a month-long run.  Its producers have been talking to other theaters across the country about staging the play in 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination that shook the world.  Two screenwriters have talked to Richard about turning the play into a film. Read more ..

Film Review

Red Tails: Good but Disappointing Historical Drama

February 1st 2012

Film - red tails

Red Tails. Director: Anthony Hemingway. Starring: Cuba Gooding, Terrence Howard.

In the opening scene of Red Tails, the new film produced by George Lucas about the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, hundreds of computerized planes emerge on screen in a pitched air battle. The tension-filled battle sequence ends and the action drifts down to the ground, where member of the all-black and very segregated Tuskegee squadrons complain that because of their color the army will not let them fly combat missions. If they could, they tell each other, they would shoot the Nazis out of the sky from one end of Europe to the other.

The plot of the film, an action-packed historical drama that opened last week, flies off from there. Red Tails is a fine movie, but it is a bit simplistic, overly heroic, filled with made-in-Hollywood quotes. It’s (admittedly) yet another updated version of the old wartime action flicks. It’s a film that tells the courageous tale of the black airmen and their two wars—one against the Germans and the other against the racist Army Air Force brass. The film is long on sensational aerial dogfights. Lucas, who gave the world Star Wars (the space battles in the original were based off of aerial combat footage from World War II), is the master of film dogfights. Here, over Italy, American fighter planes zig and zag their way through blue skies, blasting German planes out of the air. The enemy aircraft don’t just fall to earth; they fall with long spirals, smoke billowing from the fuselage and explode in a huge ball of bright orange fire. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

$800 Israeli Film Appears at Sundance

January 30th 2012

Israel Topics - Adi Kutner
Adi Kutner

An award-winning Israeli student film made with a budget of just $800 has been chosen to appear at the Sundance Film Festival.

With a budget of just $800, Israeli film student Adi Kutner has proven that it's the story that counts and not the hoo-ha producers usually rely on to move movies forward. Kutner's 18-minute short, Barbie Blues, was chosen to screen at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, beginning today, and ending on January 29.

Barbie Blues is a coming-of-age story with a global appeal. It centers on Mika, a lonely teenager who lives in suburbia, and her new neighbor, Gershon. Through her encounter with Gershon, Mika discovers the boundaries of her femininity and sexuality for the first time, says Kutner. But like the Barbie dolls the film is named for, hers is a shallow and idealized version of what a woman should be.

"There's an awkward border that teens walk between adulthood and childhood," Kutner said, noting that teenage girls so often mimic what society tells them is "sexy" without fully understanding the meaning of their behavior. Read more ..

Book Review

Moscow, December 25, 1991: The Greatness that Was Not to Be

January 30th 2012

Book Covers - Moscow December 25

Moscow, December 25, 1991: The Last Day of the Soviet Union. Conor O'Clery. Public Affairs. 2011.

Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin each ate hot cereal for breakfast, had loving and protective wives and children, rose through Communist Party ranks to become quintessential members of the nomenklatura, or bureaucratic elite. Above all, in this lively, stimulating account of the unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union, Conor O’Clery, the Irish Times’s Moscow-based journalist, offers a mini-John le Carré treatment of constant warfare inside the once-secret walls of the Kremlin. Endemic corruption, ineptitude, and conspiracies, plus the loss of faith in the Soviet’s military-industrial complex, a failed war in Afghanistan, and a crumbling economy helped to destroy the Soviet Union. All it seemed to need was a push from the inside. Who did what to whom and why and its consequences is the heart of O’Clery’s portrayal. Stalin, Beria and the rest of the gang of murderers were gone but what they left in their wake was a predictable quest for power and privilege by those who followed them. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

Director Angelina Jolie Scorned by Serbia for Human Rights Movie

January 30th 2012

Film - land of blood and honey

She’s known internationally as one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses; she’s won praise from governments and NGOs across the globe for her work as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations; and she’s often reckoned to be the world’s most beautiful woman. But Angelina Jolie has been going by a few other titles lately in the Balkan country of Serbia, where prominent media outlets have taken to describing her as an American propagandist and all-around "jerk."

The nationalistic furor stems from Jolie's recent debut as a screenwriter and director with “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” a fictionalized account of the Bosnian war. Jolie and the film are now at the center of a furious debate in Serbia over the nation’s most sensitive political issue: the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and the degree of Serbia’s responsibility for ethnic cleansing campaigns against Muslim and Croat civilians during the Bosnian war.

Key voices in the Serbian media have said that Jolie’s story of a doomed wartime romance between a Muslim woman and a Serbian army officer unfairly denigrates ethnic Serbs and spins the conflict from a distinctly anti-Serb perspective. Film director Emir Kusturica recently told “Blic,” a Serbian daily, that Jolie’s new film is a work of “Hollywood propaganda.” His comments came as the Belgrade tabloid “Kurir” ran an interview with Bata Zivojinovic -- a veteran Yugoslav actor, former member of the Serbian parliament, and longtime Slobodan Milosevic ally -- under the blaring headline, "Angelina Is A Jerk." Read more ..

Film Review

W./E.: Wallis Simpson was Not As Dreadful as Madonna's Film Treatment of Her life

January 28th 2012

Film - W./E.

W./E. Director: Madonna. Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Abbie Cornish, James D’Arcy, Oscar Isaac, Richard Coyle. Length: 119 mins.

The Wikipedia entry for Madonna lists no fewer than ten professions to describe her ‘occupation’. Well, here is number 11: self-appointed Promoter of the Cause for the Canonization of St. Wallis of Baltimore. 

W./E. is not a film about Wallis Simpson; rather it is a film by a woman obsessed with Wallis about a woman obsessed with Wallis. In 1998, New Yorker, Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) escapes her own marital difficulties by imagining a friendship with her namesake, played by Andrea Riseborough. An auction of the Collection of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at Sotheby’s acts as a tenuous portal between the supposedly parallel lives of the two women.

Just in case the viewer struggles to spot immediately the similarities (names aside) between these two very different women, Madonna paints the picture for us, but it is more of a paint-by-numbers job than a masterpiece. The two women are both defined by their marriages (Wally, at an event to celebrate her husband’s extremely successful career in psychiatry, is referred to as ‘Married Lady’; Wallis’ three weddings are all highlighted). Both are victims of domestic violence, and brutal it is too. Read more ..

Film Reviews

The Artist: A Story of Love and Yearning for Articulacy and Understanding

January 27th 2012

Film - the Artist

The Artist. Director: Michel Hazanavicius. Starring: Jean Dujardin, Penelope Ann Miller, John Goodman. Length: 90 mins.

The Artist, by the French director Michel Hazanavicius, begins with the noise of an old-fashioned projector and a black screen. Music then comes up, a jazzy tune reminiscent of the 1920s without being quite of the period. The titles which then appear are entirely of the period, known to us now as "the silent era" — as is what we are soon seeing on the screen, which is a lurid adventure yarn in living black-and-white. Called "A Russian Affair," the movie has reached a peak of excitement as the hero, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), is being tortured with an electrical current through his head, administered by a couple of sinister-looking Russians. "I won’t talk!" he cries to his torturers by means of a dialogue title printed on the screen. "I won’t say a word" — a promise which the film allows him to keep in spite of the word he has just supposedly spoken. "Speak!" the Russians command him, also by inter-title. But he remains silent — then and throughout both that film and the one we are watching.

It is a good joke and one that Mr. Hazanavicius returns to several times, as when he shows Valentin gathered with his fellow stars on the other side of the screen, awaiting their cue to appear for a curtain call at the film’s premiere under a sign reading "Please be silent behind the screen." Later, his wife (Penelope Ann Miller) ominously says — again in print, of course — to Valentin: "We have to talk, George." Alas, George has already told Al Zimmer (John Goodman), the studio boss of Kinograph pictures what he told the sinister Russians, namely that he’s not talking. Shown his first talkie, George tells Al via another dialogue title, "If that’s the future, you can have it." Well, Al does and he doesn’t. Sticking with silence, he takes a bath with a self-produced film in which we see his character sinking into quicksand at the end. Virtually overnight, he’s all washed up. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

New Short Film/Video, Rainbow in the Night, Expresses Triumph and Hope in Time for the U.N. Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 26th 2012

Jewish Topics - Ranbow in the Night
On set in Majdanek

January 27, 2012 marks the 7th Annual UN Holocaust Remembrance Day. It's purpose is to honor the victims of the Holocaust and establish ways for younger and future generations to learn about and remember the tragedies that occured.  The hope is that through learning from our history, we can prevent the darkest points from ever occurring again.

In honor of the U.N. Holocaust Rememberance Day, film producer and director Daniel Finkelman recently completed a scripted and reenacted music video, depicting the era of the Holocaust entitled, “Rainbow in the Night”.  The video offers viewers an emotional and visual outlook into life in Poland, 1939.


Edge of Film

'Hugo' Leads Oscar Race With 11 Nominations

January 25th 2012

Film - hugo

The Academy Award nominations were announced this morning in Hollywood. Martin Scorsese's 3D adventure movie "Hugo," a fantasy tribute to French film pioneer George Melies, leads the list with 11 nominations, including one for Best Director, numerous technical categories and the most coveted of all, Best Picture of the Year. Actress and previous Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence announced the top category. "The films selected as best picture nominees for 2011 are  "War Horse," "The Artist," "Moneyball," "The Descendants," "The Tree of Life," "Midnight in Paris," "The Help," "Hugo" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."

The silent film, "The Artist," is nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including best picture, best actor and best supporting actress. "The Artist," a French-made black-and-white silent film about old-time Hollywood, has 10 nominations, including writing and directing for Michel Hazanavicius, Best Actor for its star Jean DuJardin and Best Supporting Actress for co-star Berenice Bejo, who expresses the sentiment heard most often. "Just being nominated is already an honor and already unbelievable," she said. Read more ..

Book Reviews

The Sense of an Ending: Low-Key Suspense and Deft Spacing in a Novella

January 24th 2012

Book Covers - sense of an ending

The Sense of an Ending. Julian Barnes. Alfred Knopf Publishers. 2011. 160 pages.

This novella tells an extraordinary story about a very ordinary man. The Sense of an Ending won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for any number of literary reasons. But one of its most distinctive attributes is its power as a meditation on the way memory is a form of personal historiography. Our master narratives of ourselves change in light our changing circumstances -- and, every once in a while, when previously unknown information about the past prompts (sometimes painful) revisionism.

Tony Webster is a late middle-aged man: recently retired, not-so recently divorced, with a grown daughter and young grandchildren. In measured prose, he tells the reader the story of his life. Most of his tale is dominated by his youth as schoolboy with a group of three other chums in postwar England and in chronicling his first serious romance. These two strands intertwine briefly in early adulthood. That chapter of his life ends unhappily, but he gets on with it and decades later looks back with satisfaction on a career as an arts administrator and an ex-wife with whom he remains on friendly terms.

Then, most unexpectedly, he is informed of a small bequest and the existence of a document that he is apparently meant to see but which is also being withheld from him. Disoriented by this set of events, Webster re-opens old relationships that shake loose the cobwebs of his memory. It's hard to be more specific than this without ruining the distinctly low-key but undeniable suspense of the story. Read more ..

Film Reviews

Iron Lady is a Film not so much about Politics as it is about Pity

January 24th 2012

Film - iron lady

All the review of The Iron Lady that you really need is to be found in the headline to a recent article in The Times of London by Daniel Finkelstein: "Thatcher was not just strong. She was right." Unless this be granted, the case goes by default that the former British prime minister was the monster of left-wing caricature. The difficulty for the film-makers - Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) directed, Abi Morgan (Shame) wrote the screenplay - is that they don't want the caricature but they don't want her to be right either.

To get around this difficulty they have made a political movie from which the politics has been extracted as a taxidermist draws out the brain of an animal he is stuffing through its nose. If there were any politics in it, they would have had to pick a side and portray Margaret Thatcher as essentially right or essentially wrong, so offending a significant portion of their potential audience who are, more than 30 years later, still passionately committed to one view or the other. But there are two senses in which the Thatcher premiership was historic.

One is the political sense that the film avoids; the other, chosen by the Misses Lloyd and Morgan, is the merely journalistic sense of "historic" - that is, because she was the first woman to hold the office of the Queen's first minister. In other words she was strong; on the question of whether she was right or not, the film mostly tries to remain agnostic - and uncontroversial. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Putin's List: 100 Books For Russian Readers

January 24th 2012

Art Topics - Tolstoy

In his latest campaign article, published in the "Nezavisimaya gazeta" daily, Russian Prime Minister and presidential hopeful Vladimir Putin takes Russia's national question and breaks it in two. How do we deal with outsiders? he asks. And what does it mean to be an insider? Accordingly, Putin uses his piece to call for several hard-nosed policies for dealing with the "outsiders" -- the nation's growing immigrant population. But at the same time, he proposes a literary gateway for those who wish to become "insiders" -- a cultural canon of 100 books to serve as required reading for all students in Russia's schools.

Speaking on January 23 in the southern city of Kislovodsk, Putin acknowledged Russia's rich legacy as a multiethnic state, but said its inhabitants had much to gain from embracing a unified Russian identity. "No one who lives in our country should forget about their religion or ethnicity," Putin said. "But everyone should be, first and foremost, a citizen of the great country of Russia." Putin noted in his article that "every self-respecting" student at leading American universities has dutifully read their way through similar lists, such as the 51-volume Harvard Classics world-lit anthology or the works included in American educator Mortimer Adler's "Great Books of the Western World." Russia, Putin implied in his article, was not to be outdone. "Our nation has always been a reading nation," he wrote, and called on the country's leading cultural authorities to get cracking with a list of their own. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin regards a book about himself during a visit to Penza in April 2011.xPrime Minister Vladimir Putin regards a book about himself during a visit to Penza in April 2011.

Edge of Film

New Documentary Illustrates Plague of Leftover Landmines

January 24th 2012

Art Topics - surviving the peace doc

Remnants of war, including unexploded ordnance and landmines, are still found in many countries around the world - even decades after conflicts have ended. Those dangers often devastate the lives of local inhabitants, who might not be aware they live in the middle of a minefield. An international organization that helps clear and destroy weapons left behind in war zones recently screened a documentary called Surviving the Peace, which shows how remnants of a conflict affect people’s lives, even after their country has emerged from war. In many regions of the globe, surviving a war is followed by surviving the peace. From Laos, where this new documentary was filmed, to Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Cambodia, and many other countries, local inhabitants live in daily fear of stepping on a landmine or unexploded ordnance left after a recent conflict.

Surviving the Peace, filmed in Laos in May 2011, reflects a situation found in many countries. It features a young father who is blinded when a bomb left over from the Vietnam War explodes in the fire he is making at his home. The guy had most of his face deformed and we were this close [to him]. They allowed us in and we were complete strangers. It felt like we were given a gift from these people to be allowed into their lives,” said filmmaker and cinematographer Rick Gershon. Read more ..

Book Reviews

Life Itself: Movie Critic Robert Ebert's Unselfconscious Memoir

January 22nd 2012

Book Covers - Life itself

Life Itself: A Memoir. Roger Ebert. Grand Central. 2011. 448 pages.

At one point in this memoir, longtime film critic Roger Ebert describes taking an undergraduate class at University of Illinois on the fiction of Willa Cather and being arrested by Cather's prose, which he describes "as clear as running water." Yes, I said aloud: that captures exactly what I've always so liked about Ebert. There's an artlessness to his criticism that could only be honed by decades of newspaper work. I admired Pauline Kael for her inimitable voice -- not that she's lacked imitators -- and the way I found her taste unpredictable. (I'd often try and guess in advance whether she was going to like a movie before I read her review, and as often as not was wrong.)

I'm less interested in trying to guess with Ebert than just to hear what he has to say in that sensible, fair voice of his. I think of his plain-spoken sensibility as quintessentially Midwestern by way of Chicago, land of Royko, Terkel and Eppie Lederer, a.k.a. Ann Landers, three of many Windy City scribes who make appearances on these pages. (There are some amusing Ann Landers stories here, including one about Ebert, a recovering alcoholic, trying to take her to an AA meeting and being rebuffed by the participants. Ebert also used her as a prop in trying to pick up the woman who became his wife.)

As regular readers of his work are aware, Ebert has been struggling with various forms of cancer for a decade now, and has undergone surgery that has left him unable to eat, drink, or speak. But, he explains, this involuntary silence seems to have triggered a flood of memory, leading him to start an autobiographical blog that resulted in this book. It does indeed read like an untrammeled river of prose; as an affectionate but frank Maureen Dowd complained in her review, "The effervescent Ebert doesn’t realize ... that for an autobiography, he doesn’t need to include the names of every childhood friend, parish priest, funeral attendee, and even his phone number when he was a boy." Read more ..

Edge on Books

Edwin Black Exposes War-Stained Oil History of British Petroleum on C-SPAN's Book-TV with 'British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement'

January 21st 2012

Book Covers - redline agreement

British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement--The West’s Secret Pact to Get Mideast Oil. Edwin Black. 277 pages. 2011. Buy it here.

Bestselling historian author and investigative journalist Edwin Black appears in three broadcasts on Book-TV over the January 21-22 weekend and January 23. Black will speak on his book British Petroleum and the Redline AgreementThe West’s Secret Pact to Get Mideast Oil. His main themes will be the fraud, deception, and decades of war machinations of the company now known as BP, and how it shaped the Mideast as we now know it and helped addict the world to oil.

His dynamic presentations were made before an international audience assembled at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington D.C. sponsored by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement is only the latest of his several volumes on the geopolitics and diplomatic machinations that led to the carving up of the Mideast the creation of oil states following the fall of the Ottoman Empire nearly one hundred years ago-- and eventually to the two costly wars the United States fought in Iraq. Black is said to be the man who coined the term "petropolitics."

Some of his other widely-cited books on the topic, which have been well received by historians and analysts, are The Farhud, Banking on Baghdad, The Plan and Internal Combustion. These cover the intricate and deadly connections between backroom dealings by global powers such as British Petroleum and General Motors, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, as well as and their interveined relationship with America’s wars and oil addiction. Black is best known for his prize-winning volume, IBM and the Holocaust.

British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement has brought Black accolades from analysts who watch the Mideast and the current devolution of decades-old oil-sponsored dictatorships in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and the possible rise of Islamist regimes. His work provides historical context to the troubles of the so-called Arab Spring that have led to the fall of Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Singing the Blues isn't Easy in the Land of Mariachis, Cumbia, and Narco-Corridos

January 19th 2012

Mexican Topics - Roberto Fernandez

Roberto Fernandez concedes that it's sometimes lonely being a bluesman in Culiacan. The capital of the Mexican state of Sinaloa, Culiacan is best known for the banda or grupera sounds that also provide the drum beat to the narco-culture and violence that's enveloped the region. "There's no blues scene," Fernandez chuckles. "We are the only ones." The frontman for the Malverde Blues Experience, Fernandez is a big man with a voice to match. His stage projection recalls in some ways Leslie West of the old US rock group Mountain, and Fernandez's band mates lay out a thundering sound with slices of heavy-metal, soul and the Texas boogie of ZZ Top.

As for the name of the group, Fernandez offers two explanations, both of them riddled with Mexican experiences of immigration, contraband smuggling, banditry and myth-making. The name "Malverde" (literally "Bad Green"), says the lead singer, is taken from an Indiana friend's bummer high on marijuana that could be considered a "blues experience." Pressed further, Fernandez accepts that Malverde, of course, is also the patron saint of Sinaloa's narcos and poor people who revere the outlaw figure outside the formal rituals of the Roman Catholic Church. "The name seemed perfect to me because it situates us in that mythic context, which in the final analysis is the basis of all societies," Fernandez muses. The music of Malverde Blues Experience, he adds, not only speaks to the realities of a violent hometown but to "universal situations that happen anywhere." Read more ..

Book Reviews

Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists and Their Family's Trial of Faith and Socialism

January 18th 2012

Book Covers - Conscience

Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family - A Test of Will and Faith in World War I. Louisa Thomas. Penguin Press. 2011. 336 pages.

“Socialism” has been redefined, praised and denigrated by free marketeers, assorted liberals and conservatives, pandering politicians and Obama-haters.  But in the end, it never took hold in this country because of governmental persecution, corporate opposition, recurring internal divisions, the New Deal, and perhaps above all the “American Dream,” which led American workers to support capitalism.

Was it possible to reconcile socialism with capitalism?  In socialism’s heyday, Eugene Debs, the Socialist candidate, received 6 percent of the vote in the 1912 election running against the Republican William Howard Taft, the pugnacious Bull Mooser Teddy Roosevelt and Democrat Woodrow Wilson.  Eight years later, in the 1920 election, while Debs was still imprisoned in Atlanta penitentiary for opposing World War I and the draft, he received one million votes.  It’s hard to remember that today’s consistently Republican/conservative Oklahoma once contained the nation’s second-largest socialist party.  The nadir of socialism’s national electoral popularity was when Norman Thomas, the party’s perennial candidate, won 140,000 votes in his final run in 1948, next to Harry Truman’s 24 million and Thomas Dewey’s 22 million.  In that last fruitless presidential campaign he railed against communism, Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party, and the bellicose foreign policies of both Democrats and Republicans.

Neither Debs, nor Thomas, nor for that matter once-prominent socialists Daniel DeLeon, Morris Hillquit, and even Helen Keller, are remembered today.  Nor are socialism’s historical ancestors:  Brook Farm, the Amana and Oneida communities, Robert Owen’s New Harmony colony, and Edward Bellamy’s late nineteenth-century Looking Backward, a hugely popular novel about a socialist and utopian America. Read more ..

Book Review

Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Cold Comfort for America's Religious Right

January 15th 2012

Book Covers - roger williams 3

Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State and the Birth of Liberty. John M. Barry. Viking Press. 2012. 441 pages.

John Barry has written one of the best and clearest books about Roger Williams that I have ever read, a book about the ideas of Roger Williams and their context. It is not a biography in the usual sense, but it tells what ideas, forces, and events shaped Williams’ thinking. Barry concludes that Williams was truly revolutionary and was the source of one of two major versions in the American “soul.” He was the fountain of the stream of religious freedom, separation of church and state, and political liberty. The other stream was represented by John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts. Winthrop presented America as a Christian “city on a hill” whose continued success required the state to be a “nurturing father” to the church. The government and the church had to be partners in curbing the human wickedness and preserving their covenant with God. If they failed, God would surely make an example of their city, treating it as if it were Sodom or Gomorrah. Williams, on the other hand, said that the state had absolutely no role to play in religion.

Barry devotes about a third of the book to the British context of Williams’ development, especially stressing the impact of Sir Edward Coke and Sir Francis Bacon. The greater influence was Coke, who plucked the boy Williams from obscurity, made him his amanuensis, and saw that he received the finest formal education available at Charterhouse School and Cambridge University. Williams accompanied Coke to Parliament, the Court of Star Chamber, Court of Common Pleas, the Privy Council, conferences with the King, and other high-level meetings. Williams learned about the law, government, and justice first hand at the elbow of England’s greatest jurist and legal thinker. Read more ..

Edge on Film

A Separation: An Iranian Film and Contender for Golden Globes Award

January 14th 2012

Film - A Separation still

The much-acclaimed Iranian film, "A Separation," headlined Prague’s inaugural Iranian Film Festival this week, in a showcase event highlighting the best of Iran’s distinguished film industry. Ashgar Farhadi’s film has received plaudits in Iran as well as in the international film community after being the first Iranian film to win the prestigious Golden Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival and being nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globe Awards in the United States. The Golden Globes will be held on January 15.

"A Separation" explores the complex issue of migration and poses an uncomfortable question that has confronted a generation of Iranians living in Iran and abroad: to stay in Iran and be slowly strangled by the rigors of Iranian society or flee to the West and become irrelevant? The film tells the story of the strained relationship between a middle-class couple, Nader and Simin. Nader is driven by his duty to stay in Iran and take care of his ageing and ill father. Simin, meanwhile, is driven by a need for escape and longs to leave Iran, especially for the sake of their young daughter, Termeh. A series of heated arguments follow between the couple and a climax is reached when Simin leaves home and demands a divorce from Nader, which instigates a series of unforeseen and tragic events. Read more ..

Wine and Food

Michigan Sees Great Future in Ancient Italian Dessert Wines

January 14th 2012

Food / Wine - sabattini viticulturist
Michigan viticulturist Paolo Sabbatini

A Michigan State University researcher is working with vintners to introduce passito, an age-old Italian wine to the United States. Passito, traced to 800 B.C. in Italy, is also known as straw wine. The grapes for passito are typically hand-picked and allowed to dry on cellar racks or, more traditionally, on mats of straw. Many industry experts believe ice wine – dessert wine pressed from frozen grapes at the peak of ripeness and can sell around $90 per bottle – could be the signature wine for the northern United States. Passito, however, could be just as distinct but also a lower-risk option for wine producers, says Paolo Sabbatini, MSU viticulturist and native Italian.

“No one is making passito commercially in America, and this old Italian technique can be pivotal in cool-cold climate viticulture,” Sabbatini said. “It can save unripe grapes from being wasted in a challenging year as well as produce a high-quality, high-value product, distinctive to the northern U.S.” Typically, growers of ice-wine grapes need the perfect winter storm – the arrival of temperatures in the teens to freeze ripe grapes while they are on the vine. This year’s fickle winter, however, has put the entire North American ice wine crop on hold. In the last two months, weather has been up and down, switching from snow to rain and not delivering the successive string of cold days needed to harvest frozen grapes, according to an industry publication. Read more ..

Film Review

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: A Film of World-Weary Self Satisfaction

January 13th 2012

Film - tinker tailor soldier spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Director: Tomas Alfredson. Starring: Gary Oldman. Length: 92 mins.

Although I didn’t much care for Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I should begin by giving it its due. The movie does a fantastic job of conveying what Britain looked, sounded and even smelled like in 1973, which was the year I arrived there for what turned out to be a nearly 15-year stay spanning the transition from the Britain of the post-war era to the threshold of the post-Cool Britannia of today. The clothes, the cars, the general dinginess and shabbiness of everything is captured perfectly, so far as I can see, in spite of the odd false note like having George Smiley (Gary Oldman) and an associate dining in a Wimpy Bar. Obviously, the Wimpy Bar has to be there in order to give us the full flavor of the period, but men of their class wouldn’t have been caught dead in one. Movies these days are generally pretty good at re-creating the material past, but this one is a reminder of the importance of also getting the moral and intellectual and spiritual past right as well, for it cannot be understood apart from that cultural context.

In its case, that means the John Le Carré novel of 1974 and the 1979 BBC television adaptation of it starring Alec Guinness as well as the history of the Cold War on which both purport to be a distinctive gloss. Unlike Mr. Alfredson’s previous film, Let the Right One In, which was a completely original take on the vampire legend, Tinker Tailor places itself squarely in the middle of the now well-established tradition of cultural customs and concepts with which it deals — partly, perhaps, in order to suggest a continuity between that tradition and current political realities with which it would otherwise seem to have little in common. In other words, now not only Cold War spies but spies in general are seen as inhabiting that famously "twilit" world invented by Mr. Le Carré to express his own conviction of moral ambiguity and, in consequence, a near moral equivalence between Communist slave states and what used to be called "the West." Read more ..

Book Reviews

Taft: A Novel that Comes in the Nick of Time

January 12th 2012

Book Covers - Taft

Taft: A Novel. Jason Heller. Quirk. 2012. 320 pages.

The wacky premise of this novel merits a look. On March 4, 1913, on the final day of a presidency wedged between the more commanding Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, the outgoing president William Howard Taft -- all 300+ pounds of him -- somehow slips through a time portal and reappears on the White House grounds in late 2011. Shot by a secret service agent terrified by the muddy beast, Taft, he of stuck-in-the-bathtub lore, is nursed back to health and introduced to the 21st century, where there's a lot more affection for the 27th president than there ever was a century ago.

There's some entertainment to be had in this fish-out-of-water story. "Good God, man. Is this all truly necessary? I must look like a cut-rate Manila harlot," the one-time administrator of the Philippines says. He wonders what ever happened to good old tap water, and expresses surprise that cell phones didn't come along sooner.

First-time novelist Heller, a music journalist and writer of genre fiction, renders Taft as colorful cartoon, which is mildly amusing, though all the attention to his gargantuan appetite and handlebar mustache becomes a bit tiresome after a while. (Other characters are a good deal less compelling.) We watch Taft as he visits familiar places, gets drunk, gets laid, and passively finds himself drawn into presidential politics (just as he was the first time around). Heller augments his traditional storyline with a series of mock documents -- television talk show transcripts; Secret Service memos; twitter feeds, polling data -- that contextualize the story. Read more ..

Film News

CIA, DOD Probing Whether Bin Laden Secrets were Leaked

January 10th 2012

Terrorism - Osama bin Laden

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.) says the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency are investigating whether classified information was released to filmmakers on how Osama bin Laden was killed. King received confirmation of the investigation in letters from Defense and the CIA that he made public on Thursday.

"Following a shockingly dismissive response to my request from White House press secretary Jay Carney, I am pleased that the inspectors general at DOD and the CIA agree with me that potential leaks to filmmakers are something worth investigating and taking action to address," King said. "The leaks that followed the successful bin Laden mission led to the arrests of Pakistanis and put in danger the mission’s heroes and their families," he said. "Privately, individuals in the intelligence and special operations communities expressed support for my request for a probe. I look forward to an update on the investigation and actions taken thus far." Read more ..

Movie Madness

'The Devil Inside' makes Lots of Filthy Lucre for a Hollywood Possessed by Catholic Themes

January 9th 2012

Film - the devil inside

Audience response to a Hollywood faux documentary, The Devil Inside, has belied the critics who have panned the flick. Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday January 6-8 at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com, showed that The Devil Inside took in  $34.5 million, surpassing the glitzy Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – starring the nimble Tom Cruise – which brought in $20.5 million. Following in third place was Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, starring Iron Man's Robert Downey Jr, at $14.1 million in domestic receipts, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, starring Daniel Craig of 007 fame, at $14.1 million in fourth place. See trailer here.

A surprise hit for Paramount Pictures, the horror film surpassed industry expectations as freak flick fans went to theatres to see a low-budget film about exorcists who try to liberate a woman possessed by demons. With the results from The Devil Inside, Hollywood’s business made for a bright first week of the new year, following a sluggish Christmas season at the box office despite some otherwise excellent films such as Tintin and Hugo.  Overall domestic revenues totaled $144 million, up 29 percent from the same weekend last year, when True Grit led with $14.6 million, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Miranda Lambert Delivers Whole New Flair With 'Four The Record'

January 8th 2012

Music - Miranda Lambert1

Miranda Lambert says her new album, “Four The Record,” “pushes the limits” and builds on her previous releases with “a whole new flair.” The Country star kept a high profile throughout the past year by winning her first Grammy Award, taking home her second consecutive Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year Award, and marrying fellow Country star Blake Shelton.  And, she’s poised to have another stellar year in 2012. Miranda’s new album, “Four The Record,” debuted at Number One.  She becomes the only artist in the Country Album chart’s history to enter in the top spot with each of her first four releases. 

Last year, Miranda recorded a side project with singer-songwriter friends Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley as Pistol Annies.  The trio’s “Hell On Heels” album also opened at Number One on the Country list. Since the 2005 release of her major label debut album “Kerosene,” Miranda has charted her own musical course.  Her fans have understood her personality from the beginning, but Miranda’s feisty attitude stood in the way of radio success early in her career. 

She finally developed a relationship with Country radio with the release of her 2009 album, “Revolution,” which produced two Number One hits. After spending some time at home for the holidays, Miranda is back at work to promote her new album.  “Four The Record” features many guests, including Steve Winwood, Josh Kelley, Patty Loveless and Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman.  Miranda also invited her husband to duet with her on this track, called “Better In The Long Run.” Read more ..

Edge of Music

In New Orleans, Even the Walls Sing

January 8th 2012

Music - Music Box Louisiana

It's called the Music Box, but it is not a box at all. It's a tiny village. A collection of tiny wooden huts sits on a quiet street in New Orleans, making music all day and all night.

Built into the wall of a small wooden shack is a computer that records sounds ready to be played back. Artist Taylor Lee Shepherd explains his creation.

"What I was playing you earlier is just my voice and then looped over and then you can go back and play it through," said Shepherd.  "It's very versatile. You can put anything into that mixer and sample whatever you want. My idea is that it's kind of a choir and you're summoning the voices behind your walls."

Shepherd's instrument is housed in a tiny shantytown built on a residential street in New Orleans. An 18th-century cottage once stood on the land. When that cottage fell apart artists moved in to make use of the old wood. In its place now stands a collection of small shacks that are either musical instruments or contain musical instruments. Hundreds of visitors from the city and beyond have visited the Music Box and played the instruments. In one hut, visitors play household items such as plastic bags and paint buckets, which double as a drum set. Read more ..

Book Reviews

The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to the Mean Years of Jim Morrison

January 7th 2012

Book Covers - doors

The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years. Greil Marcus. Public Affairs. 2011

Greil Marcus is the Ernest Hemingway of cultural criticism. I don't mean that in terms of style -- Hemingway's laconic prose is light years away from that of the effusive, endlessly analogizing Marcus -- but rather that Marcus, in a manner perhaps only paralleled by Pauline Kael, has inspired a generation of bad imitators. Myself among them.

I discovered Marcus somewhat belatedly, at the time of the second (1982) edition of his classic 1975 study Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Roll Music. I read the book multiple times in ensuing iterations, enchanted by its intoxicating prose, despite the fact that it would be years before I heard much of the music on which it was based. I was thrilled by the idea that popular music could be a subject of serious fun. It's hard to imagine that I would have ever received a Ph.D. in American Civilization, specializing in the history of popular culture, had I not encountered that book at a formative period in my life.

Though he has been a consistently productive magazine journalist, Marcus's output as a writer of books was relatively modest in the twenty years following Mystery Train, notwithstanding that his 1989 book Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century has had the heft and durability of a major study. But in the last two decades -- and in the last five years or so in particular -- his pace as a writer, editor and collaborator has picked up. He's taken to writing quick, impressionistic books on subjects like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years represents relatively fresh territory, not only because the band has not really been a long-term fixture of his writing, but also because the group has always had a mixed critical reputation. Conventional critical wisdom holds that while the Doors produced a few deeply suggestive songs that have had a remarkably durable life on FM radio, lead singer Jim Morrison in particular was, in the main, undisciplined at best and boorishly pretentious at worst. Though his overall stance toward the band is positive, Marcus does not fundamentally challenge this view, instead focusing on what he considers the band's best work in its brief life in the second half of the 1960s. Read more ..

Film Review

War Horse: As Good or Better than the Play

January 4th 2012

Film - war horse 2

War Horse. Director: Steven Spielberg. Starring: Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Jeremy Irvine. Length: 146 minutes.

Is a story better in a play or on the silver screen?  Which format tells history better?  Which is more memorable?

People have been arguing that question since films were invented and history first probed in cinema.  Does the power of the live theater, with actors just a few feet away, carry you away as completely as the power of film and its ability to bring you extraordinary close-ups and sweeping panoramic landscapes, all set to stirring music?  Does your imagination soar farther listening to someone describe something on stage or watching it in a movie?

Which makes you shout for joy louder or weep longer?  Which better evokes the story of the past?

The latest stage-to-screen story to sweep America is Steven Spielberg’s epic World War I drama War Horse, based on the prize-winning play now at Lincoln Center in New York and the children’s book by Michael Morpurgo.  It is the story of a British teenager whose horse, Joey, is sold to the English army for use in World War I. Read more ..

The Literary Edge

Another View of “On The Road”

January 3rd 2012

Book Covers - one and only

In his latest book, Gerald Nicosia has unlocked the dynamic of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, and not a moment too soon. Nicosia, the author of Memory Babe, the definitive Jack Kerouac book, was an advisor to the “On The Road” movie due to be premiered in May at the Cannes Film Festival. On The Road, published in 1957, was of course, the book that made Kerouac famous. It was inspired by Jack London’s famed book The Road, published in 1907.

Nicosia’s new book is One And Only: The Untold Story of On The Road. Its genesis was on the set of “On The Road,” when he was hired to teach the actors what beatnik life was all about.

Nicosia had thirty years previously interviewed Lu Anne Henderson, known as Marylou in “On The Road,” for Memory Babe. Cassady famously wrote to Lu Anne, “We’ll be together, you are my one and only wife.” And through all the wives and husbands and boyfriends and girlfriends, they were each other’s lovers to the end of time.

Kerouac and Cassady had a sometimes homoerotic relationship but Nicosia says it was Lu Anne who brought them together, and encouraged them to love each other in a way that defined the beat movement.

Up until now, most of what people know about Cassady and Kerouac comes from Carolyn Cassady, Cassady’s second wife. Her memoirs shaped the 1980 film “Heart Beat,” starring Nick Nolte as Cassady and Sissy Spacek as Carolyn.

The new film is more from the viewpoint of Lu Anne, Cassady’s first wife. That is because Nicosia, as the preeminent Kerouac scholar, was hired as an advisor for “On The Road.” When he played the tapes for actress Kristin Stewart, both he and the actress had some major revelations. Read more ..

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