Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Mindbody Prescription

I just read John E. Sarno's The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain. I read it in one sitting.

It's basically a simple idea. Unconscious rage causes most musculoskeletal pain. Diagnostics will show some structural indication of something that might contribute to the pain, but Sarno says these are normal signs of life and should not contribute to pain. Pain is a distraction, the mind's strategy to avoid experiencing rage. Just knowing this is the case will aleviate symptoms.

I have to say, my knees stopped hurting while I was reading. For the next month I'm going to focus on accepting that there is no real physical basis to my pain and see what happens. I am going to make a conscious effort to be pain free. I'm feeling cautiously optimistic....

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sex Offenses and the Men Who Commit Them

This past week I read Sex Offenses and the Men Who Commit Them: An Assessment of Sex Offenders on Probation by Michelle Meloy.

It provides a solid comprehensive overview of sex offender research, and for this reason is valuable for someone that wants an introduction to the topic.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Der Rosenkavalier

Last night and this afternoon I watched a 1985 Royal Opera production of Der Rosenkavalier with Kiri Te Kanawa as the Marcshaline and Anne Howells (I think) as Octavian.

I am not sure how much I like either Strauss or German opera. I enjoyed this story, but I didn't find the music as delightful and enthralling as, say, Mozart for example. There were a few beautiful arias, particularly in the last act. But in general I found the music rather unmelodious and the sound of the German language was jarring at times. Also, there was no major tenor singing beautiful and poignant arias like in most of the operas I've seen. The male lead was either a bass or baritone (I can't really tell the difference) and I didn't particularly like his performance.

I am seeing this live HD at BAM on January 9th, and it will be interesting to compare productions and performances. I have to say, though, Strauss is a little on the difficult side.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


I saw Avatar tonight (x-mas) with my mom.

It was visually STUNNING. Really gorgeous. Interesting, spooky, haunting, beautiful images.

However, the plot was kind of thin and corny. It seemed a little lazy to me, actually. Like so much energy was spent on the visuals and the concept, but the drama was kind of cut and pasted together. A dash of Lion King, a spritz of Titanic, a healthy helping of The Matrix, etc. (even a wee bit of District 9 --- I mean, basically, in spite of how original and otherworldly it was technically, narrativly it was just so very derivative that you could come up with a long list of influences...)

It was still engrossing, although, also, it was too long. They really needed to have cut a solid half hour.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Last night at a friend's house we watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I liked it just as much as ever. A whole movie about fucked up bratty kids...

I remember finding the poverty at the beginning incredibly painful, and Charlie's goodness was almost unbearably poignant. But, as an adult it's kind of like whatever.

The Slugworth character is still creepy and scary as fuck, and nothing beats the Veruca Salt performance.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Fanatasticks


I saw The Fantasticks tonight with my mother and a friend of hers at this tiny theater (The Jerry Orbach Theater/Snapple Theater).

I cannot believe how crappy this show is. It was the longest running musical, and returned to off Broadway a few years ago, I think.

It was so schmaltzy and stupid. So small potatoes. Cheesy as shit.

Plus, the performers weren't even that good. Maybe it's because I've been seeing so much opera lately, but I thought their singing sucked.

I have no idea why this show was popular or how in the world it lasted so long.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Bertrand Normand's documentary, Ballerina, follows five dancers from the Kirov ballet. It is a very simple film, but it is fascinating. The focus is on the dancing and the rehearsals, as well as the career trajectories of each ballerina.

It was beautiful to watch, and although there were a number of interviews with the dancers, I would have liked to have gotten to know them a little better. I guess I was curious how their personal lives were affected by their grueling training and schedules.

It is only and hour and fifteen minutes, which is perfect.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Don Giovanni

I watched a 2000 Metropolitan Opera production of Don Giovanni on DVD.

I have to say I did myself a disservice by watching it in spurts and watching it while doing other things. I just felt distracted and couldn't quite get into it. However, I think I really should have put a little effort into it because it was fabulous.

The music was lush and delightful and wonderful and it's now clear that I'm a Mozart fan.

All of the singers were wonderful, but what really made this seem special for me was the acting. I think this was the best acting I've seen in an opera so far. Or close to it. Bryn Terfel sang Don Giovanni, and he was incredible. He was truly powerful and despicable. He had a grim, gluttonous intensity to every moment that managed not to be cartoonish or too much. At the same time, it was horrid and hard to watch, but in a good way. Even his sweating, rather than being distracting, added a maniacal edge to his performance.

I really enjoyed Hei-Kyung Hong's performance as Zerlina, she was sweet and sexy and very animated; and of course her voice was beautiful. Sergei Koptchak perfomance as Donna Anna's fiance was so tender and earnestly sung. Renee Fleming sang Donna Anna, and her voice was great, but I was less moved by her acting over all; Elvira was sung by Solveig Kringelborn and she played the role with a single-minded intensity. I felt for her, but she really only had one emotion or facial expression. Ferruccio Furlanetto played Leporello.

As much as I enjoyed Don Giovanni, I wasn't emotionally connected to it. Even La Boheme, where I wasn't crazy about the performances, moved me more deeply. So far I think it's Puccinni for emotional connection and Mozart for music.

I was however deeply moved when the performers came out for their bows. I got choked up just because of how intense the singing was and I had feeling for how much they had just put into performing. It's kind of how I feel when I watch the marathoners on 4th avenue each year. I just get a jolt of emotion.

Friday, December 11, 2009


A friend had last minute tickets to see Strauss's Elektra at the Met last night! It was a *wonderful* surprise!

Elektra is totally different than any kind of opera I've seen so far. The music was far more dramatic and intense, and possibly more complex (although what do I know). It created this sense of emotional urgency that was actually exhausting. Even though the music had mellower or more haunting moments, and it wasn't exactly all on one pitch, the level of emotion was so high that it felt like there was little break from it. Also, literally there were no breaks. No pauses to applaud an aria, no intermission.

Susan Bullock sang Elektra, and gave a powerful performance. I was more empathetic to the other female characters, though. Klytamnestra was sung by Felicity Palmer and I found her part very moving. I was more able to empathize with her torment than with Elektra's (I have to say, sometimes Elektra just seemed petulant and pouty rather than filled with rage, but I think part of that had to do with the staging). Elektra's sister Chrysothemis was sung by Deborah Voigt and this also was a very moving performance, and a very moving role. There were few male parts, but the singer who played Orestes was very commanding and had a great voice and stage presence (Evgeny Nikitin).

I have to say I found the staging rather uncomfortable to watch. The set was terrific, but it was set at a near acute angle, and there was a set of stairs without a banister that was used frequently. It seemed like the performers had trouble feeling physically confident, and watching them deal with these structural impediments was kind of distracting. Plus, they had long trains I was nervous they were going to trip over.

Also, there was a giant dead horse on the side of the stage that was creepy and horrifying and beautiful all at the same time.

I should also note, this was my first German opera, and the sound of the words definitely took some getting used to.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Funny People

The other night I watched Funny People. I don't know what I expected but I found myself fairly absorbed in it.

Adam Sandler, who I've never liked, plays a famous comedian who's done a lot of schlock movies. He finds out he has a fatal blood disease and reconsiders the choices he's made in life. He hires Seth Rogan's Seth Rogan character as an assistant, and the movie is largely about the way they bond. The dialogue is excellent, and the acting, although by no means particularly impressive, is good enough. Seth Rogan is affable as ever. Sandler tries to be serious, but has very little nuance.

There was a major plot around a lost love of his life that took up a good part of the movie and felt rather strained. A lot of it could have been cut and the movie would have been better if it was 30 minutes shorter.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Making Opera: The Creation of Verdi's La Forza del Destino

Well, although not as problematic as Opera Fanatic, Making Opera: The Creation of Verdi's La Forza de Destino was not exactly wonderful. I mean, I liked it enough, but it really, really dragged for me and I was doing some serious multitasking while it was playing.

Making Opera follows a company putting together an opera from day one to the dress rehearsal 21 days later. There are very few talking heads, just scene after somewhat disjointed scene of rehearsals. It's interesting and boring at the same time.

It was interesting seeing the chorus rehearse, particularly the first time they had a stage rehearsal. It was interesting watching the singers perform their roles sitting down in a room on their first day. Although they focused on the singers, the conductor (Arenas) and the director (Copley), I was most curious about the backstage stuff. They showed all the painstaking work that is done by hand, such as the painting of every little square on the giant wall, and the sewing of the wigs and costumes. One of my favorite moments was during a principals' rehearsal. It was a one of their birthday's and the cast surprised them with a cake. I've never, ever heard such a wonderful rendition of the Happy Birthday song!

There were very long extended scenes of the singing, particularly at the end for the final dress rehearsal, and I found it boring. Maybe I would have liked it better if there were subtitles for the performance parts. The music was absolutely beautiful, but the documentary just didn't feel that compelling or even watchable.

(I thougth this moment of the brilliant soprano singing in a tacky cat t-shirt particularly amusing)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Phoebe in Wonderland

I just watched Phoebe in Wonderland on Watch Instantly. I started playing it so I would have something to look at while I beaded, and didn't really expect much.

It turned out to be a very sensitive, imaginative movie about a troubled little girl and her family's attempts to cope with her difficulties.

There were many, tense, lovely and upsetting scenes, and great acting across the board. I was riveted by it, and was very pained by the girl's isolation with her problem.

The story centers around her involvement with the school's production of Alice in Wonderland, which her mother had written a dissertation about. As she gets immersed in her role as Alice, her "symptoms" get more severe. Her acting teacher(Patricia Clarkson) allows her uniqueness to flourish, and doesn't see the problems; her mother (Felicity Huffman) blames herself and struggles with her own issues; the father exudes a sense of alienation from the family... The ending didn't really do it for me; it seemed to tack on a gloss of a diagnosis as if that would solve everything. And, weirdly, the play suddenly included a musical number that was rather cheesy and didn't fit with the tone of the rest of the movie.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Perverts and Predators

Perverts and Predators: The Making of Sexual Offending Laws by Laura J. and Lisa Anne Zilney, is decent overview of sex offending legislation in the US, with a nice mix of sexology, and sex-positive sentiments. But it's really more for someone who is not familiar with these issues. Also, it raises some contradictions that it doesn't resolve.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

M. Butterfly

Last night I watched David Cronenberg's M. Butterfly with Jeremy Irons.

It's a very unusual story, about a French diplomat in China who falls in love with an enigmatic Chinese opera singer. He first sees her performing excerpts from Madame Butterfly, and the themes of that opera, as well as the music, pervade the movie.

It is a story of sexual obsession and Jeremy Iron's enslavement to his "slave" (as she calls her self), Butterfly.

It is complicated by the fact that his "Butterfly" is a communist spy, and, even worse, is really a man. The extent of his belief in their romance and passion was such that he never realized, or let himself realize, that he was with a man (he never saw her naked, and she performed all the sexual services in their relationship).

After years of being together he learns the truth and is imprisoned as a traitor. He is shocked and repulsed to learn that his lover was actually a man, and he goes crazy in jail and eventually, while dressed as a geisha, kills himself.

I watched it on Watch Instantly, which is hard to hear; so I missed a lot of the dialogue. Cronenberg and Irons are a creepy team, and, when all is said and done, I think that although I was intrigued by this movie, I did not in fact enjoy it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Opera Fanatic

(This was one mezzo's response to Zucker's intimations about the sexual proclivities of mezzos)

(This is an example of the yellow cast to the footage)

So, Opera Fanatic-- Not sure what to say about this, uh, "singular" documentary.

It chronicles an opera fanatic in his quest to find out what drove the "expressive" singing of opera divas from the 40s & 50s (that is, the divas of his childhood). He manages to get a number of interesting interviews with some very impressive, elegant, quirky, accomplished, and charismatic elderly ladies, and these are juxtaposed with footage of them singing in their heyday. So, that was pretty good.

However, the fanatic himself, Stefan Zucker is really kind of problematic. His voice is almost impossible to get past, and he is the slowest speaker I have ever heard. His fanaticism with opera seems linked to some oedipal issues (his mother and he both were opera singers, and sung many duets together. He said that none of the women he loved as an adult had the emotional range that his mother had) (Also worth mentioning, Zucker achieved the world's record for highest tenor).

Furthermore, his weird sexuality seeps into the film in an unpleasant way. He informs the filmmakers while they are in the car on the way to interview a famous mezzo-soprano, that mezzos are known for their sexual proclivities. To quote: "To judge from accounts of singers I've interviewed, they enjoy kinds of intercourse other women might find painful." (I placed a picture above of the mezzo's retort to this suggestion.). He also tells one woman he interviewed that he felt "an erotic intensity" to her "emanations". Yuck.

Also the film quality was pretty poor. Much footage had a yellow cast to it, and most of it seemed grainy. Not only that, but there were entire chunks of dialogue that weren't subtitled.

Here's what one Netflix reviewer wrote:

"The bad color is surely an accident of inept filming, but the rest reflects the character of interviewer Stefan Zucker, a bloated, simpering prig with tunnel vision about singing technique. The first offense is that Zucker speaks, at all times, in an affected falsetto that is torture to hear. It's a wonder he isn't beaten to a pulp by everyone he dares to address. The second is that he omits any overview of each diva's professional accomplishments during a bygone era and instead hounds them all with the same two questions about the nature of "expressive singing" and the utility of "the chest voice." He writhes appallingly to encourage one diva's twisted wisecrack about a "spanking," gushes that he finds another interview "erotic," and otherwise tries to worm his way into their confidences through flattery and little gifts that they complain about having to accept ("What shall I do with THESE?"). Marcella Pobbe finally gives him a much needed verbal whack by refusing to go along with his "stupid questions," which is probably the highlight of this otherwise unbearable film."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Les Contes d'Hoffmann at the Met

This morning/afternoon Meridita and I went to a full dress rehearsal of Bartlett Sher's new production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann at the Metropolitan Opera.

It was FABULOUS. The staging, costumes and sets were gorgeous and imaginative. The production included a number of ballet numbers that I absolutely loved (I need to see more ballet). The dancers were highly sexual in some numbers, such as the Venetian "palace" scene. They were dressed in skimpy, sexy lingerie and performed an exquisitely slow acrobatic number.

I really loved the music. Much of it was incredibly familiar. I think Offenbach must be used in every period piece ever made. Not to mention commercials.

Our dress rehearsal included a last minute cast change: Joseph Calleja, who sang Hoffmann in the first act, was not feeling well, and the performance was taken over my a stand-in. Although Calleja had a lovely tenor, I really liked the stand-in better. His voice was clearer, more bell-like, and he projected farther and just seemed somehow more of a person. Of course, this could be because Calleja was feeling under the weather.

The Olympia doll was played my Kathleen Kim, and she was utterly enchanting in her coloratura number. I also was very much moved by Anna Netrebko singing the Antonia character who sings herself to death.

It did occur to me that this is a rather sexist play. The women are vain, materialistic, dishonest, obsessed, or else completely objectified (the doll).

On a final note, our balcony seats kind of blew. We were pretty high up and pretty far back, and that really makes a difference in the experience.

I liked this production so much I'm considering going to the theater to see it live in HD. That would be a lot of Hoffmann in a short period of time, though.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Les Contes D'Hoffman

I just finished watching a Netflix DVD of Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann performed in 1981 at the Royal Opera.

The quality of the DVD is not great. I definitely see the value of the HD ones. And for this, a lot of the singing wasn't subtitled for some reason.

So, last night I had it on while I worked my puzzle, but didn't watch it; I just listened. I really enjoyed the music.

Then I woke up today at around 11 and watched the whole thing. It's kind of enchanting and moving, but not overwhelmingly so. I didn't get caught up in it like I did in La Boheme.

It's an interesting series of stories that are all about thwarted love. The costumes are wonderful, and there's a languid Venetian brothel scene that was stunning.

I'm going with Meridita to see a dress rehearsal at the Met tomorrow morning, and I'm curious what this different, probably more modern production will be like.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Le Nozze di Figaro

I was thrilled, thrilled, thrilled -- thoroughly delighted by Le Nozze di Figaro which I saw last night at the Met. (Thanks to Meridita's generosity).

It was my first Mozart and I was just enchanted my the music. It was so fun and pretty. I know that sounds trivial, but that's how I felt. Completely absorbed in the pleasure and prettiness of the music.

The cast was superb. I particularly like Lisette Oropesa as Susanna. Her voice is clear, sweet soubrette (a word I learned from Plotkin) and seemed perfectly suited to the music. She was a charming actress as well. Also charming and with a beautiful voice was Isabel Leonard in the trouser role of Cherubino. Very playful and coy in her acting, but soulful and lovely in her singing. The Rossina was played beautifully by Annette Dasch, who had the more mournful songs in the otherwise very lively happy silly opera.

The male lead, Almaviva was played by Lodovic Tezier, who I saw as Marcello in the DVD version of La Boheme. Firgaro was played by Luca Pisaroni. (I don't know why Figaro gets the last bow, as it really seemed like Almaviva carried the show). Dr. Bartolo was played by John Del Carlo, who played the same part in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. It's fun seeing the same performers in different roles and becoming familiar with their voices and their style.

I had a grand time at the opera. It was a truly delightful evening.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Tonight, Thanksgiving, I went to see Where the Wild Things Are in Union Square with RT.

I had read all the glowing reviews and facebook praise and was so excited to see this.

It was very beautiful and haunting, a wonderful mood piece. But I'm afraid I was disappointed. Very early in the movie a sense of loss and fear and sadness hits. It hits hard. And that sense stays there throughout.

There is no real safety in the film, the boy looks tender and fearful and yet hopeful the whole time. It's very sweet, very sad, very beautiful. But it never moves beyond that and because of that there is no release, no resolution. It just sits with its emotions.

Which is perhaps the point. The boy, who feels overwhelmed by his own anger and frustrations, counters the nuances of his own mood in each of the wild things, who are all sad and lonely and lost and frustrated. He wants to be their king and make them better, but he can't. So he goes home.

Witch Hunt

Witch Hunt is a very moving documentary about a group of people who were accused and convicted of child molestation charges in the 1980s. There was a rash of prosecutorial zealousness in the Northern California County, and one after another people were accused of child molestation. (This was, of course, during a national moral panic about the issue, but the filmmakers didn't contextualize it in that way.)

The convictions were all based on the testimony of children who had been inappropriately questioned and prepped by state social workers and the prosecution. Years later these kids began to recant their testimony and acknowledged that they had lied and had been pressured to produce their stories.

The film focused on a handful of these wrongfully convicted people, who spent from 8-20 years in prison. All of their convictions were overturned.

It was terribly moving to see these people emerge from prison after so much time.

I think the filmmakers could have brought up more sociological issues, exploring the nature of the frenzy in a larger context and asking why we are so irrationally afraid of "child molesters". Also, there was dead space, and it could have been a good 15 or 20 minutes shorter. Still, it is an excellent documentary.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Importance of Being Iceland

The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays on Art, by Eileen Myles is really a delicious, elegant treat. Like expensive dark chocolate covered mint leaves from France.

The book itself is a gorgeous object, shiny green and blue with thick pages.

It's a collection of essays about a whole bunch of different things, but they all have Eileen's voice in common, and it's this wonderful thing that comes across, being a poet and being in the world. Being smart and unique and strong and basically happy.

I didn't read all the essays, or even all of some of the ones I started, but I enjoyed this book as my companion for the last week or so. It's interesting reading a collection of essays, you don't get sucked in like with one long work. You dip your feet in and let them soak a bit, wiggle your toes and then hop out.

"Puppetry is primary animation, the spirit is injected by those deft hands pulling it right, making it breathe. And we are puppets too. The show succeeds when we gasp and guffaw -- feeling silly and glad we came exactly here this afternoon, and that they made it for us."
-- Eileen Myles, from "Twitch" in Blogs: 2004-2006

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Body Double

This is the schlockiest piece of embarrassing crap I have seen in my life.

Body Double is an 80s thriller about a guy who gets sucked into watching a neighbor's nightly strip-tease act and eventually, he thinks, witnesses her murder.

The way it is put together is so half-assed, with long, meaningless scenes that add nothing to the plot and hinder rather than build suspense. My favorite was a completely implausible and gratuitous kiss between our idiotic hero and the sultry victim. It was just embarrassing. I did get a good laugh out of it, though.


Up is a near perfect movie.

It has a quirky, unique storyline that includes love, loss and redemption. It is serious and fantastical, it has a sweet chubby child and a curmudgeonly old man. A silly but literally uplifting plot device.

And very dog-like dogs.

I really enjoyed it. It was visually and emotionally beautiful.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind

I was tremendously moved by the documentary Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind.

It focused a lot on her early career and early music. It really allowed you to hear her music and her voice and her lyrics in this way that was kind of intimate.

It choked me up, because I bought all her records when I was 14 and devoured them. I mean I listened to them over and over and stared at the record art and copied out the words... That was so long ago. Those songs are a part of me, and so many years have passed by.

She had a very sweet voice, and a very "pure," or clean sound that was totally unique (actually the documentary emphasized her song writing and her personal life, but never mentioned her singing style).

My one criticism was that it sort of fetishized her appearance. I guess there wasn't enough footage of other things to show, and she was very beautiful. But the way the camera lingered over picture after picture of her face kind of took something away for me. But, her prettiness was part of her career...

The New Electric Ballroom

Last night a friend and I went to The New Electric Ballroom at St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO.

This Irish play, by Enda Walsh, was truly and utterly horrible. It's about three spinsters living together and just acting insane. It's stylized theater, with tons of monologues and little plot. But the problem was that the story itself is a cliche (the song Delta Dawn comes to mind), and there was little emotional depth. It was, as my friend said, all in one pitch. It was pretentious and ultimately very empty. A total waste of time.

It had gotten excellent reviews in The New York Times, and I had been very much looking forward to it. What a disappointment.

Here's a quote from the Times. It's actually apt, what it says, in spite of the fact that I hated the play and the reviewer loved it.

"Breda and her sister Clara chatter away to convince themselves they are alive, but also to avoid truly living. “There’s a terrible lull in the conversation,” Clara says with a squirm when the chatter stops. “The sort of lull that can get you worrying about other things.” It’s an observation Samuel Beckett would surely approve.

The heart-scarred Breda (Rosaleen Linehan) and Clara (Ruth McCabe), withdrawn from the world and its cruel gossip, spout language as if it were blood pouring from an arterial wound. Immured inside their house in a shabby fishing village, they fill the hours by taking turns describing in painful detail a day long behind them, and the night of shame and disappointment that followed. It’s as if the only way they can endure the agony of their stunted lives is by re-enacting the hour of the fatal blow."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Savages

I just watched The Savages, a dark, sad movie with Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

It's about two somewhat distant siblings who suddenly have to take care of their elderly father with dementia. The characters are all unhappy, unsatisfied people kind of struggling to make it through minute by minute.

It freaked me out, because of my anxieties about aging and death, so it was difficult for me to watch.

The acting was amazing. However, at the end, suddenly, things looked brighter for the two main characters, and it was unclear why. Like the movie had to have an uplifting consolation. But it seemed tacked on to me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Introduction to Criminology

Hagan's Introduction to Criminology is okay. It has it's uses and does a good job condensing a tremendous amount of material. The theory chapters could be much more in depth. In general I prefer primary sources.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Maya Edelman at 'Snice

I just went down to my favorite local sandwich shop, 'Snice, and was rather struck my the delicately surreal artwork on display.

The artist is Maya Edelman, and the prints and paintings depict one or two figures against solid backgrounds. The figures are slightly surreal, as you can see in this image of a woman whose hair grows into a tree trunk. I was reminded of Amy Cutler's work, which I'm also greatly drawn to.

I really liked them and made a point of remembering the artist's name and looking her up. It was a pleasant aesthetic addition to my lunch hour...

Bread and Tulips

This afternoon I watched a very special Italian movie, Bread and Tulips, about a bourgeois woman on bus tour vacation who gets left behind at a truck stop. Rather than reuniting with them immediately, she ends up hitchhiking to Venice where she fashions a sort of life for herself amongst a group of quirky characters.

The movie is visually delightful, and full of special moments and a lingering sweetness. The main character is irresistibly charming.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day

I just finished Joan Bolker's Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis.

I've been reading it since last winter, and it has helped me tremendously. I actually can't emphasize enough how helpful it has been. There are many techniques for finding a way to get at your own process and it deals with practical and psychological difficulties.

The final two chapters, which I just tackled, are "Revising: The Second Draft and Beyond" & "The Best Dissertation is a Done Dissertation." They really helped me see that I'm in the final stretch and that it isn't easy. I need to pick up my pace now. I was surprised that she mentioned that you might feel like giving up at this stage. I thought I was crazy for feeling that way. 300 pages in and I want to bag it. But apparently it's a common feeling.

"When revising, what you're engaged in is closer to craft than it is to art, and if you keep at it long enough, you'll succeed without having to worry about inspiration."

"Revision requires stamina: you can't quit just because you're tired, or because you don't ever want to see one particular paragraph again, or because you hope the writing is OK, even though you know it isn't... But the biggest temptation for most people... is too quit too soon... it's also OK to be tired or bored, just so long as you keep working anyway."

And, most exciting to me of all:

"when you defend your thesis it will become much clearer to you that you own this work... This realization is an important private graduation, a psychological parallel to the public ceremony."

I cannot wait. I can almost taste it. I'm almost there.

Away We Go

Away We Go is a very sweet, very special movie. Its only flaw may be its awareness of its own specialness; it does sort of have an undercurrent of smug preciousness to it. But, far and away I enjoyed it.

It's about a couple that is quietly and solidly in love but they don't have any family or social connections. They are in a fairly wonderful world of two, where they get each other, they respect each other, and they communicate honestly and humorously. The depiction of this relationship reveals genuine intimacy.

So, they are pregnant and want to find a place to raise a baby where they are less alone. They travel around the country visiting people: old friends, family members. Everyone is very fucked up and there are some hilarious scenes. These encounters leave the couple feeling alienated and afraid. But, and here's where the smugness comes in, there's a sense that they know they won't be fucked up terrible parents because they tacitly understand that they are better than anyone else.

In spite of this, it's a very likable, very funny, and very sweet movie. It also has a compelling yet cloying soundtrack by Alexi Murdoch.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Opera 101

The second it arrived from Amazon I devoured Fred Plotkin's Opera 101: A complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera.

I still haven't finished the chapter on 400 years of opera, but thoroughly enjoyed the chapter on becoming a cognoscente. It provided so much useful information about terminology, and how operas work. I immediately got certain terms, such as soubrette, lyric soprano, coloratura, and basso buffo (the second I heard that term, I knew it referred to the older men in Il Barbiere), and think that having a rudimentary vocabulary is definitely going to help my ear in the future.

The second half of the book details specific operas for which he suggests specific recordings. I haven't bitten into this yet, but am certain it will be an important resource going forward. For instance, I intend to see Les Contes d'Hoffmann live in HD at BAM next month, and will definitely read his description before hand. I may even purchase the recording he recommends and listen to it before going (a practice he firmly advocates). I haven't done that yet. It will be interesting to compare my experience of an opera that I've heard prior to going.

One slight bone I have to pick with him regards supertitles. I understand his stance against them, as one's eye does flick back and forth between the titles and the action, and I can appreciate that it has diminished my attunement to the music. But I have found that following the words drew me in more deeply, and until I am much more familiar with opera in general and specific operas in particular, I think I would feel alienated from the experience without the titles. But, maybe the second time I see something I will give that a try.

Also, I think the book would benefit from a short glossary.

Opera on Tap at Freddy's Bar & Back Room

Last night was stupendous. Meridita and I went to see Opera on Tap perform at Freddy's Bar and Back Room on Dean Street in Prospect Heights.

This group of performers really blew me away. There were about 8 different singers, all with powerful and beautiful voices. Each sang twice and they all dramatically entered each of their arias, and are each uniquely talented.

One thing that was a real treat was hearing opera sung in English and German. I had been (and still was to some degree) resistant to hearing this type of music sung in those languages. Hearing the words in English is a completely different experience, a bit more "mundane" or less romantic. However, I began to get into it, and felt that I could appreciate what it must be like to understand Italian while listening to Puccini, for example. I now feel primed to listen to an English opera.

The German was less daunting, but a little strange on the ears. There were a couple of hard "Ks" in there that jarred me a bit. But, I eventually entered this world as well.

I was also pleased that after reading Plotkin on the different types of sopranos that I could distinguish between a lyric soprano and a soubrette.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

La Boheme

I just watched a DVD of the Metropolitan Opera's production of Puccini's La Boheme from 2008 with Ramon Vargas as Rodolfo and Angela Gheorghiu as Mimi.

I had read the synopsis online and thought the story was actually pretty uninteresting. It took me a while to get into watching the DVD on my computer, but after the first twenty or so minutes, I was enthralled.

The music is so emotional that it really carried me through the whole thing on this kind of intense at the edge of my seat level. I was near tears at many points, and crying like a baby in Mimi's death scene. In fact, I was so moved that when they were doing their curtain calls it was hard for me not to applaud, here in my living room!

I loved the singing, but Gheorghiu's performance was kind of weird, particularly in the early scenes. Her attempts to be girlish just seemed kind of twitchy and manic, and the closeups did not really work for this performance. I thought Vargas was very sweet, although sometimes he looked kind of simple and goofy.

I'm really glad I watched this. I think La Boheme is one of my favorites so far. As I said, the music really moved me.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Map as Art

Last night I went to the opening reception for The Map as Art, an amazing group show at The Christopher Henry Gallery in Soho/LES. The show was really fantastic. All the art engaged cartography, in a variety of beautiful and interesting ways. Maps themselves are so lovely and intricate, and the artists really found unique ways of entering their form. Some standout pieces were Meridith McNeal's life-size dress made out of New York City subway maps, and a fascinating large-scale photo collage triptych of a map of the world made through images of used computer waste. I don't know the name of the artist who made that piece. Also a lovely cut-out book with maps.

There were so many wonderful works, but the opening was so crowded that it was impossible to really give everything a proper look. I would like to go back and revisit.

The Map as Art , a group show curated by Katharine Harmon and Christopher Henry . The exhibition presents a diverse group of work in a variety of media, all of which use mapping concepts to explore uncharted territories both formal and intellectual. The show is presented concurrent with the launch of Harmon's book, The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography (Princeton Architectural Press). The exhibition features works by: Doug Beube, Matthew Cusick, Joshua Dorman, Jerry Gretzinger, Ingo Gunther, Jane Hammond, Emma Johnson, Karey Kessler, Joyce Kozloff, Hayato Matsushita, Meridith McNeal, Florent Morellet, Vik Muniz, Aga Ousseinov, Matthew Picton, Karin Schaefer, Dannielle Tegeder, Heidi Whitman, and Jeff Woodbury .

Monday, November 2, 2009

Farmingville POV

Farmingville POV is a PBS documentary about a Long Island town in which a hate crime against Mexican immigrants occurred. It explores the emotional and zealous political furor the town went through in response to an influx of illegal Mexican day laborers, and the documentary exposed the blatant racism of a faction of the white middle class residents.

It provided good coverage of the political dispute around establishing a hiring center, but I felt that overall it didn't take the viewer anywhere. It didn't really probe issues and it seemed very (understandably) biased on the side of the day laborers and seemed almost to mock the perspective of the "racists". At one point things reached such a pitch that the zealots just looked like crazy people. Perhaps they are, but I would have liked to have seen more insight into their craziness.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


A wonderful thing yesterday afternoon: a friend had free tickets to Turandot at the Met which got passed on to me!

I can't believe it, my second Met opera in my life, in the same month a my first!

It was tremendously exciting. This was a very full, rich, lush opera. With a full chorus and dancers (and acrobats), unbelievably stunning and ornate sets, and a powerful story.

There were fewer lovely arias than in Mme. Butterfly and Il Barbieri di Seviglia, and there was just a different sound and tone to the whole piece. My favorite performance was the slave girl, who had a lovely, very emotive voice. And the famous aria, Nessum Dorma (?) was heart-wrenchingly beautiful.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Leonard Cohen and the Order of the Unified Heart

I saw Leonard Cohen last night! It was an amazing, breathtaking, unbelievably moving concert. I've never been so privileged to be part of any performance before.

It was at the Garden, and I had box seats with my mom, which put us very far away. But the sound was incredible (which is unusual for the Garden) and the big monitors helped.

He gave two very full sets. He started at 8 and went to 11:30 with a short break in between-- he did about four encores!. In fact, when the first part was over, I thought that was it. After all, the man is 75 years old.

He was incredible. His voice was beautiful, his lyrics are heart-rending. The band was awesome, really loved and felt his music and played with passion and emotion. My favorite was Anthem, (which was the final number of the first set, and which I thought was his finale).

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack, in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In the Realms of the Unreal

In the Realms of the Unreal is a documentary about Henry Darger.

I've seen his work exhibited a few times, and really, really love it. It is so complex and so simple, so incredibly strange and unique.

I never knew anything about Darger other than he was an "outsider artist."

This documentary tells his life story, largely through the lens of his own writings, particularly his autobiography and the 15,000 page novel he wrote. All of his paintings are illustrations for that novel (I hadn't known anything about that) which is about the fight between good and evil empires lead by "The Vivien" girls, seven sisters fighting the cause of Jesus Christ. The title of the novel is In the Realms of the Unreal, and the story is incredibly complex and he spent his life working on it.

Darger was a recluse. Orphaned at young age he was a ward of Catholic charities throughout his childhood (although he had brief stint in an institution for "feeble-minded" children) and eventually became a janitor at a Catholic hospital. He lived all by himself with no family or friends in a one-room apartment. His only contact was with neighbors and his landlord (who provide a lot of the information and footage for the documentary). He died poor, in a Catholic charity run institution, and his work was discovered by his neighbor's after his death.

The documentary was beautiful, exploring so many of his paintings and drawings and using a technique that made them move in a way that I found effective. But, in spite of this, it was a rather flat film. There just wasn't a lot of story there. He remained a mystery. His inner world comes alive through his creative output, but somehow the work and the man are still impenetrable.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Exit Ghost

I just finished reading Exit Ghost, Philip Roth's final Zuckerman novel. I have to say I didn't like it as much as I had hoped. I loved American Pastoral so much, and the Roth I've read since then has just kind of disappointed.

Not that Exit Ghost isn't very good. But it didn't do anything for me. I found the premise contrived: Zuckerman spent 11 years in total isolation in the Berkshires following prostate surgery. The self-imposed isolation just didn't resonate as realistic to me. It seemed like a set up, like an idea. It made the character less real to me.

He returns to NY for a minor surgical procedure and gets sucked into a little drama surrounding a couple with whom he is considering house switching, and a former lover of a former mentor. In between are snippets of imagined dialogue that are supposed to be part of the last piece of fiction Zuckerman writes. Imagined dialogues with the young woman of the NY couple, the young woman with whom he has become desperately infatuated. A significant theme concerns the value of literature in the contemporary world, and the meaning of the distinction between fiction and fact.

I guess I just didn't find the story compelling. The writing was excellent; the story, not so much.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Postcards from the Edge

You take a well-written script and two very good acting performances and still end up with a basically lukewarm movie. Postcards from the Edge is smart and enjoyable and even moving at times. Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine as the Carrie Fisher/Debbie Reynolds daughter/mother pair do a great job. But somehow the movies is just okay.

It's about an actress with an overbearing famous mother coming to terms with her adulthood in the aftermath of her own accidental drug overdose. It's sort of cheesy, but the humor is very wry and it makes you really like Carrie Fisher (who wrote it) (and who is in an autobiographical one-woman show that is playing in New York at the moment, Wishful Drinking).

Get My Flash On

I went to an interesting group art exhibit in Bushwick last night called Get My Flash On featuring work of recent graduates from SUNY Purchase's school of art and design.

Most of the work was displayed in the rooms of a small apartment building. I enjoyed looking at everything, but was most taken by a charming collection of ceramic pieces by Zena Pesta. I believe the work is called "Zip it and Boogie, Keep it Fresh." I was also drawn to a series of small enamel pieces, called "Line Study" by Andrea Henry.

The exhibit continued on the (unledged) roof, where a ginormous decaying big foot constructed by artist Nathan Margoni. (and I thought I needed a pedicure)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Monsters vs. Aliens

Just watched Monsters vs. Aliens. I had seen the trailer last spring when I saw Coraline, and had been very excited about it.

I admit that it's somewhat clever, in an unrelenting, effortful and tepid way. I didn't mind watching it. It isn't terrible.

But, it's not really good either. It has a good premise, good effects, good voice-work, but it's messy, (a little violent and destructive) and predictable.

It deliberately rehashes a bunch of movie cliches, but it never manages to really transcend them or to be funny about them. So it looks like just a big salad of movie elements tossed together.

It's about a girl who on her wedding day gets hit by a meteor and becomes gigantic. She is immediately whisked away by government officials who have a top secret facility where they hide monsters. There's a giant mad scientist cockroach, a giant lizard or some sort, and a lovable giant blob (voiced my Seth Rogen, a real life lovable blob). When the planet is attacked by an evil alien, the monsters are enlisted to fight off the threat. The evil alien is in a giant fortress like spacecraft and at one point the girl (Susan/Ginormica) is held captive and the others go to rescue her. It totally reminded me of The Wizard of Oz when they go to rescue Dorothy from the witch. The alien had clones himself and armies of him were marching around the place, just like the flying monkeys. In fact, at one point the monsters put on their uniform to blend in, just like in The Wizard of Oz.

Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Tonight I saw Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Metropolitan Opera!

True, I'm not a fan of broad comedy, but this was just stunning. I've never really seen a live opera before, and I was practically transfixed the whole time. In fact, the time basically flew by.

I saw Joyce DiDonato playing Rosina, Claudia Waite, with the small role of the housekeeper. I loved her voice and would have liked more of her. The diminutive Barry Banks played Coutn Almaviva, and I didn't care too much for his voice actually. It just didn't transport me the way the other singers' did. Rodion Pogossov played Figaro, and he was funny and charming and had a big presence (although also, like the Almaviva, a slight man). The music teacher was played by Orlin Anastassov, who had a wonderfully rich bass voice. But he hammed up the performance in a kind of bizarre way that I found unpleasant. Everyone was basically great and I was just absolutely thrilled to be there.
It's astounding, the vocal ability of opera singers. I mean, I feel like an ass saying that, but it really does leave one in awe.

I had never been to the Met and I found the experience very uplifting and exciting. Just being in the opera crowd...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Opera on Tap at The Brooklyn Museum

Some friends and I went to the Target First Saturdays thing at the Brooklyn Museum tonight because the events were all opera-related. As it was the last time I went to one of their First Saturdays, the scene was confusing and kind of tedious. However, at 8 they started a two-hour open mic opera session and it was amazing. The people that got up were almost all really, really good, and it was such a fun and lively format. The majority of people who performed, however, were from a troupe called Opera on Tap that performs in bars throughout the city. I'm going to get on their mailing list and make sure to catch them again!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fall For Dance!

Last night I went for a performance at City Center's Fall for Dance festival. It was an amazing program that included Ballet West performing a large ballet set in the 20s, a male duo from Dendy Dancetheater performing a magical, amazing, and haunting "Afternoon of the Faunes", New York City Ballet, "Four Bagatelles", and Mark Morris' company doing "Grand Duo" -- which I had seen before.

My hands down favorite was the Dendy duets. It's impossible for me to describe how terrific it was. Emotional, artistic, athletic... The New York City Ballet's "four bagatelles" duets were very lovely, but kind of the least exciting.