Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the movie

After having read the book, I was curious to see the movie, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

I was disappointed in it. It seemed even more sentimental and Francie was played in this weird sing-songy odd way that made her seem too strange and a little annoying. She was supposed to be a different kind of child, but this actress was whiny and ethereal and just didn't seem right. The film style was corny, and the pathos didn't have the more gritty realism of the book. I also thought the actor playing the father was too old.

It was interesting to see how they condensed the book for the screen. The novel spans several years, but they placed it all in about one year, without Francie aging. They cut some important moments, but did a good job getting in exposition without it feeling clunky or forced.

Honestly I wish I hadn't seen it, because now I think when I think of the book I'll be remembering this lesser version.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I just finished re-reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I think I first read when I was around 12.

It totally holds up.

It is a poignant (sentimental toward the end) coming of age story set in tenement Brooklyn during the early years of the 20th Century. The descriptions of the poverty in Williamsburg are precisely detailed throughout. Money, in pennies and nickels and single dollars, figures prominently on each page, as getting by day-to-day is a constant struggle for survival.

Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn opens when Francie is 11 years old, selling junk with her brother, Neely, and ends when she is 17. The novel chronicles the lives of all her family members -- her parents Katie and Johnny, her aunts Sissy and Eve, as well as Francie and her brother, throughout these years.

Re-reading it decades later, I was struck by how many scenes I could remember, that made such an impression on me. Francie buying a bone for the dinner of soup, her father lying about her address to get her into a better school, her mother's refusal to ever accept charity, the tragic death in the family...

What Smith captures so beautifully is the way the world, or parts of it, can be magical for a child, even when surrounded by so much ugliness and suffering. For instance, young Francie is awed each week by the fresh flower always in the bowl at the library counter -- even as the librarian ignores her throughout her childhood. During the second half of the book Francie outgrows her sense of wonder, and looks back on it nostalgically as she enters her teens and is more painfully aware of her family's squalor.

It's really a wonderful book, which I think everyone should read. Very engaging, deeply moving. I cried through the entire last half of it.

I read it on my Kindle this time around, but pictured is the copy I read as a kid, which I've held on to all these years.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dayna Kurtz at Barbes, Again!

I enjoyed hearing Dayna Kurtz at Barbes last month so much that I went back again last night. I'm a huge fan of this talented woman, and now have two of her albums.

Last night she performed new songs that will be on her next album, as well as some others. The new material was fabulous! Some highlights of the evening included "Venezuela" and "I Look Good In Bad" (which I requested, and which brought the house down).

You can hear her music and buy her albums on her website:

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell

Last night I saw Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell perform at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. They were fantastic. Her voice is so beautiful and conveys so much emotion. She is a very unique artist, and her duets with Crowell were lovely. It was a great concert. Her rendition of "Red Dirt Girl" brought tears to my eyes.

Unfortunately the opening performer was sub-par, and a little painful to sit through.

I'm so delighted that I got to see her live. I only wish I had gotten to the venue a bit earlier, as the line stretched nearly three blocks when I got there. Still, our seats were pretty good.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Louis CK Oh. My. God.

Last night I watched Louis CK Oh My God on HBO. I find his anxieties and insecurities to be very easy to relate to. His persona feels mostly accessible, but at moments there seems to be an undercurrent of hostility that is vaguely frightening. Largely he has a kind, expansive view of human nature, but also he comes across as not liking people very much.

That said, I was thoroughly entertained and laughed out loud quite a bit. It was good hour of comedy, and perfectly what I was in the mood for.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Paul Taylor Dance, again!

I had a wonderful evening last night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. Paul Taylor Dance followed an interesting tango ensemble, Pablo Ziegler's New Tango Ensemble.

Paul Taylor Dance began with a piece called "Fibers" which I had hated (!) when I saw it at City Center, and found it just as tedious this time around.

The second dance was beautiful, classical, perfect: "Aureole". It was a delight.

The third dance was phenomenal. The tango ensemble joined the company, and they performed "Piazzolla Caldera" a tango-inspired complex piece that was sexy and fascinating and fun.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Dance Theater of Harlem

I saw a stunning Dance Theater of Harlem performance at Celebrate Brooklyn last night. It was really rousing and mesmerizing. Beautiful and energizing. I was so excite and pumped after I left. It was great.

The first dance, choreographed by Alvin Ailey, "The Lark Ascending" was lovely, dreamy, and very classical feeling. The second dance was my favorite: "Contested Space" -- dark and industrial-sounding music created a strange and haunted mood. The dancing felt completely innovative to me, and the work en pointe was fascinating, frenetic, charming, and wonderful. I enjoyed it so much that if they had simply repeated it for their third dance I would have been just as enthralled. The third dance, "Return", was the crowd-pleaser. Set to James Brown and Aretha Franklin, the choreography was described by The New York Times as "a witty fusion of ballet technique and street gait." It was remarkably fun. The sound was terrific and for me the incredible music might have overwhelmed the dancing a bit.

The night started with cellist and singer Leyla McCalla, who performed Creole and English songs, both original and traditional. She was accompanied by a bassist, and the music was great. She had a clear, deep voice that I liked a lot, and I'll probably be downloading some of her work from itunes.