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."