Archive for June, 2011

Cooper’s London

June 23, 2011

Music:

BBC Prom Time: Bigger is Better!

If you’ll be in London after 15 July, and if you can’t get tickets for all those musicals or plays people are raving about, don’t forget the BBC Proms! This has to be the best and most consistent music festival in the world–and a lot cheaper and easier to get tickets for than Salzburg, Bayreuth or even the Edinburgh Festival—plus, you can queue for cheap standing-room or “promenade” tickets to every performance.

The Proms offer 65 to 70 concerts every summer during July, August and early September, with top-class performers in every one. Although all the concerts are broadcast on the radio and about half are now shown on TV (the BBC has miked the place for decades and knows what to do for stunning broadcast sound), you don’t have to be there to enjoy it. But there is simply nothing like being in the house for the action! Most concerts are really packed, and have an atmosphere like no other. (Full disclosure: being inside the Albert Hall has its problems–on hot nights it can be like a sauna; and the acoustic in the hall is much less thrilling than over the airwaves.) That said, there is music for every taste and you get to experience the extraordinary Albert Hall in all its Victorian splendor. Try it once—bring a hand fan if it’s a hot night—and you will become addicted. With music this good, live rules!

My own personal recommendations for just the first week include:

Prom 2, 16 July: a complete performance of Rossini’s William Tell in concert in the original French with an interesting cast conducted by the ROH’s brilliant music director, Antonio Pappano. How often do you get to hear all of William Tell live, as Rossini intended it?

Prom 5, 18 July: the legendary Martha Argerich with the brothers Capucon, performing Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, elegantly conducted by Myung-Whun Chung. This is a formidable line-up!


Prom 7, 19 July at 10 PM: a late-night prom with the Schubert Quintet performed by the wonderful Belcea Quartet and Valentin Erbin


Prom 9, 21 July: Mark Elder and the Halle; and Andras Schiff doing the third Bartok piano concerto. Elder is one of the UK’s most acclaimed conductors; Andras Schiff is one of the best pianists.

As the season rolls on, there are Proms for kids, Proms for geeks, Proms for opera-lovers, Proms for modernists and every other taste. Hold the thought that being there is always fun, energetic, mildly cheeky and extremely friendly (unlike Bayreuth or Salzburg, where if you giggle, they lynch you). And you’ll have lots of good company. Check out the programme at:BBC Proms

Cooper’s London

June 22, 2011

Theatre:

Merchant of Vegas

I have to admit to having had a very good time at the new RSC production of The Merchant of Venice directed by the ineffable Rupert Goold. The adrenalin that coursed through my system, generated by the intense rage and mystification I felt, was most invigorating; and I was further stimulated by thoughts of what to shout at this director and how to re-do the whole production. Also, it did actually provoke a strong desire to re-read the play, so the experience was not entirely negative. Dark clouds with silver linings and all that!

I admired Patrick Stewart’s Shylock. I thought he created a real and plausible character, and acted with remarkable restraint and intelligence. I would love to see him do it in a real production of the play some day. I was also particularly taken with Susannah Fielding’s Portia, Caroline Martin’s Jessica and Richard Riddell’s Bassanio. Indeed, the entire cast executed what was required of them with the usual commitment and skill you would expect at the RSC. My problem was entirely with “the given” imposed on the play by Goold: that The Merchant of Venice was set in some fantasy city–contemporary Las Vegas, or some patronizing and, I guess, satirical, version of Hollywood’s view of Las Vegas.

Also that everything had some contemporary popular art equivalent to help us “get it”?– so that Portia is to be seen as Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde; she is now a living Barbie Doll who is nevertheless smart and good at being a lawyer seems to be the message. Does the director really think that he has to drag in the shows we watch on television to give his audience some sort of recognition points? And does he really think the audience could not understand the characters or situations, fairytale elements and all, if just presented directly? Oh, and what the hell is the equivalence supposed to be between Vegas and Venice? My impression is that Goold thinks that we are so bereft of intelligence and the ability to listen to Shakespeare’s poetry that he needs to coat everything with references to current cities, movies and TV shows to impose context.

In this production Patrick Stewart is present as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. (Though Patrick Stewart does Tevye dancing at the close of the first half after his daughter has absconded rather movingly, it has to be said.) The wooing of Portia via the three riddling boxes is now a reality show with all the noise and tackiness of the X-Factor.

But time and again I kept thinking how completely inept the conceit was. For starters, Venice in Shakespeare’s time was a society of bankers and power brokers players on the international world stage, not some sort of overblown Disney World–and though, as we all know, bankers are playing for slots these days, they are also playing for power. Given the current world situation, setting the play in a Lehmann Brothers bank, on the London stock exchange or even in Brussels in the EU headquarters seemed to me a better bet.

The Merchant of Venice also portrays a society riddled with class barriers and snobbery that simply are not relevant to contemporary Las Vegas. Shakespeare’s Venice is a society of men who who practiced the same sort of male bonding as the old Etonians who run a coalition government in the UK, say, and who are just as unaware of their prejudices; they simply exclude everyone who is not of their ilk. And the anti-Semitism of the play certainly does not work set in today’s LA (unless it has changed a lot since last I looked). If Goold had to find a more contemporary equivalent., could he not have set it in Berlin in 1932 or 1933 just as the Nazis were on the rise? Or–hey–Venice itself in Mussolini’s time?

To me it seems that this production more than any in a long time points out the dangers of attempting to give an old play contemporary relevance by loading it with arbitrary images and parallels that the director thinks audience will more easily relate to–-all without thinking through the implications of the update. And without considering whether the audience needs or wants such glosses. It also must be a hell of a disappointment to any American tourists who have come to Stratford hoping to see how the play is performed on home ground; especially as everyone on the stage (to make the Las Vegas trope more real) is speaking with an American accent.

I have tried. but have not yet succeeded in seeing a Rupert Goold production that does not irritate me by its irrelevant inventiveness and glitz, and by how much of it is beside the point. Enron was just one example: except that, in London, its glitz and inventiveness actually hid the weakness of a badly written play (New York, apparently, got it!) That said, I think the man is without a doubt intelligent, creative and full of ebullient ideas that could be fun. Also, certainly, in this Merchant there are moments in the first half and a long patch in the second where he actually lets the play get through to him, the actors and the audience. I cannot gainsay he is successful or that he seems to give a lot of people pleasure with his approach. His Romeo and Juliet that opened the rebuilt Stratford theatre was a hit with audiences. But this new Emperor of the theatre world has yet to find his clothes. For now, at least he’s wearing some nifty underwear!

Part Two of this production was better. It got calmer. The trial scene was engaging, and I became emotionally interested in the characters at last. But then, in the last ten minutes of the final scene back in Belmont, Goold threw it all away: the action completely undercut the actual text and its romantic ending and added arbitrary fake-tragic business for Portia that was cringe-making in its conceptual ineptitude (though well-executed by Susannah Fielding). But once again, the audience seemed to love it. Maybe I am once again turning into a curmudgeon (or maybe it was really doing something showy that was actually phoney and not what the play is about at that point?) I ask myself: what would Shakespeare do?

I have no objection to updating if it illuminates ideas or draws new perceptions from the text. I have seen productions of this play set among the bankers in Victorian England (Jonathan Miller’s wonderful National Theatre production with Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright, which is available on DVD) and some that explored the Jewishness of Shylock vs. the Gentiles very clearly and explicitly (Trevor Nunn, Miller again); but Goold’s is not among them.

To my mind, this Merchant of Vegas was inconsistent in every way both with reference to the actual play and also within its own “given”. Frankly, I also think it is patronizing to Shakespeare and ultimately unfair to the audience, which is being patronzied along with the author. And I felt sorry for the actors, who clearly have much more subtlety, nuance and interpretive skill to offer.

I rate this one not in stars but in toilet seats and I give it two. But I also live in hope that Rupert Goold will one day soon harness his undoubted talent and energy so that it serves a play instead of just using the play as a launching pad for his own visions.

Still if you want to see a crumby Las Vegas floor-show with a little Shakespeare thrown in, that includes a second-rate Elvis impersonator and some show girls strutting their stuff to liven things up, this is the one to get tickets for. Go for the floor-show and a few good moments in passing and also for a really good Trial Scene and you will not be disappointed.

Apollo’s Girl

June 22, 2011

Film: Animal Kingdom

Scarred by the childhood experience of having to give away a beloved family pet, I’m a sucker for the Animal Planet’s urban animal cop series, and commercials featuring abused and abandoned animals rescued by the ASPCA or Humane Society. So tears really flowed during some new films that explore another problem: not the abused and abandoned, but animals who have been treated royally—almost like family members—from childhood on. They form deep, lifetime bonds with their owners. even if their owners, or their custody, must come to an end. And there’s the rub.

One Lucky Elephant (film forum)

Step right up to the Circus Flora—named after its star attraction—and watch Lisa Leeman’s heartfelt story of Flora the elephant and her owner, David Balding, circus owner and ringmaster. The film’s tagline is “A 10,000-pound love story”, and so it is. Because while Balding fell in love with the baby elephant he rescued, and that love was definitely requited by the burgeoning Flora, the elephant in the room, so to speak, was that Flora’s future (beyond her circus turn) would eventually have to be faced.

This is an elegant and unsparing decade-long look at both the emotions of the star-crossed duo and their consequences; Balding ages, Flora grows, and the issue of what to do becomes increasingly urgent. While Balding is guided by the advice of experts and places Flora in the best circumstance possible, he finds that breaking up is hard to do. So, alas does Flora. You will empathize with both of them, and feel the bittersweet power of the film’s final image and everything it symbolizes.

Project Nim (in theaters July 8; on HBO next year)

I’d have to say that Flora was definitely one lucky elephant compared to Nim Chimsky, the center of James Marsh’s “unflinching and unsentimental” biography of one unlucky chimp whose life was marked by a host of mostly well-meaning, but usually misguided human caretakers. His journey from family member (not a good idea) to shelter resident to experimental subject (unspeakable) and beyond is increasingly disturbing and, although as objective as Marsh is able to make it, really demands long, hard scrutiny of the ethics of everyone involved, from journey’s beginning to end.

As a filmmaker, Marsh is blessed by an abundance of archival footage and photographs of Nim, who was a media sensation for much of his early life, and of his owners—a very mixed bag—over the long years of the chimp’s odyssey. Because March has chosen well, It allows the kind of deep and detailed consideration that would otherwise be unavailable. So you will be drawn into the issues slowly, then just have to face them as the film unspools. Don’t even try to turn away.

While chimps, like elephants, bond intensely and can live in captivity for some 60 years, the results of making them into the pets they cannot remain are devastating. So try cats and dogs, and plan to keep them for their lifetime. It will be shorter than yours, and you’ll never have to figure out how to tell them why it’s time to go.

P.S. (The Future)

Paw Paw, the stray cat who connects Miranda July and Hamish Linklater throughout The Future is another, though fictional, case in point. He spends most of his time waiting for them to pick him up from the vet, musing on the human (and feline) condition, and looking forward to starting his new life as their pet. Voiced convincingly and with pathos by July herself, we will learn from him that life is full of surprises, even when the bonds are brief.

Apollo’s Girl

June 16, 2011

l’Histoire du Soldat

Jody Oberfelder Dance Project /Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra

Updating a classic (even a Modernist one) is tricky business; with l’Histoire  du Soldat, the reinvention of Stravinsky’s iconic 1918 chamber work by East Village  envelope-pusher Jody Oberfelder and her collaborators is a tour de force  from beginning to end. Stravinsky was always an innovator, and l’Histoire was his first try at putting his own spin on the sounds of the jazz and ragtime he was dipping into in 1918. Its libretto, by his friend Charles Ramuz,was Ramuz’ own spin on an old Russian story Stravinsky had shared with him. And so the two conceived a piece that combined the influences of African-American music, Russian folk tales, and a whiff of Faustian legend that originated somewhere in central Europe around the 16th century. In other words, a universal morality play: soldier with violin deserts army to return home to mother, encounters the Devil (lusting for the violin) who offers, in exchange, a magic book containing the secret of enormous wealth. Devil gets violin, soldier gets rich, marries a Princess. Complications ensue.

In the same spirit of innovation, Jody Oberfelder got permission to create a new version of l’Histoire’s libretto, and shaped it into a contemporary morality tale for dancers and narrator, in which the villain plays a number of authority figures, all danced by Rebekah Morin. In other words, this Devil is Woman! And that’s only for starters. Brilliantly performed by Morin, Jake Szczypek as the Soldier, ChristinaNoel Reaves as the Princess, and spoken (and sinuously danced) by Narrator Christian Coulson, the collaborative heat remains turned up high, and includes the orchestra (led by Gary S. Fagin).

But the technical and artistic wizardry of the production team matches the live performers every step of the way. Because there is a strong and viable concept behind the entire enterprise, the tricky business of updating succeeds by creating verbal and visual metaphors in very contemporary terms, without twisting the original sensibilities out of shape. (Having lived through some monstrous “updates” that never should have left the drawing board, I am grateful for the pleasures of Oberfelder’s ideas, and for the skill with which they were presented.) Projections treated us to costumed performers marching to the theater on our familiar mean streets and a host of the technical “musts” without which we cannot exist. And a
stunning erotic duet for the Soldier and the Princess (suspended from the ceiling by a harness and dressed in an enormous fabric violin “played” by the Soldier) was defined by lyrical sizzle. Projections were also employed for the ending: a fast rewind of l’Histoire’s images, closing with the superimposition of a computer’s “start” button. Sad, and funny, but the temptation to press it remained.

There was, however, one additional element not part of the concept: about 20 minutes into the piece, a voice from the control booth broke the spell by announcing an imminent fire event; we all filed out to the street until the  emergency was over and the troupers could pick up the threads and  began weaving again. No one dropped a stitch. 

When Stravinsky and Ramuz devised the original version of l’Histoire, they made it as a production modest enough to tour towns and villages in the straitened economic climate of post-World War One Europe. Sound familiar? Oberfelder’s version requires a bare stage, a few props, a screen, a small cast, and a chamber orchestra. It’s had three performances at Pace University’s Schimmel Center, and would make a nifty package for other venues. Imagination, talent, art, craft. Let’s get this show on the road! 

Apollo’s Girl

June 10, 2011

Passione: It’s Really Hot!

When John Turturro says, at the beginning of his new film Passione, “There are places that you go to and once is enough. And then there’s Napoli…” he’s only slyly whetting your appetite for what follows:

Passione is his cinematic love letter to a city which has survived invasions from all over the compass, made music of them, and simply never learned the concept of giving up. So you’ll recognize the sounds of North Africa, India, Arabia, and a few former colonial powers in Europe.

With aerial shots of Naples (don’t forget Mt. Vesuvius!) and 24 musical numbers sung, acted, and danced by a crowd of talents in constant motion, you are snatched up for a trip that no travel agent could book. But the deliciously gritty mise en scene focuses more on the old alleyways and mini-piazzas that make up the core of the city, and on the life force that unites the performers you meet there.

Turturro calls Passione “a true collaboration between me, the performers, the director of cinematography, Marco Pontecorvo, and the mama of the film, our editor, Simona Paggi.” That’s an understatement, because Paggi knows not only just when to make a cut, or to extend a moment, but how to create a phenomenal program out of the 24 musical numbers, which flow (despite their endless variety) in a pulsing cascade of pure energy and power. If you want O Solo Mio, it’s there, but along with 22 other pieces you’ve probably never heard (and will pine to hear again), plus a version of Pistol-Packin’ Mama I guarantee you will never forget. And a dance number, Caravan Petrol, shot in the desert, featuring the gyrations of Fiorello, Max Casella, and Turturro himself, plus one very perplexed mule.

There are plenty of archival stills for verismo, plus footage of the 1930s, and the 1940s, when Allied troops put an end to the Mussolini era and were welcomed by a weary population more than ready for the next chapter in the Neopolitan story. It anchors the beginning and the end of the film, resonating with contemporary scenes that make it clear the story will continue. But the music, the characters, and the love are what make it all go. (Until mid-August at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Lincoln Center) Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center

Cooper’s London

June 3, 2011

Creatures Onstage

One of the best theatre pieces in London at the moment is Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein. It has been praised elsewhere copiously, especially for the casting of Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternating in the roles of Dr. Frankenstein and the Creature. It deserves all its high praise. It somehow conveys the moral questioning and deeper philosophical concerns of the original Mary Shelley novel. With any luck the play should drive you back to read or re-read this remarkable and almost Jungian novel produced by a young woman of about 18 and then published when she was about 21 in 1819. 

Like Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, like Dorian Gray and his portrait, a man and his shadow are embodied in a tale that resonates mythically for us all and also shows the fine line between the creative and the dark sides of human nature. Though specific details are missing, the understanding of the novel is vividly present in this play adapted by Nick Dear. Add to that the immensely vivid theatricality of Boyle’s approach, the visual excitement of the production and the completely compelling and superb acting on all fronts, and it’s worth queuing for day seats if you are in London – and/or seeing the broadcasts to cinemas of the live performances. Hopefully, one day there will be a DVD. 

Vintage Wine in New, Distressed Bottle? Stratford Redux?

I went off to Stratford for the official opening of the new theatre, where I saw revivals of King Lear and Romeo and Juliet. If anything, Greg Hicks is now even more substantially living the part of Lear; and Romeo and Juliet is just as glib, but glitzy and showy as ever. The audience still loved it. I still thought that it would be better as a staging of the Gounod opera. 

For me, the building itself is a bit disappointing; I am in a minority here. I guess I’ve been spoiled by the really pleasant atmosphere of The Courtyard and that is not quite achieved in the new main theatre. I’m not certain about all the distressed architectural features of the rebuild. The restaurant at the top of the building serves good food that is not too wildly expensive, but is shaped like a long corridor or crescent moon, so that the poor waiters keep running along it from the kitchen at one end–though the views over Stratford and the countryside are worth it. Also, in my opinion they have put the bookshop, bars and coffee shop in some peculiar spaces that make them more cramped than one would like. 

The thrust stage in the main auditorium is a mirror of the one at the Courtyard, but the auditorium is a bit more cramped, there are overhangs to contend with, and the acoustics didn’t seem to be as sharp as they could be. But in the end these are all merely quibbles. It’s good to have the old place open again; the new design is certainly an improvement on the old one, even if it does not reach breathtaking perfect; and the play is the thing. You will enjoy the surroundings, they are certainly serviceable; and since The Courtyard is supposed to be dismantled, it will not be there for comparison for very long.

Meanwhile, the season coming up looks very interesting indeed, especially the Greg Doran realization of Shakespeare’s lost play, Cardenio. See what’s coming up at the RSC web site:

And, Speaking of Shakespeare…….

One of my real pleasures of the past few weeks is coming across Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets, a new commentary, sonnet by sonnet, by poet Don Paterson. Paterson is himself quite a considerable and well-recognized writer with a lovely, easy and accessible style; and nothing could be more accessible – or help you with the sonnets – than this commentary. 

Discussing each poem in a conversational and cheeky style, Paterson gives you the feeling of being talked to by someone who is very smart, very witty and quite easygoing. I’ve been reading the text a few sonnets at a time. Read the poem, read the commentary; re-read the poem (which now makes much more sense); re-read the commentary and get some of the jokes you missed before, re-read the sonnet; move on. Three a day is my aim. 

Paterson is very frank about the poems he hates and the ones he loves; and goes into little conversational asides with earlier commentators whom he admires but often disagrees with. He is also very straightforward about the homoeroticism in the text. Basically, he reads the poems as if he were Shakespeare’s contemporary who really gets all the allusions and jokes. Take the opening of his gloss on Sonnet 20 (A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,/Hast thought, the master mistress of my passion; …), for example:

Dude, as Aerosmith sang with such vacant gusto, ‘looks like a lady’. OK: this is as good a place any to clear this up. I feel I will scarcely be believed, but this poem has been often cited as evidence of William Shakespeare’s non-homoerotic intent. No–really! As levels of denial go, this is right up there with the health benefits of Marlboros. …”

See what I mean? It’s at times a bit like having Monty Python’s Comments on Shakespeare’s Sonnets – but the commentary seems not only witty, but genuinely illuminating–and, most of all, fun. 

I am having a great time with this book and with re-reading each Sonnet and then having it retold by Paterson. And you know what? It’s driving me to read all of his poetry and other writings too. Highly, highly recommended, Dude!

Cooper’s London

June 3, 2011

Some Nights at the Opera…

I Love Lucrezia!

The English National Opera has been having a good run lately, not that you would know it from some reports. The biggest “disaster” was supposed to be their production of Donizetti’s rarely performed Lucrezia Borgia. Directed by Mike Figgis (known for films like Internal Affairs, Leaving Las Vegas, and the early Stormy Monday), he has interwoven with the live opera beautifully filmed extracts of the earlier, back story of Lucrezia. The filmed extracts, like the stage picture, referenced Renaissance paintings constantly and cleverly and, for me, the two informed each other brilliantly.

The original libretto for this opera is actually rather weak, so I found the films a wonderful gloss on the whole story that made the opera itself more plausible and comprehensible. The critics hated it. On my way in to the third or fourth performance (I was too ill to attend the opening night) I ran into several Donizetti buffs who suggested, having read the damning reviews, that we all bail out together at half time and go to a Chinese restaurant in Soho. By half time, not one of them wanted to leave. Everyone was simply having a wonderful time, and I don’t believe it’s because we went in with such low expectations.

This is a bel canto opera and, for openers, the singing was superb–Claire Rutter a stunning and convincing Lucrezia in every way, dramatically and musically, with rising young American tenor Michael Fabiano brilliant as Lucrezia’s long-lost son (whose birth and its circumstances you see in the remarkable films). The music direction of Paul Daniel was assured, idiomatic and exciting, as usual. A very difficult opera to stage came across as a classic in almost the same league as Lucia di Lammermoor or Anna Bolena. I have no idea what the nay-sayers were perceiving.

Maybe I missed the one bad performance in the run? Maybe opening night was more like a preview than the real thing, and it settled down afterwards? Yet I have still to hear of any actual member of the audience at any performance who didn’t enjoy it thoroughly, and I hope that the ENO are not put off either reviving this Lucrezia Borgia very soon and often, or getting Mike Figgis to direct another opera!

Miller and Lehnhoff Get it Right, Again

Equally interesting and satisfying were the revivals of Jonathan Miller’s hilarious take on Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado and of Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s Parsifal.

I cannot let them pass without noting that John Tomlinson played Gurnemanz in English for the very first time, a role he first played in German in the 1990s. Every word was clear, his singing was wonderful, and he made of what is potentially the most boring character in all of opera a deeply impressive, fascinating and sympathetic man, conveying also the story of the Grail as compellingly as if you were sitting around a campfire one night listening to an old sage.

The singing of all the cast was superb. Stuart Skelton sang brilliantly the part of Parsifal, the ‘innocent fool’ who revitalises the Grail Knights’ moribund, moralistic world through the power of his human compassion; and Jane Dutton, was a compelling Kundry. I have some quibbles about the production (I would like the transformations back, please) but essentially this was an exceedingly intelligent as well as dramatically and musically strong Parsifal.

The Mikado, the famous Jonathan Miller production being now revived for its 25th anniversary, is still hilarious. It’s also timely and was good to see again after the recent and special Elixir of Love that Miller directed for the ENO last year. What I like about Jonathan Miller is that he always interprets what the composer or author actually gives him; he always illuminates what is truly in the text, whether we’ve noticed it there before or not; and he never simply imposes some idiosyncratic vision. However idiosyncratic things may appear when the curtain first goes up (Rigoletto in 1950s New York, Elixir in 1950s Nevada, Cosi in 1990s Bosnia) Miller justifies the concept as the evening goes on and you “get” the opera in new ways that really work. He also knows how to stage things so that the singers can actually move and sound their best.

Not surprisingly, his productions age well. Is Jonathan Miller perhaps the most under-rated great director produced by the UK in recent memory? Or does that award go to Elijah Moshinsky? Despite Miller’s successes, no one seems to quite acknowledge how versatile he is and how much he tends to illuminate, with complete ease, any opera or play he undertakes.

Another Discovery…

The Warners Classical label is developing a new violin superstar–Charlie Siem. I first heard him in London when he was a teenage prodigy a few years ago, and I must say that the prodigy is growing up; his first CD announces the arrival of someone to keep listening for. It’s a collection of virtuoso dazzlers such as Waxman’s Carmen Fantasie and Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, played with both dash and intelligence, and a stunningly controlled and rich tone. The accompaniment by Caroline Jaya-Ratnam is a perfect match. A disc, then, that is a pure pleasure today and a promise of much more to come. In fact, it’s musically exciting and utterly charming. Have a look and listen at: http://www.charliesiem.com/

Apollo’s Girl

June 3, 2011

Tabloid: How Sweet it Is…

When you haven’t seen an Errol Morris film for a while, you may forget just how good he is, or worse – just how entirely original and unique his visions are. In the case of Tabloid, the opening titles alone offer clues you simply can’t ignore. And five minutes into the film, you know it’s going to be the ride of a lifetime. So settle in and enjoy it.

The subject—Joyce McKinney, a former beauty queen with an IQ of 168 (she says) and an insatiable appetite for exhibitionism—is made for Errol Morris’ deadpan interview technique. As the story unspools and her friends and associates are added to the mix, the limelight is not so much shared as refocused with each clip. Part of Morris’ genius is getting the cast to add new spices to the dough each time they’re up, like a cake with ingredients you’d never combine in real life. But what a cake it is! And yes, there’s frosting on it, too. Morris chooses to mix elements of both archival and production footage within a frame of animated collages, and to structure his doc like a choice narrative film, full of surprises at exactly the right moment. Much as I’d like to share them, I am loathe to give them away; getting them is half the fun.

But even without the surprises, this giddy tale is alternately so hair-raising, so sorrowful, and so side-splittingly funny that your attention simply cannot flag. Imagine McKinney’s side of the story: deeply in love (and possibly still a virgin), she kidnaps the object of her affections; a Morman with serious coital issues, and subjects him to a long weekend of delirious sex in rural Britain.That, however, is merely a jumping-off point for what follows: a narrative that repeatedly defines the paradigm of You Can’t Make Stuff Like That Up, no matter who’s doing the talking. So, whatever else the summer movie slate has in store, watch your local news like a hawk for Tabloid and do not – repeat, do not – miss this one!


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