Friday, February 23, 2007

Oscar Weekend at newcritics

What better place to spent your Oscar weekend than over at newcritics, the brainchild of Tom Watson. He and Blue Girl are hosting a bonanza of bloggers (is that our collective noun?) starting at noon on Saturday, leading up to BG live blogging the show.

Yours truly will be on deck from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday with some thoughts on Peter O'Toole, who is likely to enter history as having the most ever Best Actor Oscar nominations with no wins. The other kids in the hall are Claire Helene, Lance Mannion, Steve Mani, Viscount LaCarte, Steve Bowbrick, and Self Styled Siren.

Come hear what this eclectic team has to say . . .

Monday, February 19, 2007

Oh, Matt and Harriet . . .

I’ve held on through the entire season of Studio 60. It’s been a pretty steady diet of disappointment, a weekly witness to the failure of the very talented Aaron Sorkin to find compelling expression or engaging storytelling in his world of late night comedy. Joining Lance Mannion's Monday Night Live Blogging Party has added a funny, insightful dimension to the experience, for which I am deeply grateful to Lance.

Now the show is in a planned—although slightly early—hiatus. Maybe Sorkin will regroup. It’s hard to know what even he finds satisfying in the series. The words “Matt and Harriet have NO CHEMISTRY” have been typed/blogged/semaphored more than any other words in history, and from that fact, where can anything go? What magic can you create?

As we leave the Studio 60 gang to their holiday, I invite you to spend a moment with two characters whose chemistry is legendary.

4/2/07: We have a new video of chemistry highlights, this time to the melodic voice of Karen Carpenter's "Won't Last a Day without You."

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Miami Vice and the 3:00 a.m. Soul

"In the real dark night of the soul, it is always 3 o'clock in the morning, day after day," wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald in his 1936 book The Crack-Up.

It’s a poignant, sad, personal expression of his own mental state, when, at 39, Fitzgerald comes to realize that somewhere along the line he has cracked inside. He nods to St. John of the Cross, the originator of "dark night of the soul," by inserting the word “real” into his line: for the mystic the dark night was a step in spiritual development, when the seeker finds traditional prayer unrewarding on a path to a much deeper relationship with God. But the “real” night of the soul for F. Scott and most of us is every-day, fear-laden doubt and isolation, which seems bleakest around 3.

(The Crack-Up is also the source for a line often misattributed to Oscar Wilde: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”)

A recent dark night of mine became illuminated by a SleuthTV rerun of Miami Vice (EST 2:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m.). In the darkness of the living room the pulsing of the opening credits whisked me into the sleek, color-saturated mythic universe of Metro Dade and eased, for some moments, the weight of my own entangled thoughts.

I never saw season 4 or 5 of Vice, and most original fans became disillusioned somewhere in season 3. Season 4 is grittier, darker, and I’ve been enjoying it through the Sleuth in-sequence reruns.

And so it is 2:00 a.m., and “Mirror Image” begins. It was the first of the 3 ep. arc where Sonny has amnesia. He’s in an explosion while brokering a mob summit, and with the concussion, has no memory of the police officer Crockett, only the drug dealer Burnett. He becomes a killing machine.

The mind starts to wander into the episode--

Woa—-Antonio "Huggy Bear" Fargas. They're just messing with us here, giving us Starsky & Hutch’s funny snitch as a serious bad guy . . ha! it’s Julia Roberts, just before Mystic Pizza, as the drug moll; eighties make-up isn’t kind to anyone . . . Tubbs looks very fine in that beard . . . I think Don Johnson is underrated for this show . . . Matt Zoller Seitz has a nice appreciation of the series over at the House . . . a young Chris Cooper, fresh from Matewan (what is John Sayles doing these days?), just popped up as the cop who has sold out to the Mob. How funny is that—-on the day that Breach opens, where he plays the worst traitor in U.S. history . . . .

So, the world goes on--things are connected, and the center holds. These are little points, but sometimes at 3:00 a.m. they are enough to ease a dark night.

And you can always connect with a great moment from "The Great McCarthy" in season one. Still hard to believe this scene is from a weekly television show from 1984.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Swine, all of them

What do these people have in common?

Fred Astaire, Maria Callas, Ronald Reagan, Woody Allen, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Doog, David Letterman, Morrissey, Kevin Spacey, Jerry Lee Lewis, Humphrey Bogart, Elton John, Alfred Hitchock, Hemingway, Alain Connes, Sasha Cohen, Thomas Jefferson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Their Asian zodiac is Pig, and their year begins Sunday, February 18. It will be the year 4705, reminding us that Pope Gregory was very late to the game of time counting with his decree.

Pig, the last animal of the zodiac, is considered a very good sign to be born under. They are sincere, gregarious, diligent, generous sensualists.

So wear red for good luck, set off some fireworks to ward off bad spirits for the year, and go see a Dragon dance.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Carly Simon and Thomas Tallis: O Jerusalem

I went to a shindig the other evening at the Waldorf in honor of a captain of industry, who thankfully had a great sense of humor about what is sometimes a deadly formal affair. Adam Sandler, one of the presenters, had a very funny bit about some letters to a certain male magazine that had just surfaced . . . .

But the highlight of the evening for me was when Carly Simon performed at the behest of the captain of industry. She sang “Oh Susannah” from her new album, McCartney’s “Blackbird” and then “a hymn for Howard and for New York”

Let the river run
Let all the dreamers
Wake the nations.
Come, the New Jerusalem . . . .

That line sent shivers down my spine. She’s in the deep, smoky part of her range, which as an alto, I love to hear. But beyond that, there’s something stirring about hearing the words “the New Jerusalem” sung. Jerusalem is not just any word.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum.

The week before I had heard the majesty of the word pronounced in Latin (with that lovely soft “yeah” for the “J”) at a concert of the superb Vox Vocal Ensemble, an early music a capella group under the direction of George Steel of the Miller Theatre at Columbia University. I went with John Steed’s little-known brother, Osbert, who is a musicologist. Going with Osbert is like having a living audio guide at your side—-his knowledge of composers, modes, theories, trivia, is staggering.

The Vox concert offered the Lamentations of Jeremiah from the English composers Parsley, White, Byrd, and Mr. Tallis. The text they all set comes from the Latin translation of the book of Lamentations (which follows the book of Jeremiah) for liturgical use during the Holy Week service of Tenebrae. It was written by the prophet, or one of his followers, after the destruction of the Temple as a people mourned their defeat at the hands of their enemies. In Judaism it is read on Tisha B’Av, the fast day that commemorates the catastrophic event.

Different Renassiance composers set various parts of the whole text, which has a fascinating structure: each of the 5 chapters has 22 verses, corresponding to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, except chapter 3 which has the multiple of 66 verses. This wiki page details all the verses-—it’s the clearest delineation I’ve ever seen.

A greatly beloved setting is by Thomas Tallis. He set the first five verses of chapter one.


It’s all exquisitely mournful, but for me, Beth is the most beautiful.

PLORANS PLORAVIT IN NOCTE—-“by night she weeps in sorrow.” I could live in that Latin. I love the sound of plorans—-it’s so much more expressive than crying.

ET LACRIMAE EIUS IN MAXILLIS EIUS—“and tears run down her cheeks.” Lacrimae are so much deeper than tears.

And after that personal/national sadness is sung, comes the haunting supplication:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum.
Your nation is in ruins, you need to return to the Lord your God.

No one other place is as important to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity as Jerusalem. Does the word simply hold the weight of all that import, and is that what sends the chills when the Vox Ensemble sings the sublime line of Tallis, or Carly Simon sings it in exuberance? Whichever, for me it is a very special aural moment in an overly visual world.

I entreat you to discover the sublime beauty of Renaissance polyphony, if you are not already a devotee, and the glories of the Tallis Scholars. For you tristate people, go hear this art in person at the Vox’s next concert.

As for Carly, her New Jerusalem is the soundtrack to this fan video for The West Wing. What a perfect salute to the Latin-speaking President Bartlet. Boy, I miss that show.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Q.Q.F. File: American Crossword Tournament, Online!

Steed asked me for help with 9 down in the Times crossword:

"It moves in the dark, it leaves no mark, it's as hard as steel"

That's an easy one . . .

Q.Q.F. is discovering that the American Crossword Tournament, in its thirtieth year this March, has an online playing component. Imagine—-you can be in the comfort of your home and compete with the whacky/geeky crew we met in Patrick Creadon’s documentary Wordplay: the astonishing 20-year-old two time champ Tyler Hinman; Al Sanders, nobly still at it after his crushing 2005 defeat; Ellen Ripstein, the Susan Lucci of the tournament—they will all be there.

The Tournament, run by the NY Times’s puzzle editor Will Shortz, takes place at the Marriott in Stamford, Ct, March 23 to 25. Registering online allows you to play along with the rounds of puzzles (but not compete for a prize.)

I am a longtime, inveterate, daily puzzle solver. Speed is not something I associate with doing puzzles. But this is just great. Register now!