Thursday, June 30, 2005
Both Tosy and Cosh will be on hiatus for a short stint, as they'll be dashing off for a little of the 'ol Intenet-free r&r. In the three months since their auspicious return to the gritty and McDonald wrapper-strewn windy shores of Blogistan, they've developed a tiny little archive which can be accessed over to the right. So if you are a new visitor, dig around a little. If there's still an Internet when they return, we'll be seeing you soon.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Noticed something watching the first season of Scrubs on DVD (see my thoughts below). I remember when initially seeing the show that they seemed to do a good job of making the trio of main characters really seem to grow during the season, so that by the last episode, we believed that these doctors had progressed as far as they had; we believed they had gone from first-year interns to residents. But watching the show on DVD it seemed a bit forced, as if not enough time had passed for the transition.
The difference, of course, is that in "real time" we see a TV season over the course of nine months. The actual passage of time does a lot to instill the sense of time passing within the world of the show. On DVD, though, we often watch a season in the span of a week or so, or less. And without that real passage of time, the show's internal passage of time can feel less real. It'll be interesting, over the course of the next decade, to see if TV producers try to account for this. After all, the rough convention of TV show seasons equating to a year developed purely out of the fact that that's how they are produced and shown in real life. With DVD becoming stronger, will writers and producers be more tempted to disband with that convention?
The first in an occasional series, of beautiful women whose beauty doesn't seem to get the proper attention. Women who are truly beautiful, and yet seem to get relegated to the "frumpy" or "plain" roles in TV and film.
My first selction is Parminder Nagra, currently of ER. When she made a splash with the delightful Bend It Like Beckham, all of the attention--and subsequent big-ticket roles--went to her co-star, the admittedly also-beautiful Keira Knightley. But Nagra is just as beautiful, but, as an "ethnic," by Hollywood's lights she's just "pretty." Idiots.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Just finished going through the first season of Scrubs on DVD, and can't recommend it highly enough. I rarely catch it in "real-time," and had forgotten about how deftly, even from the first episode, they were able to juggle and balance absurdist humor with relatively complicated emotional plots. Last month I watched the first season of Arrested Development, and since I often see both shows referred to as "the best comedies on television" I was kind of comparing the two as I watched the Scrubs episodes. And what struck me was how similar and different their approaches really are.
Both sitcoms use absurdist, "wacky" humor to great effect. But AD grounds its flights of fancy in reality, whereas on Scrubs, most of the absurdist moments are completely imaginary. So, on AD you might see a grown man so frightened of his mother that he jumps through and shatters a sliding glass door when he so much as glimpses her. Now, that same moment on Scrubs would most likely be imaginary, not real; it would take place in JD's head. I'm not here to argue that one approach is better than another, but I did think it interesting that they each make use of a similar comedic philosophy, if you will, so differently.
But the biggest difference, and the one that, for me, makes Scrubs the more rewarding and, in the end, better, show, is how the show deals with emotional content. AD makes some half-hearted stabs at the notion that loyalty to family is important, but really the whole ethos of the show is built around the comedy, not the emotion. There are no real morals, or emotional truths being laid out. Just gags. And that's OK, no it's great -- we need shows like AD. We need shows that are just about the funny, and not about the tender, emotional moments that so many shows are built around. TV is littered with sitcoms that attempt to treat their characters in real, emotional ways that fail miserably. They are the rule, not the exception.
The truth is, that balance, between comedy and "drama," is very hard to maintain--especially when the comedy in question is of a more absurdist slant. Which is what makes Srubs so remarkable. The dramatic moments they deal with are treated honestly and often painfully, and yet they are still able to keep the show from ever getting sappy or treacly. Part of this lies in the way that they subvert expectations. There is a gentle cynicism about the show -- for example in the way that it looks at medicine as nothing but a stopgap measure against the tragedy of death that awaits everyone.
Take a look at the instant-classic episode "My Old Lady." It starts with an interesting, if slightly stale-smelling, gambit. We are told that, apart from the maternity wards, one out of every three patients that enters a hospital will die there. And, of course, we are introduced to three patients -- one for each of our primary characters. And for the entire episode we are waiting to see which one will die. But the twist at the end is where we see how seriously the show is willing to treat its premise and characters. All three patients die, and we are reminded that there are no guarantees, and that death is not the rare event, but the only one that never fails.
It's this kind of writing that makes the show work so well for me, this so well-handled treatment of both comedy, laugh-out-loud-funny, wacky, silly comedy, and real human drama. I'm not sure any show on television is currently combining them better. Well, maybe Gilmore Girls.
Monday, June 27, 2005
(Yes; this was just an excuse to try out Blogger's new photo feature. Sue me.)
Stealing from Lynn over at Reflections in D Minor:
1. What is your favorite action movie?
Raiders of the Lost Ark. The template they haven't quite beat yet. That truck chase still stands up as the best piece of action choreography I've ever seen.
2. What is the worst movie you've ever seen?
Some TV Christmas movie with Kirk Cameron protecting his mentally disabled sister I saw one year late at night. No idea what it was called.
3. Do you prefer comedy or drama?
Overall drama, but I far prefer fair or mediocre comedy to fair or mediocre drama. A bad comedy will sometimes still be good for a laugh, whereas a bad drama is usually good for nothing.
4. Recommend a good tear jerker:
I don't typically cry at movies that are normally seen as "tear jerkers," but rather at movies that people tend not to see as "sad." I've seen Monsters Inc. several times, and the business with the little girl at the end gets me every damn time.
5. What movie are you looking forward to seeing soon?
Batman Begins. My already-shaky geek credentials are on thin ice. And I've only seen Revenge of the Sith once!
Was watching bits and pieces of VH-1's latest exercise in nostalgia, 100 Greatest Kid Stars, last week and was reminded of a pet peeve of mine by former child star Lisa Welchel. Welchel, of course, played Blair on The Facts of Life, and in the "where are they now" portion of her segment, she very strongly discussed her Christian faith, and how that faith would compel her to veto certain storylines Facts of Life producers would bring to her for Blair, storylines in which Blair would act in "less-than-Christian" ways. I remember seeing something similar about Kirk Cameron on a Growing Pains special a few years back--that he would nix storylines for Mike Seaver that he thought "inappropriate."
I hate this. Now, I do happen to be an atheist, but I'm not merely reacting against faith in a knee-jerk negative way. I don't think less of either Cameron or Welchel for having strong faith. My wife is a very faithful person, and I love her more than I do anyone else on the planet. So this is not simply a matter of a non-believer mocking those dumb believers. However, I do think less of actors like Welchel and Cameron for being poor actors.
See, they were playing characters, and if the writers had wanted Mike Seaver to get to third base, that didn't mean that Cameron the person had to condone the activity. If Blair was going to go "all the way" with a guy, that doesn't mean Welchel approved. But for some reason these actors seem unable to make that distinction--to realize that they are playing characters, characters who in many ways may have different moral outlooks than they do. The mindset, frankly, baffles me--that an actor can't portray a character making choices he or she disagrees with. If you commit to acting, to playing a part, than you should also be committing to playing that person--not some idealized version of yourself. And if you are concerned about sending the wrong message to viewers than, quite simply, you are in the wrong business. After all, actors just play parts. If an actor is more concerned with sending messages, moral or otherwise, than they should get into writing, or producing. Not acting.
Friday, June 24, 2005
Up, up, and away!!!
1) "Distant Camera" -- Neil Young -- Silver & Gold
Young in soft acoustic mode, nice coloring by the slide guitar, plaintive singing; pretty song.
2) "Talk Show" -- Andrew Lippa -- john & jen (original cast)
I liked Lippa's Wild Party, so thought I'd like his earlier effort, but it has left me rather flat. Here, a single mother imagines herself on a "Maury"-style talk show discussing problems with her teenage son.
3) "Over the Rainbow" -- Ella Fitzgerald -- Ella Sings the Harold Arlen Songbook
The greatest song of the 20th century, in one of the best renditions it's ever been afforded.
4) "There Won't Be Trumpets" -- Sondheim (sung by Bernadette Peters) -- Anyone Can Whistle - Live at Carnegie Hall
This song was cut out of the original production of Anyone Can Whistle, and yet is today one of Sondheim's most oft-recorded songs. A great song for Bernadette's voice.
5) "Kit Kenne Elvenni" -- Zoltan Kodaly (sung by the Rutgers Glee Club) -- Rutgers Glee Club 1999 Tour
Love me the male choirs. Stirring, I think, Russian, choral piece.
6) "People! . . . No, I will speak!" Benjamin Britten -- Peter Grimes (opera)
Short dialogue scene from this, my favorite opera, as the townsfolk argue about what should be done with Peter.
7) "Just About Glad" -- Elvis Costello -- Brutal Youth
Lesser Elvis from this mid-90s Attractions reunion.
8) " 'Let us sleep now' /In paradisum" -- Benjamin Britten - War Requiem
Some gorgeously tender choral writing from Britten's anti-war piece.
9) "Is That Remarkable?" -- Adam Guettel -- Floyd Collins (Original Cast)
Great song in which the reporters who have assembled, vulture-like, to report on the story of Floyd Collins, a caver trapped underground, that captures perfectly how the media can take simple statements and blow then all out of proportion. Set to a jaunty, guitar-led beat, and sung in a wonderful "My Gal Friday" reporter style.
10) "Drowned" -- The Who -- Quadrophenia
Classic, solid Who. Rolling piano, stabbing guitar chords, and that never-duplicated "beat-the-hell-out-of-them" Moon drumming style.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Sounds like a domestic abuse tragedy. But actually it's a Wired piece about how the new digital entertainment sales model (itunes, Amazon, Netflix, etc.) really represents a world-chainging model for producers and sellers of entertainment. Found by Augie over at Various and Sundry, although I'm pretty sure I remember reading it before. Well worth a read.
I jest. I actually like these AFI lists, if only because it reminds me of the many great movies I have never seen. Last night's rundown of the 100 greatest movie quotes, for example, reminded me that I need to see On the Waterfront. My favorites of the honored 100 listed:
96) "Snap out of it!" -- Moonstruck -- It occurs to me that many of these, maybe even most, aren't great lines because of the writing but because of the delivery. I mean, the reason this line resonates, nearly 20 years (gulp) since the release of the film, is because of Cher's perfect delivery, exasperated and scared all at the same time.
91) "Who's on first?" -- The Naughty Nineties -- A great routine more than a line, no?
79) Striker: "Surely you can't be serious?" Rumack: "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley." -- Airplane! -- Any of dozens of lines from this film could be on this list, but this is a great one.
74) "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown." -- Chinatown -- I can't hear this line without thinking of Homer's movie-inspired diatribe in an episode of The Simpsons:
"But Marge, you don't know what it's like! I'm the one out there everyday putting his ass on the line, and I'm not out of order! YOU'RE out of order! You want the truth?!? You want the truth!?!? YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!! Cuz when you put your hand down, into a pile of goo, that was your best friend's face! You'll know what to do, forget it Marge, it's Chinatown!"
54) "There's no crying in baseball!" -- A League of Their Own -- So true.
21) "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti." -- The Silence of the Lambs -- It's hard to remember how creepy this was, before it became repeated and parodied into meaninglessness.
8) "May the Force be with you." -- Star Wars -- Always.
2) "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse." -- The Godfather -- What makes this one great is how it becomes almost a leitmotif throughout the three films.
And the line I think they erred most in omitting?
"Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
From moviepoopshoot.com, I learn that NBC is planning a reality series, possibly to air later this summer, entitled I'm a Celebrity But I Wan't to Be a Pop Star! The surprise success of ABC's Dancing with the Stars has apparently been inspiring. But what I want to know is how they will determine what marks the line between a celebrity and pop star. I mean, clearly Madonna, for example, would be exempt, even though she has done a load of acting. But what I immediately thought off was the slew of actors who have musical theater backgrounds. I mean, most Law & Order fans probably don't know that Jesse L. Martin, who plays Detective Green, was in the original cast of Rent. Would Martin, were he so inclined, be eligible to compete?
Yes. These are the questions that haunt me.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
I see that that lynchpin of the Time Warner empire's publishing arm, Entertainment Weekly, has started up a blog of their own. Truth be told, it's not bad (it's not good), which is somewhat surprising given that it's part of a global media conglomerate.
Monday, June 20, 2005
. . . Goes to Arvo Part's "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten." The piece starts off with a lone bell, chiming, as if in the distance, four times. Then, strings wash in, even as the bell repeats. The piece is almost without melody, much less lyrical than Barber's deservedly lauded piece of "sad" music, "Adagio for Strings." In discordant and faltering iterations, the same descending scale figure is taken up by various string instruments, unfolding very, very slowly as that same bell continues to repeat in the background. It's an almost formless piece of music, almost a soundscape, but somehow it manages to escalate, through subtle effects of orchestration and dynamic control, and the addition of new undertones and pitch ranges, to progress emotionally throughout its length, the intensity very slowly, but inexorably, being ratcheted up to an almost-unbearable finish. The piece ends with one seemingly endless chord being drawn out for well over a minute, with minor cadences within it bringing the piece to a kind of musical resolution. With the last beat we hear that bell one last time in the background, fading away.
Well worth digging up a rendition. The version I know is off of this album, well worth having, even if the bulk of it is taken up with various re-orchestrations of Part's wonderfully moody and evocative "Fratres." Here you'll find a much more thorough and musically literate look at this work. It was also used, to great effect, in Fahrenheit 9/11, during the early Trade Center montage.
Friday, June 17, 2005
Into the wild blue yonder.
1) "If I Should Lose You," Nina Simone, Nina Simone: Compact Jazz
Classic heartbreak from Nina. The woman had a voice that dripped sorrow.
2) "Bookends Theme," Simon & Garfunkel, Bookends
Such a delicately haunting yet simple bit of music. Almost Greensleeves-like in its simplicity and classic nature.
3) "You spotted snakes," Benjamin Britten, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Opera)
Children's choir, starts off as a shimmering bit of business before getting all jaunty and sprightly on us.
4) "Mos Eisley Spaceport," John Williams, Star Wars: A New Hope (Film Score)
Includes an almost foreboding rendition of the force theme as our heroes approach Mos Eisley. The "wretched hive of scum and villainy" cue.
5) "Hear My Song," Jason Robert Brown, Songs for a New World (Original Cast)
This is a beautiful song, the finale to this revue of songs by Brown; it basically served as his calling card into the musical theater world. Optimistic without being cocky.
6) "And that Right Soon," Thomas Newman, The Shawshank Redemption (Film Score)
Andy's escape is discovered. One of the finest film scores of the last twenty-five years.
7) "Fortress Around My Heart," Sting, Dream of the Blue Turtles
One of the Stingster's first solo hits. The metaphor is a little songwriting 101, and overworked in the song, but that chiming guitar figure is insinuating.
8) "Full Force Gale," Elvis Costello, Kojak Variety (Bonus Disc)
Van Morrison cover. A bit of group all-male spiritual style a capella singing.
9) "VIII--Zaporozhye Cossacks' Reply to the Sultan of Constantinople, Allegro," Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphony 14
Some good angry baritone singing, over some slashing, pissed-off strings.
10) "Hidden Charms," Elvis Costello, Kojak Variety
Covering the Howling Wolf classic (Kojak Variety was an album of all-covers). Shuffling bit iof rockabilly.
Grabbed this meme from Lefty, because I wanted to. What geek didn't play this game actively as a child?
1.) If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why? (Assume you also get baseline superhero enhancements like moderately increased strength, endurance and agility.)
While I'm tempted to choose something more dangerous and battle-worthy, the truth is that if I somehow were granted a superpower, I'd still not likely be battling supervillians, you know? So that old standby, the power of flight, gets my vote. Who hasn't dreamed of just taking to the air?
2.) Which, if any, 'existing' superhero(es) do you fancy, and why?
Not sure is "fancy" means "attracted to romantically," or just "think is cool." Assuming it's the latter, Captain America has always been my favorite, hands-down. The idealized model of what a superhero should be--noble, powerful, commanding and yet not without his demons.
3.) Which, if any, 'existing' superhero(es) do you hate?
Not sure about "hate," but I never really got Ghost Rider. Pretty much zero desire to ever pick up a Ghost Rider book.
4.) What would your superhero name be? (No prefab porn-name formulas here, you have to make up the name you think youÂ’d be proud to mask under.)
As a lad I created a human torch-like character named "Heatzone." Twist was that he had to absorb heat, before battle heds have to "charge up" in a big oven or something. To "costume up" he'd snap his fingers, and a flame would emit from his thumb. He'd then touch the flame to his hair and his hair, head, and body would light up. Heatzone!!! (Lord, I was a geeky child)
5.) For extra credit: Is there an "existing" superhero with whom you identify/whom you would like to be?
I don't identify with the good Captain, as I'm nowhere near that noble, brave, or pure, be he's who I'd aspire to be. (You know, if I wasn't all growed-up and cool now).
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Keiko Agena, who plays Lane, Rory's best bud, is 31 years old, which means that during the first season, when she was playing a high-school sophomore, she was 26. Now, that older actors play high school kids is no shock, but I had no idea that she wasn't at least pretty close to her character's age--as Alexis Bledel is (she was 19 during that first season, also playing a high-school sophomore). It's not just that she looks younger, but she does an admirable job of acting young, something many a twenty-something playing a teen is unable to do.
Been watching Gilmore Girls, Season Three, on DVD (Gilmore Girls being one of those shows I've either never watched or didn't watch earlier on in "real-time" and am now catching up to on DVD), and noticed something. When I recommend the show to people the most common response is that all of the "fast talking" is just too much, too distracting and annoying for them to watch or enjoy the show. And the first few times I watched, I could kind of understand the complaint. All of the characters, but especially lead characters Lorelai and Rory, do talk fast, very fast, with lots of quick exchanges and quippy one-liners, all sauced with a generous ladlefull of sometimes-obscure references. And, yes, for those first few episodes I sat down to watch it was distracting. But going through this third season now, after having gone through all 44 episodes of the first two seasons, and watching the show regularly on Tuesday nights for the last year (season five), I've realized that I'm just not noticing the rapid dialogue at all anymore.
Why? Have the writers toned it down from previous seasons? I don't think so. See, the particular dialogue quirks on the show are simply a device, a stylization device. We're not meant to hear the dialogue as natural, or realistic, any more than we are supposed to assume that characters in a musical are really, in the literal sense, singing. Singing in musicals, and the dialogue in a Gilmore Girls episode, are devices. And once you get used ot them you tend not to notice them. When I first saw a musical, it was odd that these characters were all-of-a-sudden singing. But when I see musicals now, it's completely natural. Same thing for Gilmore Girls dialogue. I've become accustomed to the device and can now just except it. And it's a good thing, since the device, again, just like the songs in a musical, does an excellent job of telling us things about the characters that they could never tell us with more naturalistic dialogue. It also gives the show a particularity and style that no other show has. In short, it's a wonderful choice, and one well worth taking a few episodes to get used to.
So--the moral of the story. If the dialogue on Gilmore Girls has put you off, give it, not just another chance, but a few of them. You'll be glad you did.
Monday, June 13, 2005
This is awesome. Free downloads of all nine Beethoven symphonies. I like Beethoven, but only have the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 9th symphonies. I eagerly await adding to my collection without paying.
(as linked to by a host of people, Bloggity-blog-blog-blog the one where I saw it)
I loved, loved, loved X-Men 2 (I refuse outright to acknowledge that hideous, marketing-hell two-character title by typing it) and thought the original X-Men film was a very good first film for an ongoing series, if a little skeletal on its own. The good folks at Ain't It Cool News have put up a lengthy, detailed look at the third film in the series, including some very interesting material on the internal studio politics that led to Bryan Singer, who helmed the first two so successfully, to leave for the new Superman film. It's heavy on the spoilers, but not on any real final, "this-is-how-the-movie-ends" stuff, so click over to read it at your own discretion. I will say this--it's left me hesitant about this new film, which we should see, for better or worse, in a little less than a year.
The always-worth-a-daily-visit Terry Teachout of About Last Night links to a very interesting list, of the recordings selected by the National Recording Registry to be archived and saved for the ages. Listed chronologically, the titles range from some of the first recordings made (the first listing is circa 1888) to Nirvana's Nevermind. Also represented are such luminaries as Scott Joplin, Booker T. Washington, Al Jolson, Robert Johnson, Orson Welles, Bille Holiday, Muddy Waters, Frank Sinatra, Patsy Cline, and Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., among many, many others. Well worth a scroll-through.
Friday, June 10, 2005
As I've discussed before, I heartily believe that the Star Wars saga will play well in chronological, story order, that is if a new viewer, one who knows pretty much nothing about the films, were to see them in order, Episodes I-VI. To better demonstrate this point, I present here how, say, a typical ten-year old might react to the saga in this way.
"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away." Cool.
I don't understand any of this weird scrolling stuff, but the music is cool.
These two guys are Jedis? OK.
The force? Is that some kind of superpower?
Wow! They blew up the Jedi's ship. Bet they'll be pissed.
Awesome! Laser swords!
Who's that creepy guy in the hood? Bad guy I bet. Yep, he's telling them to kill the Jedi.
Those Jedi are awesome fighters.
The bad guys are going to invade the planet? Not sure why, but OK.
Who is this frog guy?
Cool underwater city.
Cool underwater creatures.
The bad guys are going to kill the Queen, I bet.
Awesome--the Jedi rescued the Queen. Now they'll go get help.
Cool space fight.
Uh-oh. Ship's busted.
Who's this chick going with them to find the part?
The flying turtle guy talks funny. Who's the kid?
How are they going to fix the ship?
It's that kid again. He's taking them home.
Who's the guy with horns? He looks bad.
They're slaves? That sucks.
The kid may be a Jedi?
OK, so the Jedi is going to let the kid race to win him the part. Cool.
OK, the kid's definitely a Jedi. And awesome powerful it sounds like.
Those podraces are so fast!! Awesome race!
The kid won! And he's not a slave anymore. Why doesn't Qui-Gon just rescue his mother?
Why doesn't the kid take his robot?
Wow, that horned dude almost got them!
They better let the kid become a Jedi.
Why's that green dude talk all funny?
Cool, Naboo-senator guy is going to be in charge. He'll fix things.
They won't train the kid? What's their problem?
Cool, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are going to go back to fight the bad guys.
Will the frog-people help?
Cool! Cute chick is really the Queen!
That's a lot of robots.
Awesome, awesome, awesome laser sword fight!!
The kid is flying the spaceship, awesome!
Space battle, cool!
More awesome laser sword fight!
No way!! Horn-dude killed Qui-Gon!!!
The kid is going to blow that ship up I bet!
Oh crap! Is horn-dude going to kill Obi-Wan too?
Cool, all the robots are dead. That kid kicks ass.
Holy shit!!! He cut him in half!!! Awesome!!!!!!
Cool, Obi-Wan will train the kid.
Still not sure what these words mean.
I bet that wasn't really the queen.
Anakin is all growed up!
Yoda looks a lot better now.
That senator guy likes Anakin; I bet he'll make him like boss Jedi or something.
Anakin has the hots for Padme.
That was the most awesome chase scene, ever.
Who is trying to kill the Queen?
Anakin will protect the Queen and Obi-Wan will try and figure out who killed her.
Dude, he totally likes her.
Obi-Wan is smart.
Cool water planet.
Why are they expecting him?
That is one wicked army.
He really likes her.
Wow, it's the guy from the beginning, with the jet pack. Fett. He's the one who tried to kill the Queen.
Anakin is worried about his mother.
Back to the desert planet.
That sound grenade is so cool.
His mother was taken?
I bet he saves his mother.
Who is this Dooku guy? I don't trust him.
Anakin's Mom doesn't look to good. He's pissed.
Awesome, the senator is in charge. He'll save the day.
Whoa, he killed the kids too?
These creatures are awesome. Wonder how they'll escape.
Crap, they're cornered.
Awesome!! It's black Jedi!!
Jedi war!!! Kick-ass!!
Crap, they're cornered again!!!
THE ARMY!!! The senator did it!!!!!
Awesome battle, man.
They have to get that Dooku guy!
Anakin should listen a little more.
Wow, he can shoot lightning from his hands!!!
Did he just cut Anakin's arm off?
What is the green frog going to do??
That green frog kicks SO MUCH ASS!!!
Crap, he got away.
It's hood dude.
Robot-clone war. Awesome.
Secret marriage. OK.
HOLY SPACE BATTLE!!!!!
Anakin is an awesome flyer.
Crap, they kidnapped the senator!!!
R2-D2 kicks ass.
It's that Dooku again!
Awesome lightsaber fight.
Is he gonna kill him? Yes.
Why is that robot coughing?
Awesome escape scene.
No one knows they're married still.
The war is still going on.
See, that senator is the only one who gets Anakin.
Obi-Wan and Anakin are splitting up again.
Anakin's having more dreams? Uh-oh.
Those hairy guys are cool.
That Sith story was creepy.
Anakin is really worried about Padme.
HOLY CRAP!!! The senator is the bad guy?!?!?!?!?!?!
Awesome fight with the coughing robot. Obi-Wan kicks ass.
Anakin told the black Jedi about the senator, all right!
Why won't the black Jedi take Anakin with him??
The senator totally just killed those Jedi.
What will Anakin do?
Kill him, black Jedi, kill him!!!
Anakin's going to kill the bad guy, right?
ANAKIN CUT OFF THE BLACK JEDI'S HAND!!!!
Why is Anakin listening to that guy? Obi-wan'll save him.
No way!!! The clone trooper just killed Obi-Wan!!!!
Oh my God. All of these Jedi are being killed.
What is Anakin doing? Dude, that's a little kid. Shit.
Yoda KICKS ASS!!!
Obi-Wan is alive!!
When is Obi-Wan going to save Anakin?
Anakin's going to go kill the robot army leaders?
Obi-Wan knows about the baby. He won't kill Anakin, he'll save him.
Anakin is SO pissed!
He tried to kill Padme!!! I can't believe it!
Oh, crap, they're going to fight!!
Yoda KICKS ASS!!!
Come on, Obi-Wan, save him!!!!
Shit, Yoda is running away.
OBI-WAN JUST CUT ANAKIN'S LEGS OFF!!!
Anakin is on fire. My god.
Obi-Wan left him.
Sidious found him.
She's having the babies. Twins.
What is that armor stuff?
No one's going to save him.
That armor is cool.
They're splitting up the kids.
Yoda is going to hide.
What are they building?
Obi-Wan gave the boy to those guys from the last movie.
Did the bad guys just win?
It's Anakin. Oh, Vader.
He's just totally bad now.
It's the robots!
Who's the chick?
Back on the desert planet.
Luke? Hey, it's Anakin's kid! Must have been like 20 years since the last movie.
The robots have a message.
Lea? The daughter!
Obi-Wan must still be keeping an eye on Luke.
Hee. Luke whines like his Dad.
"Little friend. Hee."
Dude, Obi-Wan totally lied to him.
It's Anakin's lightsaber!
Why won't Luke go rescue his sister?
Whoa, clone troopers killed Beru and Owen.
They need a ship.
Obi-Wan just loves cutting arms off.
Hey! It's the hairy guy Yoda was friends with!
Man, the Jedi must have really been wiped out if Han thinks it's all some kind of joke.
Vader just totally blew up that planet!!!!
Whoa!! It's that thing they were building!!
Luke wants to rescue his sister. (He doesn't know she's his sister, though)
Saved by R2.
Obi-Wan did it!
Ew. Luke likes his sister.
Crap!! Obi-Wan and Vader are going to fight!
Guess they got old.
Why is he holding up his saber?
Why did he let himself be killed?
Luke can hear him!! Just like Qui-Gon, I bet.
Cool space fight. Luke is good.
Han is a chicken.
Vader is after Luke!!
Han saved the day!!!!!
Holy crap it worked!?!?!?! KABOOM!!!
Why doesn't Chewie get a medal??
Guess the rebels haven't won.
Ouch. Snowman got him.
Han's cool now.
Obi-Wan told Luke to find Yoda. Cool.
Eww. Luke just kissed his sister.
Cool battle--those walker things rule.
They all got away!!
The Millennium Falcon is a piece of junk.
Han likes Lea.
Yoda!! Dude, he got old.
He's totally messing with Luke.
Cool, he's going to train him.
Lando will help them.
Who shot Threepio?!?!
Luke is getting better.
Uh-oh. Luke thinks he sees the future--just like Anakin.
Lando totally betrayed them!!!
Vader has them.
Luke don't leave!
"There is another." Lea, I guess.
What are they doing to Han?
Lea loves him.
Luke, it's a trap!
All right Lando!!
Whoa. Vader is going to fight his son.
Luke is totally getting his ass kicked by his dad, and he doesn't even know it.
He just cut off his son's hand!!!!
"I am your father." Luke doesn't even believe it.
Lea can hear him. Force.
Mechanical hands got better.
They're going to rescue Han.
Someone got Chewie!!
Oh, cool, it's a trap--it's Lea!!!
She unfroze Han!!!
Jabba got them!!!
Luke kicks ass now!!!
How's he going to get out of this one!?!?!
R2 kicks ass.
Han killed Boba!!
They did it!!
Another death star?!?!
All right, Luke went back to finish.
Yoda is dying?
Ben told him the truth.
Ben wants him to kill Vader. Harsh.
Blow up the shield generator, the fighters will then blow up the death star before it's finished. Got it.
Those bikes are cool.
Luke is going to Vader.
Those Ewoks fight good.
Luke and Vader fighting--AWESOME!!!
The Emperor is trying to get him to turn too. Bastard.
Uh-oh. Shield is still up.
Cool space battle.
Vader figured out about Lea!!
Luke is pissed.
HE TOTALLY CUT OFF HIS FATHER'S HAND!!
The Emperor is laughing.
Yes! Luke won't do it! He's a Jedi! Awesome!!
He's killing him!!!!
They got the shield down!!!
YES!!!! VADER DID IT!!!! HE WON'T LET LUKE BE KILLED!!! AWESOME!!!
Emperor is dead.
Cool, he's going to take off the helmet.
Anakin got old.
Get out Luke, get out!!
They did it!!
The rebels won!!! No more Empire!
Yoda, Ben, and, cool, Anakin when he was good.
THAT WAS ONE KICK ASS STORY!!!!!
And they're off!
1) "Plow King," Alf Klausen, Songs in the Key of Springfield
"That name again is Mr. Plow."
2) "An Epitaph to War," James Horner, Glory (Soundtrack)
The Boys Choir of Harlem singing some of the best music Horner ever wrote. Horner repeats himself way too often, but he's written some gorgeous stuff.
3) "Glass and the Ghost Children," Smashing Pumpkins, MACHINA/The Machines of God
Long, discordant glam rock.
4) "Il Strumisch bewegt, grosster Vehemenz," Gustav Mahler, Symphony #5
Mahler'll get my blood pumping better than the best hard rock.
5) "Lost Waltz," Dave Brubeck, Dave Brubeck Ballads
Almost more classical-sounding at the outset than jazz, it soon lets loose and unleashes the main melody into a pretty swinging little jazz piece.
6) "I'm a Man (Live at Radio City Music Hall)," The Who, Thirty Years of Maximum R&B
The Who let loose with some old-school blues.
7) "Great Ladies," Michael John LaChiusa, First Lady Suite (Cast Recording)
Relatively avant-garde musical about three different first ladies. This song is sung about Eleanor Roosevelt.
8) "Anything Goes," Guns 'N Roses, Appetite for Destruction
This is the best debut album ever, right? Am I missing one?
9) "Bye Bye Blackbird," Miles Davis, At Newport 1958
Davis got me into jazz, and he's still my favorite artist. He takes a basic song here and just runs with it for 9 minutes or so.
10) "Eric to the Rescue," Alan Menken, The Little Mermaid (Soundtrack)
From the thrilling action scene at the end. Their Disney scores, in my opinion, got much better as they went along, but this one still had some wonderful stuff.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
From Scrubbles, I see this meme, which I will, of course, eagerly glom on to.
"List the first song listed for each letter of the alphabet in your computer's music collection."
"A" You're Adorable," Mandy Patinkin, Kidults
A great song to sing to the kids.
"B Movie," Elvis Costello, Get Happy!
Sprightly number from Elvis.
"C'est l'amour/To Find a Lover," Michael John LaChiusa, Marie Christine (Original Broadway Cast)
Song about using voodoo to get the girl.
"Daddy Can I Turn This?," Elvis Costello, When I Was Cruel
Great hard-rocker from Elvis.
"E.T. and Elliott Get Drunk," John Williams, E.T. (Soundtrack)
Williams doing comedy is Williams at the least of his powers, I think.
"Fable," Adam Guettel, A Light in the Piazza (Original Broadway Cast)
The summing-up song, the finale, from the musical.
"Gabriel's Letter/My First Woman (Medley," John Kander and Fred Ebb, Kiss of the Spider-Woman (Original Broadway Cast)
"Hades," Stephen Sondheim, The Frogs (Original Broadway Cast)
Old-fashioned Broadway pastiche from Sondheim's newest score.
"I Ain't Ever Satisfied," John Mellencamp, Whenever We Wanted
"J.M.'s Question," John Mellencamp, Big Daddy
Great little protest song, with some very funny lyrics. "We got Farm Aid, and Live Aid/And all kinds of hand grenades/And I hope there's no Satanic message/In this song
"Kamp Krusty," Alf Klausen, Songs in the Key of Springfield
"L'Homme Mauvais," Thomas Newman, The Green Mile (Soundtrack)
Short and moody.
"Ma Che Brutta Sorte!," Frank Loesser, The Most Happy Fella (2-CD Studio Cast)
"Nabbed," Danny Elfman, The Nightmare Before Christmas (Soundtrack)
Lock, Stock, and Barrell take Santa Claus
"O Come All Ye Faithful," Ed Ames, Time-Life Christmas
Love me the X-Mas music.
"Pablito," Luis Bacalov, Il Postino (Soundtrack)
Short, harpischordy rendition of the main theme.
"Quadrophenia," The Who, Quadrophenia
Kind of an overture for the album.
"R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A," John Mellencamp, Scarecrow
Or "What I Like About You" with different lyrics.
"Sabbath Prayer," Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, Fiddler on the Roof (Original Broadway Cast)
Tevye and family sit down to eat.
"T-Rex Rescue and Finale," John Williams, Jurassic Park (Soundtrack)
Great theme as they leave via helicopter.
"Ultraviolet (Light My Way)," U2, Achtung Baby
One of the greatest albums ever.
"Valentine's Day," Bruce Springsteen, Tunnel of Love
"Wahzniak's Last Letter," Paul Simon, The Capeman (Original Broadway Cast)
My most treasured bootleg.
"X.Y.U," Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Solid Pumpkins rock.
"Ya Got Me," Leonard Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein's New York
Upbeat and jazzy classic Bernstein.
"Zaar," Peter Gabriel, Passion: Music For The Last Temptation of Christ (Soundtrack)
Moody Middle-Eastern-influenced Gabriel.
So--did Citizen Kane live up to the hype? Kind of. I mean, it was excellent. Told a very intriguing story about one man's life, and made that man, that character, just mysterious and complicated enough to warrant such a treatment. And the structure was wonderful, the way Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz basically laid out the entire story right at the beginning, so that we would more or less know the basic arc of the character and of the film's story, and then in a kind of spirally repeating structure filled in all of the details the rest of the way. And the way they still managed to instill a real sense of suspense, with the Rosebud device, even though they basically had given us the whole story already.
The acting was excellent all-around, if a bit tonally strange at times from a modern aesthetic. My favorite, much to my surprise, the actor who, to me, seemed to disappear the most into the character, was Everett Sloane, as Mr. Bernstein. That voice and the way he'd smile--without the plot or dialogue getting into it at all, you could sense, just from the way he spoke to Kane and looked at him, that Bernstein truly, in a platonic sense, loved the man. And Bernard Herrmann's score is a keeper, although I already knew that, it being a staple of my soundtrack collection.
What I still don't get though, I suppose, is what, exactly makes it the "greatest of all time" as it seems to be so universally thought to be. I can see how the technical innovations--the long takes, the deep focus, the artful use of perspective and shadow--were remarkably innovative, and how they laid the groundwork for so much of ensuing cinema. But I don't get, and never have gotten, this notion the the "first" of anything is, almost by definition, great. I mean, the first caveman to realize that by smearing blood on a wall he could create an representational image wasn't, by definition, the greatest painter ever, was he, simply because he "invented" painting? Doesn't it make more sense that later practitioners of a new art, or later artists who take up a new artistic development within an art form, will learn to use it, simply from practice and the lessons learned from those that came before them, better than the originators? I think so.
That aside, this is, of course, a great film, and I can finally recommend it to those who haven't seen it, as many others could have done and did do for me until very recently.
This Salon piece by Farhad Manjoo on the stem cell debate, and specifically on how Bush's stance on it is pretty much definitionally hypocritical, is a great primer on the subject, that also, given that this is Salon after all, does a relatively good job of representing the right's point of view as well.
The point Manjoo makes that resonates the most with me is the inherent double standard that arises when one tries to define an embryo as a life just as deserving of protection as a newborn baby's. For all of the talk about embryos being lives and deserving protection from the far right, there is no talk whatsoever about the horror, the holocaust, of all of the naturally occurring embryo deaths that happen literally millions of times a year, when women become pregnant and the embryo simply fails to attach. In the lion's share of these cases, the women never even know they were, briefly, pregnant at all. To be coherent intellectually, shouldn't those who advocate for embryos as absolutely equal to real, full, humans also be advocating, just as hard as they do against things like stem-cell research and in-vitro fertilization, for research into preventing these naturally occurring miscarriages? Just asking.
Alex Ross has blogged a few times now about some folks attempt to gain a copyright for simply producing new arrangements of classic works. Intriguing stuff, very cleanly laid out by Ross, whose blog easily ranks highest, for me, among the pure music blogs I've read. Here's the latest entry along these lines.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
The trailer to the upcoming film version of Rent has been released. Not a bad trailer, and it's great to see so much of the original cast. But I do wish producers would stop being so gun-shy about showing actual singing in trailers for movie musicals. I mean, if you didn't know already, the trailer would donothing to tell you that Rent is a musical. Still, I did like the use of pretty much the entire "Seasons of Love" song, as opposed to the usual mish-mosh of ong snippets we might have expected. Very eager to see this one.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Finally saw Citizen Kane this week, and thought it wonderful. More (perhaps) on that at a later date. I'm still going through Roger Ebert's so-far wonderfully informative and illuminating commentary track and may indulge in Peter Bogdavonich's before I put the disc back in the mail. Anyway, I did want to mention one seeming bit of hypocrisy I noticed in watching the film. We've all heard the endless lamentations for the pre-digital era, and endless diatribes against all of the CG backgrounds utilized in today's films. And yet as Citizen Kane so ably demonstrates, the notion of filming real actors in front of fake (here, painted) backdrops is old, old, old. I mean, what makes the painted Xanadu any more "authentic" than the painted Naboo? Am I missing something deeper or is this just old-fashioned snobbery at work?
As Dan Wetzel notes, the criticism that the NBA is nothing but a game dominated by showboating, poor-shooting, selfish, egotistical players, completely lacking in fundamentals and defense really completely falls apart when you look at this year's Finals matchup: San Antonio vs. Detroit. Go Detroit!
The long-rumored and anticipated The Simpsons movie seems to have a script. While the quality of the show has gone downhill in recent years, I don't think the drop is nearly as steep as many a hard-core fan insists. To me, it's still, day in day out, one of the funniest shows on television. I do wonder how they are going to expand into movie-length, though. I hope they don't opt for the easy, "globe-trotting adventure" solution, since that would take the characters out of where we love them best--in Springfield. In any case, any movie is still a couple of years away, so no need to get too excited yet.
Monday, June 06, 2005
Finally, finally (finally) saw Revenge of the Sith on Friday. The short version? Loved it. Better than Episodes I, II, and VI and damn close to IV and V. The long (spoiler-iffic) version follows. This is pretty much just flash-impressions, an almost-laundry list of what I liked, more than any real, coherent review. Be warned.
The opening space battle was great. That opening, seemingly never-ending tracking shot was amazing. And I love that today's technology allows Lucas to do something like this, to open not just with a long shot of two spaceships entering a massive battle, but to eventually zoom in, in the same shot, right into the cockpit, where we can see the actors. You can't do that with models, and for all of the moaning about what's been "lost" with CGI versus flesh and blood models, I'd never want to trade.
The rescue of the Chancellor was some much-needed traditional Star Wars action escapades. Even the R2 stuff, which I mildly object to on the grounds that he never proves this versatile 20 years later, served to bring in more of that light, space opera, Flash Gordon feel. And the reason I loved it so much is that it was so wickedly ironic. I mean, at the end of it all, after this dashing, almost good-humored adventurous rescue, Anakin, in cold blood, beheads Dooku. It's a great moment, and very important for the turn later on--we need to be reminded that he likes losing control like this already. Christenson is wonderful in this movie, much better than in the second, and he really nails these kinds of moments, these internal struggles Anakin faces throughout the film.
The much-ballyhooed opera scene pretty much delivered as expected. McDermid is as terrific as reported, hammy without being too so. The interaction between the two is a large part of what makes the film work--their relationship is a large part of why we believe in Anakin's turn.
I liked the Wookie material a lot, precisely because it was so minor. This is a point I keep returning to, but Lucas is clearly making these three prequel films with a firm eye towards how they'll play chronologically. So while we Star Wars fanatics may have been looking forward to more Wookie action, within the context of this story, a story in which a Wookie is just one more alien race and Kashyyk one more alien planet, the very brief shots we got were enough to establish that Yoda is helping out in yet another Clone Wars battle. We really didn't even need Chewbacca named--that was a sop to the fans.
The much talked-about turning scene, the death-of-Windu scene, did initially leave me cold. I had some trouble with the notion that Anakin, the same Anakin who maybe an hour earlier had run to Windu would betray him like that. But upon reflection it's starting to make sense. I think a big part of understanding his character is realizing that the power, the sheer, unadulterated thrill of having power, is a big part of who Anakin is. Lucas gave us all of the signposts early on--even from the pod races. Anakin loved racing not just for the thrill of speed, but because he was so damn good at it. He loved being special, being better than others. "I'm the only human who can do it." That pride and eagerness for more is a large part of why he turns. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the wanting to save Padme bit is really more of a justification--for Anakin, not Lucas--than anything else. Not that Anakin doesn't care for her and desperately want to be able to save her, he does, but even more than that, I think, is that he wants the power he believes Palpatine can give him. He embraces the Sith way (call it that and the turn makes more sense--"Dark side" being tainted with such pre-judged sentiment) more for that power than for what it supposedly can do.
I loved how we really got a feel for how good Obi-Wan is. The adventures on whatever planet he goes to to hunt down Grievous were, again, good Star Wars fun. The lizard-horse, the fights with Grievous. Absolutely adored the call-ahead to A New Hope, when he cals blasters "uncivilized."
The Order 66 montage was gut-wrenching stuff, and Lucas actually answered for me the questions that's been bugging me for 20 some odd years now--how do you exterminate the Jedi? Answer--allow them to do what they do best for three years, leading armies into battle and fighting for peace, let them have three years to develop trust in these armies they lead, and then ambush them with those armies with absolutely no warning. I had no problem with the notion that they could be taken down like this. And, while I've always held fast to the notion that all the Jedi, save Yoda and Obi-Wan were killed, I love the seed that's been planted here, that there may be straggler Jedi who weren't killed. The main problem I had with the live-action TV series Lucas has announced, to take place during the twenty years between Episodes III and IV, was precisely that--that there would be no Jedi. Now, it seems that there might. And that one piece of that series' puzzle might be the further extermination of them.
Yoda sensing the attack of his troopers at the last possible moment and decapitating them in one swoop was one of the most bad-ass moments from all six films.
Anakin and the younglings--again, the seed was planted with the Sandpeople. "I killed them all. The women and children too." Go back to your trusty DVD and watch that sequence again. Is Anakin upset because of what he did or because of how much he enjoyed it?
The Padme and Anakin scene on Mustafar was wonderful. You could see the horror dawn on her face as she realized what Anakin had become, and when he sees Obi-Wan and assumes that she brought his teacher to Mustafar to kill him, and he reacts in rage by trying to kill his wife--that's when it all clicked for me. The reason the turn didn't work for me at first was because he hadn't turned. There is no "turning moment," and in fact "turn" is hardly the proper term. It's a slow process, probably started as soon as he meets the Jedi council and is cruelly rebuffed as a child. And it is only completed in that moment, when he's so comfortable just giving in to his rage that he can go after Padme.
The climactic duel was maybe the best sequence of all six films, just so emotional. Williams' judiciously holding back the new theme until then was a masterstroke, the music did so much to heighten the emotion. And I loved how closely Lucas ties things together, when Anakin is finally defeated, it's because of his arrogance, he attacks when he shouldn't. It's his giving in to the rage that's his undoing. If he had waited for a better vantage point he most likely would have defeated Obi-Wan. But he rushes in anger and is destroyed. Also, that move is the same one Obi-Wan used on Darth Maul--flipping over a higher opponent and slashing on the way down. And that's why he knew to take Anakin's legs out while he was in mid-air, and why he wasn't surprised by it, as Maul was.
Anakin igniting and burning was just brutal--I have a niece whom I've shown Episodes I and II to, and I'll definitely have to wait before showing her this one (she's 6).
Darth Vader's rise was handled well, even if the "NOOOO!!" was a bit off, tonally.
Loved the tying up bits, the Captain Antilles being given the droids, the Beru and Owen being given Luke, the Organas taking Leia. The brief mention of Qui-Gon was too brief, though. This was obviously meant to clear up the whole Jedi-ghost thing, but was done so quickly that I'm not sure what was going on.
That's all I got for now. I dearly hope to see the movie again, obviously, and will report on any new impressions if I do.
Was out-of-pocket on Friday, so thought I'd kik off the week with the 'ol shuffle.
1) "Sunday in the Park with George," Stephen Sondheim (sung by Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters), Sunday in the Park with George (Original Broadway Cast)
One of my favorite scores. This is the opening number, a witty take on the boredom of modeling, as George paints Dot. The moment when she escapes via fantasy, the dress she's in actually opening up on stage so that she can slip out and cavort, is a classic. The song also has sone great Sondheim speed-lyrics at the end.
2) "Duet, Jetzt, Schatzchen, jetzt sind wir allein" Beethoven, Fidelio
I have Fidelio, Beethoven's only opera, because we sang the "Prisoner's Chorus" in Glee Club in college and I wanted a version of the song. Not sure what this duet is about or its place in the story.
3) "I Wants to Stay Here," Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Porgy and Bess (Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong)
The three albums Ella and Louis did together are treasure troves of jazz singing. The Porgy set is actually my least favorite (too much full orchestra and too little jazz), although it has some wonderful moments.
4) "Rent," Jonathan Larson, Rent
The opening number from the musical. Not a bad little rock piece, probably one of the most overtly "rock" pieces in the whole show, actually.
5) "I'm Still Here," Stephen Sondheim (sung by Elaine Stritch), Elaine Stritch at Liberty
This one-woman show, which I did not see live, comes across great on CD. Stritch is a natural storytellr, and the weaving in of songs amidst the life stories is done exceedingly well. Her take here on the Sondheim classic is an all-time great, a master class in how one can sing the absolute hell out of a song without having a "pure" or "pretty" voice.
6) "Hollywood (Medley): That International Rag," Mandy Patinkin, Dress Casual
Brief (43 second) snippet of the song from a medley of old Hollywood standards.
7) "Ghosts of a Future Lost," Clint Mansell, Requiem for a Dream (Soundtrack)
I got this CD purely because I wanted the excellent music they used from it in the railer to The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. It's actually a pretty interesting score, string quartet material (performed by the Kronos Quartet) along with lots of synthesizer effects.
8) "Everybody Says Don't," Mandy Patinkin, Sings Sondheim
I love this song, and sing it all the time to my daughters. "Make just a ripple/come on be brave/this time a ripple/next time a wave." Indeed. And the greatest advice I can give them: "Sometimes you have to start small/climbing the tiniest wall/Maybe you're going to fall/But it's better than not starting at all."
9) "Night Fight," Tan Dun, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
One of my favorite scores of the last decade. This cut is a great little moody thing, with some driving percussion. Not your typical Hollowood "chase" music.
10) "Shabby Doll," Elvis Costello, Imperial Bedroom
Lesser Costello, for me, but still not a bad song by any means. Another example of sprightly Costello-pop off of Bedroom.
Thursday, June 02, 2005
As the relatively high number of musical theater songs that have made their way into each Friday's Friday Shuffle would indicate, I am something of a musical theater buff, albeit one who rarely, these days, actually gets to see new musical theater productions. So it is that I am a huge fan of composer/lyricist Adam Guettel, even without having seen any of his plays. Through the cast albums of Floyd Collins and Myths and Hymns I have fallen in love with Guettel's voice as a composer. His is a distinctive voice, less overtly theatrical than some of his peers', and yet still, at times rhapsodic and melodic. Listen to "How Glory Goes," from Floyd Collins, or "Migratory V," from Myths and Hymns for examples of some of the most gorgeous melodic writing of the last ten years.
Guettel's new score, for The Light in the Piazza is being heard on Broadway now, although it is unlikely that I'll get to see it. But I do have the original cast album, and have since it was released a little over a week ago. I've been listening to it pretty much nonstop since then and can now heartily recommend it. In the odd place one can hear distinct echoes of favored guitar-based rhythmic impulses or intervals from Guettel's two earlier scores, but on the whole this score is very much of itself. Intensely romantic in places, with strings dominating throughout, Guettel has composed a beautiful theater piece here, full of melody.
The rap agains the "new generation" of theater composers, writers like Micheael John LaChiusa, Ricky Ian Gordon, Jeanine Tesori, and Jason Robert Brown, is that they don't write melodies like the grand composers of old (or in Guettel's case, like his grandfather, Richard Rodgers). While it's true that they don't typically write "songs" in the classic sense, the notion that they have abandoned melody is largely nonsense. Listen to the title track here. Or the remarkable melancholy of "Dividing Day." Or the giddy romance of "Say It Somehow." There's melody to spare.
A careful examination of the liner notes reveals that Guettel himself plays guitar on two of the tracks. This, upon refelection, is not surprising--one can hear distinct clues throughout this and his other scores that Guettel thinks in guitar terms, much as it's clear form his work that Jason Robert Brown thinks in piano terms. The mode works for this show, lending a sprightly, plucky feeling to some of the more upbeat numbers and a quiet calm to the more downbeat numbers. And yet when in full-on romantic mode, the writing is appropriately lush and smooth, making full use of the strings and harp. No matter what mood each piece is going for, though, all work very well as a piece--this is a very well-unified score, and I've no doubt that more musically savvy commentators will find evidence of repeated motifs, intervals and chord progressions that tie the whiole thing together.
Now, as much as I like Guettel, I do find his lyrics to be a little lacking. Guettel, maybe more than his peers, seems to compose sometimes almost in a pop, if a strikingly sophisticated pop, mode (witness much of Myths and Hymns and the copious guitar work in Floyd Collins). And his lyrics sometimes echo this form--less specific andc concrete than lyrical and poetic. While I do believe that musical theater can accommodate slightly more esoteric musical modes, as this new crop of writers has, to my mind, ably shown, lyrically I feel that there does need to be a literalness that pop most certainly doesn't need. As a result, a lot of the lyrics here feel mushy, and don't seem to carry the weight they should in terms of telling the story.
It's a little ironic, actually; as "modern" as Guettel can be, this mode of writing lyrics that are far less specific to the story and more general is actually old. The classic songwriters--Gershwin, Porter, Berlin--wrote many songs that could easily be pulled from the shows they originated in and performed just as a stand-alone song, and, indeed, that's how much of the American songbook of standards came about. It was with Rodgers and Hammerstein and those that followed them that we saw lyrics typically much more specific and story-based. In any event, this stylistic choice of Guettel's does make the story hard to follow on disc. And Nonesuch hasn't helped matters any by neglecting to include a plot synopsis in the booklet that comes with the CD, instead directing the curious listener to their website.
But these are minor quibbles. By and large, this is a beautiful score, wonderfully performed, and a happy addition to the slight Guettel canon. Considering that Myths and Hymns, his previous score, is over six years old, let's hope that the next addition to that canon comes soon.
In an earlier post I discussed the film Spanglish, and in particular how much I admired how specific and real James L. Brooks made Tea Leoni's character. Serendipitously, I see via Something Old an article from the LA Times' calendarlive.com that discusses just why romantic comedy heroines have become so generic and fake.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
In contrast to my previous post, about a judge instructing a man and a woman to not expose their child to the Wiccan religion, the US Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Wiccan's (among others') right to have access to religious literature and ceremonial items. Someone should tell the Indiana judge.
This article from the IndyStar (as linked to by Peter David) is a doozy. Seems a judge in Indianapolis has prohibited a father and mother in the middle of divorce proceedings from exposing their child to "non-mainstream religious belief and rituals."
Both parents practice Wicca, so it's not a case of one parent wanting one religion taught and another a different religion. It, amazingly enough, seems to be a case of a judge simply not liking the "pagan" religion and actually ordering the parents not to expose their child to it. The ruling is (duh) under appeal, and I have to imagine it'll be tossed like salad, but that it was ever made in the first place is . . . odd.