Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Some of What's Happening Now

Stephen Sondheim’s musical about money and morality, Road Show, with a book by John Weidman, and directed by John Doyle, is at the Public Theater in lower Manhattan. The work of Sondheim reconciles passion and reason, fantasy and realism, and is impressive not only for its creativity but for its recognizable intelligence and truth.

There is a new collection of the music group Belle & Sebastian’s performances for the BBC from Matador Records; and a former Belle and Sebastian colleague, Isobel Campbell, performs with Mark Lanegan on the album Sunday at Devil Dirt, just out from V2. I expect these cult favorites will be welcomed enthusiastically.

I regret not being able to see A Christmas Tale, the new film about a troubled family with health issues at holiday time, by Arnaud Desplechin, featuring Catherine Deneuve and Mathieu Almeric. There is no place nearby showing it or likely to show it anytime soon. Stuart Klawans, for the November 6 Nextbook, has written about filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin (and his new film A Christmas Tale): “Desplechin tends toward overstuffed plots, theatrical conceits, rapid shifts in mood and style, and outrageously candid gestures. To these traits, he adds an element found not in Almodóvar but in the works of Woody Allen, whose inspiration he often acknowledges: a high level of literacy among the characters, and a correspondingly flighty level of chatter…With so much honor being heaped upon Desplechin, this might be the right moment to think about another of his distinctions, and a very curious one: he is contemporary cinema’s most Jewish non-Jewish director. Though as Catholic in upbringing as Almodóvar, Desplechin populates the margins of his films, and sometimes their centers, with surprise Jews, phantom Jews, Jews who wear their identity as openly as a badge…In case it should sound as if Desplechin’s maybe-Jews are an unpleasant lot, let me give a contrasting example: the old father in A Christmas Tale. A wise man, good-humored despite his troubles and free of all vanity, this character might be said to look Jewish, bears the vaguely Jewish first name of Abel, and works in a business (textiles) often associated with Jews…”

For a long time, I did not know anything about Destiny's Child or Beyonce Knowles. Until she released her first solo recording, I hadn't given her much thought; and then she got my attention when she was cast in Dreamgirls and the comparisons to Miss Ross began; and now I do find her fascinating for her talent and a bit amusing for the ferocious directness of her ambition, for which she has not been punished yet (unlike other female performers in the past). I am curious to see how her career develops, regarding both music and film. Here are some of the observations of Beyonce Knowles on her new movie, Cadillac Records, from an article in the New York Times, November 14: “Ms. Knowles said that Ms. Martin and the other actors made her feel secure enough to delve into Ms. James’s demons, allowing her to elevate her work beyond her own expectations. ‘For the first time, I was able to feel that out-of-body experience in a movie that I feel onstage,’ she said. She put on weight — 15 pounds — to match Ms. James’s size and added a rougher physicality to her movements; she sings two songs associated with Ms. James with confidence and authority.”

There is so much culture in New York, though not everyone participates in it. There, as elsewhere, culture is the obsession of a relative few: though because the population there is greater, there is also a signficant amount of people involved in it, enough to support a lot of it. reports that “Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg presented the 2008 Mayor’s Awards for Arts & Culture to six individuals and organizations in celebration of their outstanding contributions to New York City's cultural life.” The ceremony was held at the Apollo theater, and hosted by singer-actress Vanessa Williams. The Awards were created in 1974 by the Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission; and the 2008 Mayor’s Awards Recipients included: Alliance of Resident Theatres / New York; Arthur Aviles of the the Arthur Aviles Typical Theatre and the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (BAAD!); Dr. Sharon Dunn, an arts educator;Galt MacDermott, a composer and pianist; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, for supporting the arts; and Rush Arts Gallery & Corridor Gallery.

The literary critic John Leonard, who championed a wide range of writers, in very eloquent and thoughtful language died November 5th. Today, it is reported that another well-known critic of dance and culture, Clive Barnes, has died.

Saturday, November 22, in Henderson, Louisiana, is the Atchafalaya Basin Festival, one of many fall Louisiana festivals; and on November 29 and 30 is a Native American gathering in Gonzales, Louisiana, a powwow.

News reports in the New York Times and elsewhere indicate Eric Holder Jr. is likely to be U.S. Attorney General, and Tom Daschle will be the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in the administration of Barack Obama.

In Louisiana, Brittney Gary, a 17 year-old girl who was missing for several days, has been found dead, another among a group of girls found dead, in Jefferson Davis parish; and a funeral fund has been set up in her name. People wonder if a serial killer is active; and, there have been reports that several of the girls had cocaine in their bodies. Much of the daily news--on television and in newspapers--is about crime, and even minor crimes are prominently reported. It is hard not to feel in danger when so much attention is paid to violence, even as one looks around as sees reasonably established security. That there is so much nature here--a fundamental wildness--also contributes to that sense of danger.

Meanwhile, regarding international affairs, the United Nations News Centre reports that Israel is blockading Gaza again, which has produced a crisis of poverty in the past.

What is reality? How much thought is based on belief, and how much on reason and fact? In author Ronald Aronson’s “Choosing to Know,” from the online magazine Butterflies and Wheels: “In over thirty countries, including every other advanced society, a higher percentage of the general population accepts evolution: in pious Ireland, for example, the number accepting evolution is sixty percent higher than in the U.S.! Americans are just as likely to choose to believe in ghosts and UFOs as Creationism, and only somewhat less likely to believe in witches and astrology…Truth, then, can never be the realm of the dogmatic, inflexible demand and the obedient, submissive response. Nor is it the postmodern space occupied by a near-infinity of individual and group points of view. Its spirit is not best imbibed passively, by rote, or by accepting that everyone’s claim to truth is as valid as everyone else’s. It is generated actively, among people, questioningly, challengingly. To choose to learn today is to accept living within this process, to embrace being part of the widest possible human community…”

In the Brooklyn Rail article “A New Type of Human Being and Who We Really Are,” a piece that looks at contemporary culture and how opposition often fails to have an effect, writer and thinker Robert Hullot-Kentor states, “This criticism of all things that amounts to criticism of nothing at all is what is being discussed here; the point deserves to be emphasized and expanded. No one doubts the degree of social dissatisfaction and distress; millions are now displaced in the wreckage of homes, families and any plausible future. Over the course of the past eight years an acutely ascending line has in full public knowledge graphed the growing distress that has culminated in this moment.”