A Little Music, and a Whole Lot of Film
There’s a trip you have to make before December 9: it’s to the Cloisters, to hear Thomas Tallis’s 40-part motet (Spem in alium) before it departs for its next stop. Created by Janet Cardiff, it consists of a recording of the motet, played back through 40 high-fidelity speakers arranged roughly in a circle, each one devoted to the voice of a single performer as he, or she, sings his part. But that doesn’t begin to reveal what happens as it floats past you in the Fuentidueña Chapel.
The speakers have been designed to reproduce the piece either whole (if you stand in the center of the circle) or in part (if you stand directly in front of one of them). So you can choose to pretend you’re the conductor by standing in the center, or Thomas Tallis himself, walking around the installation, hearing each voice of his 17th-century masterpiece as it takes its place in the aural tapestry of his weaving. We were told that this Spem in alium has been on the move since its debut in 2001; most of its appearances have been in galleries or museums in basically white spaces. In the case of the Cloisters, however, there is no doubt that here site equals sound. And if you’re open to an utterly simple, yet utterly transcendent, experience, the tears will come.
And don’t forget to visit the Cloisters’ Treasury, where you will find a sublime mother and child to end your journey. To learn more, and to hear a bit of the splendor, visit the Met’s Web site museum And to learn even more about Tallis (as well as see a page of the 40-part score): petzold It will prepare you for your visit.
To See, To Think About
After Tiller is currently playing in Austin, so haste must be made before it moves on. But November Films has picked it up for early 2014 theatrical release in the UK, and for iTunes and Netflix thereafter, so it will be available one way or the other.
This excellent documentary about what is the hottest-button topic of our time (Congress’ dysfunction and its looming consequences notwithstanding) is a must-see. There are now only four physicians in the United States who perform late-term abortions; the violence directed toward their colleagues over time has made the practice literally life-threatening (George Tiller’s clinic in Wichita was fire-bombed in 1986; he was shot in both arms in 1993, and murdered while attending church in 2009.)
Whatever your convictions about the subject, After Tiller avoids sensationalism to present the arguments for both sides. But it’s hard to disparage the bravery of the four practitioners who continue to face the real dangers that confront them, or the equally real thought and emotion they devote to each patient before agreeing to undertake the procedure. Or to condone those pro-lifers who oppose abortion on moral and/or religious grounds, who justify crossing the line from protesting to killing to express their opinion. This is not an easy film to watch, to absorb, or to ponder. But it touches on some very fundamental, and very important, issues that need to be faced. Directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson have collaborated on a haunting portrait. http://aftertillermovie.com/
Salinger is in national release, and playing locally at the Paris Theatre, too. Long researched by filmmaker Shane Salerno (its creation took about a decade, and included a 700-page biography co-written with author David Shields), and long awaited by fans of Catcher in the Rye, the “true story” about J. D. Salinger’s mysterious private life and decades of literary silence opened in September. The critics were not kind; attendance fell off and there were rumors that the Weinstein Company had recut the film during its first run and was sending copies of the new version to replace the original. video
True or not, the film is a compilation of 150 interviews, reenactments, rare stills and archival footage. While almost everyone credited in the cast list on IMDb is a white male, the film tries manfully to include the stories of the many women who were fascinated by Salinger, and whom (especially when they were barely pubescent) Salinger was fascinated by. As they recount their experiences, a lifelong Peter Pan emerges; known for creating one of the most appealing adolescents of all time, the author is no doppelgänger of Holden Caulfield, but a far darker and more complicated grown man. He died in January of this year at the age of 91.
The realities of the marketplace are such that Salinger suffers from overkill to keep its audiences’ attention, stuffing it with personalities and events and way too much music. Individually, they are interesting but, taken together, tend to blur into a zoetrope of images that beg for deeper inquiry. In fact, inside Salinger there is another leaner, more satisfying movie waiting to get out. The mystery of why an American soldier who visited the death camps of World War Two would marry a Nazi is quickly passed over. But Salinger’s decision to relocate to rural Cornish, NH, deserves more than a recitation of incidents, or a list of the journalists and photographers who camped out nearby for a glimpse of the “recluse.” The question that remains unanswered is: what happens to an artist when he chooses to live away from the forces that have not only shaped him, but inspired his work?
The parallel with another 20th-century genius is hard to ignore: Glenn Gould, pianist supreme, essayist, and occasional composer. (In fact, his recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations is used in Salinger to accompany a photograph of the author writing Catcher in the Rye.) Like Salinger, Gould did not withdraw into total isolation; both he and Salinger continued to see, write, and call colleagues, friends, and neighbors and to sally forth from their private lairs in Toronto and Cornish, NH while carefully orchestrating publicity and public access. Similarly, both retained a mindset that was rooted in versions of eternal youth, more easily sustained in a controlled environment, long after they had ceased to be young. Yet artists can be inspired by the very things they seek to avoid. So, while civilization and its discontents may be painful to great sensibilities, they often catalyze the creation of great work.
Of course Gould was primarily an interpretive artist, and Salinger a generative one. Canadian journalist Michael Clarkson, whose investigations into Gould’s life eventually led to the film Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould, not surprisingly turns up in Salinger, poking about for a glimpse of the author, or any bits of information that might escape from behind his fenced-in cabin—even better, some encouragement for his own literary aspirations. His reward is a live encounter with his prey, who firmly discourages him from lurking about or pursuing literature, ever.
Salinger continued to labor in the wilderness. While we will have to wait another few years to read what he wrote during his long absence (it has surfaced and is due to be published between 2015 and 2020), or to see how it compares with his early work , we can listen to Gould’s Goldberg Variations. The first version is from 1955; the second from 1981. In between, Gould withdrew dramatically from live performance and vowed to remain in Toronto for the rest of his days, serenely dealing with the world on his own terms. In 1955, his was a young man’s vision. By 1981, his vision had changed. However brilliant, Peter Pan had become a middle-aged man.