By Bob Hicks
The other day I posted this essay, BodyVox cuts to the Hollywood chase, on Oregon ArtsWatch. It’s about BodyVox dance’s cannily amusing ode to the movies, The Cutting Room, which continues through May 19. In the piece, I dive into the pool where film, dance and music swim around in existential, essentially nonverbal waters, and I try not to sink. An excerpt:
What The Cutting Room achieves is to distill the essence of movie storytelling without weighting it down with any actual story. And it has fun doing it. Its a situational comedy, a comedy of mood and ritual trappings. “Stella!” a voice cries; or, “I’ll have what she’s having”; or “I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen”; and we all know what the scene is and where, in Hollywood dreamland, we are. It’s as comfortable and comforting as reciting The Lord’s Prayer.
Photo courtesy BodyVox: Jonathan Krebs (top) and Jamey Hampton.
By Bob Hicks
At OregonLive, Marty Hughley has just posted a terrific interview with Stepan Simek about Vaclav Havel, the philosopher-playwright who became the unlikely leader of the Czech revolution and his nation’s first post-Soviet president. Havel died on Sunday at age 75.
Simek, a native of Prague and chairman of the theater department at Lewis & Clark College, is also the English translator of Havel’s play The Increased Difficulty of Concentration. And although he met Havel just once, he had an intriguing connection with the legendary leader. “The funny thing is that my parents and grandparents were very good friends with his parents,” Simek tells Marty. “When I was born, the Havels gave my parents this cradle — a pink, wooden painted cradle — that Havel himself was cradled in. And I was cradled in it and it still is in my family’s possession.”
Continue reading Simek on Havel, Plummer on Plummer →
Kino Lorber, Inc.
By Bob Hicks
If you’re going to fall into a painting, choose carefully. Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie might be exciting, but after a while you’d start to feel like a mouse in a maze. Edvard Munch’s The Scream? You don’t want to go there. One of Henri Rousseau’s Edenic wild beasty scenes would be tempting, but how are your jungle survival skills? A Jackson Pollock action painting? It’d be an adventure, but a weirdly disorienting one. And do you really want to spend eternity slipping around Salvador Dali’s melted clocks in The Persistence of Memory?
No, better off to choose a painting with a broadly varied universe of its own, a place that gives you lots of room to roam. Pieter Bruegel the Elder‘s 1564 masterpiece The Way to Calvary, for instance, a painting of meticulous and painstaking vision that exists in a complex network of space, thought and time. Calvary forms the basis for Polish director Lech Majewski’s audacious film The Mill & the Cross, a visually breathtaking piece of moviemaking that opens Friday at Northwest Portland’s Cinema 21 and plays through November 10.
Continue reading Falling into a Bruegel painting, on film →
By Bob Hicks
That quotation comes from Claudia Dreifus’s interview in this morning’s New York Times with Ellen Bialystok, a cognitive neuroscientist who’s spent almost 40 years studying the ways that speaking two languages keeps your mind sharp, even possibly delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms. (Does that mean that Europeans and Quebecois are smarter longer than most Americans?)
It strikes Mr. Scatter that what Bialystok has to say about research is equally true for that branch of creativity we like to refer to as artistic. An idea takes hold. You follow it. It leads you somewhere that might utterly astonish you. But once you’ve identified it, you need to trust it to lead you where it will. It’s not blind faith. But it is faith. Which doesn’t mean it won’t sometimes lead you down a dark alley for an artistic mugging. But those are the chances you take.
That’s all, folks: Meanwhile, Mr. Scatter has a story in this morning’s Oregonian about the Oregon Jewish Museum‘s new show That’s All, Folks: The Mel Blanc Story, celebrating the life and times of the Portland kid who grew up to be possibly the greatest Hollywood voice actor of all time, supplying the sounds of cartoon characters ranging from Bugs Bunny to Pepe LePew.
Blanc made a name for himself in Portland radio with shows such as KGW’s Hoot Owls (it was a huge hit in the 1920s and early ’30s, drawing audiences of more than a million a show) before heading for Hollywood and cartoon immortality. Blanc was far more than bilingual: He spoke in about 400 different character voices, which, as Ellen Bialystok might have predicted, kept him alert and peppy until he died at age 81 in 1989.
One story goes that after a string of successes he asked his bosses at Warner Bros for a raise. No can do, they told him: We can’t afford it. So he asked that he be given a nameline in the credits and they said sure. That’s how he became the first voice actor to be featured in a cartoon’s credits, paving the way for the likes of Jack Black, Eddie Murphy and Robby Benson, the onetime teen heartthrob who revealed big-league Broadway chops as the voice of Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
So: No money, but you can have a byline? Sounds like blogging.
- Mel Blanc gives himself a close shave for a KGW radio gig. Photo courtesy of Noel Blanc.
- Logo for the radio hit “Hoot Owls,” which featured Blanc. Courtesy Mark Moore, NW Vintage Radio Society.
By Bob Hicks
Must everything we see and do be an “event”?
Mr. Scatter noticed this pernicious form of marketing and advertising breathlessness beginning as a trickle a couple of years ago, and it’s become an all-taps-open flood. The most ubiquitous torrent is the “major motion picture event” — which means “movie that cost a lot to make and needs to make a whole lot more to recoup its costs,” or just plain “new movie” — but it’s spread to many other areas as well. A rainstorm is a “weather event.” A sale on socks at the mall is a “merchandising event.” A rational political speech is an “imaginary event.” Just kidding on that last one.
The subject rose yet again this morning when Mr. Scatter spotted an ad in the New York Times for Michael Flatley’s new movie Lord of the Dance 3D and promptly erupted into a minor hissy fit event. Now, Mr. S can take Michael Flatley or leave him, though he’d rather do the latter. (All these lords a-leaping remind him of a good friend’s dismissal of the background characters in operas and story ballets as “happy peasants.”) And Mr. S hasn’t jumped on the 3D wagon: he can’t figure out how to get those glasses over his regular glasses and still see what’s going on on the screen. No, the problem was the line right below the movie’s title in the ad: “THE MAJOR MOTION PICTURE EVENT.”
Why? Mr. Scatter asked himself in an exasperation event. Why not just “THE NEW MOVIE”? Or — gasp — nothing at all? Mr. Scatter dreams of a day when this hyperventilating linguistic gaseousness will simply implode and disappear.
It could. As the Michael Flatley homepage so eloquently proclaims: “Nothing is impossible … follow your dreams.”
On the other hand, the Lord of the Dance 3D ad reminded Mr. Scatter that today is St. Patrick’s Day, and then he recalled where he was and what he was doing exactly three years ago: lying on a hospital operating table, his left leg splayed open like a flounder getting filleted, while a highly gifted surgeon inserted what is essentially an entirely new and artificial knee. Loyal readers might recall this post from March 17, 2009, Celebrating a year of the Artificial Me, which recounted the trials and eventual joys of surgery and recovery. Mr. Scatter still can’t dance a decent jig, and he still can’t play the piano. But then, he couldn’t before the surgery, either. And these days, unless an anniversary rolls around, he rarely gives his pain-free knee a second thought.
Saints be praised.
- Irish horndancing and jig shoes. Photo: Skubik at en.wikipedia
- Bend it like Beckham. Gray’s Anatony.
By Bob Hicks
Maryhill Museum of Art officially breaks ground at 3:30 p.m. next Friday, Feb. 18, on its $10 million expansion project, which will give the Columbia Gorge landmark some much-needed elbow room. Between an expansive plaza and expanded indoor spaces, the project will add 25,500 square feet.Â The museum will be open during construction: Maryhill’s 2011 season opens March 15. Read the update here on Art Daily. And read our original reporting here and here.
Meanwhile, Scatterers who remember chief correspondent Martha Ullman West’s take on the Oscar-nominated movie Black Swan — “In several places I got the giggles,” she wrote here about the ballet-bloodbath melodrama — might also be interested in Alastair MacAulay’s take here on the same movie, in which the New York Times dance critic considers Black Swan in Bette Davis terms. “Let’s also admit there have always been striking parallels between the ballet classics of the 19th century and the Hollywood women’s movies of the mid-20th century,” he writes. Let’s.
When Hollywood decides to depict a specific trade, dramatic license usually trumps veracity. Think all those cop movies truly depict an average day in the life and thinking of a policeman? How about the hilarious world of newspaper hacks in the likes of The Front Page? Black Swan, the new horror film with a ballet backdrop, is no exception. Art Scatter senior correspondent Martha Ullman West argues that if you think this is what the ballet world is really like … well, she can get you a very good deal on a bridge in Brooklyn.
By Martha Ullman West
Black Swan is not a film about ballet.
Oh sure, there are a few shots of point shoes, not to mention bleeding toes, company class, unconvincing rehearsals of small bits of Swan Lake, and Natalie Portman, who richly deserves for her acting (but not her dancing) the Golden Globe award she picked up Sunday night. She spent two years taking ballet classes, and lost a lot of weight for her role.
But here’s the rub. Classical ballet, and director Darren Aronofsky‘s profoundly Puritanical view of the art form, provide the mere framework for a film about a deeply troubled young woman whose cries for help are unheard, or denied, by a mother who thinks only of herself and an employer who seems only to think about sex.
Continue reading O bleak ‘Black Swan,’ flying from reality →
By Bob Hicks
One of the lasting impressions of Ragtime, director Milos Forman‘s 1981 version of the E.L. Doctorow novel, is of the ravishing freshness and physical innocence of the young actress Elizabeth McGovern, playing Evelyn Nesbit. Her beauty was dreamlike, the beauty of a creature only just discovering self-awareness.
Beauty fades, of course, or rather, it changes. Now, at 49, McGovern is still beautiful, but in a fully mature, more experienced, less unnerving way — which, from some vantages, makes her even more beautiful: It’s a beauty anchored by reality.
McGovern has lived in England for the past 18 years, and has recently co-starred in a hit period television series, Downton Abbey, which will be broadcast in the United States beginning Sunday on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic. Sarah Lyall has a good interview with her in this morning’s editions of the New York Times.
Continue reading Aging grandly: Elizabeth McGovern →
By Bob Hicks
HARD NUT: It’s been a lot of years since I’ve seen The Hard Nut, Mark Morris‘s pared-down version of The Nutcracker, but I’ve always more than liked it. It’s lean yet lush, beautifully framed, and intensely musical.
You still occasionally hear people refer to it as Morris’s winking bad-boy spoof of the ubiquitous holiday story ballet, but people who think that about it (a) aren’t paying a lot of attention to the dance itself, and (b) apparently haven’t read the E.T.A. Hoffmann story on which both The Hard Nut and The Nutcracker are based. Morris took the narrative for his version, which premiered in 1991, directly from Hoffmann’s tale-within-the-tale, which is more sinister than your average sugar plum and which Hoffmann himself titled The Hard Nut. If you’ve never read the Hoffman story, it’s well worth it.
The Hard Nut returns to the Brooklyn Academy of Music next weekend, and this morning’s New York Times carries a freewheeling Q&A interview with Morris by Julie Bloom. It offers a great inside look at Morris’s thinking and his approach to art. He declares himself a classicist in many ways, which I think is true, especially in terms of musicality. And he reveals that it was his love for Tchaikovsky‘s score that prompted him to create The Hard Nut in the first place.
Absolutely. Tchaikovsky strikes me as one of our most misunderstood major composers, a guy whose work is often dismissed as sweet and antiquarian. Hardly. Yes, his music is melodically gorgeous. Structurally, it’s like steel: tough and springy, and fully anticipating modernism. As Morris puts it, it’s “astonishingly advanced.”
Read the interview here. And don’t forget that Oregon Ballet Theatre‘s production of the Balanchine Nutcracker opens December 11.
Continue reading Hot links: hard nut, black swan, bad ‘Y’ →
By Bob Hicks
Mr. Scatter had so much fun doing his cameo for Charles Deemer’s new micro-movie The Farewell Wake that by the time he actually saw the movie he was surprised by how complex the whole thing was.
He shouldn’t have been, of course. After all, Deemer knows this stuff. He teaches screenwriting at Portland State University, and is a terrific playwright, and a pioneer in the expanded-universe form of hyperdrama, and he’d already done another ultra-low-budget film, Deconstructing Sally, which we wrote about a little over a year ago here.
Still, when you’re having fun you forget about such things. And not a lot could have been easier than Mr. Scatter’s day on location, which consisted of meeting Deemer at a downtown coffee shop, sitting outside, doing two quick improvised takes for what turned out to be about a minute’s screen time in a 96-minute film, and then shooting the breeze for a few minutes until we both trundled off in our separate directions. Plus, Deemer himself was the cameraman, and his camera, such as it was, wasn’t much bigger than a pack of cigarettes. Not much danger of stage fright under those circumstances.
Continue reading ‘Farewell Wake’: small world, big bang →