September 12, 2012

Beatles publicist Derek Taylor (1932-1997) begins his preface to Volume 1 of The Beatles Anthology (1994) by contrasting his “rose-colored” view of the group’s worldwide impact — “the Twentieth Century’s greatest romance” — to John Lennon’s typically hard-nosed, “We were just a band who made it very very big.”

Had he been alive in May 2003 and June 2004, Taylor would have witnessed a massive validation of that great romance in the delirious crowds thronging Red Square (est. 100,000) and St. Petersburg’s Palace Square (est. 50,000), waving their arms and dancing and smiling and cheering in ecstasy as the embodiment of the Beatles, Paul McCartney, sang “Hey Jude” (with the crowd joining in) and closed the show with “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” belting out the line, “And Moscow girls make me sing and shout” to the delight of countless singing shouting Moscow girls.

Now consider what was going on in the world when the Beatles made their first recordings 50 years ago this month, keeping in mind the Moscow and St. Petersburg multitudes and especially those among them who had come to cherish the musicians, the music, and even the words, in a language not their own, by taking their chances with records smuggled in from the West. On Tuesday, September 11, 1962, when the Beatles were in the studio recording “Love Me Do” and “Please, Please Me,” the Soviet Union was warning the U.S. that an attack on Soviet ships carrying supplies to Cuba would mean war, Soviet missiles fitted with nuclear warheads having arrived in Cuba on September 8. A month later, after U.S. spy planes obtained photographic evidence of the building of Soviet missile sites, the battle lines were drawn and the world was closer to nuclear war than at any time before or since. The day the crisis was resolved, October 28, a rock group from Liverpool virtually unknown outside the British Isles was making its first major stage appearance at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre, on a bill topped by Little Richard.

9/11/62 vs. 9/11/01

Most people, me definitely included, are susceptible to the significance and power of dates. During the almost nine years I’ve been writing these columns, the day of the month or the year has as often as not given me a subject, a motive, or an inspiration. So here I am balancing on either end of a manichean seesaw two Tuesdays that happened to fall on the eleventh day of September. On the tables of history September 11, 2001 will weigh as heavily as December 7, 1941, and November 22, 1963. According to the depth and weight and dissemination of immeasurable forces like joy and love, truth and light, the group that began life unspectacularly in London 50 years ago, September 11, 1962, “gave more cheer,” as Derek Taylor put it, “than almost anyone else this century.”

The four rockers from Liverpool did a great deal more for the world than cheering it up, regularly testing the limits in EMI’s Abbey Road studio while creating wonders over the next eight years that no one in 1962 could have imagined. On September 11 they recorded their first single, “Love Me Do,” which failed to get beyond 17 on the British charts. Toward the end of the session, they tried out a Roy-Orbison-inspired song by John Lennon that producer George Martin felt “badly needed pepping up.” The next time they returned to the studio, more than two months later, they increased the tempo, tightened the vocals, and after 18 takes produced their breakthrough song, “Please, Please Me.” At the end of the session, Martin told them “You’ve just made your first number one.” It was the first of 15 number ones, in fact.

“Free as a Bird” 

Sitting in a Montreal hotel room, picture window curtains parted for a bright-lights night view packed with skyscrapers after the 400-mile drive to the Miracle of the North, I’m putting Volume One of The Beatles Anthology on the disc player, which is mine, all mine, now that my son is asleep. For a golden anniversary column, my plan is to go back to the earliest record, the primal disc cut in 1958 in the living room of a Victorian house on Kensington Avenue in Liverpool. “In Spite Of All the Danger” is a song Paul co-wrote with George Harrison two years before the Quarrymen became the Beatles. The unlikely title, with its hint of dark fate lurking, is the first example of the group’s knack for “being in mystery.”

I’d forgotten that the album devoted to Beatle history begins with a “new” song, “Free As a Bird,” born in 1977 in New York when John made the demo and completed in 1994 when Paul wrote and sang a brilliant bridge (one of the glories of Beatles music are the middle eights). Meanwhile George was moved to perhaps the most spiritual, passionate playing of his life, Ringo having set things in motion with a thunderclap. In the ten years since the break-up, fans all over the world had been wishing and hoping the group of groups would get back together; the invitation from Russia might have done the trick, had John and George lived that long. The haunting “Free As a Bird” video reminds me of the golden period between A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and the White Album (1968) when everything the Beatles touched seemed to fall magically into place. The dreamlike imagery of the video, viewed as by a bird in flight, offers a dark tour, touching, gloomy, whimsical, and portentous, with John’s voice wailing from beyond the grave and the emergency imagery of police lines and wreckage recalling “A Day in the Life” from Sgt. Pepper (“He blew his mind out in a car”) which in turn evokes the Paul-is-dead phenomenon that had everyone looking for ominous messages in the closing seconds of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “I am the Walrus” with its sampling from Act Four of King Lear, Oswald (Shakespeare’s or Lee Harvey’s, take your pick) moaning, “untimely death.”

“Yesterday”

Paul McCartney turned 70 on June 18 of this year. Wherever he plays, and he’s still at it, he is the Beatles, as he was in Red Square, and in New York in the aftermath of September 11, closing the October 20, 2001 benefit concert he organized for the first responders to September 11, the New York police and fire departments and their families, as well as for the families of those lost in the attacks, and those working in the recovery effort. The star-studded show ended with McCartney singing “Freedom,” which he’d composed for the occasion. “Yesterday” the last song of the Beatles medley, however, had the most visible emotional impact on the audience.

Paul’s “Yesterday” was a major breakthrough in the Beatles romance, charming and converting adults who had been staring with nagging, reluctant, uneasy fascination at the object of the ludicrous “moptop” phenomenon they never imagined they could ever take seriously. I was in the living room with an English family, a middle-aged couple and their neighbors who had been gently teasing me about my fondness for the Beatles. We were watching Paul sing “Yesterday” on the telly. When the song was over, the adults in the room were, literally, speechless, until one said, in a choked voice, “Well, that was quite nice, wasn’t it?”

Watching the faces of the thousands in Red Square as Paul sang his signature song, I thought of the faces of the people at the 9/11 benefit who took the lyrics and the sad melody personally. In Moscow where many in the crowd were singing along in a language they did not know, their eyes were shining not with sorrow but with love. Well, except for Vladimir Putin, who did at least look pleasant. Which is saying something.

Finally, there was the moment in Pula, on the Adriatic coast in Yugoslavia, a country where the people seemed cold and unfriendly, even hostile, at least to a bearded American hitchhiker still coming down to earth after a year in India. Late one night I heard voices in the street, looked out the window and saw a group of boys and girls about my age singing as they walked, serenading anyone who chose to listen. A bit drunkenly perhaps but beautifully, romantically, they were singing “Yesterday.”

In addition to the program notes for The Beatles Anthology, I used Mark Lewisohn’s  The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions and William J. Dowlding’s Beatlesongs. “Being in mystery” comes from a letter by John Keats in which he spins the theory of Negative Capability.

As for Paul McCartney, he will begin his next tour in St. Louis this November. And the French government just awarded the embodiment of the Beatles the Legion of Honor. Cue the Marseillaise opening from “All You Need is Love.”

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center has sculpture by Jonathan Shor on view on the terrace through September 29. The Annual Members Show is in the Taplin Gallery through September 29. For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, has “Expressions in Wood, Glass and Bamboo,” works by Charlie Katzenbach and Norine Kevolic, through September 30. Visit www.lambertvillearts.com.

Bernstein Gallery at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, has works by Negar Ahkami, Ghada Amer, Reza Farkhondeh, Zeina Barakeh, Ofri Cnaani, Parastou Forouhar, and Shadi Ghadirian as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project, through October 19.

Cafe 44, 44 Leigh Avenue, is showing “Art + 10” September 7-October 1. Paintings and photography, subtitled “A Slice of Life,” are the subject of the show, which will include works by Heather Stoddardt Barros, James Bongartz, Betty Curtiss, Jeannine S. Honstein, Stephen Kennedy, Ryan Lillienthal, Meg Brinster Michael, Tasha O’Neill, Katja De Ruyter, Gill Stewart, Karen Stolper, and Mary Waltham.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Pennington Road, Ewing, is presenting “Bruce Rigby: Recent Work” through October 11 in honor of Mr. Rigby’s retirement from teaching. Visit www.tcnj.edu/artgallery.

D&R Greenway, Johnson Education Center, 1 Preservation Place, presents “Sustainable Harvest: Creating Community Through the Land,” a mixed-media show about farmland, iconic farm structures, and new perspectives on crops and creatures, through November 9.

Firestone Library at Princeton University, has in its Milberg Gallery “Woodrow Wilson’s Journey to the White House,” through December 28. In Cotsen Children’s Library through September 30 is “Noah’s Art: Designing Arks for Children.” “First X, Then Y, Now Z: Thematic Maps” runs through February 10 in the main exhibition gallery. “Your True Friend and Enemy: Princeton and the Civil War” shows in the Mudd Manuscript Library Cotsen Children’s Library from September 17-July 31. “Into the Woods: A Bicentennial Celebration of the Brothers Grimm” is scheduled for October 15-February 28.

Gallery at Chapin, 4101 Princeton Pike, has “Yardsong: A Botanical Adventure” through September 28. The show is of digital photography by Madelaine Shellaby. The opening reception is September 13 from 5-7 p.m. From October 1-26, drawings and paintings by Dot Bunn are on view. The reception is October 3 from 5-7 p.m. Call (609) 924-7206.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows “Sanctuary II” by Edward Greenblat, “A View of South Beach” by Martin Schwartz, and “Spiritual Places,” a group show by AgOra, through October 7. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery, Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A Main Street, Cranbury, hosts the “Winter Workshop Series Exhibit” by workshop artists including Linda Gilbert, Colleen Cahill, and Hannah Ellis through September 30. Visit www.cranbury.org.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, presents Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” installed in the new East Gallery through February 15. Artists displayed in other GFS galleries through September include Sharon Engelsein, Willie Cole, and Marilyn Keating. See www.grounds
forsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton, Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display through September 15. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has “To Stir, Inform, and Inflame: The Art of Tony Auth” is on view through October 21. “I Look, I Listen: Works on Paper by Marlene Miller” is exhibited through October 14. “Creative Hand, Discerning Heart: Story, Symbol, Self,” runs through December 30. Visit www.
michenerartmuseum.org.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, has “Lynd Ward Draws Stories: Inspired by Mexico’s History, Mark Twain, and Adventures in the Woods” through June 23, 2013. Through January 6, “Art=Text=Art: Works by Contemporary Artists” will be on view, from the collection of drawing collectors Wynn and Sally Kramarsky. “In the Company of Women: Prints by Mary Cassatt” runs September 29-March 3. The museum is open free of charge on Saturday, September 29 as part of National Museum Day Live.

Mariboe Gallery at Peddie School, Swig Arts Center, Hightstown, presents a photography exhibit, “Occupying Wall Street,” by Accra Shepp, through October 3. Then from October 12-November 12, “Nuits Blanches,” recent paintings by Frank Rivera, is on view. An opening reception and talk by the artist is October 12 from 6:30-8 p.m. Visit www.peddie.org/mariboe
gallery.

MCCC Gallery, Mercer County Community College, West Windsor, is showing “Roger Hane and The Big Idea,” works by the illustrator Roger Hane, through October 4. An opening reception with Hane biographer Robert C. Hunsicker is Saturday, September 15, 12:30-3 p.m. Mr. Hunsicker will present a slide lecture September 24, 7 p.m. Visit www.mccc.edu/gallery.

Morven Museum & Garden, in collaboration with the Arts Council of Princeton, presents “The Garden at Night: Photographs by Linda Rutenberg” through September 16. “Portrait of Place: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints of New Jersey, 1761-1898” is September 28-January 13. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

Outsider Art Gallery, 10 Bridge Street, Suite 4, Frenchtown, has a show of work by artists from the Canary Islands and England through November 1.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents “The Activity of Form,” a photography exhibit by Laura McClanahan, Greg McGarvey, Barbara Osterman, and Larry Parsons, through September.

Princeton Day School Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery is presenting “Peter Lighte: Pieces of China” as its first show of the season, October 1-5. An opening reception and silent auction is September 28. Opening hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit www.pds.org.

Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street, is showing photography by Mary Cross (“Egyptland”) and painter Ifat Shatzky from September 15-December 31 as part of “The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art and Society” series taking place in nine area venues. (609) 924-9529 or www.princetonlibrary.org.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Encounters: Conflict, Dialogue, Discovery” through September 30. The show includes more than 60 works from the museum and private collections and mixes media, historical period, and place of origin. “Root and Branch,” which explores the form of a tree in art and includes several art forms, runs through November 25. The Museum has installed 12 sculptures by Ai Weiwei at Scudder Plaza, in front of Robertson Hall, through July 2013. Works by Parastou Forouhar, MonaHatoum, Sigalit Landau, Shirin Neshat and Laila Shawa are on view through January 13 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. “Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vase Painting of the Ik’ Kingdom” is October 6-February 17. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Quiet Life Gallery, 17 North Main Street, Lambertville, shows “Fearless Fighters’ Portraits” by Elise Dodeles through September 30. Visit www.quietlife
gallery.com.

Rider University Art Gallery presents photographs by Joh Suler September 13-October 14. “Photographic Psychology: Forces That Shape the Psyche” opens with a reception September 13 from 5-7 p.m. An artist’s talk will be September 20, 7 p.m. Visit www.rider.edu/artgallery.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has an exhibit called “The Future is Female 2.0” through the month of September.

Stover Mill Gallery, 852 River Road, Erwinna, Pa., will have “Brush and Chisel,” paintings and sculpture by Christine McHugh and Ron Bevilacqua, through September 23. Visit cmart
worksonline.com or call (215) 804-5612.

Straube Center, 1 Straube Center Boulevard, Pennington is showing “Ataractic Themes,” an exhibit of landscapes, portraits and still life work capturing a sense of calm and tranquility, through December 1. Visit www.straubecenter.com/art_at_straube.php.

West Windsor Library, 333 North Post Road, Princeton Junction, shows a solo exhibit of watercolors and acrylics by Elizabeth Peck during the month of October. An opening reception is Sunday, October 7, from 2-4 p.m.

WE MEET AT LAST: Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper, left) finally meets up with the real author (Jeremy Irons) of Jansen’s runaway bestseller first novel “The Window Tears.” See the movie in order to find out what they said to each other.

The latest stop on Clayton Hammond’s (Dennis Quaid) book tour has the renowned author in New York City to promote his latest work. It’s a cautionary tale of overwhelming regret recounting the rise and fall of a presumably fictional character called Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper).

In a series of flashbacks, the story open; with Rory as an aspiring novelist who is being pressured to find a job after years of relying on handouts from his father (J.K. Simmons). The young man grudgingly capitulates and takes a job in the mailroom of a leading literary agency.

The steady pay enables Rory to save enough money to finally propose to his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) who has been patiently waiting to marry him. The newlyweds spend their honeymoon in Paris where the grateful bride impulsively buys her husband a weather-beaten briefcase that she finds in a dusty antique shop.

When they return home Rory opens the valise and discovers that it contains a yellowed handwritten manuscript written by someone who is far more talented than him. However, instead of trying to locate the author, he succumbs to the temptation to submit the novel to publishers under his own name.

Lo and behold, the book, The Window Tears, becomes a runaway bestseller, and Rory finds himself in the midst of the literary career he’d always dreamed of having. However, because the real author (Jeremy Irons) could step forward to expose the fraud, Rory faces the prospect of spending his life looking over his shoulder.

Co-written and co-directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, The Words is constructed as a series of flashbacks narrated by a visibly-haunted Hammond as he reads excerpts from his new book. It gradually becomes obvious that he is emotionally agonizing over the material on the pages as the tension mounts around whether his audience is hearing is autobiographical or fiction.

Unfortunately, the problems with this slow-paced production are plentiful. First, it’s hard to accept the film’s farfetched premise, and harder still to fathom how its protagonist has managed to maintain the charade for so long, especially given his guilty conscience and being confronted by the aggrieved party he’s impersonated.

Additionally, neither of the parallel plotlines is particularly engaging, the only issue of interest being whether Hammond’s new book is a confession that his debut novel had been purloined. For this reason, the film’s biggest flaw rests in its cliffhanger ending failing to resolve if Rory Jansen is indeed a thinly-veiled version of the author.

That anticlimactic conclusion proves to be quite unsatisfying after an investment of what feels like an eternity waiting for the answer to the question “Did he or didn’t he?” The only thing worse than a movie without an ending, is a ninety-minute endurance test without an ending.

Fair (*). Rated PG-13 for smoking, sensuality, and brief profanity. Running time: 96 minutes. Distributor: CBS Films.


September 5, 2012

The most hysterical high-profile response to the literary timebomb called Lolita came, predictably, from the New York Times’s Orville Prescott, whose August 18, 1958 tirade (“dull, dull, dull” “repulsive,” “disgusting,” “fatuous,” “tiresome”) ends by suggesting that Humbert Humbert’s “ravaged brain belongs to the psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, not to novelists.”

Four years later, the Stanley Kubrick film made from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel received a relatively polite, if no less clueless, response from film critic Bosley Crowther, Prescott’s colleague at the Times during the same mid-forties to mid-sixties time period. Crowther had to show some respect since by 1962 Lolita was on its way to achieving its current somewhat inflated literary stature (ranked No. 4 on the Modern Library’s list of 100 Best Novels while a poll of 125 writers ranked it No. 1 in the Top Ten Works of the 20th Century, No. 4 in the Top Ten Books of All Time). What most likely prevented the sort of moralistic venting that eventually cost Crowther his job (following his 1967 hissy fit over Bonnie and Clyde) was the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) production code, which forced Kubrick to dilute the story’s eroticism by turning Nabokov’s word-drunk pedophile Humbert Humbert into a brooding academic played by James Mason. More important, Lolita was transformed from a 12-year-old child into a blonde beauty (15-year-old Sue Lyon) likely to awaken lustful urges in any red-blooded male on the planet, including brooding academics and a certain 57-year-old New York Times film critic who admits that Kubrick’s Lolita “looks to be a good 17 years old” and is “possessed of a striking figure,” which makes the “passion of the hero … more normal and understandable.”

The N-Word

When Crowther brings “normal” into the conversation, he’s using a word with which both Nabokov and Kubrick have a love-hate relationship. In Nabokov’s prose universe the n-word is synonymous with the post-war American nightmare in which Humbert Humbert is fated to live, lust, love, murder, and die. For Kubrick, “normal” becomes the foil for a black comedy of banal interiors and situations (with one magnificent exception) not so much taken from Nabokov’s novel as inspired by it; “normal” is also the nature of the approved behavioral objective forced upon the director by the MPAA. Which means no under-the-radar sex on the sofa leading to “the last throb of the longest ecstasy man or monster had ever known” and no drugging of the monster’s prey when her mother is conveniently dead and Humbert finally has the child in his clutches.

The not so secret weapon Kubrick uses to liberate the film from normalcy is Peter Sellers, whose performance as the one-man-theatre-of-the-absurd Clare Quilty explodes conventional expectations and creates chaos in what would be an otherwise conventional arrangement of set pieces featuring pseudo-American interiors in a film that was shot in England. It’s when Sellers is improvising in the Nabokovian mode that you get reactions like  Pauline Kael’s “it’s so far out that you gasp as you laugh.”

Missing the Point

Crowther’s inability to comprehend what Sellers and Nabokov and Kubrick are up to becomes most apparent when he refers to the film’s “strange confusions of thought and mood” and faults Kubrick for “scenes in which Mr. Sellers does various comical impersonations as the sneaky villain who dogs Mr. Mason’s trail.” The late Andrew Sarris had the same issues, dismissing Sellers in a July 5, 1962 Village Voice review as “an accurate mimic without physical presence or discernible personality” and, suggesting that Kubrick was not “in tune with Nabokov’s delirious approach to his subject.” In fact, it’s Sellers performance as the mercurial Quilty that sustains the harmony between Kubrick’s cinema and Nabokov’s prose.

Besides perceiving the film’s capacity to amuse and amaze, Pauline Kael calls Lolita “the first new American comedy since those great days in the forties when Preston Sturges recreated comedy with verbal slapstick.” In Sullivan’s Travels and The Lady Eve, Sturges also seasons the comedy with romance, but in neither instance does he accomplish what Kubrick does when he brings together what Kael calls “black slapstick” with a love story. Crowther at least shows a fumbling awareness of this feat when he refers to the “hauntingly poignant hospital scene,” the film’s “rare power,” and the “garbled, but often moving push toward an off-beat communication.”

What he means by “moving” is Humbert’s profound love for Lolita, a development Nabokov intended, except that in the novel it’s not revealed until the end when Humbert, finding that his nymphet has become a bespectacled, slovenly, pregnant housewife, tearfully pleads with her to come away with him, and when she refuses, gives her and her deaf young husband all his money. In the film the reality of Humbert’s love for Lolita becomes clear early on because, as Kubrick has pointed out in several interviews, unrelenting pressure from the MPAA required the removal of anything that could be perceived as overtly perverse or depraved in Humbert. According to Vincent Lobrutto’s biography Stanley Kubrick, what Kubrick and producer James Harris wanted from Nelson Riddle’s lush score was “a straightforward romantic sound” rather than “any form of dissonance” that “might disparage Humbert” and his love “in the audience’s eyes.”

More important than the music in bringing off this difficult black comedy-romance dynamic is the power of James Mason’s sympathetic performance, arguably the finest of his long career. Because of the MPAA strictures, it’s not with Lo but with her mother Charlotte Haze, memorably played by Shelly Winters, that Mason is allowed to become the darkly and diabolically Humbertian character who bursts into satanic laughter after reading his “landlady’s” ludicrous letter proposing marriage, who seriously contemplates murdering her, and who, when fate does the job for him, luxuriates in the bathtub drinking Scotch immediately afterward.

Beginning at the End

The most obvious example of what Pauline Kael means by “you gasp as you laugh” is the bravura opening scene, a movie in itself set in the party-shattered shambles of Clare Quilty’s elaborately cluttered and chaotic labyrinth of statuary, kitsch and bric-a-brac, with here and there amid the chaos a bust of Shakespeare, a harp, a piano, a ping-pong table. Though Nabokov ultimately had mixed feelings about the film, he told Alvin Toffler in a Playboy interview from 1964 that “the killing of Quilty is a masterpiece.” While working on the screenplay, of which only a fraction was used (Kubrick wisely mined the novel itself), he came to appreciate what the director was up against. For one thing, it was Nabokov who realized that the film had to begin at the end of the story.

Projected in Nabokov’s screenplay as “a silent shadowy sequence which should last not more than one minute,” the murder of Quilty becomes a painfully funny ten-minute-long nightmare in which the straight man kills the clown, who “jigs and ambles” to the end. It begins when Humbert asks, “Are you Quilty?” At which Sellers wraps himself in a sheet as if it were a toga and says he’s Spartacus, a sly reference to Kubrick’s previous picture.

Then, as Mason stands grimly behind the ping-pong table, ready to commit a literary crime of passion (he’s written a poem to explain his motive, the abduction and debauching of Lolita), Quilty shuffles and sashays over to the table in his toga and suggests they have a game of Roman ping-pong “like two civilized senators.” At this point, as Quilty begins the game with a serve (“Roman ping!”) that the appalled Humbert does not return (“You’re supposed to say ‘Roman pong!’”), the audience is giddy. When Humbert asks Quilty if he wants die standing or sitting, Sellers dons a pair of boxing gloves: “I wanna die like a champion!” He’s still clowning even as the first shot hits the glove. Finally showing signs of panic, he flounces over to the piano and begins playing Chopin’s Grand Polonaise (“Nice sort of opening, that. We could dream up some lyrics maybe”). At this point, the audience is, as they say, in hysterics.

A minute later Quilty, still bantering, will be shot dead behind a Gainsborough. So you laugh and catch your breath. Or gasp. A man is being murdered and you’re laughing.

That’s not normal. But this was not the time for the n-word.

Kubrick’s Lolita was being made during the Kennedy inauguration and the building of the Berlin wall. It hit American movie screens the summer before the Cuban missile crisis. The nuclear brinksmanship of the Cold War would send Kubrick and Sellers into the endgame black comedy of Dr. Strangelove. Meanwhile the Beatles and Stones were tuning up. Here come the sixties.

Lolita will be shown on TCM on September 21 at 5:15 p.m. The DVD is available at the Princeton Public Library.

—Stuart Mitchner

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center has sculpture by Jonathan Shor on view on the terrace through September 29. The Annual Members Show is in the Taplin Gallery September 8-29. The opening reception is September 8 from 4-6 p.m. For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, has “Expressions in Wood, Glass and Bamboo,” works by Charlie Katzenbach and Norine Kevolic, September 7-30. The opening reception is September 8, 4-7 p.m. Visit www.lambertvillearts.com.

Bernstein Gallery at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, has works by Negar Ahkami, Ghada Amer, Reza Farkhondeh, Zeina Barakeh, Ofri Cnaani, Parastou Forouhar, and Shadi Ghadirian as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project, through October 19.

Cafe 44, 44 Leigh Avenue, is showing “Art + 10” September 7-October 1. The opening reception is September 7 from 6-8 p.m. Paintings and photography, subtitled “A Slice of Life,” are the subject of the show, which will include works by Heather Stoddardt Barros, James Bongartz, Betty Curtiss, Jeannine S. Honstein, Stephen Kennedy, Ryan Lillienthal, Meg Brinster Michael, Tasha O’Neill, Katja De Ruyter, Gill Stewart, Karen Stolper, and Mary Waltham.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Pennington Road, Ewing, is presenting “Bruce Rigby: Recent Work” through October 11 in honor of Mr. Rigby’s retirement from teaching. Visit www.tcnj.edu/artgallery.

D&R Greenway, Johnson Education Center, 1 Preservation Place, presents “Sustainable Harvest: Creating Community Through the Land,” a mixed-media show about farmland, iconic farm structures, and new perspectives on crops and creatures, through November 9. The artists’ reception is September 14 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Firestone Library at Princeton University, has in its Milberg Gallery “Woodrow Wilson’s Journey to the White House,” through December 28. In Cotsen Children’s Library through September 30 is “Noah’s Art: Designing Arks for Children.”

Gallery at Chapin, 4101 Princeton Pike, has “Yardsong: A Botanical Adventure” through September 28. The show is of digital photography by Madelaine Shellaby. The opening reception is September 13 from 5-7 p.m. Call (609) 924-7206.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows “Sanctuary II” by Edward Greenblat, “A View of South Beach” by Martin Schwartz, and “Spiritual Places,” a group show by AgOra, September 8-October 7. The opening reception is September 9, 1:30-3:30 p.m. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery, Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A Main Street, Cranbury, hosts the “Winter Workshop Series Exhibit” by workshop artists including Linda Gilbert, Colleen Cahill, and Hannah Ellis September 8-30. The opening reception is September 9, 1-3 p.m. Visit www.cranbury.org.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, presents Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” installed in the new East Gallery through February 15. Artists displayed in other GFS galleries through September include Sharon Engelstein, Willie Cole, and Marilyn Keating. See www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton, Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display through September 15. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton shows sculpture by Nancy Cohen and ceramics by Bill Macholdt through September 9. Visit www.hunterdonartmuseum.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has a permanent exhibit, “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements,” featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “To Stir, Inform, and Inflame: The Art of Tony Auth” is on view through October 21. “I Look, I Listen: Works on Paper by Marlene Miller” is exhibited through October 14.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, has “Lynd Ward Draws Stories: Inspired by Mexico’s History, Mark Twain, and Adventures in the Woods” through June 23, 2013. Through January 6, “Art=Text=Art: Works by Contemporary Artists” will be on view, from the collection of drawing collectors Wynn and Sally Kramarsky. “In the Company of Women: Prints by Mary Cassatt” runs September 29-March 3.

Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, has works by artists Jananne Al-Ani, Fatima Al Qadari, Monira Al Qadari, Ofri Cnaani, Diana El Jeiroudi, Ayana Friedman, Ariane Litman, Ebru Ozsecen, Nil Yalter and Laila Shawa through September 9 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. Hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

MCCC Gallery, Mercer County Community College, West Windsor, is showing “Roger Hane and The Big Idea,” works by the illustrator Roger Hane, through October 4. An opening reception with Hane biographer Robert C. Hunsicker is Saturday, September 15, 12:30-3 p.m. Mr. Hunsicker will present a slide lecture September 24, 7 p.m. Visit www.mccc.edu/gallery.

Morven Museum & Garden, in collaboration with the Arts Council of Princeton, presents “The Garden at Night: Photographs by Linda Rutenberg” through September 16. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

Outsider Art Gallery, 10 Bridge Street, Suite 4, Frenchtown, has a show of work by artists from the Canary Islands and England through November 1.

Phillips’ Mill on River Road in New Hope, Pa. has issued a call for artists to participate in the 83rd Annual Juried Art Exhibition, to be held September 22-October 27. Works must be by a living artist and completed within the last five years. Submit work September 7, 2-7 p.m. and September 8, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Visit www.phillipsmill.org for applications.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents “The Activity of Form,” a photography exhibit by Laura McClanahan, Greg McGarvey, Barbara Osterman, and Larry Parsons, through September.

Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street, is showing photography by Mary Cross (“Egyptland”) and painter Ifat Shatzky from September 15-December 31 as part of “The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art and Society” series taking place in nine area venues. (609) 924-9529 or www.princeton
library.org.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Encounters: Conflict, Dialogue, Discovery” through September 30. The show includes more than 60 works from the museum and private collections and mixes media, historical period and place of origin. “Root and Branch,” which explores the form of a tree in art and includes several art forms, runs through November 25. The Museum has installed 12 sculptures by Ai Weiwei at Scudder Plaza, in front of Robertson Hall, through July 2013. Works by Parastou Forouhar, Mona Hatoum, Sigalit Landau, Shirin Neshat and Laila Shawa are on view through January 13 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Quiet Life Gallery, 17 North Main Street, Lambertville, shows “Fearless Fighters’ Portraits” by Elise Dodeles through September 30. Visit www.quietlifegallery.com.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has an exhibit called “The Future is Female 2.0” through the month of September.

South Brunswick Arts Commission seeks applicants for “Places of Our Lives,” a juried exhibit open to central Jersey artists in all media except photography, for an exhibit October 9-January 13 at The Gallery in South Brunswick Municipal Building, Monmouth Junction. Applications are due Friday, September 7, on disk or email. Visit www.SBAarts.org or call (732) 329-4000 ext. 7635.

Stover Mill Gallery, 852 River Road, Erwinna, Pa., will have “Brush and Chisel,” paintings and sculpture by Christine McHugh and Ron Bevilacqua, through September 23. The opening reception is September 9, 1-5 p.m; meet the artists September 15. Visit cmart
worksonline.com or call (215) 804-5612.

West Windsor Arts Center Gallery, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, will show “Memory of Here, Memory of There: Fertile Crescent Dialogues” through October 12. Part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. Artist Reception September 8, 6-8 pm. Visit www.WestWindsorArts.org for more information.

MAKING BEAUTIFUL MUSIC TOGETHER: Cindy Green (Jennifer Garner, left), Timothy Green (CJ Adams, center), and Jim Green (Joel Edgerton) perform an impromptu musical song and dance routine in their living room. Cindy and Jim are ecstatic because Timothy miraculously appeared in their garden overnight, after their doctor had told them that Cindy would not be able to have children.

Jim (Joel Edgerton) and Cindy Green (Jennifer Garner) are very happily married, however, they don’t yet have children. After being informed by Cindy’s gynecologist (Rhoda Griffis), that she can’t conceive, they write down all the qualities they’d hoped to pass on to the child they’ll never have, starting with Cindy’s good heart and Jim’s honesty.

Then, they bury the wish list in a box in the backyard right before a torrential rainfall. To their astonishment a real live boy sprouts up in their garden overnight who, other than having leaves growing out of his legs, seems to be perfectly normal.

What’s more, 10-year-old Timothy (CJ Adams) not only exhibits the positive traits desired by Cindy and Jim, but he refers to them as mom and dad without any prompting. While the Greens are certainly happy to welcome their miraculous blessing with open arms, they are hard-pressed to explain the sudden addition to their family to skeptical relatives and friends.

For sensitive Timothy, life is also rather rocky because he is being teased by bullies at school for wearing long socks and rejected at home by his macho grandfather, Jim Sr. (David Morse), for not being manly enough. Timothy even frustrates his mother when she’s fired by her boss (Dianne Wiest) because of his compulsive frankness.

However, he does find a kindred spirit in Joni (Odeya Rush), a shy classmate who is hiding a painful secret of her own. The harder Timothy tries to measure up to the world’s expectations, the more he retreats to a magical oasis of solitude he shares with this newfound friend.

Directed by Peter Hedges (Pieces of April), The Odd Life of Timothy Green is an enchanting fairy tale designed for young and old alike. Thanks to a combination of seamless special effects and a talented cast it is easy for the audience to suspend disbelief in the face of a supernatural storyline with an implausible premise.

Once that hurdle is scaled, a  very satisfying payoff — which tugs on your heartstrings — awaits anyone who see this instant Disney classic. Buy an extra ticket for the box of Kleenex you’ll need to have sitting on the seat beside you.

Excellent (HHHH). Rated PG for mature themes and mild epithets. Running time: 125 minutes. Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures.


August 29, 2012

I consider life to be a continuous series of improvisations. —Jerry Garcia (1942-1995)

There’s too much in my head for this horn.

—Charlie Parker (1920-1955)

I am looking at a 12-inch Verve LP, Now’s the Time, the Genius of Charlie Parker #3, which is in the same dismal shape it was when the girl I married four years later unceremoniously presented it to me in San Francisco on my 24th birthday. “Bobby Petersen, the guy who gave it to me, stole it,” she said.

Not much of a birthday present, you may be thinking. In all fairness, the girl, who was 18 and in her first year at Berkeley, hardly knew me at the time. Strips of army-green friction tape had been clumsily applied to the entire top and bottom seams of the cover and another shorter piece was holding the spine together. Charlie Parker’s face, what you can see of it, has a cloudy, glazed-over look, though the original spotlight blue has sustained a certain luminosity in spite of the wear and tear. The vinyl is scuffed and scratched, but it plays fine, and the music is coming, after all, from a performer of such impenetrable charisma that the disc’s very flaws, its crackles and hisses, have an archival validity. In James Joyce’s Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus tells Mr. Deasy history is “a shout in the street.” Now’s the Time says history is “a record with surface noise.”

By now I’ve sold or traded almost all my jazz vinyl, and I’ve got a CD of this album, so why am I hanging on to stolen merchandise in laughably bad shape with the name of the guy it was probably stolen from (“Wade November 1958”) written in blue ink on the upper right of the back cover? Just because it was my future wife’s first ever gift to me? Am I that sentimental?

You bet I am. But even more, I’m looking for ways to tie together a column about two legends of American music, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, whose 92nd birthday is today, and guitarist Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead whose 70th fell on August first.

The Petersen Connection

Early in his five-hour-long Rolling Stone interview with Jann Wenner and Charles Reich on January 20, 1972, Jerry Garcia recalls first getting together with Dead-bassist-to-be Phil Lesh and “this other guy named Bobby Petersen, who is like an old-time wine-drinkin’ convict post criminal scene, a great guy.” Blair Jackson’s Garcia: An American Life puts Petersen, along with Lesh and Garcia “and about two hundred other people,” at “a giant party dubbed the Groovy Conclave” that began on November 18, 1961, and went on for three days at a rambling Palo Alto “party house” known as the Chateau.

Meanwhile Petersen’s pal Phil Lesh had enrolled in the music department at Berkeley, where in addition to working as a volunteer engineer at KPFA, he helped the girl-who-gave-me-Now’s the Time with her homework for a physics class taught by Edward “Dr. Strangelove” Teller. Petersen most likely still had the record when he was hanging out with Garcia and Lesh and the Dead’s eventual music publisher Alan Trist. In Robert Greenfield’s Dark Star: An Oral Biography of Jerry Garcia, Trist recalls smoking grass with Petersen, Lesh, and Garcia, among others, at his house in Palo Alto (“my parents were away”), which happened to be in back of Ken Kesey’s cabin: “We got very stoned because we were young people whose systems were quite open. And we designed this fantasy of how we would like to be, where we would like to take all this beat stuff.” It’s not much of a stretch to imagine that during the designing of this fantasy, or during “the giant party” in November, my destined-to-be-24th-birthday copy of Now’s the Time was playing, either in the back or foreground, for this was the period, before Dylan and the Beatles, when the music of choice for stoned “young people” with “open systems” was jazz, along with blues, bluegrass, and folk, and the player  of the hour and the era was Charlie Parker.

Years later, in his introduction to Alleys of the Heart: The Collected Poems of Robert M. Petersen (published in 1988, a year after Petersen’s death at 51), Alan Trist mentions the lyrics Petersen wrote for the Grateful Dead (“New Potato Caboose,” “Unbroken Chain,” “Pride of Cucamonga”) and describes the poet as “one true voice of a generation” who hopped the freights, played jazz saxophone, served time, “practiced freedom” and “bridged the beat scene of San Francisco to the rock era, like his sometime companion Neal Cassady.” In “Fern Rock,” one of the longest poems in Alleys of the Heart, Petersen describes Jerry Garcia “bending the frames of / reality … reaching into that system / pulling out dream after dream.”

The Vinyl Connection

Such then is the provenance of my well-traveled birthday gift of Bobby Petersen’s stolen copy of Now’s the Time, which I’ve just been listening to in its original state, scuffs and scratches and taped-up sleeve notwithstanding, and after the first three tracks, I had to run up here to the “keyboard” — which I put quotes around because the only keyboard worth serious mention after listening to this record is Hank Jones’s, a subtle, solid, and ebulliently inventive complement to the brazen brilliance of Charlie Parker, superbly driven in turn by Max Roach’s drumming and Teddy Kotick’s bass.

One of the virtues of returning to the primal vinyl after a long absence (our only turntable has been my son’s domain for 15 years) is the sheer size and depth of the sound compared to that of a compact disc. When you listen to a record like this one, you’re closer not only to the music and the moment of its making, but to all the previous playings, from the first needle-in-the-groove moment in 1958 when “Wade,” the guy who wrote his name on the back, set the jazz genie free. Close your eyes, open your imagination, and you may hear, as on an extended voice mail playback, the various exclamations of delight and fanciful stoned dialogues of previous listeners at those Palo Alto parties Wade may have been attending when my wife’s long-ago friend Bobby P. ripped him off.

Or maybe Petersen lied about stealing the album in order to impress the impressionable Berkeley freshman he was generously introducing to Charlie Parker. As for the sorry condition of the thing, inside and out, the defects, like I said, are part of the historical profile, as are Bill Simon’s lengthy liner notes on the back of the worn and faded sleeve additionally marred by grease spots and the yellowish imprint left by years of sweaty-handed handling, not to mention an informational defect that has Al Haig and Percy Heath playing piano and bass on the first six tracks, from December 30, 1952 (they play on the last six, from the July 30, 1953 session). As for the surface noise, it’s only there for Bird to blow through when Jerome Kern’s “The Song Is You” explodes from the speakers, followed by two numbers named for children, the first, “Laird Baird,” a sassy and playful blues for Parker’s son Laird and the second, for his stepdaughter Kim, what else but “Kim,” a flight of fairytale fancy on the changes of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.”

The Kern Connection

While several Jerome Kern standards were in Parker’s repertoire, notably “All the Things You Are” (reborn as “Bird of Paradise”), the composer’s association with Jerry Garcia began at birth when his father, a clarinetist and saxophonist who admired Kern, named him Jerome John Garcia. Students of Garcia’s improvisations with and without the Dead might be able to find instances where he quotes some melodic fragment of his namesake’s music, but the most obvious recognition of the connection comes in a recording of Kern’s “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” on the soundtrack album for Wayne Wang’s film Smoke, released two months before Garcia’s August 9, 1995 death. In retrospect, the video, which can be seen on YouTube, becomes a playful, quirky swan song, with a seated, Buddha-benign Garcia performing while a sexy earth angel in the form of Ashley Judd looks on, making love to the moment. Smiling just about all the way, Garcia appears in fine fettle, his playing bell-clear, as he performs an atypically lively version of one of the great ballad melodies of American popular music. In the last image, as the smoke fades, Jerome John Garcia sits all alone in the rear of the deserted night club.

The Connection Connection

Unfortunately, the most obvious parallel between Charlie Parker and Jerry Garcia is in the Faustian role hard drugs played in each man’s life. There’s the familiar quote from a doctor who upon examining Parker said that at the age of 33 he had the body of a man twice that age. Something similar was said of Garcia at 53.

Since it would take more listening than I have time for, and a lot more thought and knowledge, I won’t presume to make comparisons between these two masters, beyond wishing for a front row seat at the concert in music heaven where Bird sits in with the Dead, joining Garcia in mid-flight during a performance of “Dark Star” like the one on Live/Dead where you know he’s venturing into regions not unlike the “realms of gold” Charlie Parker traveled in.

Reading the guitar.com and Rolling Stone interviews with Garcia, I found a number of places where he said things that might have been said by or about Charlie Parker, for instance, “I consider life to be a continuous series of improvisations …. Because being high, each note, you know, is like a whole universe. And each silence. And … all of a sudden we find a certain kind of feeling or a certain kind of rhythm and the whole place is like a sea and it goes boom…boom …boom, it’s like magic and … you discover that another kind of sound will like create a whole other, you know ….”

He didn’t finish the sentence, and no need. All the better, in fact. Let it be “a whole other —.” Not that he was ever at a loss for words. Speaking of another musician, Garcia once said that “nobody has come up to the state that he was playing at — that whole fullness of expression, the combination of having incredible speed and giving every note a specific personality.” He was referring to Django Reinhardt, but he could have been talking about Charlie Parker — and Jerry Garcia.


LET’S IMPROVISE: The West Windsor Arts Council’s New NOW Play Reading Series will focus on the development of original plays by area writers, artists, and playwrights. In addition, the NOW Theater Company is currently seeking actors for staged readings and performances.

West Windsor Arts Council has created a new forum for playwrights, actors, and artists to share their original works with a live audience. The New NOW Play Reading Series will be launched on Tuesday, September 4 at the West Windsor Arts Center.

The event will feature plays by four local playwrights including, Ian August, Jim Christy, EM Lewis, and Lynne Elson. Members of the audience will have the opportunity to discuss the works with the playwrights.

In addition, the New NOW Theater Company is seeking actors for staged readings and performances. The Theater Company will work closely with the Play Reading Series to organize new performances.

“I actually like play readings, because you get to use your imagination and focus on the words, like old time radio shows,” explained Lynne Elson, writer and artistic director of the NOW Theatre Company. “The plays are all very thought-provoking and unique. Catch the plays before they get famous and the ticket prices go way up.”

For more information, contact Co-Producing Artistic Director Lynne Elson at lynne@lynneelson.com or call (732) 491-5404. The West Windsor Arts Council is located at 952 Alexander Rd. in Princeton Junction.

———

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center has sculpture by Jonathan Shor on view on the terrace through September 29. The Annual Members Show is in the Taplin Gallery September 8-29. The opening reception is September 8 from 4-6 p.m. For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncil
ofprinceton.org.

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, has “Expressions in Wood, Glass and Bamboo,” works by Charlie Katzenbach and Norine Kevolic, September 7-30. The opening reception is September 8, 4-7 p.m. Visit www.lambertvillearts.com.

Bernstein Gallery at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, has works by Negar Ahkami, Ghada Amer, Reza Farkhondeh, Zeina Barakeh, Ofri Cnaani, Parastou Forouhar, and Shadi Ghadirian as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project, through October 19.

Cafe 44, 44 Leigh Avenue, is showing “Art + 10” September 7-October 1. The opening reception is September 7 from 6-8 p.m. Paintings and photography, subtitled “A Slice of Life,” are the subject of the show, which will include works by Heather Stoddardt Barros, James Bongartz, Betty Curtiss, Jeannine S. Honstein, Stephen Kennedy, Ryan Lillienthal, Meg Brinster Michael, Tasha O’Neill, Katja De Ruyter, Gill Stewart, Karen Stolper, and Mary Waltham.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Pennington Road, Ewing, is presenting “Bruce Rigby: Recent Work” September 5-October 11 in honor of Mr. Rigby’s retirement from teaching. Visit www.tcnj.edu/artgallery.

Firestone Library at Princeton University, has in its Milberg Gallery “Woodrow Wilson’s Journey to the White House,” through December 28. In Cotsen Children’s Library through September 30 is “Noah’s Art: Designing Arks for Children.”

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows “Sanctuary II” by Edward Greenblat, “A View of South Beach” by Martin Schwartz, and “Spiritual Places,” a group show by AgOra, September 8-October 7. The opening reception is September 9, 1:30-3:30 p.m. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery, Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A Main Street, Cranbury, hosts the “Winter Workshop Series Exhibit” by workshop artists including Linda Gilbert, Colleen Cahill, and Hannah Ellis September 8-30. The opening reception is September 9, 1-3 p.m. Visit www.cranbury.org.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, presents Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” installed in the new East Gallery through February 15. Artists displayed in other GFS galleries through September include Sharon Engelsein, Willie Cole, and Marilyn Keating. See www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton, Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display through September 15. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton shows sculpture by Nancy Cohen and ceramics by Bill Macholdt through September 9. Visit www.hunterdonartmuseum.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has a permanent exhibit, “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements,” featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “To Stir, Inform, and Inflame: The Art of Tony Auth” is on view through October 21. “I Look, I Listen: Works on Paper by Marlene Miller” is exhibited through October 14.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, is offering free admission this summer to all active military duty personnel and their families, through Labor Day. “Lynd Ward Draws Stories: Inspired by Mexico’s History, Mark Twain, and Adventures in the Woods” is on view through June 23, 2013. From September 4-January 6, “Art=Text=Art: Works by Contemporary Artists” will be on view, from the collection of drawing collectors Wynn and Sally Kramarsky. The opening receptions is September 5 from 5-9 p.m., part of “Art After Hours” and including an exhibition tour. “In the Company of Women: Prints by Mary Cassatt” runs September 29-March 3.

Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, has works by artists Jananne Al-Ani, Fatima Al Qadari, Monira Al Qadari, Ofri Cnaani, Diana El Jeiroudi, Ayana Friedman, Ariane Litman, Ebru Ozsecen, Nil Yalter and Laila Shawa through September 9 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. Hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Morven Museum & Garden, in collaboration with the Arts Council of Princeton, presents “The Garden at Night: Photographs by Linda Rutenberg” through September 16. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

Mudd Manuscript Library at 65 Olden Street, Princeton University, is presenting “She Flourishes,” showcasing the history of women at Princeton, through August 31. The show documents the struggles and accomplishments of women associated with the University.

Outsider Art Gallery, 10 Bridge Street, Suite 4, Frenchtown, has a show of work by artists from the Canary Islands and England through November 1.

Phillips’ Mill on River Road in New Hope, Pa. has issued a call for artists to participate in the 83rd Annual Juried Art Exhibition, to be held September 22-October 27. Works must be by a living artist and completed within the last five years. Submit work September 7, 2-7 p.m. and September 8, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Visit www.phillipsmill.org for applications.

Plainsboro Public Library, 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro, exhibits Ingrid Davis’s white-line woodcuts through August 31. Call (609) 275-2897.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents “The Activity of Form,” a photography exhibit by Laura McClanahan, Greg McGarvey, Barbara Osterman, and Larry Parsons, through September.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Encounters: Conflict, Dialogue, Discovery” through September 30. The show includes more than 60 works from the museum and private collections and mixes media, historical period and place of origin. “Root and Branch,” which explores the form of a tree in art and includes several art forms, runs through November 25. The Museum will install 12 sculptures by Ai Weiwei at Scudder Plaza, in front of Robertson Hall, through July 2013. Works by Parastou Forouhar, Mona Hatoum, Sigalit Landau, Shirin Neshat and Laila Shawa are on view through January 13 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Quiet Life Gallery, 17 North Main Street, Lambertville, shows “Fearless Fighters’ Portraits” by Elise Dodeles through September 30. Visit www.quietlifegal
lery.com.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has an exhibit called “The Future is Female 2.0” through the month of September.

South Brunswick Arts Commission seeks applicants for “Places of Our Lives,” a juried exhibit open to Central Jersey artists in all media except photography, for an exhibit October 9-January 13 at The Gallery in South Brunswick Municipal Building, Monmouth Junction. Applications are due Friday, September 7, on disk or email. Visit www.SBAarts.org or call (732) 329-4000 ext. 7635.

Stover Mill Gallery, 852 River Road, Erwinna, Pa., will have “Brush and Chisel,” paintings and sculpture by Christine McHugh and Ron Bevilacqua, September 1-23. The opening reception is September 9, 1-5 p.m., meet the artists September 15. Visit cmartworkson
line.com or call (215) 804-5612.

Straube Center, Route 31 and Franklin Avenue, Pennington, presents “The Inception of an Era” through August 31. Works in all media are by artists who have graduated from colleges and universities within the past five years. Visit www.straubecenter.com.

West Windsor Arts Center Gallery, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, will show “Pantyhose, Wire, Brushstrokes & Lens” through August 31. This is work by teaching artists and faculty of the arts center. Gallery hours are Wednesday-Friday, 12-6 p.m. Visit www.westwindsorarts.org.

LISTEN SON, THERE’S BEEN A MISTAKE: Posing as the Dean of students at Columbia university, Ackerman (Michael Shannon, right), who is really a crooked police officer, attempts to persuade the bike riding courier Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levin) to give him the package that Wilee is supposed to deliver to Chinatown ASAP. When Wilee refuses and gets on his bike to deliver the package, Ackerman pursues him in his car and a dizzying chase through Manhattan traffic begins.

Traffic is so congested in Manhattan that it’s hard to see how it can be a viable setting for high-octane chase scenes. Yet that is precisely what we have in Premium Rush, an adventure about daring bike messengers who dart between cars and dodge pedestrians in order to make their deliveries.

At the film’s point of departure, we’re introduced to several staff members of a bonded company called Security Courier. Employee of the Year Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Columbia law school graduate who prefers this line of work to being stuck sitting behind a desk in a business suit.

Similarly, his girlfriend Vanessa, (Dania Ramirez), sees it as a preferable alternative to waiting tables in a restaurant. Although she does have to fend off the overtures of both fellow messenger, Manny (Wole’ Parks), and the dispatcher, Raj (Aasif Mandvi).

However, this picture is more about non-stop action than romance, and the adventure starts soon after Wilee receives an assignment to deliver an envelope designated “Premium Rush” from Columbia University to Chinatown ASAP. However, before he even leaves the campus, a gentleman (Michael Shannon) named Ackerman identifies himself as the Dean of Students and asks that he be given the parcel.

Wilee’s becomes suspicious when Ackerman goes ballistic in response to a polite explanation that it can only be handed over to the addressee. Wilee’s concern escalates to fear when Ackerman starts chasing Wilee in his car and even runs lights and drives against traffic while trying to catch him.

Wilee manages to give him the slip, but the plot thickens when he stops at the police station to report the attempted theft. There, he discovers that he’s on his own because it turns out that Ackerman is a crooked police officer who wants to get the package.

Premium Rush proceeds from this juncture forward at a breakneck pace that doesn’t give you a chance to pause to consider whether what you’re watching is even credible. But it doesn’t matter because the urgent bike ride manages to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for violence, ethnic slurs, and profanity. In English and Mandarin with subtitles. Running time: 91 minutes. Distributor: Columbia Pictures.


August 22, 2012

Music is a dream from which the veils have been drawn! It’s not even the expression of a feeling — it is the feeling itself. —Claude Debussy (1862-1918), from a letter

On a spring morning in 1884 a classroom window at the Paris Conservatoire is open to the racket of horse-drawn omnibuses on the cobblestones of the rue du FaubourgPoissonnière. At the piano sits a “dishevelled” 21-year-old student, “his shock of tousled hair constantly shaking,” as he produces “chromatic groanings in imitation of the buses … all the notes of the diatonic scale heard at once in fantastic arrangements; shimmering sequences of arpeggios contrasted with trills played by both hands on three notes simultaneously.” The performance continues until a supervisor hearing the “strange noises ringing through the corridors” puts a stop to it, branding the pianist “a dangerous ‘fanatic’ “ and ordering the “spellbound” students “to be off.”

In his rich two-volume biography, Debussy: His Life and Mind (Macmillan 1962), Edward Lockspeiser presents this “picturesque episode,” recalled after Debussy’s death by a fellow student, as an example of the way “all sounds must strike at some poetry” in “the mind of a musician.”

The same classroom observer, Maurice Emmanuel, was taking notes on a later occasion, during a conversation between the then-28-year-old Debussy and his former teacher, Ernest Guiraud. Debussy having just played a series of intervals on the piano, Guiraud asks “What’s that?” Debussy replies, “Incomplete chords, floating …. One can travel where one wishes and leave by any door. Greater nuances.” To which Guiraud responds, “I am not saying what you do isn’t beautiful, but it’s theoretically absurd.” Says Debussy, “There is no theory. You have merely to listen. Pleasure is the law.”

“Mystery in Art”

Drawn to that concept of composition, of music as a fluid infinitely malleable element and pleasure as the law, Debussy would surely have appreciated knowing that in a future time his work would be moving through the world at large giving comfort and joy and evoking wonderment and awe in intimate situations and unlikely environments far from the formal boundaries of the salon or concert hall, transmitted in forms undreamed of in his day, with plugged-in listeners walking, driving a car, flying across oceans and continents at 30,000 feet, or in the solitude of home, recumbent with headset in the dead of night, able to leave and return “by any door” with the push of a button, living, breathing, thinking music.

Debussy might be appalled at the idea of someone doing menial chores (the dinner dishes, in my case) while master pianist Aldo Ciccolini, born August 15, 1925, seven years after the composer’s death, is playing L’Isle Joyeuse, a work for piano composed in 1904. But this is Debussy, who could hear music in the sound of wheels on pavement while creating chromatic equivalents. Myself, I think he’d be tolerant of such mundane miracles, if not amazed and delighted, based on what evidence we have — the scene in the classroom, the conversation with Guiraud, and other statements, notably the one inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner, “the greatest creator of mystery in art.” Revert from the translation to Debussy’s actual words (“le plus grand créateur de mystère qui soit en art”) and it’s easier to see that he’s describing himself, his dream, his mission, which is how it often is when artists, whatever the medium, use works they admire to express the terms of their own aesthetic.

Admitted, “mystery” is a notoriously open term, but serviceable enough to express strange and wonderful transmissions such as the one from the young English poet who died in 1821, his name “writ in water,” the verse message reaching Debussy two months before his own death, sent by a friend who suggested the line, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter,” from John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” was “implicitly dedicated” to a composer who once defined music as “the silence between the notes.”

Joy in Jersey

I mentioned L’Isle Joyeuse, which refers to Jersey, in the Channel Islands, where in July 1904 Debussy “eloped” with Emma Bardac (both being already married at the time), who would become his second wife and the mother of his only child. The composition for piano finds its way to La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, where it’s recorded in November 1991 by Ciccolini, one of the 16 pieces I’ve been listening to in August 2012 while the water’s running in the sink as I scrub and scour into the depths of a skillet that begins looking like one of Turner’s storms at sea as Debussy’s joyous Jersey idyll bursts forth from the Bose Wave sounding in the chiming trilling flux of demonically intense invention not unlike the “fantastic arrangements” and “shimmering sequences” that Debussy’s fellow student remembers hearing long long ago in the classroom. Next morning, already feeling worn out, not looking forward to a dreary errand, I get into my trusty four-wheeled stereo, put on the same CD (Piano Works, Vol. V) to a surefire energy source, Tarantelle styrienne (later simplified to Danse), some of the most exhilarating piano music ever written, and I’m revived in an instant, riding high, and what was a chore has become a mission.

Something Amusingly Else

Of course Debussy has much more to offer than morning euphoria and instant energy. Take one of the best-known and most-played of his compositions, Clair de lune, which begins in a state of tender hesitant beauty, builds to an emotional summit, and goes down like a sunset. It’s one thing to hear Ciccolini play it, and something amusingly else to see Spencer Tracy at the keyboard in Without Love, one of the lesser-known movies he made with Katherine Hepburn. If it had been Hepburn swooning elegantly over the keys, no big deal, but that’s Spencer Tracy tucking in the belt of his bath robe as he sits down to play. No ceremony, no airs, the most unceremonious of actors is making beautiful music as Hepburn listens transfixed on the stairs, in her bathrobe, about to dissolve into an amorous mist, just as my own mother did whenever my undemonstrative father played the same music.

The Anglophile

Debussy may not have spoken the language but, as Lockspeiser makes clear, he was thoroughly immersed in the culture of the British Isles, though it should be mentioned that Debussy was very much under the influence of France’s favorite American, Edgar Allan Poe, to the point of planning but never finishing operas based on The Devil in the Belfry and The Fall of the House of Usher. (In November 2009 Opéra Français de New York presented the enhanced remains.) Besides enjoying idylls in Jersey and Eastbourne with Emma Bardac, whom he married in 1908, Debussy hired an English governess for his daughter and was a steadfast admirer of English art (Turner, Whistler, the Pre-Raphaelites, William Morris, Walter Crane, Aubrey Beardsley, Arthur Rackham), poetry (Keats, Shelley, Swinburne), literature (J.M. Barrie, Oscar Wilde, Dickens, and above all Shakespeare). The original role of Mélisande in his opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, belonged to Mary Garden, a Scottish soprano with a voice he had “secretly imagined — full of a sinking tenderness” who sang “with such artistry” as he “would never have believed possible.” Perhaps the most whimsical indication of the extent of his devotion to things English is in Volume Two of the Preludes, the one titled Hommage to S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C. [Perpetual President-Member Pickwick Club]. He also composed preludes based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Peter Pan.

“Ever Higher”

“Anywhere out of the world” was Debussy’s half-facetious response to one of the questions (“Where would you most like to live?”) on a printed questionnaire from February 1889 included as an appendix in the first volume of Lockspeiser’s biography. Among Debussy’s more earthly enjoyments: reading “while smoking complex cigars” (les tabacs compliqués), the color violet; Russian cooking; and coffee. His favorite fictional hero and heroine were Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Rosalind. His idea of happiness: “to love,” his motto “Ever higher.”

Twice married, Debussy had numerous affairs. Green-eyed Gabrielle Dupont, who can be seen in all her statuesque glory among the photographs in Lockspeiser’s book, attempted suicide when their ten-year relationship ended, and his first wife shot herself on the Place du Concorde after a letter from Debussy telling her that the marriage was over (she survived). That’s the composer’s 11-year-old daughter, Claude-Emma (Chouchou), sharing a picnic on the grass with her straw-hatted father in the photograph on the cover of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli’s 1988 recording of the Preludes. You can imagine something of the father-daughter relationship if you to go to “Debussy plays Debussy” on YouTube and listen as Debussy plays “Golliwog’s Cake-Walk,” from the Childrens Corner suite he wrote for Chouchou, whose smiles, he told a friend, “helped him overcome periods of black depression.” In a letter home, he writes of how sad he is “not to hear your songs and your laughter and all that noise which sometimes makes you an unbearable little person.” Before going into surgery in 1915, he tells his wife that she and Chouchou “are the only two beings who should prevent me from disappearing altogether.”

The Last Word

For Lockspeiser, Debussy’s child provides the most reliable eyewitness account of his death from cancer on March 25, 1918, as German artillery bombarded Paris. In a letter to her half-brother, she writes, “When I went back into the room Papa was sleeping and breathing regularly but in short breaths. He went on sleeping in this way until ten o’clock in the evening, and at this time, sweetly, angelically, he went to sleep for ever.” At the funeral, Chouchou did her best not to cry, for her distraught mother’s sake. “I saw him for the last time in that horrible box …. As I almost fell over I couldn’t kiss him.”

Chouchou herself had less than a year to live. Her death, during the diphteria epidemic, was thought to be due to an erroneous diagnosis.

Edward Lockspeiser’s biography was an invaluable resource that would not have been available but for the Princeton Public Library, which also had the Claudio Abbado Wiener Philarmonic recording of Pelléas et Mélisande, a hypnotic experience when listened to with headphones between midnight and three in the morning. I also consulted Debussy On Music, which I found at last year’s Bryn Mawr-Wellesley Book Sale. 


HER SWAN SONG: Playing the character of Emma Anderson, Whitney Houston sings her heart out in a Sunday church service. As it turns out, this was her last performance before her untimely death.

Emma Anderson (Whitney Houston) didn’t want her daughters to follow in her footsteps by having babies when they were teenagers, while squandering their future in the futile pursuit of celebrities and boys who wouldn’t respect them as women. That’s why the overprotective single mother is glad to be able to raise them in a middle class suburb of Detroit where she keeps them on the straight and narrow path by using a combination of Christianity and high moral standards.

All three of her daughters have inherited the ability to sing from their mother, a blessing they put to good use in the church choir every Sunday. However, the girls also have their own distinctive personalities and are yearning to express themselves.

Dolores (Tika Sumpter) has her mind set on attending medical school. Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) is a gifted composer who’s too shy to perform any of her ballads in public. However, Sister (Carmen Ejogo) is a confident extrovert who craves the limelight and the attention of men.

Consequently, it’s no surprise when Sister rebels and runs away from home, rather than abide by her mother’s restrictive house rules. She’s only been back in town for two months, but already has a couple of suitors competing for her hand  — Levi (Omari Hardwick), a penniless, perfect gentleman, and Satin (Mike Epps), a flashy, silky smooth operator.

Given Sister’s materialistic nature, it’s easy to guess that that she would be more interested in the attentions of Satin, a misogynist who has a dark side that hasn’t yet been revealed. Meanwhile, Sparkle starts dating Stix (Derek Luke) who encourages the talented sisters to form a trio and try and become superstars.

So unfolds Sparkle, a modern morality play with a sobering message made all the more telling because it’s Whitney Houston’s cinematic farewell. Several of her lines in the movie induce goose bumps, such as when she asks, “Was my life not enough of a cautionary tale for you?”

The film features standout performances from Whitney Houston and Carmen Ejogo, with Derek Luke and Mike Epps also appearing at their best. Jordin Sparks certainly holds her own when called upon to sing, but she doesn’t seem to be quite ready to handle the acting demands of a title role.

The movie is written and directed by the husband-wife team of Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, and is very loosely based on the 1976 musical of the same name; with the point of departure, the timeline, plot developments, and the score being tweaked for the overhaul. A must-see, if only for Whitney’s sentimental swan song and Carmen’s coming out party.

Excellent (***½). Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, drug use, smoking, mature themes, and domestic abuse. Running time: 116 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures.


The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center has sculpture by Jonathan Shor on view on the terrace through September 29. The Annual Members Show is in the Taplin Gallery September 8-29. The opening reception is September 8 from 4-6 p.m. For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, has “Expressions in Wood, Glass and Bamboo,” works by Charlie Katzenbach and Norine Kevolic, September 7-30. The opening reception is September 8, 4-7 p.m. Visit www.lambertvillearts.com.

Bernstein Gallery at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, has works by Negar Ahkami, Ghada Amer, Reza Farkhondeh, Zeina Barakeh, Ofri Cnaani, Parastou Forouhar, and Shadi Ghadirian as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project, through October 19.

Ellarslie, Trenton’s City Museum in Cadwalader Park, presents “Trenton Makes” through September 1. Works by local artists Mel Leipzig, Harry Naar, Jon Naar, Aubrey Kauffman, Leon Rainbow, and others are included. On August 26 at 2 p.m., a free gallery tour will be led by participating artists, to be followed at 3 p.m. by a workshop on the use of social media to promote and sell art. Call (609) 989-3632.

Firestone Library at Princeton University, has in its Milberg Gallery “Woodrow Wilson’s Journey to the White House,” through December 28. In Cotsen Children’s Library through September 30 is “Noah’s Art: Designing Arks for Children.”

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows “Sanctuary II” by Edward Greenblat, “A View of South Beach” by Martin Schwartz, and “Spiritual Places,” a group show by AgOra, September 8-October 7. The opening reception is on September 9, 1:30-3:30 p.m. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street, Cranbury, exhibits “All About the Birds,” the art of Necati Itez, through August 26.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, presents Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” installed in the new East Gallery through February 15. Artists displayed in other GFS galleries through September include Sharon Engelsein, Willie Cole, and Marilyn Keating. See www.grounds
forsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton, Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display through September 15. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton shows sculpture by Nancy Cohen and ceramics by Bill Macholdt through September 9. Visit www.hunterdonartmuseum.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has a permanent exhibit, “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements,” featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “To Stir, Inform, and Inflame: The Art of Tony Auth” is on view through October 21. “I Look, I Listen: Works on Paper by Marlene Miller” is exhibited through October 14.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, is offering free admission this summer to all active military duty personnel and their families, through Labor Day. “Lynd Ward Draws Stories: Inspired by Mexico’s History, Mark Twain, and Adventures in the Woods” is on view through June 23, 2013. From September 4-January 6, “Art=Text=Art: Works by Contemporary Artists” will be on view, from the collection of drawing collectors Wynn and Sally Kramarsky. “In the Company of Women: Prints by Mary Cassatt” runs September 29-March 3.

Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, has works by artists Jananne Al-Ani, Fatima Al Qadari, Monira Al Qadari, Ofri Cnaani, Diana El Jeiroudi, Ayana Friedman, Ariane Litman, Ebru Ozsecen, Nil Yalter and Laila Shawa through September 9 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. Hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Morven Museum & Garden, in collaboration with the Arts Council of Princeton, presents “The Garden at Night: Photographs by Linda Rutenberg” through September 16. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

Mudd Manuscript Library at 65 Olden Street, Princeton University, is presenting “She Flourishes,” showcasing the history of women at Princeton, through August 31. The show documents the struggles and accomplishments of women associated with the University.

Outsider Art Gallery, 10 Bridge Street, Suite 4, Frenchtown, has a show of work by artists from the Canary Islands and England through November 1.

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton, is showing “Botanica Magnifica: Photographs by Jonathan Singer” through August 26.

Phillips’ Mill on River Road in New Hope, Pa. has issued a call for artists to participate in the 83rd Annual Juried Art Exhibition, to be held September 22-October 27. Works must be by a living artist and completed within the last five years. Submit work September 7, 2-7 p.m. and September 8, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Visit www.phillipsmill.org for applications.

Plainsboro Public Library, 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro, exhibits Ingrid Davis’s white-line woodcuts through August 31. Call (609) 275-2897.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents “The Activity of Form,” a photography exhibit by Laura McClanahan, Greg McGarvey, Barbara Osterman, and Larry Parsons, through September.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Encounters: Conflict, Dialogue, Discovery” through September 30. The show includes more than 60 works from the museum and private collections and mixes media, historical period and place of origin. “Root and Branch,” which explores the form of a tree in art and includes several art forms, runs through November 25. The Museum will install 12 sculptures by Ai Weiwei at Scudder Plaza, in front of Robertson Hall, through July 2013. Works by Parastou Forouhar, MonaHatoum, Sigalit Landau, Shirin Neshat and Laila Shawa are on view through January 13 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Quiet Life Gallery, 17 North Main Street, Lambertville, shows “Fearless Fighters’ Portraits” by Elise Dodeles through September 30. Visit www.quietlifegallery.com.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has an exhibit called “The Future is Female 2.0” through the month of September.

South Brunswick Arts Commission seeks applicants for “Places of Our Lives,” a juried exhibit open to central Jersey artists in all media except photography, for an exhibit October 9-January 13 at The Gallery in South Brunswick Municipal Building, Monmouth Junction. Applications are due Friday, September 7, on disk or email. Visit www.SBAarts.org or call (732) 329-4000 ext. 7635.

Stover Mill Gallery, 852 River Road, Erwinna, Pa., will have “Brush and Chisel,” paintings and sculpture by Christine McHugh and Ron Bevilacqua, September 1-23. The opening reception is September 9, 1-5 p.m. meet the artists September 15. Visit cmartworkson
line.com or call (215) 804-5612.

Straube Center, Route 31 and Franklin Avenue, Pennington, presents “The Inception of an Era” through August 31. Works in all media are by artists who have graduated from colleges and universities within the past five years. Visit www.straubecenter.com.

West Windsor Arts Center Gallery, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, will show “Pantyhose, Wire, Brushstrokes & Lens” through August 31. This is work by teaching artists and faculty of the arts center. Gallery hours are Wednesday-Friday, 12-6 p.m. Visit www.westwindsorarts.org.

August 15, 2012

If I were asked to choose a film that would justify the existence of Hollywood, I think it would be “Rio Bravo.”

—Robin Wood in
Howard Hawks (1968)

“One of the most purely pleasurable films ever made,” says Dave Kehr of Howard Hawks’s 1959 western Rio Bravo in a recent New York Times round-up of metropolitan area film fare. Kehr is absolutely right, though some may find the choice of words problematic. How does one find pure pleasure in a picture that begins with a drunk groveling for money in a spittoon and goes on from there to a beating that causes the mindless murder of the man who intervened? Then there’s the lethal mayhem that results when the jailed killer’s wealthy brother hires a small army to liberate him. The joys of Rio Bravo, however, have less to do with gunfire and violent death than with the enlightened direction of Howard Hawks and the embattled camaraderie of a group of unlikely heroes led by John Wayne as Sheriff John T. Chance.

Whatever the genre — western, gangster, film noir, newspaper, war, musical, screwball, or romantic comedy — pictures directed by Hawks belong at or near the top of the list, and if anything demonstrates the massive insult to cinematic intelligence that is the American Film Institute’s ranking of the 100 Best Films, it’s the fact that Bringing Up Baby is the only work by Hawks that made the list (and barely, at that). Worse yet, High Noon (1952) is ranked 27th while its hands-down superior, Rio Bravo, the picture that one of the most intelligent and literate writers on film, the late Robin Wood (1931-2009), put at the top of his death-bed list of great films, didn’t even crack the almighty 100.

The Anti-High Noon

John Wayne once called High Noon “the most un-American thing” he’d ever seen. While he’s referring to the fact that it was written by Carl Foreman, a black-listed ex-communist, and produced by Stanley Kramer, a liberal, Wayne also shares Hawks’s thought: “I made Rio Bravo because I didn’t like High Noon. Neither did Duke. I didn’t think a good town marshal was going to run around town like a chicken with his head cut off asking everyone to help. And who saves him? His Quaker wife.”

Hawks is talking about characters played by Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. The idea of an “un-American movie” with a steady, stalwart American icon running around in it like a “chicken with his head cut off” is ridiculous, as Hawks would no doubt agree, if he’d had a chance to reword what he was saying. For Robin Wood, High Noon is “the archetypal ‘Oscar’ film,” the product of three men (director Fred Zinneman, writer Carl Foreman, and producer Stanley Kramer) “whose work has been characterized by those Good Intentions with which we understand the road to hell to be paved. Mental intentions [Wood’s italics], not emotional or intuitive intentions: intentions of the conscious, willing mind, not of the whole man.” According to Wood, the emotional and intuitive wholeness that High Noon lacks is what makes Rio Bravo superior “as a record of lived and felt experience.”

The Moment

“In films, what everyone is striving for is to produce moments,” James Stewart told an audience at the British Film Theatre in 1972. “Not a performance, not a characterization, not something where you get into the part — you produce moments.”

Rio Bravo is full of choice moments like the ones in which Angie Dickinson’s card sharp, Feathers, sexually disarms John Wayne, the seemingly implacable “tower-of-strength” she affectionately, half-teasingly calls John T. And there are fractured moments as swift and subtle as the range of looks — compassionate, disappointed, proud — the sheriff gives the recovering-alcoholic Dude (movingly played by Dean Martin) as he falters, begins to find only to lose himself, and finally shows signs of pulling himself together.

There is one moment, one sequence, that particularly illuminates “the lived and felt experience” Wood refers to when comparing the virtues of Rio Bravo with the limitations of High Noon. It also happens to be the sequence most often cited by people like those responsible for the AFI list as evidence that Rio Bravo is unworthy of serious consideration. When the news got round that the terminally ill Robin Wood ranked Hawk’s western at the top of his final Top Ten, the reaction was disbelieving and scornful. A typically sloppy reaction (from a film blog called hollywood-elsewhere) begins, “What is that? You’re about to leave the earth and meet the monolith and the greatest film you can think of is Rio Bravo? A zero-story-tension hangin’ movie that constantly subjects viewers to screechy-voiced Walter Brennan, and which features the very soft-spoken, adolescent-voiced Ricky Nelson singing a duet with Dean Martin?” A similarly patronizing if somewhat less klutzy response comes from Wood’s hometown newspaper, the Toronto Star, two months after his death in December 2009: “John Wayne plays a small-town sheriff who rounds up a drunk (Martin), a punk kid (Nelson), and a raspy codger (Brennan) to battle bad guys who are threatening his town …. Pop stars Martin and Nelson crooned together on the sappy ditty, ‘My Rifle, My Pony and Me.’”

The “sappy ditty” and the way it simply, nicely happens is the point at which I bonded with Rio Bravo. People with a biased or limited view of what “art” is supposed to be instantly write off the singing scene as a crass attempt to exploit two pop stars whose presence is intended to bolster the box office: Dino, the forever sloshed Las Vegas Rat Pack crooner, and Ozzie and Harriet’s Ricky, America’s favorite kid brother and 1959’s latest Teen Idol.

For a start, no one “croons” in this scene. Martin’s Dude is on his back smoking a cigarette, his hat brim down over his eyes, when he starts to quietly sing, and as he does, it’s as if he’s making the song up, feeling it, as he goes along. Nelson, as a young gunfighter called Colorado, warms to the song and the singing with a smile from the heart, strums his guitar, and at a nod from Dude takes the next chorus while Stumpy, the “screech-voiced Walter Brennan” plays the harmonica and Wayne looks on, a tin cup of coffee in his hand, smiling, simply enjoying the harmonious spontaneity of the moment, like a stand-in for the audience, or that part of it not predisposed to dismiss the scene as Hollywood hype.

In fact, Hollywood is exactly what’s happening, and the rousing song that follows (“Get Along Home Cindy”) brings everything closer to the terms of Wood’s claim that Rio Bravo “justifies the existence of Hollywood” because “The whole of Hawks is immediately behind it, and the whole tradition of the western, and behind that is Hollywood itself.” Three generations of performers covering a span of 30 years in the saga of American popular culture are coming together in, to use Wood’s words, “a bond of fellow-feeling through the shared experience of the music.”

And what makes the moment, this shared sense of the world in a fine balance, all the more precious is the presence of the killer in the adjoining cell waiting for the invading force of his brother’s hired guns to set him free and destroy his jailers and anyone else who gets in the way. For the duration of the song, this family of men is sheltered from the dead zone of the outside world in the timeless confines of a Hawks continuum of other moments, like aglow-with-love Lauren Bacall singing “How Little We Know” to Bogart in To Have and Have Not, or Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn singing “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” to an appreciative leopard; or Humphrey Bogart having the time of his life posing as a nerdy bibliophile in The Big Sleep. For Wood, this four-minute scene in Rio Bravo “is perhaps the best expression in Hawks’s work of the spontaneous-intuitive sympathy which he makes so important as the basis of human relations.”

Other Moments

Admitted, there are times early on when Rio Bravo seems slow and stagey and you’re tempted to urge the actors to get on with it. And Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez as the effusive Mexican hotelier is borderline (no pun intended) embarrassing. And Ricky is (just as well) no Brando or even Steve McQueen. And yes, Walter Brennan may grate on the nerves, but he too has a life in the larger culture, not only as Grandpa Amos McCoy in the sitcom, The Real McCoys, but as Bogart’s alcoholic sidekick in To Have and Have Not. Then there’s the mannered, edgily charming performance of Angie Dickinson, whose moves occasionally suggest the quirky body language of Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall 15 years down the road.

There is much much more to be said about Rio Bravo, though the most articulate and intelligent discussion I know of is in Robin Wood’s 1968 book, and the most succinct is in Garry Giddins’s collection of reviews, Warning Shadows, which ends with Dude and Stumpy  “strolling into the fantasy world of incandescent Hollywood, where everyone ends up content and whole.”


The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center has sculpture by Jonathan Shor on view on the terrace through September 29. For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

Bernstein Gallery at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, has works by Negar Ahkami, Ghada Amer, Reza Farkhondeh, Zeina Barakeh, Ofri Cnaani, Parastou Forouhar, and Shadi Ghadirian as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project, August 20-October 19.

Firestone Library at Princeton University, has in its Milberg Gallery “Woodrow Wilson’s Journey to the White House,” through December 28. In Cotsen Children’s Library through September 30 is “Noah’s Art: Designing Arks for Children.”

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows “Sanctuary II” by Edward Greenblat, “A View of South Beach” by Martin Schwartz, and “Spiritual Places,” a group show by AgOra, September 8-October 7. The opening reception is September 9, 1:30-3:30 p.m. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street, Cranbury, exhibits “All About the Birds,” the art of Necati Itez, through August 26.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, presents Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” installed in the new East Gallery through February 15. Artists displayed in other GFS galleries through September include Sharon Engelstein, Willie Cole, and Marilyn Keating. See www.grounds
forsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display through September 15. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton shows sculpture by Nancy Cohen and ceramics by Bill Macholdt through September 9. Visit www.hunterdonartmuseum.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has a permanent exhibit, “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements,” featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “To Stir, Inform, and Inflame: The Art of Tony Auth” is on view through October 21. “I Look, I Listen: Works on Paper by Marlene Miller” is exhibited through October 14.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, is offering free admission this summer to all active military duty personnel and their families, through Labor Day. “Lynd Ward Draws Stories: Inspired by Mexico’s History, Mark Twain, and Adventures in the Woods” is on view through June 23, 2013. From September 4-January 6, “Art=Text=Art: Works by Contemporary Artists” will be on view, from the collection of drawing collectors Wynn and Sally Kramarsky.

Joan Perkes Fine Art Gallery, 202 North Union Street, Lambertville, has the First Annual Works on Paper Show through August 17. Call (609) 460-4708 for more information.

Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, has works by artists Jananne Al-Ani, Fatima Al Qadari, Monira Al Qadari, Ofri Cnaani, Diana El Jeiroudi, Ayana Friedman, Ariane Litman, Ebru Ozsecen, Nil Yalter and Laila Shawa  through September 9 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. Hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Morven Museum & Garden, presents “The Garden at Night: Photographs by Linda Rutenberg” through September 16. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Tours are on the hour. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

Mudd Manuscript Library at 65 Olden Street, Princeton University, is presenting “She Flourishes,” showcasing the history of women at Princeton, through August 31. The show documents the struggles and accomplishments of women associated with the University.

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton, is showing “Botanica Magnifica: Photographs by Jonathan Singer” through August 26.

Phillips’ Mill on River Road in New Hope, Pa. has issued a call for artists to participate in the 83rd Annual Juried Art Exhibition, to be held September 22-October 27. Works must be by a living artist and completed within the last five years. Submit work September 7, 2-7 p.m. and September 8, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Visit www.phillipsmill.org for applications.

Plainsboro Public Library, 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro, exhibits Ingrid Davis’s white-line woodcuts through August 31. Call (609) 275-2897.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents “The Activity of Form,” a photography exhibit by Laura McClanahan, Greg McGarvey, Barbara Osterman, and Larry Parsons, through September.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Encounters: Conflict, Dialogue, Discovery” through September 30. The show includes more than 60 works from the museum and private collections and mixes media, historical period and place of origin. “Root and Branch,” which explores the form of a tree in art and includes several art forms, runs through November 25. The Museum will install 12 sculptures by Ai Weiwei at Scudder Plaza, in front of Robertson Hall, through July 2013. Works by Parastou Forouhar, Mona Hatoum, Sigalit Landau, Shirin Neshat, and Laila Shawa are on view August 18-January 13 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Quiet Life Gallery, 17 North Main Street, Lambertville, shows “Fearless Fighters’ Portraits” by Elise Dodeles through September 30. Visit www.quietlifegallery.com.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has an exhibit called “The Future is Female 2.0” through the month of September.

Spring Street Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, 4th floor, New York, shows “Trenton Makes,” the Trenton Artists Workshop Association’s Visual Art Exhibition, through August 18. Works by Mel Leipzig, Jon Naar, Aubrey Kauffman, Leon Rainbow, Linda Osborne, Elizabeth Aubrey, and others are included. On August 19 from 1-4 p.m., a talk with painters Harry Naar and Mel Leipzig and photographer Jon Naar, all of whom have works on display, will be held. Call (646) 230-0246 for information.

Stover Mill Gallery, 852 River Road, Erwinna, Pa., will have “Brush and Chisel,” paintings and sculpture by Christine McHugh and Ron Bevilacqua, September 1-23. The opening reception is September 9, 1-5 p.m. meet the artists September 15. Visit cmartworkson
line.com or call (215) 804-5612.

Straube Center, Route 31 and Franklin Avenue, Pennington, presents “The Inception of an Era” through August 31. Works in all media are by artists who have graduated from colleges and universities within the past five years. Visit www.straubecenter.com.

West Windsor Arts Center Gallery, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, will show “Pantyhose, Wire, Brushstrokes & Lens” through August 31. This is work by teaching artists and faculty of the arts center. Gallery hours are Wednesday-Friday, 12-6 p.m. Visit www.westwindsorarts.org.

I THINK I’D RATHER BE KISSING BABIES: The incumbent congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell, center) is desperately seeking votes by appearing at a meeting of a religious sect of evangelists who handle rattlesnakes as part of their religious services.

If you’ve been looking for a comedy film that is a refreshing alternative to all the kiddie movies and summer blockbusters currently at the megaplexes, your wait is over. And what could be more timely than a picture about dirty tricks being employed during a cutthroat political campaign?

The Campaign was directed by Jay Roach, best known for making Meet the Parents and the Austin Powers trilogy. The movie stars Will Ferrell as Cam Brady, a popular North Carolina congressman who’s running unopposed for his fifth term in office until an embarrassing sexual peccadillo becomes public knowledge.

That blunder opens the door for an opponent like Marty Higgins (Zach Galifianakis) to enter the race. He is being bankrolled by a couple of very wealthy businessman, Glen (John Lithgow) and Wade Motch (Dan Aykroyd), who are sleazy, power-hungry brothers.

Bragging about being “candidate creators” more than “job creators,” the Motch brothers chose naïve Marty because he’s so malleable. Behind the scenes, they orchestrate a complete overhaul of Marty’s image with the help of a no-nonsense campaign manager (Dylan McDermott).

Brady soon realizes that he’s in the fight of his political life, as both sides resort to increasingly devious tactics in order to win on election day. For instance, we find Marty wearing what he calls a “Yamaha” on his head during services at a synagogue, while Cam sings in the gospel choir of a black Baptist Church and plays with rattlesnakes in order to curry favor with a congregation of serpent-handling evangelists.

Despite his best efforts, Brady continues to sabotage his own campaign at every turn, whether by accidentally punching a baby and a puppy, or by being caught having en flagrante dalliance with a supporter. When the polls indicate that the tide is turning decisively in Marty’s favor, the question becomes will he be a puppet of the Motch brothers or choose to do what’s best for his district, thereby alienating the Motch pair.

Will Ferrell’s over-the-top approach to Cam serves as the perfect counterpoint to Zach Galifianakis’ subdued interpretation of Marty. The film also features several inspired support performances, most notably from Dylan McDermott and Jason Sudeikis as the devious campaign managers, and Karen Maruyama as an Asian housekeeper.

Throw in amusing cameos by a string of political pundits like Bill Maher, Wolf Blitzer, Chris Matthews, Piers Morgan, Joe Scarborough, Lawrence O’Donnell, Willie Geist, Mika Brezinski, Ed Schultz, and Dennis Miller, and you’ve got the makings for a bona fide election year hit. Ferrell and Galifianakis hit their stride as the funniest candidates money can buy!

Excellent (***½). Rated R for profanity, sexuality, nudity, and crude humor. Running time: 97 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers


August 8, 2012

As I now move, graciously, I hope, toward the door marked Exit, it occurs to me that the only thing I ever really liked to do was go to the movies.

—Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

The first sentence of Gore Vidal’s Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir 1964-2006 (Doubleday 2006) appears disarmingly contrary to the obituaries presenting him as an elegant elitist who made his mark less as a novelist (he wrote 25) and essayist (some 20 collections) than as a caustic, combative public intellectual. The New York Times suggests he was “at the end of his life, an Augustan figure who believed himself to be the last of a breed.” In England, the Guardian obituary, written by Vidal’s executor Jay Parini, describes “a controversialist and politician manqué … celebrated both for his caustic wit and his mandarin’s poise.”

While there’s no denying Gore Vidal was thought of — and thought of himself — in those terms, the fact is that he chose to begin what, at this writing, has proven to be his swan song by declaring that the only thing he “really liked to do was go to the movies.” On July 31 — where else but in Hollywood? — he reached the door marked Exit.

As anyone who has read Vidal or seen him on television over the years surely knows, “the only thing” claim is disingenuous. He obviously “really liked” being in the limelight among the luminaries he’s sharing photos with in Point to Point Navigation, in a previous volume of memoirs, Palimpsest (1995), and in Snapshots in History’s Glare (2009), a book of 360 photographs. He also “really liked,” at least intermittently, reading, writing, politics, travel, and feeling at home in the world, whether living longterm in the Hollywood Hills, in his villa La Rondinaia in Ravello, or Edgewater on the Hudson in Barrytown, or in, among other locales, Rome, Paris, Bangkok, London, or Washington, D.C., which is where he grew up, bonding with the cinema in the various theaters fondly remembered in Chapter Four of Point to Point Navigation.

The use of a commonplace crutch word like “really” underscores Vidal’s primal enthusiasm for movies. As he’s quick to add, “Sex and Art took precedence over cinema but neither ever proved to be as dependable as the filtering of present light through that moving strip of celluloid which projects past images and voices onto a screen.” While he admits to being “a compulsive reader from the age of six,” he goes on to say that he was “so besotted with movies” that one Saturday he saw five “in a day.” Several pages farther on in Point to Point Navigation, the patrician intellectual of the obituaries confesses, “what I really wanted to be was a movie star: specifically, I wanted to be Mickey Rooney, and to play Puck, as he had done in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

A Letter from Edgewater

The Gore Vidal I knew best, in a manner of speaking, is the author of the early novels. Not yet famous, not yet a television presence or sophisticated media player, this is Vidal before the historical novels that began with Julian in 1964, Vidal before Myra Breckenridge in 1968, Vidal before he locked horns with Norman Mailer and William F. Buckley.

“I have started your book,” the handwritten four-page note with the Edgewater letterhead begins, “which looks remarkably — I might even say enviably — well-written considering its author’s age (a patronizing note I like to strike now that I am safely past that business).”

I was 20 and thought of Vidal as another, older “young writer” who had published his first novel at 21. He was a few weeks short of his 34th birthday when I sent him a copy of my aptly titled first novel, Let Me Be Awake. Until I discovered eight of his books in a bookstore rental library that was going out of business, I didn’t know anything about him beyond the fact that he’d written a hit play called Visit To a Small Planet. The unlikely discovery of these novels I’d never heard of, all in their original dustjackets, gave them a certain charisma. Since they were only 25 cents each, I bought all eight.

“I mean, of course,” the letter continues, referring to my still-wet-behind-the-ears novel of a midwestern innocent emotionally shipwrecked in the Evil East, “it is most well-written and, as far as I’ve got, has that flow, that sense of the thing held whole in a fine consciousness which is literature.”

I’ve added italics to indicate the impact that this elegant, Jamesian sentence had on someone who was only beginning to figure out the difference between a metaphor and a simile. I should have thought, “Is he kidding?” I should have been wondering just how far he’d actually “got” in a narrative that didn’t really lift off until the protagonist went to New York. “I have started … as far as I’ve got …” Like maybe as far as page two? But who was I to question such eloquence? Reading on, I found that, as I’d anticipated, he was pleased to hear my “kind words” about his early novels. “I can only marvel that you found them! There are times when I think I dreamed them all — since all are out of print except for occasional paperback reprints — I am now the subject of obscure master theses on the novel of the 40s, or what went wrong?” He then assured me, “I have not given up prose — I just went into the trade (i.e. drama) for a few years to make money.”

The letter ends with a facetious coda, a Gore Vidal moment true to the urbane wit described in the obituaries: “I hope you will order your life better; one way — perhaps the only honorable way — is to marry money.”

Sexual Orientation

Having read Vidal’s groundbreaking 1948 best-seller The City and the Pillar shortly before receiving his letter, I knew something of the author’s sexual orientation. I did not know, however, that at the time of the writing, he was already nine years into his 53-year relationship with Howard Auster, who, because he couldn’t land a job on Madison Avenue with a Jewish last name, took Vidal’s advice, changed Auster to Austen, and joined the Mad Men. I should also mention here that Vidal’s sensitive account of the illness and death of his longtime partner in Point to Point Navigation is another facet of his character at odds with the “cool and detached” obituary stereotype.

On the subject of The City and the Pillar, Vidal claims in his memoir that “the most powerful reviewer of the day,” the New York Times’s Orville Prescott, was so repelled by the mere idea of a novel portraying “a love affair between two ‘normal’ male athletes” that he not only refused to review it, but imposed a personal embargo: he would “never again read —  much less review” anything by Gore Vidal.

While The City and the Pillar reads like the work of a writer who had yet to find the voice he found four years later in his seventh novel, The Judgment of Paris, it remains the book of Vidal’s that made the strongest impression on me, if only because, in its unaffected, straightforward, sometimes plodding way, it opened my eyes to my own clueless perception of “gays” (a term Vidal despised).

It Got Ugly 

As much as I’ve enjoyed Gore Vidal’s essays and reviews over the years, I’ve read very little of his middle and late-period fiction. I found it hard to get into the spirit of literary tour de forces like Myra Breckenridge (1968), and his series of novels recreating American history never attracted me. The writer who had my attention was his arch rival (and at times mortal enemy) Norman Mailer, who was able impose his own style of novelistic excitement on real-life events such as the Democratic conventions of 1960 and 1968. While Vidal was on television going nastily one-on-one with William F. Buckley, Mailer was making literary history. The Gore Vidal I connected with was the young novelist of the 1950s, not the celebrity of the talk show feuds. Even though I was on his side most of the time, I found it hard to relate to the polished, sneering cynic trading insults with William F. Buckley. I never found those television skirmishes, including the ones with Mailer, amusing. I prefer writer-to-writer encounters like the famous one-night stand starring Vidal and Jack Kerouac, who presented a discreetly muddled version in his novel The Subterraneans, wherein Vidal becomes Arial Lavalina. A more graphic account of this literary tryst can be found in Fred Kaplan’s biography, Gore Vidal (1999).

On the Afterlife

One of the films in Point to Point Navigation that Vidal singles out for special mention during his “first and most vivid moviegoing phase” (from 1932 to 1939, age from 7 to 14) is The Mummy, with a lethally scary Boris Karloff in the title role. When Vidal saw the film again for the first time in 58 years, he “became, suddenly, seven years old again, mouth ajar,” as he inhabited, “simultaneously, both ancient Egypt and pre-imperial Washington, D.C.” Speculating on the movie’s appeal beyond “the charnel horror,” he observes that “any confirmation that life continues after death has an appeal to almost everyone except enlightened Buddhists.” In the next chapter, after meditating at length on The Prince and the Pauper, another Hollywood film that captured his imagination some four years later (“I wanted to be the identical twin boys … I wanted to be myself twice”), Vidal admits that “Like most children,” he used to “imagine what death must be like. But unlike most, I had no belief, or even interest in an afterlife.” Nevertheless, he sees fit to acknowledge “the notion of images impressed on celluloid” providing “a spurious sense of immortality, as does, indeed, the notion that those light rays which record our images will keep on bending about the universe forever.”

In the end, Vidal, the afterlife-denying novelist overrules Vidal, the moviegoer. “There are those who find comfort in such concepts,” he writes. “I don’t.”


Musical events in Princeton always draw a good crowd. Free musical evenings are guaranteed to draw an even better crowd, and such was the case last Tuesday night when a free concert of British string orchestral music was presented in Princeton University Chapel. Announced as a “gift to the Princeton community from Bill and Judith Scheide,” this concert featured late 19th and early 20th-century music suitable for the venue in which it was performed.

The University Chapel is not often used for orchestral music, and while lush choral passages often get lost in the vast Gothic arches, it was remarkable how clean the instrumental sound was. Conductor Mark Laycock, leading a chamber orchestra of local professionals, clearly had a sense of how to work the acoustics so that even the lightest pizzicato from the double basses could be heard in the back of the hall.

The repertoire selected by Mr. Laycock was among the more substantial from British orchestral composers, full of expansive lines and broad orchestral strokes. There was no raised platform in the chapel for the performers, so only those in the front or on the aisles could see well; for many in the audience this was music which would wash over them, however no details were lost in the process. Mr. Laycock conducted with sweeping gestures to bring out grandeur, especially in the two pieces of Sir Edward Elgar. The instrumentalists, led by concertmistress Kimberly Fisher, played decisively from the start, with the hall providing plenty of acoustical room for the sound. String rhythms could clearly be heard, with clean scales in the Allegro of Elgar’s Opus 47 Introduction and Allegro. The Introduction included a lyrical viola solo, gracefully played by Sarah Sutton. Throughout the long first selection of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, the orchestral sound was well-nuanced, with the pizzicatti especially well heard.

English music of this period is known for its tunefulness, heard in this performance in the music of Peter Warlock and Gustav Holst. In a concert of all string music, tunes can make a difference, and this ensemble was successful in finding the lilt and supple flow in Warlock’s Serenade. Holst’s music can be chipper as well as melodic, and the Air from his Brook Green Suite in particular captured the lute character of 16th-century English music. John Ireland’s Minuet from A Downland Suite moved the evening into a lighter mood, with the orchestra capturing an English countryside feel through graceful upbeats and accents and clean pizzicatti from the double basses. This piece ended with particular charm as the music delicately faded away. The orchestra found a different musical character in Gerald Finzi’s Romance, a piece full of suspensions and contrasts. Mr. Laycock worked to pull the sound through the melancholy yet peaceful ebb and flow of the piece, with Ms. Fisher’s violin solo blending well with the rest of the ensemble.

Mr. Laycock closed the concert with what may have been the most familiar piece — Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. By moving part of the orchestra back in the chancel, Mr. Laycock was able to create a fuller sound, with the especially rich tune in the lower strings. The second orchestra back by the altar was able to achieve an echo effect, contrasted by melodic solos from Ms. Fisher, Ms. Sutton, and cellist Adrian Daurov.

This concert was the Scheides’ gift to the Princeton community, and informality was the word for the evening. People came in a wide variety of summer dress, at times meditating on the music and at times browsing through electronic devices to read to a rich musical accompaniment. Despite this concert being the tail-end of a busy summer musical season in Princeton, the chapel was full, and the evening’s experience included some of the best orchestral playing heard all year in the area.


COURTSHIP AND CONFLICT: Lili (Sarah Paton) and Nick (Andrew Massey) meet and fall in love — it’s 1960, summertime, a lake in the Catskills — but that’s just the beginning of their problems in Princeton Summer Theater’s season finale, Richard Greenberg’s melancholy comedy “The American Plan,” playing at The Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through August 12.

In the closing moments of Princeton Summer Theater’s (PST) moving, captivating production of The American Plan, Lili and Nick look back on a romantic relationship that could have been and recall the words of a lullaby that Lili’s mother Eva used to sing: “Happiness exists, but it’s for other people.”

Those words capture the tone of this play and the worldview that it presents. Under the intelligent, inspired direction of Daniel Rattner, The American Plan (1990) by Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out, 2003) provides a multi-layered, beautifully designed finale to Princeton Summer Theater’s outstanding 2012 season.

Set in 1960 at a summer house in the Catskills, The American Plan takes place in a world delicately balanced between hopes and fears of past and future. Her transistor radio plays Bobby Darin’s “Somewhere Beyond the Sea,” as the troubled, 20-year-old Lili (Sarah Paton) dreams of a prince who will come to carry her away from her humdrum, privileged life and her domineering mother.

Right on schedule, as the lights rise on the opening scene, Nick (Andrew Massey), handsome WASP interloper in this Jewish enclave, looking “like nothing ever happened to you,” emerges from the lake where he has been swimming and greets Lili. She is reading on the patio of their house across the lake from the Catskills resort where Nick is staying. A writer and aspiring architect who dreams of creating a new city, Nick describes to Lili “the American Plan” (a hotel package deal that includes three meals a day, but in Nick’s mind and in the author’s title of the play, a metaphor for a disturbed, self-indulgent slice of mid-20th century American society): “What Americans live like that? What Americans eat like this? The breakfasts and the lunches and the dinners and the coffees and the teas and the snacks and the hardly-any-exercise in-between…”

All five characters in this play are outcasts, misfits in a world on the cusp of change. Lili’s mother Eva (Maeve Brady), a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, a wealthy widow with her Central Park West apartment and her summer house in the Catskills, looks down on the Jewish resort community and views life with pessimism and suspicion. “The world has a wish for you,” she warns her daughter, “and it’s never good.” Two supporting characters, Olivia (Miyuki Miyagi), Eva and Lili’s maid and caretaker, and Gil (Evan Thompson), who suddenly appears in the second of two acts, are also set apart from the mainstream of society.

As the plot advances, Nick and Lili’s relationship develops, and complications proliferate. Lili is deceitful, bitter and acerbic, edgy and unstable, subject to panic attacks, desperate to find romance and escape from her mother’s tyrannical control, yet inextricably attached and dependent. Nick also hides truths about his life, which Eva relentlessly proceeds to uncover. This prince is not exactly what he first appears to be.

The chemistry between Lili and Nick is strong, the love is apparent, the romance and the possibilities for happiness are rich and promising. But the vicissitudes of life, the workings of the human psyche and well-intentioned (or not) interventions by Eva and others ensure that this is not to be the fairy tale story that Lili and Nick envision.

PST’s polished, intelligent production brings out the nuances in these complex relationships. Mr. Rattner’s pacing moves the plot along effectively, and slows down, particularly as the lights linger at the end of each scene, to engage the audience in the troubled thoughts and yearnings of these struggling characters. Jeffrey Van Velsor’s set and Alex Mannix’s delicate, evocative lighting create the mood of this world with its pensive inhabitants and its mix of romance and melancholy.

The set — wicker patio furniture, a weathered Adirondack chair, greying boards (like a wharf, or the side of a beach house) for the backdrop — reinforces the wistful mood of the play. A clever, creative transformation for the final scene moves to Eva and Lili’s dark, well-appointed New York apartment ten years later, with political protests raging outside; on the back wall a large flag made of faded jeans stitched together signifies a new phase in the history of the country and in the lives of the play’s protagonists. Production values here and throughout the PST season have been thoroughly professional, first-rate.

As the romantic couple at the play’s core, Ms. Paton and Mr. Massey are appealing and strikingly credible. Both young actors are experienced members of the PST Company, have starred in previous shows this summer, and display significant versatility here in progressing through the many mood shifts of these two characters. From the mannerisms of the attitudinal, sharp-tongued girl of the opening scenes to the more serious and mature adult of the later scenes, Ms. Paton’s Lili grows increasingly convincing and sympathetic. Mr. Massey is charming and conflicted — in character and believable from start to finish. It is not hard to see why these two would quickly fall in love with each other, and why that passionate attachment would cause endless problems for each.

Ms. Brady’s domineering maternal presence as Eva is a strong characterization, unquestionably capable of commanding the stage and the other figures in the play — another credible portrayal despite what seems like a possibly excessive fifty-year age stretch. Ms. Brady’s German accent is effective, but occasionally needs to be clearer in order to communicate this character’s many clever and caustic observations.

Ms. Miyagi and Mr. Thompson provide intelligent, skillful support, detailed and on target in their three-dimensional character delineations.

As director of this production and artistic director of Princeton Summer Theater 2012, Daniel Rattner observes in his program note, “The American Plan is a fitting end to our season because it, somewhat literally, explores what happens at summer’s end — when we are forced to leave a time that feels idle and promising and return to the real world, with its … constant complications.” Fitting, indeed, with its elegiac, end-of-summer shadows and its thought-provoking studies in character and relationships — it’s a worthy conclusion to a rewarding, diverse, and impressively successful 2012 season.


The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center has sculpture by Jonathan Shor on view on the terrace through September 29. For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

Bernstein Gallery at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, has works by Negar Ahkami, Ghada Amer, Reza Farkhondeh, Zeina Barakeh, Ofri Cnaani, Parastou Forouhar, and Shadi Ghadirian as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project, August 20-October 19.

Dalet Gallery, 141 N. Second Street, Philadelphia, hosts “Made in Princeton,” with works from members of the Princeton Artist Alliance and the Princeton Photography Club, through August 13. Hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Visit www.dalealert.com.

Firestone Library at Princeton University, has in its Milberg Gallery “Woodrow Wilson’s Journey to the White House,” through December 28. In Cotsen Children’s Library through September 30 is “Noah’s Art: Designing Arks for Children.”

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows the third annual Juried Photographic Exhibition through August 11. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street, Cranbury, exhibits “All About the Birds,” the art of Necati Itez, through August 26.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, presents Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” installed in the new East Gallery through February 15. Artists displayed in other GFS galleries through September include Sharon Engelsein, Willie Cole, and Marilyn Keating. See www.grounds
forsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display through September 15. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton shows sculpture by Nancy Cohen and ceramics by Bill Macholdt through September 9. Visit www.hunterdonartmuseum.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has a permanent exhibit, “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements,” featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, is on view through August 10. “To Stir, Inform, and Inflame: The Art of Tony Auth” is on view through October 21. “I Look, I Listen: Works on Paper by Marlene Miller” is exhibited through October 14.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, is offering free admission this summer to all active military duty personnel and their families, through Labor Day. “Lynd Ward Draws Stories: Inspired by Mexico’s History, Mark Twain, and Adventures in the Woods” is on view through June 23, 2013. From September 4-January 6, “Art=Text=Art: Works by Contemporary Artists” will be on view, from the collection of drawing collectors Wynn and Sally Kramarsky.

Joan Perkes Fine Art Gallery, 202 North Union Street, Lambertville, has the First Annual Works on Paper Show through August 17. Call (609) 460-4708 for more information.

Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, has works by artists Jananne Al-Ani, Fatima Al Qadiri, Monira Al Qadiri, Ofri Cnaani, Diana El Jeiroudi, Ayana Friedman, Ariane Litman, Ebru Ozsecen, Nil Yalter and Laila Shawa from August 13-September 9 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. Hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Morven Museum & Garden, in collaboration with the Arts Council of Princeton, presents “The Garden at Night: Photographs by Linda Rutenberg” through September 16. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

Mudd Manuscript Library at 65 Olden Street, Princeton University, is presenting “She Flourishes,” showcasing the history of women at Princeton, through August 31. The show documents the struggles and accomplishments of women associated with the University.

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton, is showing “Botanica Magnifica: Photographs by Jonathan Singer” through August 26.

Phillips’ Mill on River Road in New Hope, Pa. has issued a call for artists to participate in the 83rd Annual Juried Art Exhibition, to be held September 22-October 27. Works must be by a living artist and completed within the last five years. Submit work September 7, 2-7 p.m. and September 8, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Visit www.phillipsmill.org for applications.

Plainsboro Public Library, 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro, is hosting an art reception for printmaker Ingrid Davis on Sunday, August 12 from 2-4 p.m. The artist will be on hand to discuss the special technique of white-line woodcuts. Her work is on view through August 31. Call (609) 275-2897.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents “The Activity of Form,” a photography exhibit by Laura McClanahan, Greg McGarvey, Barbara Osterman, and Larry Parsons, through September.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Encounters: Conflict, Dialogue, Discovery” through September 30. The show includes more than 60 works from the museum and private collections and mixes media, historical period and place of origin. “Root and Branch,” which explores the form of a tree in art and includes several art forms, runs through November 25. The Museum will install 12 sculptures by Ai Weiwei at Scudder Plaza, in front of Robertson Hall, through July 2013. Works by Parastou Forouhar, MonaHatoum, Sigalit Landau, Shirin Neshat and Laila Shawa are on view August 18-January 13 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Quiet Life Gallery, 17 North Main Street, Lambertville, shows “Fearless Fighters’ Portraits” by Elise Dodeles August 11-September 30. Visit www.quietlife
gallery.com.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has an exhibit called “The Future is Female 2.0” through the month of September.

Spring Street Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, 4th floor, New York, shows “Trenton Makes,” the Trenton Artists Workshop Association’s Visual Art Exhibition, through August 18. Works by Mel Leipzig, Jon Naar, Aubrey Kauffman, Leon Rainbow, Linda Osborne, Elizabeth Aubrey, and others are included. On August 19 from 1-4 p.m., a talk with painters Harry Naar and Mel Leipzig and photographer Jon Naar, all of whom have works on display, will be held. Call (646) 230-0246 for information.

Stover Mill Gallery, 852 River Road, Erwinna, Pa., will have “Brush and Chisel,” paintings and sculpture by Christine McHugh and Ron Bevilacqua, September 1-23. The opening reception is September 9, 1-5 p.m. meet the artists September 15. Visit cmartworkson
line.com or call (215) 804-5612.

Straube Center, Route 31 and Franklin Avenue, Pennington, presents “The Inception of an Era” through August 31. Works in all media are by artists who have graduated from colleges and universities within the past five years. Visit www.straubecenter.com.

West Windsor Arts Center Gallery, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, will show “Pantyhose, Wire, Brushstrokes & Lens” through August 31. This is work by teaching artists and faculty of the arts center. Gallery hours are Wednesday-Friday, 12-6 p.m. Visit www.westwindsorarts.org.

I CAN’T STAND THIS GHOST STORY: Rowley ( Robert Capron, left) covers his ears because the ghost story being told by Fregley (Grayson Russell, right) is too scary. Rowley’s best friend Greg (Zachary Gordon, center), on the other hand, is eager to hear how the story turns out.

This episode of the Wimpy Kid film series is based on a combination of wacky misadventures culled from both the third (The Last Straw) and fourth (Dog Days) books in the best-selling series created by Jeff Kinney. The movie was directed by David Bowers (Wimpy Kid 2) who reassembled his principal cast, including Zach Gordon in the title role as the beleaguered Greg Heffley, and Robert Capron as his rotund BFF, Rowley Jefferson.

The picture’s point of departure is opening day at the overcrowded public pool which is where we find Greg unhappy at the prospect of sharing the water all summer with smelly adults and infants who aren’t potty-trained. He’d prefer to be frequenting the facilities at the Plainview Heights Country Club, especially after he learns that Holly Hills (Peyton List), the cute classmate he has a big crush on, will be teaching tennis to children.

After all, Greg’s only vacation plans involve playing video games at home and hanging out with Holly. However, when he asked her for her phone number on the final day of school, she was distracted in the middle of writing it down and never got around to finishing it for him.

As luck would have it, Rowley’s family happens to be members of the same country club, so Greg can gain access to the place as his pal’s personal guest. Anything would be better than the boring activities his mother (Rachael Harris) and father (Steve Zahn) already have planned for him like fishing, starting a reading club, and attending Civil War reenactments.

Therefore, in order to see the girl of his dreams every day, Greg tells his folks that he’s found a summer job at Plainview Heights. Of course, in accordance with the “One Big Lie” comedy formula, it’s just a matter of time before the truth comes out.

However, the boys’ futile attempts at a cover-up sets in motion a series of silly slapstick scenes. Between a steady diet of sight gags and bodily function fare, Wimpy Kid is entertaining enough to engage youngsters. Adults might not find the film’s unfocused style of sophomoric storytelling all that compelling, but they will nonetheless laugh a lot and appreciate the squeaky clean brand of humor so rarely found in films anymore.

A comfy, feel good comedy movie for the whole family.

Excellent (***½). Rated PG for rude humor. Running time: 94 minutes. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.


August 1, 2012

How significant was the first week of August for Herman Melville? He was born August 1, 1819, married August 4, 1847, first encountered Nathaniel Hawthorne, the most momentous meeting of his life, on August 5, l850. For Marilyn Monroe, the first week of August was the last week of her life, 50 years ago this Sunday, August 5, 1962.

Lost in Melville’s Gaze

“A man with a true, warm heart, and a soul and an intellect — with life to his finger-tips.” Sophia Hawthorne is describing her husband Nathaniel’s newfound friend Herman Melville. While observing the 31-year-old writer’s “very keen perceptive power,” and his “air free, brave and manly,” Sophia encounters his gaze and, in effect, gets lost in it. At first she sees his eyes as a defect (what “astonishes” her is that they are “not large and deep,” “not keen,” and “quite undistinguished in any way”), yet she can’t help wondering over what happens as he’s “conversing … full of gesture and force” and “his animation gives place to a singularly quiet expression, out of those eyes to which I have objected — an indrawn, dim look, but which at the same time makes you feel that he is at that instant taking deepest note of what is before him. It is a strange, lazy glance, but with a power in it quite unique. It does not seem to penetrate through you, but to take you into himself.”

Sophia communicated this revealing first impression of Melville in a September 4, 1850, letter to her mother, who may have found the last sentence mildly alarming. And what would Hawthorne have thought had he been permitted to read the letter? It’s a seductive formula, eyes that put her off only to take her in with their “lazy power” — the way she’s expressed it, the person he was taking deepest note of seems to have been Sophia, who thus feels compelled to add that the subject of the taking “into himself” was not her but the Hawthorne’s six-year-old daughter, Una.

Moved by Marilyn

Fast forward a hundred years to another first meeting, on a Hollywood film set in 1950. “When we shook hands,” Arthur Miller writes, describing his first moment with Marilyn Monroe in his 1987 memoir, Timebends, “the shock of her body’s motion sped through me, a sensation at odds with her sadness amid all this glamour and technology and the busy confusion of a new shot being set up.”

For a single time-and-space-defying moment, imagine that the contact is between two equally inspired beings, that the person taking Marilyn Monroe’s hand is not Arthur Miller but Herman Melville at 31, ablaze with the writing of Moby Dick as he was when he swept Sophia Hawthorne off her feet. Then imagine Marilyn at her zenith, having gone from bit player to living legend, as she was in 1961 when she stunned Out of Africa author Isak Dinesen with an “almost overpowering feeling of unconquerable strength and sweetness” as if “all the wild nature of Africa” were “amicably gazing” at her “with a mighty playfulness.”

And of course both leading players in the great American reality show were doomed to fall, Melville, his masterpiece all but ignored by the press when it wasn’t being scorned, telling Hawthorne in 1856 that he had “pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated” (only to die in obscurity almost four decades later); Marilyn in her own freefall of failed marriages, miscarriages, professional humiliation, dying world famous and alone at 36.

Writing in Timebends, Arthur Miller remarks on how “the press that gathered to chorus its lamentations” when Marilyn died was “the same press that had sneered at her for so long …. To have survived, she would have had to be either more cynical or even further from reality than she was. She was a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.”

A defining moment in Timebends comes when Miller and Monroe are living together in New York before their marriage, a “bond of shared silences, as mysterious as sexuality” having begun to form between them. It was after “one of those silences” that he told her she was “the saddest girl” he’d ever met, which she “first thought a defeat” and then took as the “compliment” he’d intended, telling him, “You’re the only one who ever said that to me.”

Imagining Marilyn

Though there may be no prototypical Marilyns in Melville’s work, there are definite intimations, beginning with Fayaway in his first book, Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (1846): “This gentle being had early attracted my regard, not only from her extraordinary beauty, but from the attractive cast of her
countenance, singularly expressive of intelligence and humanity,”
with “a tenderness in her manner which it was impossible to misunderstand or resist.” Strange but true, that the author now best known for Moby Dick and Billy Budd, with their all-male casts, created the literary equivalent of a Hollywood diva he delights in personally costuming: “Out of the calico brought from the ship I made a dress for this lovely girl” that “began at the waist, and terminated sufficiently far above the ground to reveal the most bewitching ankle in the universe.”

Fayaway’s “free pliant figure is the very perfection of female grace and beauty,” her face “a rounded oval, and each feature as perfectly formed as the heart or imagination of man could desire,” her “full lips, when parted with a smile, disclosed teeth of dazzling whiteness,” her hair “flowed in natural ringlets over her shoulders, and whenever she chanced to stoop, fell over and hid from view her lovely bosom.” Gazing into “the depths of her strange blue eyes, when she was in a contemplative mood, they seemed most placid yet unfathomable; but when illuminated by some lively emotion, they beamed upon the beholder like stars.” Her hands “were as soft and delicate as those of any countess,” her feet, “though wholly exposed, were as diminutive and fairly shaped as those which peep from beneath the skirts of a Lima lady’s dress. The skin of this young creature, from continual ablutions and the use of mollifying ointments, was inconceivably smooth and soft.”

If nothing else, the reference to Fayaway’s skin evokes the star of whom director Billy Wilder said, “The first day a photographer took a picture of her she was a genius.” One such photographer, Eve Arnold (1912-2012), observes in Marilyn Monroe: An Appreciation (1987), that “her flesh … was almost touchable on screen; she had what cinematographer’s call ‘flesh impact.’ Her skin was translucent, white, luminous.”

The wonder of Marilyn Monroe is that she seems in some ways more hauntingly alive and aglow and charming in Arnold’s pictures than she does on film.

Isabel and Marianna

There are also intimations in Melville’s work of the troubled, vulnerable, lonely being Miller perceived in “the saddest girl” he ever knew. In Pierre: or The Ambiguities, the prodigiously immoderate, mannered and tormented, at once dated and uncannily “modern” novel written in the aftermath of Moby Dick, the bipolar title character finds himself obsessed by a “mystical face,” a “shadow” that has “come forth to him” and that appears to take the form of his mysterious, illegitimate half-sister, Isabel. “The face haunted him as some imploring, and beauteous, impassioned, ideal Madonna’s haunts the morbidly longing and enthusiastic, but ever-baffled artist.” Evoking the beguiling ambiguity at the heart of Marilyn’s appeal, on the screen and in her imperishable afterlife, Melville’s Isabel “lifts her whole marvelous countenance into the radiant candlelight,” and when “for one swift instant, that face of supernaturalness unreservedly meets Pierre’s,” it’s with a “wonderful loveliness, and a still more wonderful loneliness.”

Written in 1856 after the double debacle of Moby Dick and Pierre, Melville’s short piece, “The Piazza,” is presented as “an inland voyage to fairy-land” taken on “a mad poet’s afternoon,” wherein the narrator sets out to discover the “one spot of radiance” in the distant range he sees from the piazza he had expressly constructed so that he could cast his imagination into the view. As he’s been reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he presumes the radiance must be emanating from a cottage in “fairy-land” where he will find “a fairy princess,” his own Titania. When he arrives after an epic, madly allusive, Melvillian voyage, what he finds is “a lonely girl, sewing at a lonely window.” Shyly startled by his appearance (“like some Tahiti girl …” surprised “by Captain Cook”) the “desolate maiden” whose name is Marianna invites him in, and as he sits with her thinking, “This, then, is the fairy-mountain house, and here, the fairy queen sitting at her fairy window,” he realizes that the “one spot of radiance” in the view sad Marianna sees every day is his piazza and his own house, which from her window once appeared to be “King Charming’s palace.” The tale ends with the narrator back on his piazza, “where every night, when the curtain falls, truth comes in with darkness. No light shows from the mountain. To and fro I walk the piazza deck, haunted by Marianna’s face, and many as real a story.”

On Film

Enchanted Island, an unlikely film version of Typee, was directed by the veteran Allan Dwan in 1952 with 50-year-old Dana Andrews in the Melville role and petite blonde Jane Powell, age 30, as Fayaway. The last picture made at RKO, it was released by Warners with the Four Lads singing the title song. (Feel free to roll your eyes.) More interesting and perhaps even more unlikely is Pola X, a sexually explicit French adapatation of Pierre directed by Leos Carax that turned up in 1999 with the late Guillaume Depardieu in the title role and Yekaterina Golubeva as Isabel. The film title is an acronym of the French title of the novel, Pierre ou les ambiguïtés, plus the Roman numeral “X” indicating the tenth draft version of the script that was used to make the film.

In the best, strangest, and most unlikely of all possible worlds, Marilyn Monroe would have been a heartbreaking Fayaway and a devastating Isabel. For now, we have to make do with the films being shown by the Princeton Public Library this week to mark the the 50th anniversary of Marilyn’s death: The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), The Misfits, (1961), and Some Like It Hot (1959), along with My Week with Marilyn, starring Michelle Williams as Marilyn. For details, visit princetonlibrary.org.


William and Judith Scheide could spend their summers in the cool environs of New England, as many Princetonians do, escaping the New Jersey heat. Instead the Scheides have not only chosen to remain in the humidity with the rest of us but also to make the summer months more musically enjoyable. For the past four years, the Scheides have sponsored a concert taking advantage of the singers and instrumentalists in town performing with other ensembles. This past Thursday night, members of Opera New Jersey’s summer roster were joined by the New Jersey Symphony and led by conductor Mark Laycock in a rousing performance of 19th-century powerhouse opera arias, all made possible by the Scheides.

Opera New Jersey strutted out some of its best soloists from this summer’s productions for the concert of operatic excerpts at Richardson Auditorium, with soprano Erica Strauss, tenor Rafael Dávila and bass Young-Bok Kim delving into the Golden Age of German and Italian Romantic opera. Focusing primarily on the works of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, this “Midsummer Celebration” easily achieved its goal of bringing the audience to its feet with brass, percussion, and rich orchestration, not to mention great singing.

Conductor Mark Laycock acknowledged the importance of the chorus in 19th-century opera by starting the concert with a Wagnerian bang in a chorus from Tannhäuser. Opera New Jersey compiled a choral ensemble of the company’s “emerging artists” and local professionals who easily captured the sweep and grandeur of “Freudig begrüssen wir die edle Halle,” Tannhäuser’s “Entrance of the Guests.” This being Wagner, brass played a large role, beginning with clean trumpets from an offstage balcony.

Mr. Laycock alternated Wagner with Verdi in programming the evening, but given the musical weight of both composers, there was little difference in the hefty orchestration and demanding vocal requirements among the operatic excerpts. The chorus reined in its sound a bit as the concert progressed, with the sectional basses and altos coming across as the most unified. In the opening Verdi selection from Otello, four character soloists sang from the chorus, most notably bass-baritone John Arnold, with all singers clearly feeling free to unleash a full magnitude of sound.

Mr. Dávila, heard with Opera New Jersey this past summer in Il Trovatore, showed his more lyrical side in his duet with Ms. Strauss — Verdi’s “Love Duet,” also from Otello. Although these two singers could have demonstrated more chemistry and sparks between each other, both brought out the sweetness of the duet, with Ms. Strauss especially floating her sound in the top register. The singers were well complemented by cellist Stephen Fang’s graceful solo.

Mr. Laycock also ventured into the very familiar repertoire, with Wagner’s “Prelude to Act III” of Lohengrin, a selection from Wagner’s Götterdammerung and Verdi’s “Triumphal March” from Aida. A dark and rich English horn, played by Andrew Adelson and subtly accompanied by timpani marked the start of the Wagner excerpt, combined with a lean extended sectional cello solo. Mr. Laycock drew out well the “sunrise” of the “Dawn,” aided by chipper wind solos. The familiar triumphal tune was played with nuance by the brass, and a bit of Verdian gypsy could easily be heard from the winds.

Arrigo Boito’s “Prologue in Heaven” from Mefistofele fit into the theme of the evening with Boito’s role as librettist for some of Verdi’s operas. Although the orchestral “Prelude” was a bit staid, Young-Bok Kim got things rolling as Mefistofele, exuding the confidence of the part and a menacing vocal swagger. Mr. Kim clearly has no trouble commanding a stage in ominous and intimidating roles, and brought the audience right into his world. Mr. Kim was joined in this extended scene by the adult chorus as well as a children’s chorus representing the “Cherubini.” Prepared by Fred Meads and singing from the balcony, the children’s chorus easily handled some very quick “patter” passages of words and held their own well in a section of cross-metered music with the orchestra and other chorus.

Thanks to the generosity of the Scheides, the Princeton musical summer season has been extended right to the edge of July, and the established organizations of Opera New Jersey and New Jersey Symphony, as well as the two choruses, were able to collaborate to create something entirely new and thoroughly enjoyable to the audience. The opportunity to provide more work to musicians in the summer also made this concert more relevant to the community and strengthened Princeton’s role in the New Jersey artistic scene.


Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, is showing “Water Light,” watercolors by Eric Rhinehart and Carol Sanzalone, through August 5. The artists will host a “Coffee and Conversation” August 5 from 2-5 p.m. Visit www.lambertvillearts.com.

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center has sculpture by Jonathan Shor on view on the terrace through September 29. For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

Dalet Gallery, 141 N. Second Street, Philadelphia, hosts “Made in Princeton,” with works from members of the Princeton Artist Alliance and the Princeton Photography Club, through August 13. A reception is August 3, 5-9 p.m. Hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Visit www.dalealert.com.

Ellarslie, Trenton’s City Museum in Cadwalader Park, shows “Trenton Makes,” the local segment of the Trenton Artists Workshop Association’s Trenton/New York Visual Art Exhibition, through August 5. A partner show is at the Prince Street Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, 4th floor, New York, through August 18. Works by Mel Leipzig, Jon Naar, Aubrey Kauffman, Leon Rainbow, Linda Osborne, and others are included in these shows. On August 19 from 1-4 p.m., a talk with painters Harry Naar and Mel Leipzig and photographer Jon Naar, all of whom have works on display, will be held. Call (609) 989-3632 for Ellarslie information; (646) 230-0246 for Spring Street Gallery.

Firestone Library at Princeton University is showing “A Fine Addition: New & Notable Acquisitions in Princeton’s Special Collections” through August 5 in its Main Gallery. In the Milberg Gallery through December 28 is “Woodrow Wilson’s Journey to the White House.” In Cotsen Children’s Library through September 30 is “Noah’s Art: Designing Arks for Children.”

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows the third annual Juried Photographic Exhibition through August 11. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street, Cranbury, exhibits “All About the Birds,” the art of Necati Itez, from August 5-26. A reception is August 5 from 1-3 p.m.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, presents Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” installed in the new East Gallery through February 15. Artists displayed in other GFS galleries through September include Sharon Engelsein, Willie Cole, and Marilyn Keating. See www.grounds
forsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display through September 15. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton shows sculpture by Nancy Cohen and ceramics by Bill Macholdt through September 9. Visit www.hunterdonartmuseum.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has a permanent exhibit, “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements,” featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, is on view through August 10. “To Stir, Inform, and Inflame: The Art of Tony Auth” is on view through October 21. “I Look, I Listen: Works on Paper by Marlene Miller” is exhibited through October 14.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, is offering free admission this summer to all active military duty personnel and their families, through Labor Day. “Lynd Ward Draws Stories: Inspired by Mexico’s History, Mark Twain, and Adventures in the Woods” is on view through June 23, 2013.

Joan Perkes Fine Art Gallery, 202 North Union Street, Lambertville, has the First Annual Works on Paper Show through August 17. Call (609) 460-4708 for more information.

Mercer County Senior Art Show is being held through August 3 at Meadow Lakes, 300 Meadow Lakes just off Etra Road, East Windsor. Categories are acrylic, craft, computer imagery, drawing, mixed media, oil, pastel, photography, print, sculpture, and watercolor. Call (800) 564-5705.

Morven Museum & Garden, in collaboration with the Arts Council of Princeton, presents “The Garden at Night: Photographs by Linda Rutenberg” through September 16. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

Mudd Manuscript Library at 65 Olden Street, Princeton University, is presenting “She Flourishes,” showcasing the history of women at Princeton, through August 31. The show documents the struggles and accomplishments of women associated with the University.

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton, is showing “Botanica Magnifica: Photographs by Jonathan Singer” through August 26.

Phillips’ Mill on River Road in New Hope, Pa. has issued a call for artists to participate in the 83rd Annual Juried Art Exhibition, to be held September 22-October 27. Works must be by a living artist and completed within the last five years. Submit work September 7, 2-7 p.m. and September 8, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Visit www.phillipsmill.org for applications.

Plainsboro Public Library, 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro, is hosting an art reception for printmaker Ingrid Davis on Sunday, August 12 from 2-4 p.m. The artist will be on hand to discuss the special technique of white-line woodcuts. The exhibit of her work is August 2-31. Call (609) 275-2897.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents “The Activity of Form,” a photography exhibit by Laura McClanahan, Greg McGarvey, Barbara Osterman, and Larry Parsons, through September.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Encounters: Conflict, Dialogue, Discovery” through September 30. The show includes more than 60 works from the museum and private collections and mixes media, historical period and place of origin. “Root and Branch,” which explores the form of a tree in art and includes several art forms, runs through November 25. The Museum will install 12 sculptures by Ai Weiwei at Scudder Plaza, in front of Robertson Hall, through July 2013. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Quiet Life Gallery, 17 North Main Street, Lambertville, shows “Fearless Fighters’ Portraits” by Elise Dodeles August 11-September 30. Visit www.quietlifegallery.com.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has an exhibit called “The Future is Female 2.0” through the month of September.

Straube Center, Route 31 and Franklin Avenue, Pennington, presents “The Inception of an Era” through August 31. Works in all media are by artists who have graduated from colleges and universities within the past five years. Visit www.straubecenter.com.

West Windsor Arts Center Gallery, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, will show “Pantyhose, Wire, Brushstrokes & Lens” through August 31. This is work by teaching artists and faculty of the arts center. Gallery hours are Wednesday-Friday, 12-6 p.m. Visit www.westwindsorarts.org.

ALFRED, WHAT SHOULD WE DO ABOUT HER?: Trusty and crusty butler Alfred (Michael Caine, right) is being asked by his employer, wealthy philanthropist Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), who also becomes the Caped Crusader Batman when circumstances require it, what to do about the pesky cat burglar (Anne Hathaway, not shown) who is making a nuisance of herself in Wayne’s mansion in Gotham City.

The Dark Knight Rises brings an end to the brilliant Batman trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale as Batman. Each of the earlier episodes, Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), earned a spot on this critic’s annual Top Ten List, numbers 9 and 1, respectively.

Because the late Heath Ledger played the part of the Joker to perfection, and delivered an Oscar-winning performance in the previous movie, you knew it would be hard for Nolan to find as compelling a character for his finale. If The Dark Knight Rises does have a weakness, it’s because the primary villain pales in comparison. Otherwise, the movie measures up to the previous two films expectations, although its convoluted plot and 2¾ hours running time is likely to have younger kids squirming in their seats.

The picture opens eight years after the end of the last adventure, when Batman selflessly accepted the blame for the untimely demise of District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). The broken, embittered vigilante has kept a low profile over the intervening years, allowing the Gotham police department to fight crime on its own.

But, the situation changes with the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy), a member of the association of assassins known as The League of Shadows. Although Banes speech is somewhat muffled by a contraption affixed to his face, you don’t need to understand his unintelligible mumblings to know that he’s a maniacal menace. The masked terrorist is bent on blowing up the city with a nuclear device and it isn’t long before Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) needs help handling the situation.

Meanwhile, Batman’s alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, has his hands full with Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar he catches snooping around his mansion. Fortunately, Wayne still has his loyal assistants Alfred (Michael Caine), the butler, and weapons/vehicle/gadgetry specialist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). Plus, he develops a new friendship with John Blake (Joseph-Gordon-Levitt), a cop with excellent instincts who might become Batman’s sidekick Robin should the series be continued.

Outfitted with a state-of-the-art motorcycle and hovercraft, a revivified Batman enthusiastically engages his evil adversary. And between Nolan’s loyalty to 35 mm film and live action stunts, what’s served up on screen is spectacular.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for sensuality, profanity, and intense violence. Running time: 165 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.