October 9, 2013

The Princeton Symphony Orchestra has taken the concept of collaboration to new heights this year with its opening “Classical Series” concert this past weekend. With a musical program inspired by identifying what is uniquely “American” in music and centered on a work based on the Jacob Lawrence “Migration Series” set of paintings, the Princeton Symphony created an entire weekend of “Migration Project” activities, including discussions with the composer, a family festival, and art projects, all of which were achieved in partnership with a number of Princeton cultural and educational organizations. Princeton Symphony’s opening weekend culminated in a performance by the ensemble, on Sunday afternoon in Richardson Auditorium, of two American musical favorites and a New Jersey premiere, all commemorating the 150th anniversary of the emancipation proclamation. 

With some new faces on the roster, the Princeton Symphony opened Sunday afternoon’s concert with Aaron Copland’s suite from Appalachian Spring, a work considered representative of the American spirit. Although not directly related to a visual work of art, Copland’s Appalachian Spring could easily be connected with the broad Pennsylvania landscapes of Andrew Wyeth. Princeton Symphony Orchestra conductor Rossen Milanov opened the suite with a broad musical palette, capturing the image of the sun rising on an open field, aided by clarinetist Alexander Bedenko’s opening solo. Mr. Milanov kept the orchestral texture muted, allowing the solo lines, including oboist Nick Masterson and flutist Mary Schmidt, to speak freely. A quick transition to the second section was handled well by the ensemble as the strings and a pair of flutes were well-timed with one another. Mr. Bedenko and Mr. Masterson had a great deal of musical interplay throughout the suite, and Mr. Bedenko in particular showed himself to be an understated yet expressive player. Especially effective in the close of the piece were a bassoon and oboe duet (played by Seth Baer and Mr. Masterson, respectively) and the graceful presentation of the “Simple Gifts” theme by the viola section against pizzicato strings and offbeat winds.

Considered equally as American as Copland but on another musical spectrum was George Gershwin, whose 1935 Porgy and Bess has been revered for its inventiveness and has generated a number of symphonic arrangements. Symphonic Picture, compiled and orchestrated by noted arranger Richard Rodney Bennett, took eleven of the opera’s great tunes and set them for an orchestra augmented by unique instrumentation, including a trio of saxophones and a banjo. Mr. Milanov began Symphonic Picture with bell-like effects, complemented by an elegant English horn solo played by Nathan Mills. With a bit of swing throughout the work, the Princeton Symphony drew out the teasing atmosphere of “Bess, You is my Woman Now” and the elements of big band style from the winds and brass. This was a very full orchestra, but one could hear such details as the banjo solo on “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin,” accompanied by flute and harp. This piece not only fit in well with the theme of the concert, but also was clearly fun for the musicians to play.

The defining piece of Sunday’s program was the New Jersey premiere of Migration Series, a five-movement work by award-winning American composer Derek Bermel, whose musical output crosses several genres. Mr. Bermel drew inspiration for this work from the Lawrence “Migration Series” set of 60 paintings (one of which was displayed in the Princeton University Art Museum for this performance). The Princeton Symphony was pared back to a small ensemble and was joined onstage by the Juilliard jazz orchestra, prepared by James Burton. The talented students of the jazz orchestra carried the bulk of the performing work in this piece, especially impressive were solos by trumpeter Joe Boga and trombonist Andy Clausen.

Mr. Milanov took a step back from conducting at times, allowing the jazz club atmosphere to prevail. The second movement of Migration Series, with its walking blues piano and gospel melodies, was especially accessible, but as might happen in a jazz club, there were times when there was an impression of musical chaos, which is not for everyone. The third movement seemed to be the most technically difficult, with the composer himself playing a mean clarinet accompanied by a combo of drums and bass. An amazing display of musical “banter” among three trombones marked a later section of the piece, as Mr. Bermel well captured the concept of “urban chatter” in musical form.

The Princeton Symphony Orchestra “Migration Series Project” was by no means limited to this past weekend; related events took place in September and will continue well into the fall at locations throughout the community. If each program of the symphony includes this in-depth a range of activities, there will surely be something for everyone as the Princeton Symphony Orchestra continues to make its mark on the region.

 

Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is ready to retire at the end of a distinguished career as a NASA astronaut. The veteran captain is in command of his final flight of the Space Shuttle Explorer and their primary mission is to replace solar panels on the Hubble Telescope.

MAROONED IN SPACE: While on a routine repair spacewalk to the Hubble telescope, the two astronauts Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) suddenly find themselves in a life threatening situation. The pair receive an emergency message from their control center warning them of the high speed approach of space debris from a damaged Russian satellite. By the time they reach their space shuttle, the pair find that the debris has destroyed the shuttle, killing all the crewmembers and leaving their space shuttle damaged beyond repair.

MAROONED IN SPACE: While on a routine repair spacewalk to the Hubble telescope, the two astronauts Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) suddenly find themselves in a life threatening situation. The pair receive an emergency message from their control center warning them of the high speed approach of space debris from a damaged Russian satellite. By the time they reach their space shuttle, the pair find that the debris has destroyed the shuttle, killing all the crewmembers and leaving their space shuttle damaged beyond repair.

Upon reaching their destination, the spacewalk proceeds so routinely that bachelor Kowalski is comfortable engaging in flirtatious chitchat with Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer on her maiden voyage. Unexpectedly, mission control urgently orders them back to the shuttle because the debris field from a damaged Russian satellite is headed in their direction at a high speed.

However, the debris causes catastrophic damage to the shuttle before they get back to it — killing all their crew-mates and destroying the vehicle beyond repair. As a result, Kowalski and Stone find themselves marooned in space, unable to make radio contact with Houston, and with a limited amount of oxygen left in their tanks.

This is the intriguing situation established at the start of Gravity, a gripping science fiction thriller written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Pan’s Labyrinth). What ensues is a desperate race against time in which Kowalski does his best to keep the frightened rookie calm while trying to keep them both safe.

Kowalski’s improvised plan involves the pair using their thrusters to reach the International Space Station 100 kilometers away before the debris returns from completing its orbit around Earth. This is the first of many challenges they must face if the two of them are ever to feel solid ground under their feet again.

Rather than ruin the plot’s unpredictable developments, permit me to heap praise on the unparalleled performances of Oscar-winners George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Equal deserving of praise are the picture’s breathtaking 3D cinematography and the magical way in which weightlessness is convincingly created onscreen.

Buckle up for a riveting roller coaster ride through outer space.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for intense peril, disturbing images, and brief profanity. Running time: 90 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.

 

October 2, 2013

Salinger final cover.JPGJ.D. Salinger’s refusal to publish anything in the 45 years between the June 19, 1965, issue of The New Yorker and his death at 91 in 2010 was disappointing, to  say the least. It was also frustrating, weird, unaccountable, and downright demoralizing if, like me, you’d been looking forward to the major work that could be intuited from “Hapworth 16, 1924,” a novella-length, flagrantly misunderstood tour de force, and the previous Glass family stories, Franny and Zooey (1961), Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963), not to mention “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” the piece of literary dynamite from 1948 that launched the series. Still, there was something awe-inspiring, even heroic, in Salinger’s sustained resistance to publishing, whether perceived as evidence of his respect for the discipline of Vedanta, his determination to focus on his work, or as a symbolic rejection of the distractions and follies of the book world.

Selling Salinger

And now here comes David Shields and Shane Salerno’s heavy-handed blockbuster Salinger (Simon and Schuster $37.50), which is hyped on the front cover as “The Official Book of the Acclaimed Documentary Film” that currently has a rating of 40 on Metacritic, only a point above “Generally Unfavorable.”

One problem Shields and Salerno (hereafter S&S) had to deal with was that they’d been beaten to the press by  a thoughtful, fully researched biography by Kenneth Slawenski highlighting one of their big selling points, Salinger’s wartime experience. So, the first thing S&S did was suck up the sour grapes and make a lame attempt to discredit Slawenski, the author of the first biography of Salinger since 1999, a book S&S undoubtedly used and then brazenly left out of their 35-page-long bibliography. That piece of bad form alone should make readers wary of the claims made and the information offered in S&S’s slipshod, almost 700-page-long hodgepodge of oral history, rumor, and negatively calibrated, shoot-from-the-hip criticism of Salinger’s life and work.

Presenting only the façade of a legitimate biography, S&S go all-out in the direction of a tabloid exposé, playing up the psychic damage of Salinger’s World War II ordeal, needlessly including five graphic photographs of concentration camp horrors. Besides making the most of Salinger’s consensual relationships with women who were often considerably younger than himself, they flog the absurd idea that The Catcher in the Rye was somehow complicit in the assassination of John Lennon, and they save a place of revelatory honor for the singular, unsubstantiated shocker of The Undescended Testicle.

And what’s the really big news S&S have going for them, news so many of us have been waiting for, news exciting enough to link the film and book to an event of worldwide literary significance? It’s the announcement by way of anonymous sources that J.D. Salinger actually produced a substantial amount of work during his years of silence, work scheduled to be published beginning in 2015. To burnish the revelation S&S boast that the new books will be “the masterworks for which he is forever known.” My italics are to emphasize the fact that earlier in their cranky opus S&S claim that Salinger was “destroyed” as an artist years before he could have written those masterworks. In the chapter ludicrously titled “Seymour’s Second Suicide,” S&S claim that the “one constant in Salinger’s life, from the early 1950s until his death in 2010, was Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, which transformed him from a writer of fiction into a disseminator of mysticism, destroying his work.”

Those are my italics again. How else to express the absurdity of so presumptuous a contention about a writer whose lifelong constant, even on the battlefield, was his work? At the end of that same chapter, S&S say it again: “His commitment to Vedanta was, by far, the most serious and long-lasting commitment of his life. His religious devotion … wound up being his second suicide mission. War killed him the first time; Vedanta the second.”

My italics again. What can you say? Salinger must really be some kind of sainted being, to come back from the dead to write The Catcher in the Rye (1951) and Nine Stories (1953), two classics of American fiction, only to be killed again by Vedanta, and come back from that death-in-middle-and-old age to write the Glass stories. But let’s be fair. Surely S&S don’t really mean what they’re saying; all that stuff about being “destroyed” and “killed” is some heavy figurative rhetoric to put a charge into their product. If you want to hold the reader’s attention, you have to resort to sweeping negative generalizations, never mind that you contradict yourselves in the process and expose the essentially bogus, hypocritical nature of your enterprise.

Misreading Holden Caulfield

But why stop there? Why not rewrite The Catcher in the Rye according to your war-damaged-writer thesis? Since Slawenski’s biography beat them to the news that Catcher was partly written on the battlefield, S&S upped the ante and said that to get all that post-traumatic repression out of his system Salinger created a hate-sick psychopath called Holden Caulfield, the subject of a narration rife with incitements to violence, an assassin’s handbook. The subtext of mayhem S&S are suggesting about a book beloved by millions for exactly the opposite qualities reminds me of Charles Manson’s reading of violence and insurrection into “Blackbird,” one of the most beautiful songs Paul McCartney ever composed.

Misreading “Hapworth”

In 1997 Salinger was about to permit the publication in book form of “Hapworth 16, 1924” when one of the publishing world’s most illustrious trolls couldn’t wait and attacked seven-year-old Seymour’s unthinkably long and literate letter from camp before it was even published. Salinger was testing the water and a piranha named Kakutani bit him on the toe.

S&S introduce this advance on the “masterworks” to come with a hail of brickbats — “impossible to believe and created to be unpalatable to the public and critics,” “a disaster,” “a total cessation of talent,” “almost as if the mental acuity of Salinger is diminishing right in front of you,” “an act of literary suicide.”

David Shields outdoes himself, recycling the terms of his travesty of Holden: “ ‘Hapworth’ just seemed dead on arrival …. He wants to maim or kill all his critics … ‘Hapworth’ careens wildly between murderous rage and a desire for peace.”

Even as I type those words, it’s hard to fathom how anyone could read “murderous rage” into a text intoxicated with love and wonder. No doubt Shields is thinking of young Seymour’s low opinion of certain camp counselors whose “heartless indifferences” to the “heartrending young campers” have him “secretly wishing” he “could improve matters quite substantially by bashing a few culprits over the head with an excellent shovel or stout club.” While it’s possible Salinger was sending a subliminal message to certain critics of his work, my guess (never having been a camper myself) is that this is pretty standard stuff according to the content of letters sent home by campers of any age and any era.

One of the most humorous aspects of “Hapworth” exposes an essential blind spot shared by Salinger’s critics and biographers, which is to read with a dead straight face a playful, at times mischievous writer who can be, and always has been, very funny. Here in a camp called Hapworth run by a young couple Salinger names Mr. and Mrs. Happy, young Seymour confesses to his parents that “this cute, ravishing girl, Mrs. Happy, unwittingly rouses all my unlimited sensuality” (“Considering my absurd age, the situation has its humorous side, to be sure”). It’s an amusing reversal for the writer whose predilection for young girls and women is made so much of in Salinger — now he’s rousing the ire of Michiko Kakutani because his seven-year-old letter writer speaks “like a lewd adult” and expresses “lustful feelings about the [22-year-old] camp matron.”

Seymour’s Quirky Poetry

By stressing Salinger’s spiritual dedication at the supposed expense of his work, S&S unwittingly signal the magnitude of his mission and the portion of it so far most powerfully accomplished in “Hapworth,” where Seymour tells his parents of his “karmic responsibility” but promises not to “harp on the subject, knowing and quite sympathizing with your disdain.” Ms. Kakutani’s “peevish,” “lewd,” “deeply distasteful,” “obnoxious child,” who lusts after Mrs. Happy, dares to “condescend” to his parents when in fact (and fiction) he’s writing to them from the other side of his life: “I for one do not look forward to being distracted by charming lusts of the body, quite day in and day out, for the few, blissful, remaining years allotted to me in this appearance.”

Perhaps someday someone will be able to do full justice to Salinger’s accomplishment in “Hapworth.” Various terms and tropes out of Vedanta have given him a rich resource from which to forge a style unlike anything in his previous work. Seymour’s quirky poetry should charm any reader able to come to the story without some preconceived notion of fictional reality. And his precocious spirituality (among the books he wants sent to him are Vivekenanda’s Raja-Yoga and Bhakti-Yoga) enables him to see others, including his own parents, with a kind of supernatural objectivity, as if they were all children. So, referring to Mrs. Happy, Seymour can say, “God bless this gorgeous kid’s heart!”

In his fictional life-span, Seymour will bow out at the age of 31, but when he tells his parents and readers, “There is monumental work to be done in this appearance, of partially undisclosed nature,” it’s tempting to picture Salinger busy in his New Hampshire bunker with 45 years remaining and “monumental work to be done.”

———

Admittedly, Shields and Salerno bring some valuable information to bear on Salinger, including anecdotal insights and excellent photographs from the author’s wartime buddy and lifelong friend, Paul Fitzgerald. To their credit, S&S also include responses from a few readers who “get” Hapworth, namely novelist Leslie Epstein and radio personality Jonathan Schwartz, who says that once you have a seven-year-old boy at summer camp “writing in an adult voice, asking for the most abstruse books to be sent to him … you can’t go back to the conventions of realistic fiction again. You’ve crossed a line …. In my opinion, if he’s written anything since, he’s moved ‘Hapworth’ forward. To me, that’s thrilling.”

 

"LADY IN THE LAKE": Allen Dean Cochran (1888-1971), an early member of the utopian Byrdcliffe Art Colony at Woodstock, N.Y., painted this 16 by 20 inch oil on canvas in 1914. He worked and studied with Birge Harrison, who taught at the Art Students League there and his work was exhibited at the National Academy of Art, Salmagundi Club, Art Institute of Chicago, Corcoran Gallery, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and elsewhere. This work is part of the Trenton Museum Society exhibition, "Artists of Woodstock: Collective Creativity" at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie in Cadwalader Park, Trenton, through November 10. For more information, contact (609) 989-1191 or tms@ellarslie.org, or visit www.ellarslie.org.

“LADY IN THE LAKE”: Allen Dean Cochran (1888-1971), an early member of the utopian Byrdcliffe Art Colony at Woodstock, N.Y., painted this 16 by 20 inch oil on canvas in 1914. He worked and studied with Birge Harrison, who taught at the Art Students League there and his work was exhibited at the National Academy of Art, Salmagundi Club, Art Institute of Chicago, Corcoran Gallery, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and elsewhere. This work is part of the Trenton Museum Society exhibition, “Artists of Woodstock: Collective Creativity” at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie in Cadwalader Park, Trenton, through November 10. For more information, contact (609) 989-1191 or tms@ellarslie.org, or visit www.ellarslie.org.

To Baby Boomers the name Woodstock conjures up images of Richie Havens, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin performing in a field at Yasgur’s farm in 1969. To fans of American Art, the name conjures up images of the peaceful town and art colony nestled in the Catskill Forest Preserve about 100 miles north of New York City.

The Trenton Museum Society (TMS) presents an exhibition titled, “Artists of Woodstock: Collective Creativity” at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie in Cadwalader Park, Trenton, through November 10.

The paintings and drawings come from the collection of Woodstock artists belonging to longtime TMS patrons Ted Boyer, Jane Rohlf, and Bob and Alison Boyer Eriksen as well as work by contemporary artists from the Woodstock Artists Association Museum of Woodstock, N.Y.

The show includes paintings, lithographs, and drawings that demonstrate the breadth of talent in works spanning six decades from the establishment of the Byrdcliffe Art Colony at Woodstock through the 1960s. Well-known artists included are John F. Carlson, Frank Swift Chase, Doris Lee, and Eugene Speicher.

Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.; closed Mondays and municipal holidays. For more information, contact (609) 989-1191 or tms@ellarslie.org, or visit: www.ellarslie.org

LENIN MEETS MODERNISM: The tension between the prescribed style of Socialist Realism and Western modernism is a recurring theme in the sculpture of Russian nonconformist artist Leonid Sokov. This 1990 bronze sculpture juxtaposing Lenin and Alberto Giacometti’s existential “Walking Man,” is part of an exhibition of the artist’s work at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, now extended through December 31. For more information, call (848) 932.7237 or visit: www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu

LENIN MEETS MODERNISM: The tension between the prescribed style of Socialist Realism and Western modernism is a recurring theme in the sculpture of Russian nonconformist artist Leonid Sokov. This 1990 bronze sculpture juxtaposing Lenin and Alberto Giacometti’s existential “Walking Man,” is part of an exhibition of the artist’s work at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, now extended through December 31. For more information, call (848) 932.7237 or visit: www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu

The exhibition “Leonid Sokov: Ironic Objects” is being extended through December 31 at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, which boasts “the world’s largest collection of art created during the Cold War era by Russian artists willing to risk life and limb to defy Soviet repression.”

Mr. Sokov is one of the most distinctive of such artists and the Zimmerli’s show is the first museum exhibition in the United States to be devoted to his career. The exhibition includes 80 of his works, many on view for the first time, ranging from sculptures created in the early 1960s to work created in 2000, more than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Forty works drawn from the Zimmerli’s Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Soviet Nonconformist Art are accompanied by an equal number of loans from private collectors in the United States and the artist himself.

Unlike many of his fellow dissidents who overtly adopted the strategies of the American and European vanguard, in the 1970s and 1980s Mr. Sokov preferred to assume the stance of the “simple man” in his art making. In so doing, he won widespread acclaim for roughly hewn and seemingly improvised sculptures and kinetic toy-like figures inspired by Russian folk art.

Today Mr. Sokov, 72, lives and works in the New York area. He is widely credited as one of the originators of the Sots Art movement — a Soviet version of Pop Art that emerged in the early 1970s.

“Over the years, Leonid Sokov has employed the forms of naïve art to create a layered and sophisticated body of work,” said Suzanne Delehanty, director of the Zimmerli. “We are proud to present this overview of his career at the Zimmerli, the only museum in the country where it is possible to consider his achievement within the larger context of Soviet nonconformist art. The museum’s Dodge Wing, featuring works by Bulatov, Kabakov, Komar, Melamid, and other leading artists of the Cold War movement, are just steps away from ‘Leonid Sokov: Ironic Objects.’“

Julia Tulovsky, associate curator for Russian and Soviet nonconformist art at the Zimmerli, has organized “Leonid Sokov: Ironic Objects” at a time of increased interest in the artist’s work. In 2012, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMOMA) presented a major retrospective, to which the Zimmerli was a significant lender, and published a comprehensive accompanying catalogue, to which Tulovsky contributed an essay on Sokov’s art in relation to popular culture.

“Lenin, Stalin, Mickey Mouse, and Marilyn Monroe — Sokov spared no iconic figure as he portrayed the absurdities of 20th-century history, politics, and culture,” says Tulovsky. “Sokov is notable for how he embraced the broadest of cultural contexts, both high and low, and Soviet and American.”

The tension between the prescribed style of Socialist Realism and Western modernism is a recurring theme in Mr. Sokov’s sculpture, one to which he has often returned. This tension is the subject of the exhibition’s centerpiece, the installation “Shadows of Twentieth-Century Sculptures,” which Sokov created for the Russian Pavilion at the 2001 Venice Biennale. Here 100 miniature replicas of iconic sculptures by such modern masters as Alexander Calder and Constantin Brancusi are placed on a well-lit stand in the center of a 625-square-foot space. As the stand rotates, the tiny sculptures project large moving shadows on the surrounding walls. This poetic tribute to the disproportionate power of art and ideas has never before been seen in the U.S., and only once in Europe after its debut in Venice.

Many of the other works featured in “Ironic Objects” illustrate the artist’s humor. These include “Project to Construct Glasses for Every Soviet Person” (1976), a play on the cliché, “the Soviet way of seeing.” Created at a time when the Soviet regime was touting progress, but most citizens were experiencing severe deprivations, Mr. Sokov’s rustic and crudely rendered glasses suggested the poor quality of Soviet industrial production that obscured the view into the “bright Soviet future.” His waggish and oversized eyeglasses would have evoked not just smiles, but outright laughter.

The Zimmerli Art Museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street at George Street on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia. For more information, call (848) 932-7237 or visit: www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu

FAMILY TIME: Gertie (Juliet Garrett) takes drastic action to help her amnesiac daughter remember the past and make sense of her life in Theatre Intime’s production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s absurdist comedy, “Fuddy Meers,” playing at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through October 5.

FAMILY TIME: Gertie (Juliet Garrett) takes drastic action to help her amnesiac daughter remember the past and make sense of her life in Theatre Intime’s production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s absurdist comedy, “Fuddy Meers,” playing at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through October 5.

Imagine waking up every morning with no memory of your past, your identity, or your current life. Each day is a new start and a struggle to discover who you are in relation to family and the surrounding world. Theatre Intime’s current production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Fuddy Meers takes its audiences on a wild journey in search of memory and truth along with its protagonist Claire, a middle-aged woman suffering from a rare form of psychogenic amnesia.

The world of this play is beyond bizarre. It’s a world of funhouse mirrors. That’s the “fuddy meers,” in the gibberish delivered by one of the characters whose speech is impaired because of a stroke. Claire’s dysfunctional family, with its array of physical and psychological deformities, goes far beyond the Sycamore family of You Can’t Take It with You or the Brewsters of Arsenic and Old Lace into the realm of wacky insanity and whimsical absurdity. Despite the larger-than-life, unsettlingly dark comic tone of the play, however, there is an underlying seriousness and dignity in Claire’s brave quest. The zany excesses of Christopher Durang — Betty’s Summer Vacation, in particular — and the work of Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company also come to mind, though Fuddy Meers is less sharp in its dialogue, humor, and social satire than the best of Mr. Durang and Mr. Ludlam.

A capable, energetic Theatre Intime undergraduate ensemble of seven, under the direction of Princeton University sophomore Tyler Lawrence, displays spirit and versatility in tackling this acclaimed 1999 off-Broadway hit. The 11 scenes are fast-paced and entertaining, with abundant laughter, and a sympathetic, engaging central figure.

Fuddy Meers, presenting an adventure-filled day in the life of Claire (Nathalie Ellis-Einhorn), begins as she wakes up in the morning, a blank slate, all memory erased. Her ever-cheerful husband (David Cruikshank) greets her with a cup of coffee and a book containing everything he thinks she needs to know about herself, her surroundings, and her life.

Suddenly a mysterious, scary, limping man (Pat Rounds) in black ski mask emerges from under the bed. He claims to be Claire’s brother and insists on taking her away to protect her from her husband. Claire and the audience are equally confused. The limping man and Claire drive to the house of Claire’s mother Gertie (Julie Garrett), who speaks only in gibberish as a result of a recent stroke, though she thinks and acts with complete clarity.

Next to join the gathering at Gertie’s house is Millet (Steven Tran), a sociopathic criminal who wants to be a zookeeper. He is inseparable from his outspoken, foul-mouthed hand puppet. Soon afterwards the odd assemblage is completed when the pursuing husband Richard and their pot-smoking 17-year-old son Kenny (Matt Barouch) arrive, along with a peculiar, claustrophobic woman police officer, whom they kidnapped after she attempted to stop them en route.

Violence (by knife, pistol, shovel, hot bacon grease, sewing needle, hack saw), humor, and extremes of eccentricity abound, as Claire struggles to overcome her memory lapses and the deceptions and dysfunctions of the characters who surround her in her quest to discover the truth about her past and actual relationship to these people who attempt to control her life.

Ms. Ellis-Einhorn provides a solid focal point for the proceedings. A bit more energy and intensity in this character would help her, the only “normal” character, to capture the audience’s full attention amidst the competing crazies.

Mr. Rounds as the primary antagonist is first-rate and forceful in his volatile, psychopathic demeanor. Funny and frightening at the same time, disfigured in face and behavior, this character drives the plot and consistently commands the audience’s interest.

Mr. Cruikshank’s cheery, Mr. Self-Help-Manual husband is appropriately cloying and amusing in his character incongruities, while Mr. Barouch’s son-from-hell Kenny is on-target in characterization, humorous in his outrageous rudeness and ultimately valuable in his truth-telling.

Ms. Garrett’s high-powered grandmother skillfully handles the demands of extensive dialogue in gibberish and succeeds in communicating with dynamic force and even clarity with her daughter Claire, with the other characters in the play, and with the audience. Mr. Tran and Ms. Coke provide strong support in their sometimes disturbing, often surprising, and consistently amusing, madcap roles.

Mr. Lawrence has directed with understanding, focus, and appropriately swift pacing, though the opening night set changes could have benefited from greater speed and efficiency.

Seen through Claire’s eyes, Fuddy Meers, according to the playwright, is “a world of incomplete pictures and distorted realities.” Set design here by Wesley Cornwall with lighting by Marissa Applegate, original music by Sam Kaseta, sound design by Charlotte Sall, and costumes by Julie Aromi fulfills this goal with minimal unadorned representations of the locales of the play. The set is functional, though a bit more stylization, surrealism, other-worldliness might help to further embrace the mood of this play.

In his notes in the script Mr. Lindsay-Abaire calls this play ”a world of mirrors and memories … a world where mad fun and genuine danger are wrapped around each other.” This youthful Theatre Intime company brings Fuddy Meers to life with energy and talent and offers an evening of memorable madness and entertainment.

 

The Princeton University department of music launched its 2013-14 season last Friday night with an old friend. The Brentano String Quartet, Performers-in-Residence at the University, set an elegant and precise tone for the year with a link of late Classical and early Romantic music with the Princeton premiere of a work by a well-established local composer. The very attentive audience in Richardson Auditorium paid careful attention to the Brentano’s musical details in the music of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and department of music chair Steven Mackey.

Ludwig van Beethoven redefined the string quartet form, but his 1800 String Quartet in D Major (the third of Opus 18) was pretty tame by Beethoven standards, refreshing in its sweet motives, but with just enough of a twist to keep the audience on its toes. The members of the Brentano String Quartet — violinists Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin, violist Misha Amory, and cellist Nina Lee — gelled immediately from the first movement Allegro, timing accents and sforzandi together and gracefully presenting the melodies. The chorale-like beginning of the second movement was leanly played by the lower strings, contrasting with Mr. Steinberg’s teasing first violin. The quartet uniformly increased intensity and dynamics throughout the movement with a deliberate and clean ending. Following a smoothly-flowing triple meter Allegro, the Brentano Quartet closed the work joyously with moments of elegance, rather than the usual decisive chords and cadences.

Steven Mackey’s One Red Rose was commissioned by Carnegie Hall, the Yellow Barn Music Festival, and the Nasher Center of Dallas, Texas in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The Brentano Quartet will play the three-part work on November 22 of this year, the actual anniversary date, in Dallas, combining the piece with spoken remembrances of that dark day in 1963 (members of the Richardson Auditorium were invited to contribute to the taped recollections). Mackey has incorporated many sounds of that weekend into the piece — repeated strokes from the cello recall the drums of the funeral caisson, sirens can be heard in the violin lines, and the music often breaks its mood abruptly, much the same way the original news rolled jarringly through the country and the world.

In the same way as the day of 11/22/63, One Red Rose required great intensity and concentration. Dr. Mackey divided the first part into Five Short Studies, each of which was slightly different in character. Beginning with a mournful second violin, sounding as if from afar, One Red Rose opened with a series of repeated patterns accompanied by drumbeat and drone from cellist Lee. With a bell-like second section and more melodic third section, Five Short Studies well captured the juxtaposition of control and chaos so prevalent both that day and for much of the remaining decade. The Brentano Quartet played relentlessly, with sudden emphasis when appropriate and often falling back on a more reflective texture.

Especially in the third section Anthem and Aria, universal mourning can be heard in the cello, accompanied by rich and melodic playing from the two violins and viola. One Red Rose closed with rich lushness from the Brentano’s four players.

The Brentano Quartet returned to a classical giant for the closing work on the program. Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in D Major, Opus 44, No. 1 began with all the freshness of the composer’s Italian Symphony and a rhythmic drive characteristic of the early 19th century. The Brentano’s overall sound in this light and airy piece was well contained and calm, keeping the rhythmic patterns moving and the dynamics under control. The violins kept the music flowing like a river in the second movement Menuetto, with especially smooth eighth notes from Mr. Steinberg in the Trio. Mr. Steinberg and Ms. Canin provided a gentle and songlike duet over pizzicato lower strings in the third movement Andante, ending the movement especially delicately.

The Brentano String Quartet has a long history with Princeton University, and in this concert last week, Richardson Auditorium seemed like home to the players. The new concert season has begun with the bar set high, and the Brentano’s performance has put everyone in the mood for great music for the fall.

 

MAY THE BEST MAN WIN: Bitter rivals, formula 1 race car drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, left) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), line up at the start of a race on the way to their final showdown race that will take place in Fuji, Japan where one of them will be crowned the Champion Formula 1 Race Car Driver of 1976.

MAY THE BEST MAN WIN: Bitter rivals, formula 1 race car drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, left) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), line up at the start of a race on the way to their final showdown race that will take place in Fuji, Japan where one of them will be crowned the Champion Formula 1 Race Car Driver of 1976.

In the 70s two racecar drivers, who were as different from each other as Dudley Do-Right and Snidely Whiplash, became adversaries on the Formula 1 race car circuit. England’s James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) was a brash daredevil who was willing to put his life at risk every time he drove around the track. By contrast, Austria’s Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) was a technician who applied a scientific strategy to his racing contests.

Off the track, the pair were also polar opposites. Hunt was a flamboyant playboy who liked the limelight, while Lauda preferred to spend his free time in peace and quiet with his wife Marla Knaus (Alexandra Maria Lara). The bitter rivalry between the two came to a head during the 1976 season, when both were in contention for the coveted title of world champion formula 1 race driver.

The cutthroat quest for the title is the subject of Rush, a drama directed by two-time Academy Award-winner Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind). Based on a screenplay by two-time Oscar-nominee Peter Morgan (The Queen and Frost/Nixon), the picture’s engaging plot repeatedly juxtaposes the personas of the leads, painting the handsome Hunt as a lovable bon vivant on a crusade to wrest the crown from the defending champ Lauda, who is portrayed as a nerd who is too methodical to root for.

The movie masterfully depicts the cat-and-mouse mental stress as well as the pair’s race car driving skills, with the tension mounting at contests that are staged in cities in Brazil, Spain, Monaco, and Germany that lead up to a white-knuckle championship race in Fuji, Japan.

Along the way, Hunt’s chain-smoking, substance abuse, and womanizing is revealed, as he makes a mockery of Lauda’s Spartan regimen. The emotional build-up subtly suggests that getting the checkered flag in Fuji will serve as a confirmation of the victor’s approach to life.

A compelling, high-octane thriller.

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity, nudity, sexuality, smoking, disturbing images, and brief drug use. In English, German, Italian, and French with subtitles. Running Time: 123 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.

 

September 25, 2013

book rev wolfebook rev perkinsMy friend, the editor, has likened his own function at this painful time to that of a man who is trying to hang onto the fin of a plunging whale.

—Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) on Maxwell Perkins (1884-1947)

The “whale” was the manuscript of Thomas Wolfe’s Of Time and the River (1935). How could a mere book editor’s task inspire such hyperbole? The editor as action hero? Perkins and Wolfe soon to be a major motion picture? In fact, a film presently titled Genius, starring Colin Firth as the wily editor and Michael Fassbender as the word-drunk author, will begin filming next year. Honest. I didn’t make it up. The film is based on the biography of Perkins by Princeton alumnus A. Scott Berg, who was at the library in last week’s “Evenings with Friends” event.

When he delivered the massive first draft of his second novel to Perkins in December 1933, Wolfe confessed in a letter, “I need your help now more than I ever did.” It was up to Perkins to help him “get out of the woods,” as he had done in the course of shepherding Look Homeward Angel (1929) to the promised land.

In his essay, “The Story of a Novel,” Wolfe describes the teamwork between author and editor, “the whole strike, catch, flow, stop, and ending, the ten thousand fittings, changings, triumphs, and surrenders” that went into Of Time and the River.

You get a sense of just how demanding the editing process was from Struthers Burt, another Scribners author who worked with Perkins. In his June 9, 1951 Saturday Review piece, “Catalyst for Genius: Maxwell Perkins,” Burt recalls, “I would meet Tom and Max around eleven o’clock at the Chatham Walk of the Hotel Chatham, in Manhattan …. Tom would come striding in like a giant … but always a little cross and pettish with the childish crossness of a giant. Behind him would be Max, white and utterly exhausted. Max was of average height, but he looked small on those hot June nights and sparse like a dry-point etching. Every night for weeks Max and Tom had been working over in Brooklyn [where Wolfe lived “because it was the only place in the U.S. where you could be hidden and lonely”]. Max would persuade Tom to leave 5,000 words out of a new chapter. Tom would consent. Between them they would delete. The next day Tom would turn up with 10,000 new words.”

Star Attraction

It’s thanks to Struthers Burt, by way of his son Nathaniel and grandson Christopher, that the star attraction at this year’s Friends of the Princeton Public Library Book Sale, which begins Friday at 10 a.m., is a copy of the first edition of Of Time and the River signed by Maxwell Perkins, the man without whom it could not have been written and to whom it is emotionally dedicated. In all my years as an amateur bibliophile, attender of rare book fairs, and for some 25 years Friends book sale volunteer, I have never seen anything comparable to this tangible evidence in book form (albeit lacking the dust jacket) of the most storied editor-author relationship in American literature.

Like so many literary partnerships, however, this one did not go smoothly. Imagine a platonic romance — the ultimate literary buddy movie — that falls apart when the more demonstrative party is too extreme and too public in expressing his devotion and appreciation. While it makes perfect sense that Wolfe would dedicate Of Time and the River to Perkins, this was a writer forever given to extremes, and even though various associates at Scribners pleaded with him to tone down the dedication printed in the front matter of the novel, Wolfe insisted on paying a detailed tribute to “a great editor and a brave and honest man, who stuck to the writer of this book through times of bitter hopelessness and doubt and would not let him give in to his own despair … with the hope that all of it may be in some way worthy of the loyal devotion and the patient care which a dauntless and unshaken friend has given to each part of it, and without which none of it could have been written.”

These words were all it took to stir up exactly the sort of litchat gossip about his dependence on Perkins that Wolfe found intolerable. That alone would have been enough to send him to another publisher, but an even thornier problem was his determination to write about Perkins and Scribners in his next novel. Concerned that certain personal in-house information he’d revealed to Wolfe in the course of their working friendship might come to light, Perkins made it clear that he would have to resign if Scribners published the book. But there was no stopping Wolfe. After the North Carolina coming of age described in Look Homeward, Angel, his years with Perkins and Scribners were the summit of his life. So he went to Harpers, which divided the last immense unfinished manuscript into two novels published after Wolfe’s untimely death, The Web and the Rock (1939) and You Can’t Go Home Again (1940), wherein Perkins was portrayed as Foxhall Edwards and Scribners as the House of Rodney.

The Last Letter 

When Wolfe died 75 years ago, September 15, 1938, Perkins, who thought of his three most famous authors as surrogate sons, received letters of condolence from Scott Fitzgerald, who said he felt as if he were writing to “a relation” of Wolfe’s (“for I know how deeply his death must have touched you”) and Ernest Hemingway, who referred to the farewell message Wolfe sent to Perkins: “That was a good letter he wrote …. Remember if anything happens to me I think just as much of you as Tom Wolfe even if I can’t put it so well.”

Apparently Perkins had shown Hemingway Wolfe’s last letter, written a month before his death from a cerebral infection set off by pneumonia. The letter begins, “I’m sneaking this against orders, but ‘I’ve got a hunch’ — and I wanted to write these words to you …. I’ve made a long voyage and been to a strange country, and I’ve seen the dark man very close …. I wanted most desperately to live and still do … and there was the impossible anguish and regret of all the work I had not done, of all the work I had to do — and I know now I’m just a grain of dust, and I feel as if a great window has been opened on life I did not know about before …. Whatever happens — I had this ‘hunch’ and wanted to write you and tell you, no matter what happens or has happened, I shall always think of you and feel about you the way it was that Fourth of July day three years ago when you met me at the boat and we went out on the cafe on the river and had a drink and later went on top of the tall building, and all the strangeness and the glory and the power of life and the city was below.”

Cynics might say, look, even his last letter needs editing, but it was the essence of the document, with its soaring last words about the day he’d returned to America from Europe to find that Of Time and the River was a great success, that touched writers all over the world, especially young writers who were inspired by his work and haunted by his story.

I’ve long since given up trying to “recapture the rapture” of first discovering Wolfe and walking around Greenwich Village and Brooklyn Heights following in his footsteps, staying at his hotel, the Albert on University Place (the Leopold in Of Time and the River). For a period between the ages of 18 and 21, the big, wonderstruck, forever wandering wordslinger from the South was the most unlikely of my alter egos, right up there with Holden Caulfield and James Dean. Thanks to this remarkable donation from the Burt family, I had an excuse to pay a return visit to Wolfe after decades of false starts. What I did was go right to Book IV, a little over 400 pages into Of Time and the River, and start reading. At first it was hard going, like dipping one foot into a raging current, or catching hold of a speeding train bound for the Land of the Passionately Purple and Vividly Verbose. I found the secret is to read it aloud. After a few paragraphs, the rolling rhythm carries you along. I took a journey of a hundred pages, through the author’s love-hate relationship with New York, his stint teaching at NYU, his Jewish nemesis and eventual friend, Abe Jones, and a Hudson River rhapsody Scott Fitzgerald remembered as Wolfe at his best.

About the Burts

Maxwell Struthers Burt (1882-1954, Princeton Class of 1904), was the author of numerous popular novels and stories, including The Delectable Mountains (1927), Festival (1931), and the autobiography The Diary of a Dude Wrangler (1924). He was also the co-founder of the Bar BC Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Besides helping him run the ranch, his wife, Katherine Newlin Burt, was also a successful writer (30 novels and innumerable stories, most about the West). Their son, Nathaniel Burt (1913-2003, Princeton Class of 1936), another writer, was born on the kitchen table at the Bar BC. Over the years the ranch was a literary gathering place (Ernest Hemingway is said to have worked on A Farewell to Arms there). The Burt donation reflects the story of a fascinating family of writers whose interests range from the West to East. Grandson Christopher is the author of Extreme Weather, a guide and record book published by W.W. Norton. Books by the Burts will be on the tables at the Friends Book Sale this weekend, along with items like Princeton Verse 1919, which features two poems by Scott Fitzgerald (as T. Scott) and Riddle Poems by Emily Dickinson, in an edition published and signed by Leonard and Esther Baskin.

 

MONTANA MOON: Ben Colbert painted this 36 x 48 inch acrylic on canvas after being inspired by a friend from Montana. “He was always talking about Montana’s big sky country and how the moon impacts the landscape,” said the artist of the painting which is one of 20 works by Mr. Colbert currently on view in the exhibition of his work, “Beyond the Horizons 2: Landscapes, Watercolors, and Drawings,” at the Erdman Art Gallery, 20 Library Place, through October 30. For more information, contact erdman@ptsem.edu or (609) 497.7990.(Courtesy of the artist)

MONTANA MOON: Ben Colbert painted this 36 x 48 inch acrylic on canvas after being inspired by a friend from Montana. “He was always talking about Montana’s big sky country and how the moon impacts the landscape,” said the artist of the painting which is one of 20 works by Mr. Colbert currently on view in the exhibition of his work, “Beyond the Horizons 2: Landscapes, Watercolors, and Drawings,” at the Erdman Art Gallery, 20 Library Place, through October 30. For more information, contact erdman@ptsem.edu or (609) 497.7990. (Courtesy of the artist)

“Serenity” is the word that springs to mind when viewing Ben Colbert’s “linear landscapes” at the Princeton Theological Seminary’s Erdman Gallery in Princeton. The artist’s one man show, “Beyond the Horizons II: Landscapes, Watercolors, and Drawings,” features 20 works, some recent, some from earlier years. Almost all are large, many 36 x 48 inches.

In Mr. Colbert’s canvases, bands of color convey land, water, and sky. The artist demonstrates a poet’s appreciation for white space. Mr. Colbert uses unpainted areas of canvas to draw attention to the painted areas. While there are familiar features of the traditional landscape here, these paintings can be seen as expansive images of a vast, unpeopled, and elemental world.

The artist’s minimalist style draws upon the viewer’s own understanding and personal experiences to evoke mountain vistas and sweeping horizons. Depending on your point of view, you might as easily see a half-remembered Scottish loch framed by low mountains as a moonlit vista in Montana. By leaving a portion of the canvas surface unpainted, Mr. Colbert engages viewers in an active relationship with the artist’s own creativity.

His delineated colored bands also convey a variety of atmospheres and moods as made clear by titles such as Hudson River View, Nordic Sun, Last Night, and Violet Glow/Golden Pond. The latter is a highlight of the exhibition but it is not for sale. Its rich purples and browns belong to the artist’s patrons Thomas J. and Pamela H. Espenshade.

When Mr. Colbert was invited to exhibit at the Erdman Gallery a year ago, he thought this would be a perfect opportunity to thank his many Princeton patrons as well as to exhibit work that hadn’t been shown before. Many of the images here, including several watercolor and ink drawings and charcoal sketches, are in private hands.

“The themes derive from my Southern roots, my travels, and real or imagined environmental experiences,” said the artist in a phone interview Monday. His goal, he explained,”is to capture the character and mood of a particular natural setting while focusing on elements that make it personally unique.” His Bayou Morning with its warm tones came out of a family trip to New Orleans.

“I’ve been working on this theme ever since I was an MFA student at the University of Georgia. I had to choose between a career in art or to take up an opportunity to work in educational administration. I chose the latter,” he said.

For almost three decades, Mr. Colbert worked as a program administrator for Educational Testing Service (ETS) until he retired in 2000. “I had a good career and it was important for me to raise and provide for my family but it is a joy to return to my original goal. I had some initial success as a painter back in the day and now I have a studio in downtown Trenton where I can devote time to large canvases that can’t be completed on the kitchen table or in the basement,” he said.

Mr. Colbert grew up in Savannah in the southeastern part of Georgia. Traveling to the northern part of the state for his studies he was captivated by distant horizons. The sight was a motivating factor in his artwork, as was Georgia’s red clay and mountain ranges. “I started out very minimalist but over time my work has grown to include landscape features that add atmosphere such as moonlight or early morning fog. My landscapes are abstractions, series of studies of space.” One example is his massive 48 x 52 inch #473 from his Land Series, an early work in cool colors. More recently the artist has been visiting the Hudson River Valley and observing the landscapes that inspired the School that was an influence on him when he was a student.

As for working method, Mr. Colbert said that a painting might take him anywhere from a week to several months. He frequently puts work aside and returns to it later and he experiments a great deal after first creating sketches. Originally he simply numbered his work but more recently he’s been adding titles. He doesn’t intend his paintings to be framed. “I paint beyond the edges and I leave white space to focus the viewer’s attention on the particular part of the landscape that I am interested in. Often the white space is in the middle of the canvas, sometimes at the top or the bottom, to remind the viewer that they are seeing only a part of a landscape. I don’t intellectualize that much,” he said.

Asked why he thought people were drawn to his work, Mr. Colbert shared this insight: “They bring their own personal experiences to them and I think that they are attracted by simplicity. Although my work is contemporary and abstract, it is not confusing as abstract art can tend to be.” The artist describes himself as having a love for discipline. From time to time he attends life drawing classes at Mercer County Community College.

He has a bachelor’s degree in education from Savannah State College and a master’s in fine arts, drawing, and painting from the University of Georgia.

In addition to one man shows at Emory University, the University of South Florida, and at Atlanta’s Image South Gallery, his work has been shown locally at the Trenton Makes Studio and in the Gallery of the Nassau Presbyterian Church. He has participated in group shows at Mercer County Artists, Ellerslie, The Johnson Education Center, Phillips Mill, and the Prince Street Gallery in New York. Earlier this year, his work was part of the Arts Council of Princeton’s “Structure and Flow: An Exploration of Contrasts in Abstraction.”

Benjamin Colbert’s “Beyond the Horizons 2: Landscapes, Watercolors, and Drawings” will be on view in the Princeton Theological Seminary’s Erdman Center Art Gallery, 20 Library Place, through October 30. Admission is free. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information contact the Erdman Center at erdman@ptsem.edu or call (609) 497.7990.

 

PARIS OR PRINCETON?: Times of Trenton photographer Michael Mancuso evokes the boulevards of Paris with this wintry scene of Nassau Street and it lone pedestrian and her red umbrella. Other atmospheric scenes by Mr. Mancuso are on view in an exhibition of work by the photojournalist in the Gallery at Chapin School, 4101 Princeton Pike. Titled “Weather or Not,” the show will run through October 25 with a reception for the artist on Wednesday, October 2, from 5 to 7 p.m. It can be viewed during school hours by appointment by calling (609) 924-7206.

PARIS OR PRINCETON?: Times of Trenton photographer Michael Mancuso evokes the boulevards of Paris with this wintry scene of Nassau Street and it lone pedestrian and her red umbrella. Other atmospheric scenes by Mr. Mancuso are on view in an exhibition of work by the photojournalist in the Gallery at Chapin School, 4101 Princeton Pike. Titled “Weather or Not,” the show will run through October 25 with a reception for the artist on Wednesday, October 2, from 5 to 7 p.m. It can be viewed during school hours by appointment by calling (609) 924-7206.

The Gallery at Chapin School will feature work by Michael Mancuso, photo journalist for the Times of Trenton, in an exhibition entitled “Weather or Not.” The show will run from October 1 to October 25 with a reception for the artist on Wednesday, October 2, from 5 to 7 p.m.

Mr. Mancuso’s photographs are always a standout in The Times and regular readers will readily identify his images from their composition, quality, and respect for subject matter. As its title suggests, the images on view are predominately related to weather and its many transformations.

“I just want to do good work,” said the photographer. “In photojournalism that involves hand, eye, heart, and mind coordination. It feels good to be able to do what none of my fellow creatures before me in history (at least until 1839) had ever been able to do: freeze time.”

Mr. Mancuso has been with The Times for 29 years full-time. “I can’t take myself too seriously (believe me, I’ve tried), but I do take the work very seriously. I approach my subjects with deference and respect for their human dignity and if they’re not human I respect their animal dignity or their architectural dignity or their land dignity, whatever the case may be. Because of daily newspaper deadlines, I don’t get in-depth time to study my subjects. I’m like an anthropologist with a short attention span,” he said.

Because his father was a “serious hobbyist photographer,” Mr. Mancuso always had access to a camera and a darkroom when he was growing up. But it wasn’t until adulthood that he acquired what he calls a “real camera.” As he tells it, this was at the time of the birth of his first child. “My father said ‘Mike, now that you’ve got a kid, why don’t you get a ‘real’ camera?’ That was it for me. Since I took that advice of his, it is a rare occasion that I haven’t had a ‘real’ camera nearby. Even without holding a camera in hand, the eye, heart and mind are still working.”

Mr. Mancuso’s portion of any proceeds from the sale of his work in the exhibition will be donated to a charity of The Time’s choice.

“Weather or Not” in the Gallery at Chapin School, 4101 Princeton Pike, runs through October 25. It can be viewed during school hours by appointment by calling (609) 924-7206.

WHO SHALL I MARRY, TOM, DICK, OR HARRY?: Thirty-year-old Montana Moore (right) is interviewing one of her old boy friends Quinton Jamison (Djimon Hounsou), who is also very wealthy, to see if he would do as a potential husband. Quinton is one of several on her list of candidates. Montana’s younger sister Sheree’s (Lauren London, not shown) is already engaged and Montana feels that she at least has to be engaged before her little sister gets married in 30 days. To find out who, if anyone at all, Montana chooses, see the movie.

WHO SHALL I MARRY, TOM, DICK, OR HARRY?: Thirty-year-old Montana Moore (right) is interviewing one of her old boy friends Quinton Jamison (Djimon Hounsou), who is also very wealthy, to see if he would do as a potential husband. Quinton is one of several on her list of candidates. Montana’s younger sister Sheree’s (Lauren London, not shown) is already engaged and Montana feels that she at least has to be engaged before her little sister gets married in 30 days. To find out who, if anyone at all, Montana chooses, see the movie.

Montana Moore (Paula Patton) has a problem. The pretty stewardess is practically 30-years-old, the age at which her mother (Jenifer Lewis) insists any young lady must be married in order to be considered respectable.

Meanwhile, her younger sister, Sheree (Lauren London), who’s a sophomore in college, is already engaged to a big man on campus (Terrence Jenkins), a Heisman trophy hopeful with a bright future in professional football. The blissfully betrothed are set to tie the knot in a month, and Montana is determined to turn one of her former boyfriends into a fiancé prior to Sheree’s wedding day.

So, enlisting the assistance of a couple of colleagues — Gail (Jill Scott) and Sam (Adam Brody) — she proceeds to hack into her airline company’s reservation schedule to determine the travel plans of her ex-beaus. Montana’s candidates include a hip-hop producer (Trey Songz), a Republican politician (Taye Diggs), and a very rich businessman (Djimon Hounsou), but she ignores her lifelong friend (Derek Luke) who is living right across the hall from her and who had once proposed to her when they were in grade school.

The desperate potential spinster starts crisscrossing the country to orchestrate “chance” encounters with her old flames while her Mr. Right might very well be the next-door neighbor she keeps leaving behind in Baltimore. Although the audience is never in doubt about the eventual resolution, it takes Montana most of the movie to realize that she’s meant to marry the man across the hall, who has long admired her from afar.

Written and directed by David E. Talbert, Baggage Claim is a transparent soap opera that telegraphs every punch. Thanks to the intermittent comic relief coming from the irreverent Greek chorus that is comprised of gay Sam and boy-crazy Gail, this exercise in the obvious is nevertheless a lot of fun to watch. It also helps considerably that the protagonist and her handsome and wealthy choices are so easy on the eyes.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for profanity and sexuality. Running time: 96 minutes. Distributor: Fox Searchlight.

 

September 19, 2013

If Patience Tawengwa could lift McCarter Theatre from it’s perch on University Place and deposit it in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she co-directs a dramatic arts organization called Almasi, she would make it happen. Sitting in the office of McCarter’s artistic director Emily Mann a few weeks ago, shortly before she returned home after five weeks at the theater as part of a cultural exchange, Ms. Tawengwa smiled as she imagined doing just that.

“There is a certain magic here,” she said. “I don’t know what it is, and I’ve been trying to figure it out so I can take it back with me.”

Ms. Tawengwa, who is in her 30s, spent much of August and some of this month living on Palmer Square and shadowing Ms. Mann in an effort to learn how a major arts organization works. She was struck not only by Ms. Mann’s abilities as a director, but by the simple fact of her gender.

“I come from a very patriarchal country, a boy’s club. So the fact that she is a woman and so accomplished is very important,” she said. “Then, just watching her process and how she works with the actors has given me such a shift of perspective. Her attention to detail is amazing to me. Everything is so particular and it’s all done so quickly. Just watching how she lets the actors explore on stage has made me realize that I’ve been somewhat harsh with actors. I realize you get a lot more with honey than without.”

It hasn’t been easy for Ms. Tawengwa and her Almasi co-founder, actress Danai Gurira, who is familiar to television audiences from her role on the drama The Walking Dead as well as her extensive work as a playwright. The two founded Almasi, which means “diamond” in Swahili, in 2011 as a “Zimbabwean American Dramatic Arts Collaborative Organization,” as it is written in the website. Through staged readings, educational outreach, and cultural exchanges such as the one just completed by Ms. Tawengwa, they hope to make the arts much more accessible.

“In Zimbabwe, they put very little emphasis on arts education. And there are all these talented kids out there,” Ms. Tawengwa said. “Part of what we’re doing is going into high density and rural schools, with a goal that every child knows what theater is and can get involved.”

Ms. Tawengwa was already known in Zimbabwe as an award-winning film director when she came to the attention of the U.S. Embassy there two years ago. “They wanted to do something for World AIDS Day,” she recalled. “That’s when I met Danai.”

Ms. Gurira was born in the U.S. to Zimbabwean parents and raised in Zimbabwe. Among her plays is The Convert, which appeared at McCarter, the Goodman and Center Theatre Group theaters and is part of a trilogy about Zimbabwe. As part of the exchange, McCarter’s Associate Artistic Director Adam Immewahr will travel to Harare this fall to direct a production of the play.

It was after working together on The Continuum, which Ms. Gurira co-wrote, that she and Ms. Tawengwa decided to form a partnership. “We had some unpleasant experiences with the producer. It was very disorganized,” Ms. Tawengwa said. “So we said to each other, ‘Let’s form this organization.’ We knew our niche would be strictly that we were a Zimbabwean/American collaboration.”

Ms. Gurira and three others run the American side of Almasi, while Ms. Tawengwa and three others are based in Zimbabwe.

In addition to shadowing Ms. Mann at McCarter, Ms. Tawengwa was able to spend time interacting with other members of the staff. “I have come to appreciate how non-profits are run,” she said. “This is what we envision for Almasi in many years to come. There’s a certain excellence and culture about the way McCarter is run that I’ve never felt elsewhere.”

Ms. Tawengwa’s time in Princeton also included investigations into Ms. Mann’s body of work. “I think she does art that matters,” she said. “In our country, you can’t just do art for art’s sake.” Back in Zimbabwe, Almasi will do a staged reading of Ms. Mann’s play, Greensboro.

Mr. Immewahr’s upcoming direction of The Convert at Almasi is another example of the collaboration between the two theaters. “I’m very excited to have this opportunity to direct this play that premiered under Emily Mann, and to let it be seen in the country that inspired it,” he said. “It is a thrilling play set in 1895 Zimbabwe, about women who escaped forced marriages, and I think it will be particularly resonant to see it performed in Harare with Zimbabwean actors and designers.”

Ms. Gurira has been a big part of the exchange between the two theaters. “It’s been a fluid process,” Mr. Immewahr said. “We’ve developed plays. We’ve sent Danai to Zimbabwe, and now we’re developing her next play. It’s a messy process, with many components. It doesn’t fit into a box. And hopefully it will enrich our community here at the same time it enriches the artistic community in Zimbabwe.”

Ms. Tawengwa was planning to do a talk at the American embassy in Zimbabwe upon her return home, detailing her experiences in Princeton and her plans for Almasi’s future. “We play by the McCarter way now,” she said. “We’ve got a new code.”

 

September 18, 2013

BookrevThirty chapters into Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, Bleeding Edge (Penguin $28.95 ), the familiar voice that has been riffing on “ghost stops on abandoned subway lines” and girls “whose fashion sense included undead signifiers such as custom fangs installed out in the outer boroughs by cut rate Lithuanian orthodontists” suddenly starts talking straight. No more sweet Pynchonian nothings playfully whispered in the reader’s ear. Doing a reversal of Dorothy’s “We’re not in Kansas any more” moment, the author’s funny, scary, gaudy Manhattan movie briefly becomes a real-life newsreel featuring people like you and me, people who were living in the real world on a brilliant Tuesday morning in September 2001.

The tone of the first three pages of Chapter 30 is set with a reference to the city and the nation “united in sorrow and shock.” What immediately follows is reminiscent of the elegaic reportage that dominated the media at the time. It’s as if the magnitude of the event overwhelms Pynchon the way the white whale does Melville’s Ahab: it heaps him. He can write circles around it, and in effect does just that, but rather than directly confront it in his own style, he puts his antic muse briefly on hold in deference to “that terrible morning” and writes about home-cooked meals at firehouses, flowers, child choirs, American flags in apartment building lobbies. The writing is only marginally distinguishable from the summary on the dust jacket (“It is 2001 in New York City, in the lull between the collapse of the dotcom boom and the terrible events of September 11th”), which effectively casts the shadow of the event on the narrative before you even open the book, although it’s not until page 315 that the towers actually come down.

What’s in a Name?

Forty years ago, Gravity’s Rainbow’s first words were “A screaming comes across the sky.” Bleeding Edge begins with a mother “walking her boys to school.” Maxine Tarnow knows her kids are “past the age where they need an escort,” but she “doesn’t want to let go just yet, it’s only a couple of blocks, it’s on her way to work, she enjoys it, so?” If you’re wondering where Thomas Pynchon is, and in case that snappy little “so?” doesn’t reassure you, the issue is settled as soon as you learn that the school in question is named for Otto Kugelblitz, “an early psychoanalyst” who emigrated to the U.S. after being “expelled from Freud’s inner circle.” It also helps to know that this is a school where graduation ceremonies feature the Kugelblitz bebop ensemble performing that old Charlie Parker favorite, “Billie’s Bounce.” Still, since when has the creator of Tyrone Slothrop and Benny Profane, Oedipa Maas and Rachel Owlglass, ever settled for so uncommonly common a name as Maxine Tarnow? Google “Tarnow” and out of the multitudes you come up with an insurance agent, a “casual furniture store” in Chicopee, Mass., and a dentist “in the forefront of dental implant research,” which may be of interest to scholars preparing a paper on Pynchon’s famous overbite.

The Real Story

What about the plot? Do we really have to go there? I could spend a paragraph talking about an internet startup called hashslingrz or celebrating the fascinating depths of DeepArcher, but I’d rather leave that to readers who have gone to bed with Pynchon’s work. The novel’s most passionate priorities are implicit in the epigraph from Donald E. Westlake that says as “a character in a mystery” New York is neither the detective nor the murderer but “the enigmatic suspect who knows the real story but isn’t going to tell it.” Bleeding Edge contains a wealth of false leads that are fun to follow, at least until you learn there’s no pay-off, nothing to equal the Manhattan rhapsodies, Pynchonesque allusions to pop culture, and comic audacity (the dead chicken facial, for instance). The references to Madoff, the CIA, and conspiracy teasers about the Trade Center attack can’t compare with the pleasure of reading Pynchon when he has the wind in his sails.

Given the human cost of 9/11, it’s also important that Maxine, mother and homemaker, is at the center of the action, adding domestic credibility (even her estranged husband has returned to the nest), while her professional identity as a hip, well-armed, conveniently disbarred, sexually willing investigator of online fraud leads us into a maze of bizarre encounters with individuals who for the most part qualify as characters in name only, since Maxine’s conversations with various doormen, maids, shopping or drinking buddies, suspects, shop keepers, clerks, spies, geniuses, and killers tend to blur into one another. It helps to think of certain characters as routes to follow through Pynchon’s New York, human taxis, subways, and busses, the most compelling of which is the Windust Line, after Nicholas Windust, an anti-hero right out of 24 and the Bournes, think rogue CIA, the Homeland Brody to Maxine’s Carrie, phallic villain as victim. And I should mention that the Moriarty to Tarnow’s Holmes is an internet mogul named Gabriel Ice.

With the game playing, culture vulture gleanings, and elliptical offhand dialogue (typically sez for says or said), you’re on Planet Pynchon, love it or leave it. But if you leave it, you miss what must be the best writing about New York City since Henry James’s American Scene (1907).

Pynchon staked a literary claim of sorts to New York 50 years ago in V with Benny Profane’s subway yo-yo-ing between Grand Central and Times Square and the alligators in the sewers. Now more than ever before, this is his town; he’s an Upper West Side New Yorker, and you can tell how he feels when Maxine goes for a rush-hour evening walk as the rain is just starting: “sometimes she can’t resist, she needs to be out on the street” and its “million pedestrian dramas, each one charged with mystery, more intense than high-barometer daylight can ever allow. Everything changes. There’s that clean, rained-on smell. The traffic noise gets liquefied. Reflections from the street into the windows of city buses fill the bus interiors with unreadable 3-D images, as surface unaccountably transforms to volume.”

In passages like that one, the word-drunk virtuoso of Gravity’s Rainbow is writing on a more down-to-earth life-is-real level, again perhaps in recognition of the impending event. No such lyrical moments occur in Times Square (“Disneyfied and sterile”), on Park Avenue (“the most boring street in the city”), or on the Upper East Side (“Deep hairband country … like a planned midgets’ commmunity, everything scaled down … you expect any minute to be approached by a tiny official greeter going, ‘As mayor of the Munch-kin City …’”). There are some nice views of the state across the Hudson, however: “Out into one of those oppressive wintry afternoons, the sky over New Jersey a pale battle flag of the ancient nation of winter.”

Not to Be Missed

In Bleeding Edge, New York is both suspect and victim. The city Pynchon wrote about in V is under attack not just by terrorists and corporate greed but by the Giuliani administration. There’s a piece of charged writing planted in your path early in the narrative like a gem, a glowing signifier Pynchon doesn’t want you to miss. It comes when Maxine follows a lead involving hwgaahwgh.com (to pronounce it, just clear your throat or cough), which rents office space in one of the many doomed vestiges of old Manhattan in the embattled city, where “sinister and labyrinthine sewers of greed … run beneath all real estate dealings.” The intrepid Tarnow enters a “nice building with terra-cotta facing from a century ago” that is “strangely welcoming as if the architects had actually given some thought to the people who’d be working there every day.” The office she’s looking for is listed in the lobby directory. She knows “old-school fraud investigators who’ll admit to walking away at this point, only to regret it later.” In other words, reader, don’t walk away, don’t hurry, go forth and focus, “keep going no matter what” until you “can actually stand” with Maxine “in the haunted space and try to summon the ghost vendor out of its nimbus of crafted silence” [my italics].

All such intensely written codas in Bleeding Edge are not just one-offs, they have legs that lead to other ghosts and other silences. Compare the charged “ghost vendor” sentence to the more lyrical, less elaborate, but no less suggestive passage about the reflections in the bus window, and then compare that to the passage near the end where Maxine’s on the subway as her train passes or is passed by another “in the darkness of the tunnel” and “as the windows of the other train move slowly past, the lighted panels appear one by one, like a series of fortune-telling cards … The Scholar. The Unhoused. The Warrior Thief. The Haunted Woman.” Maxine sees the faces as “the day’s messengers from whatever the Beyond has for a Third World.” Which leads to the “darkly exotic” Third World Woman she sees gesturing at her from “one particular window of the other train.” It’s the late Nick Windust’s Guatamalan wife, the woman he smuggled safely out of the country. The convergence of Maxine and Xiomara is the sort of brazen coincidence only a fearless writer would dare and Pynchon pulls it off.

A few pages farther on, “Deep below, trains still move through tunnels in and out of Penn Station, horns chiming in B-major sixths, deep as dreams, while ghosts of tunnel-wall artists and squatters the civil authorities have no idea what to do about … go drifting past the traincar windows in the semidark, whispering messages of transcience.”

Passages like those I’ve been quoting (and I could quote a dozen others) transcend plot and character, so it’s no surprise that the most prodigious narrative flash points, all through, are of the Twin Towers, seen from various angles and actually inhabited when Maxine’s husband Horst takes the two boys to Windows on the World. In one of the novel’s most audacious passages, Maxine, along with a friend and a drug dealer, is fleeing the DEA in a motor boat (“a 28-foot runabout”) skimming down the Hudson past “the World Trade Center leaning, looming brilliantly curtained in light gigantically off their port quarter, and someplace farther out in the darkness a vast unforgiving ocean.” After a sharp right turn to elude their pursuers, they find themselves approaching “a lofty mountain range of waste. Neglected little creeks, strangely luminous canyon walls of garbage, smells of methane, death, and decay.”

Where has Pynchon, the poet laureate of waste, taken his characters? To “the intersection of Fresh and Arthur Kills, toxicity central,” which some months later will be the last resting place of the wreckage of Trade Towers freighted with the remains of more than a thousand victims.

This is where literature sweeps everything before it and Bleeding Edge, love it or leave it, is literature.

By all rights, the Newspaper of Record, as Pynchon refers to the New York Times throughout, should make up for its violation of the publisher’s request (“Please do not review before September 17”) by putting together an online anthology of Pynchon’s New York arias.

 

NONHUMAN ANIMALS: Hetty Baiz’s 2013 mixed media on canvas work, Cat, is one of a dozen large scale paintings by the artist, in the exhibition, “Nonhuman Animals: Eat, Test, Love,” at the Woodrow Wilson School’s Bernstein Gallery. Inspired by the work of animal rights activist, Peter Singer, these new paintings by Baiz will be on view through October 18.

NONHUMAN ANIMALS: Hetty Baiz’s 2013 mixed media on canvas work, Cat, is one of a dozen large scale paintings by the artist, in the exhibition, “Nonhuman Animals: Eat, Test, Love,” at the Woodrow Wilson School’s Bernstein Gallery. Inspired by the work of animal rights activist, Peter Singer, these new paintings by Baiz will be on view through October 18.

A dozen large scale paintings by local artist Hetty Baiz comprise the exhibition, “Nonhuman Animals: Eat, Test, Love,” the first of this year’s season at the Woodrow Wilson School’s Bernstein Gallery.

Inspired by the work of Princeton University professor and animal rights activist, Peter Singer and his influential book Animal Liberation, first printed in 1975, these new paintings will be on view through October 18.

A panel discussion will be held in conjunction with the exhibition on Tuesday, October 8 at 4:30 p.m. in Bowl 016, Robertson Hall, on the lower level of the Woodrow Wilson School. An artist reception will follow the talk at 6 p.m. in the Bernstein Gallery.

In addition to Mr. Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, University Center for Human Ethics, Princeton University and Laureate Professor School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne, the panelists are: Jeff McMahan, professor of philosophy, Rutgers University; and Stanley Katz, moderator, professor of public and international affairs and director of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University. Ms. Baiz, will give a brief introduction to her work and its inspiration.

Ms. Baiz’s earlier works include rhinoceros, elephants, iguanas, and other wild animals, but her focus here is on animals that are factory farmed and laboratory tested, the subject of Singer’s seminal publication.

“Nearly 40 years after Animal Liberation, even more animals are suffering in factory farms run by large corporations that increase their profits by producing cheap food in massive quantity,” writes Ilene Dube in an introduction to the catalog that accompanies the show. “There’s no room in the equation for animal welfare. Worse, new ‘ag-gag’ laws have been introduced in a number of states that punish the whistle-blowers who document abusive conditions of livestock and poultry.”

The cow, pig, cat, rat, and other animals that make up this exhibition are all created by piecing together bits of hand-made, hand-painted papers from different cultures, and photographs taken from the artist’s travel in Asia and Africa. After building up the canvas with layers of torn papers, Baiz then reworks the surface by incising, scraping, and burning it, which she then may further articulate by her hand drawing or painting.

Occasionally, the artist will use found materials, such as old linoleum bits, to provide a different texture, as can be seen in her “Calf.” These animals, noble and anonymous, ask the viewer to consider his or her own responsibility in allowing one species to dominate and subjugate another.

Ms. Baiz received a BFA from Cornell University and an MBA from Columbia University. Her most recent solo exhibits include Morpeth Contemporary, Hopewell, (2011), Tenri Cultural Institute, New York City (2009); and DrawingSpace, Melbourne, Australia (2008). She has been selected for numerous juried exhibitions including the New Jersey Arts Annual 2010 at the New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, and the 2009 International Women Artists’ Biennale in Incheon, South Korea. Baiz has also exhibited in group shows in Tibet, China, and France as well as numerous museums and venues in the United States. She is an active member of the Princeton Artist Alliance.

The exhibition and the panel discussion are free and open to the public.

For more information, call (609) 258-0157 .

 

FATHER-DAUGHTER TIES: Catherine (Kristen Bush) and her father Robert (Michael Siberry) struggle with problems of mathematics, insanity, and affection in McCarter Theatre’s production of David Auburn’s 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Proof,” running at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre, 91 University Place through October 6.(Photo by Richard — Termine)

FATHER-DAUGHTER TIES: Catherine (Kristen Bush) and her father Robert (Michael Siberry) struggle with problems of mathematics, insanity, and affection in McCarter Theatre’s production of David Auburn’s 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Proof,” running at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre, 91 University Place through October 6. (Photo by Richard — Termine)

How do you make a play about mathematicians and a mathematical proof comprehensible and interesting to a general audience? Ask David Auburn the playwright and Emily Mann the director of McCarter Theatre’s exhilarating current production of Mr. Auburn’s 2001 Pulitzer and Tony winner, Proof.

The “proof’ of the title refers most directly to an apparent groundbreaking proof of a mathematical theorem, and that proof is discovered near the end of the first of two acts. But the meaning of the title expands to the question of whether the young protagonist Catherine, inheritor of her father Robert’s genius as well as his mental instability, can prove that she, not her deceased father, actually devised and wrote that proof.

At the same time, Catherine is seeking proof of the affections of Hal, young math professor and protégé of her father; proof of her sister’s questionable intentions; and proof of her own ability to overcome her depression, doubts and fears, so she can move beyond her father’s death.

So, despite initial appearances, Proof, turns out to be more about human relationships than about mathematics, and the engrossing dialogue, even when mathematicians are talking about mathematics, is accessible and engaging.

This intellectual drama, seasoned with a rich dose of warm, entertaining humor, may provoke thought and discussion about frighteningly close connections between genius and insanity, and it may instigate further provocative commentary on the scarcity of women at the higher levels of mathematics. But the most important issues of this play, the ones that lay claim most dynamically to the audience’s attention and emotional engagement, focus on the 25-year-old Catherine — her relationship with her recently deceased father, her growing affection for Hal, and her bitter clashes with her successful, domineering, sister Claire.

Proof, originally at the Manhattan Theatre Club for five months in 2000, then on Broadway for more than two years, with Mary-Louise Parker and Larry Bryggman in the starring roles, before becoming a 2005 movie with Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins, is most essentially the story of Catherine’s coming of age.

Played here with great sensitivity, fragility, and charm by Kristen Bush, Catherine battles with depression, deepened by the death of her father, whose caretaker she has been during his long period of mental instability. She becomes edgy, defensive, even paranoid, alternately angry, suspicious, distraught, then loving and hopeful. Her body language speaks volumes as she wraps herself in her father’s too-large sweater or folds herself up, hunched over in a large chair. Her face glows with love and sadness as she confronts and comforts her father. Her eyes sparkle with laughter and hope as she emerges from her cocoon in connecting with Hal. She bristles with bitter sarcasm in her rancorous quarrels with her sister. The dialogue is spot-on credible, and the characters are richly sympathetic, believable, and appealing.

The action of the play spans a period of about one week, starting from the night before the funeral of Catherine’s father (Michael Siberry), but in nine scenes the play skillfully interweaves the present-day narrative with episodes involving Catherine and her father from the past and from Catherine’s imagination. The play itself is artfully, carefully crafted to make the most of each secret that is revealed, each revelation and twist in the plot, and Ms. Mann’s direction perfectly complements the high-suspense plotting and the fascinating development of characters and relationships. The result is a moving, memorable human drama — funny, touching, and powerful in its impact, especially perhaps for mathematicians, but also for anyone who can reflect on a relationship with father, daughter, lover, or sibling.

The plot here does seem thin, but the suspense is genuine and gripping. Hal (Michael Braun), with dual motivations, encroaches on Catherine’s world. He hopes to find valuable work in the 103 notebooks that Robert left behind and also he is starting to fall in love with Catherine.

Catherine’s older sister Claire (Jessica Dickey) has flown in for the funeral from New York, where she works as a Wall Street currency analyst. A pragmatist and successful businesswoman, she is a striking contrast to her late father and sister. Claire wastes no time in announcing that she’s selling the house and proposing her plans for her troubled sister to move to New York and seek psychiatric help.

As the romance between Catherine and Hal develops, along with conflict between the two sisters, Catherine directs Hal to the notebook containing the historic, earth-shattering proof. The handwriting looks like Robert’s, but he had done no new creative work since his 20s, when the creative spark faded and the madness began to set in. Suspense rises, as the mystery deepens and, in a stunning act-one curtain line, Catherine claims that she wrote the brilliant, barrier-breaking proof.

Mr. Siberry is consistently convincing as the rumpled, white-haired University of Chicago genius mathematics professor. He is funny in his irascible impatience and eccentricity; endearing and sympathetic in his loss of contact with reality and his deeply loving relationship with his self-sacrificing mathematician daughter.

Mr. Braun, the source of many of the witty math jokes in the play, is credible, both as a young, earnest mathematician, with a winning humility and self-awareness, and also as a viable love interest for Catherine.

As the antagonist sister, interloper from another world, trying, it seems, to do the right thing, Ms. Dickey provides a strong voice of “normality” and a formidable obstacle for Catherine to battle as she strives to shape her own life.

Eugene Lee’s inspired set design combines realism with surrealism: a beautifully specific, large, realistic Chicago back porch in early fall is surrounded on the upstage wall by a huge blackboard full of advanced mathematical problems and equations. Thoroughly in-character costumes by Jennifer von Mayrhauser and nuanced lighting by Stephen Strawbridge enhance the realistic effect and help to fully create the world of this play, while Mark Bennett’s creative sound design highlights the drama and supports the varied tone of the proceedings.

Ms. Mann, whose own father was a University of Chicago professor, has directed with loving care, attention to detail, and uncanny ability to highlight the most important moments in the relationships of these four characters and to bring out the rich humanity in this entertaining and emotionally satisfying tale of mathematicians, madness and love.

 

SOMEONE HAS TO DO SOMETHING TO FIND THE CHILDREN: Anguished mother Grace Dover (Maria Bello) beseeches her husband Keller (Hugh Jackman) to do something to find their missing daughter Anna and her friend Joy, who were abducted on Thanksgiving day, since the local detective seems to have put the official police investigation on the back burner.

SOMEONE HAS TO DO SOMETHING TO FIND THE CHILDREN: Anguished mother Grace Dover (Maria Bello) beseeches her husband Keller (Hugh Jackman) to do something to find their missing daughter Anna and her friend Joy, who were abducted on Thanksgiving day, since the local detective seems to have put the official police investigation on the back burner.

Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a rugged outdoorsman and a family man with deep roots in rural Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Grace (Maria Bello), are raising their children, 6-year-old Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) and teenager Ralph (Dylan Minnette), in the tiny town of Dover, an idyllic oasis far removed from the problems of big cities.

It is Thanksgiving morning, and Keller has decided his son is ready to shoot his first deer, a rite-of-passage he’d shared with his own father upon coming-of-age a generation earlier. And after a tableau with Christian symbolism represented by a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and a cross dangling from their pickup truck’s rearview mirror, we find the two deep in the woods where the boy bags his first buck.

“Be ready,” Keller ominously advises Ralph on the return trip, not because he has a premonition about any impending disaster, but because of the sense of paranoia he has cultivated over the years as a survivalist. Still, their basement, that is stocked with provisions, would prove to be of no use in the calamity that was about to unfold later that day.

The Dovers go to the home of their neighbors Nancy (Viola Davis) and Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard), who have two children around the same age as the Dovers. However, after enjoying a bountiful Thanksgiving dinner, the youngsters Anna and Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons) vanish without a trace while playing outside.

The only lead is a suspicious RV parked down the street which the police trace to Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a local resident who is mentally-challenged and presumably incapable of abducting the children. With no other clues to follow, the investigating officer (Jake Gyllenhaal) puts the case on a back burner, much to the chagrin of the missing girls’ anguished parents.

Since time is of the essence, it is no surprise when a desperate Keller takes the law into his own hands, and his manic behavior is in sharp contrast to the measured approach of Detective Loki. Will the frustrated father or the laid-back cop solve the case first, or will they join forces and pool their resources? Will Anna and Joy be rescued alive, or found too late to save them? Or will the abduction simply be unsolved.

That is the mystery at the heart of Prisoners, a mesmerizing, multi-layered masterpiece brilliantly directed by Dennis Villeneuve. Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski deserves equal credit for the film’s intricately plotted script which slowly ratchets up the tension in a compelling fashion that is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat.

The movie is a compelling study of the emotional toll exacted by a kidnapping on the psyche of both lawmen and the victims’ loved ones.

Excellent (****). Rated R for pervasive profanity and disturbing violence. Running time: 153 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.

 

MCCC FACULTY SHOW: The current exhibition of work by Mercer County Community College faculty includes Paul Mordetsky’s 30” x 48” oil on panel painting titled, “Transfusion.” Among the other featured artists are Yevgeniy Fiks, Lucas Kelly, and Tina LaPlaca of Princeton. Gallery Hours for this show are Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Gallery is located on the college’s West Windsor campus, 1200 Old Trenton Road and the show runs through October 3. For more information, visit: www.mccc.edu/gallery.

MCCC FACULTY SHOW: The current exhibition of work by Mercer County Community College faculty includes Paul Mordetsky’s 30” x 48” oil on panel painting titled, “Transfusion.” Among the other featured artists are Yevgeniy Fiks, Lucas Kelly, and Tina LaPlaca of Princeton. Gallery Hours for this show are Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Gallery is located on the college’s West Windsor campus, 1200 Old Trenton Road and the show runs through October 3. For more information, visit: www.mccc.edu/gallery.

 

POST INDUSTRIAL LANDSCAPE: This 24” x 18” watercolor, titled “Flip,” by Kate Graves is one of several sculptures and paintings by the artist currently displayed in the exhibition, “Trenton: A Post Industrial Survey,” in the Gallery at the Chapin School, 4101 Princeton Pike through September 27. The exhibition can be viewed during school hours by appointment. For more information, call (609) 924-7206.

POST INDUSTRIAL LANDSCAPE: This 24” x 18” watercolor, titled “Flip,” by Kate Graves is one of several sculptures and paintings by the artist currently displayed in the exhibition, “Trenton: A Post Industrial Survey,” in the Gallery at the Chapin School, 4101 Princeton Pike through September 27. The exhibition can be viewed during school hours by appointment. For more information, call (609) 924-7206.

 

THE ARTIST’S STUDIO: Artwork by the late John Sears will be on display from Thursday, September 19 through Sunday, October 13 at Rider University Art Gallery. Gallery hours are Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 4 p.m. There will be an opening reception, Thursday, September 19, from 5 to 7 p.m. In conjunction with the exhibit, Gallery Director Harry I. Naar will lead a panel discussion on “The Creative Spirit” with artist and teacher Cynthia Groya, Rider University professor of psychology John Suler and Anne Sears on Thursday, September 26, at 7 p.m. For more on the artist, visit: www.johnsearsartist.com.

THE ARTIST’S STUDIO: Artwork by the late John Sears will be on display from Thursday, September 19 through Sunday, October 13 at Rider University Art Gallery. Gallery hours are Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 4 p.m. There will be an opening reception, Thursday, September 19, from 5 to 7 p.m. In conjunction with the exhibit, Gallery Director Harry I. Naar will lead a panel discussion on “The Creative Spirit” with artist and teacher Cynthia Groya, Rider University professor of psychology John Suler and Anne Sears on Thursday, September 26, at 7 p.m. For more on the artist, visit: www.johnsearsartist.com.

 

SMOKEY MOUNTAIN FALLS: Work such as this black and white image by photographer Terri Hood is part of an exhibition of her work currently on view in Gallery 14 at 14 Mercer Street in Hopewell. The exhibition also features Ms. Hood’s still lifes as well as a series of photographs by Charles Miller, titled “Waterlilies – Monet’s Flower.” The show runs through October 6. Hours are Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment. For more information, call (609) 333-8511, or visit: www.photogallery14.com.

SMOKEY MOUNTAIN FALLS: Work such as this black and white image by photographer Terri Hood is part of an exhibition of her work currently on view in Gallery 14 at 14 Mercer Street in Hopewell. The exhibition also features Ms. Hood’s still lifes as well as a series of photographs by Charles Miller, titled “Waterlilies – Monet’s Flower.” The show runs through October 6. Hours are Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment. For more information, call (609) 333-8511, or visit: www.photogallery14.com.

 

VINTAGE NJ SHORE: “At Play Barnegat Bay” by Carl Buergerniss (1877-1956), c.1912, oil on canvas from the collection of Roy Pedersen is on view as part of Morven Museum and Garden’s current exhibition, “Coastal Impressions: Painters of the Jersey Shore, 1880-1940,” which has just been extended to run through October 27. Through the works of Edward Boulton, Wyatt Eaton, Albert Reinhart, Julius Golz, Charles Freeman, John F. Peto, Thomas Anshutz, Hugh Campbell, and Carrie Sanborn (to name a few), the exhibition illustrates the history of artists who lived, worked and drew inspiration from the New Jersey shores. For more information, call (609) 924-8144; or visit: www.morven.org.

VINTAGE NJ SHORE: “At Play Barnegat Bay” by Carl Buergerniss (1877-1956), c.1912, oil on canvas from the collection of Roy Pedersen is on view as part of Morven Museum and Garden’s current exhibition, “Coastal Impressions: Painters of the Jersey Shore, 1880-1940,” which has just been extended to run through October 27. Through the works of Edward Boulton, Wyatt Eaton, Albert Reinhart, Julius Golz, Charles Freeman, John F. Peto, Thomas Anshutz, Hugh Campbell, and Carrie Sanborn (to name a few), the exhibition illustrates the history of artists who lived, worked and drew inspiration from the New Jersey shores. For more information, call (609) 924-8144; or visit: www.morven.org.

 

 

 

September 11, 2013

review dh awrenceDavid Herbert Lawrence was born on this day, September 11, 1885, in the mining town of Eastwood, near Nottingham. He died March 2, 1930, some seven decades before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

With most writers, you would note the birthday coincidence and move on, but that’s not easily done with Lawrence. Writing in 1956, his sometime friend John Middleton Murray said, “Lawrence was alone in the depth of his prescience of the crisis of humanity which has developed since his death.” In fact, Lawrence wrote and thought so freely and fiercely about so many issues that it doesn’t take much looking to find passages that could be used to describe, among other things, the political reality stateside before and after 9/11, as in this sentence from Part IV of Apocalypse, his last work: “They will only listen to the call of mediocrity wielding the insentient bullying power of mediocrity: which is evil. Hence the success of painfully inferior and even base politicians.”

A few sentences later he seems to be casting his line in the direction of the Bush administration’s coded terror alerts: “Society consists of a mass of weak individuals trying to protect themselves, out of fear, from every possible imaginary evil, and, of course, by their very fear, bringing the evil into being.” However horrifically un-imaginary September 11 was, it brought into being war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Raw Genius

No other writer I can think of so thoroughly saturates the page with his personality. Lawrence is prickly, rude, boorish, and vindictive, arrogantly declaiming about everything under the sun and moon because everything fires him up, pulls at him, agitates, fascinates, and challenges him. His is a force of raw genius like an engine plowing through and scattering to the wind everything in its path.

Who else but Lawrence would begin a poem with a chip on his shoulder? “You tell me I am wrong?/Who are you, who is anybody to tell me I am wrong?/I am not wrong.” What’s the poem about? A pomegranate. Who’s he arguing with? Someone who has “forgotten the pomegranate-trees in flower, /Oh so red, and such a lot of them.” Or he could very well be addressing the pomegranate itself, holding it in one hand like Hamlet holding Yorick’s skull. What does Lawrence see in the pomegranate? The Doges of Venice, for a start, and “crowns of spiked green metal/Actually growing,” and “if you dare, the fissure!” But wait: “Do you mean to tell me you will see no fissure?/Do you prefer to look on the plain side?” By now, you’re asking yourself “What fissure? What’s he on about?” No matter. It’s all enroute to the “setting suns” and “drops of dawn” when the “end cracks open with the beginning:/Rosy, tender, glittering within the fissure” and the closing couplet: “For my part, I prefer my heart to be broken,/It is so lovely, dawn-kaleidoscopic within the crack.”

If Lawrence had witnessed the nightmare of 9/11, he might have been one of those chastised for daring to see a beauty in it beyond the loss of life, something actually accomplished in March of 2002 when the towers were resurrected in the form of two soaring shafts of blue light, almost as if the planners of the spectacle were borrowing ideas from one of Lawrence’s poems about blueness. The thought behind that magnificent gesture might also be read into Lawrence’s introduction to Fantasia of the Unconscious, where “The living live and then die,” passing away “as we know, to dust and to oxygen and nitrogen” and perhaps “direct into life itself … direct into the living.”

In Your Face

“Peach,” another poem from Lawrence’s collection Birds, Beasts, and Flowers, begins, “Would you like to throw a stone at me?/Here, take all that’s left of my peach.” As the poem ends, after a battery of nagging questions, the poet supposes, perhaps rightly by then, that “you would like to throw something at me,” and says, “Here, you can have my peach stone.” It’s poetry in-your-face, he’s standing in front of you, practically stepping on your toes, looking you in the eye as he dares you to throw the peach stone. But he’s standing too close, there’s no room, and he won’t back up. Lawrence never backs up.

The next poem in the series, “Medlars and Sorb-Apples,” moves from the “morbid” taste (“I love you, rotten, delicious rottenness”) to the Orphic Underworld, taking you “down the strange lanes of hell, more and more intensely alone,/The fibres of the heart parting one after the other,” as the soul continues “ever more vividly embodied/Like a flame blown whiter and whiter/In a deeper and deeper darkness.”

In the arrogance of his greatness (or the greatness of his arrogance), Lawrence almost makes it possible to imagine he’s envisioning the shadow of a future event in which thousands could die in the same moment, “Each soul departing with its own isolation/Strangest of all strange companions,/And best.”

Doing the Dishes 

Lawrence’s friend Cynthia Asquith once said that he could make washing dishes an adventure. It’s an appealing thought, standing side by side with Lorenzo, he with his sleeves rolled up doing the scrubbing, talking your ear off while you do the drying. In the Lawrentian overflow there’s a clarity to everything, the cups and saucers gleaming like porcelain hallucinations. Suppose he spots a lady bug on the window sill directly in front of you, the window being open to the summer night (he always had to have the windows open), he would tell you more than you ever knew or wanted to know about that insect before using it to weave a whimsical account of the Creation like the one in his introduction to Fantasia of the Unconscious (“In the very beginning of all things, time and space and cosmos and being, in the beginning of all these was a little living creature”).

A Period of Crisis

In his introduction to the 1919 edition of Women in Love, Lawrence speaks of being “in a period of crisis” where “every man who is acutely alive is acutely wrestling with his own soul. The people that can bring forth the new passion, the new idea, this people will endure. Those others, that fix themselves in the old idea will perish with the new life strangled unborn within them. Men must speak out to one another.” Tweak the phrasing a bit and it sounds like politics U.S.A. in 2013.

But the most interesting thing in the introduction is when Lawrence confronts critics who complain about his free-swinging, repetitive rhetoric. After noting how “fault is often found with the continual, slightly modified repetition,” he resists throwing peach stones and simply points out that his style “is natural to the author; and that every natural crisis in emotion or passion or understanding comes from this pulsing, frictional to-and-fro which works up to culmination.” The introduction is dated 12 September 1919.

Having just watched the opening scenes of Ken Russell’s Women in Love (1969), I can appreciate how well cast and costumed are Gudrun and Ursula (Glenda Jackson and Jennie Linden) and Gerald and Rupert (Oliver Reed and Alan Bates), not to mention Hermione (Eleanor Bron). There’s even something like a credible, unforced Lawrentian undercurrent in play — until Russell begins attacking the audience with the cinematic equivalent of purple prose. Lawrence at his most excessive is hard enough to take, but put Lawrence and Russell together in the same building and it’s time to head for the exits.

Working Class Hero

In Ford Madox Ford’s piece on Lawrence in Portraits from Life (1937), he admits feeling “a certain trepidation” as he awaited his first meeting with the then-unknown young writer. “If he was really the son of a working coal-miner,” the high-born Ford wonders, “how exactly was I to approach him in conversation? Might he not, for instance, call me ‘Sir’ — and wouldn’t it cause pain and confusion to stop him doing so? …. A working man was so unfamiliar a proposition that I really did not know how to bring it off.”

The comic potential of Ford’s expectations colliding with the reality is worthy of a Monty Python sketch. Lawrence’s first words as he walked into the office of the journal Ford edited were airily dismissive: “This isn’t my idea, Sir, of an editor’s office.” Needless to say, the coal miner’s son’s “Sir” was not the one Ford was contemplating. And as Ford first saw him, before a word was spoken, the “russet-haired” Lawrence’s appearance had nothing to do with either officers, authors, or working men: “And suddenly, leaning against the wall beside the doorway, there was, bewilderingly … a fox. A fox going to make a raid on the hen-roost before him.”

Even when he’s attempting to describe Lawrence’s writing, Ford keeps placing him in the wild, because “Nottingham, for all its mining suburbs, was really in and of the country” and the “nature passages of Lawrence run like fire through his books …. So that at times when you read him you have the sense that there really was to him a side that was supernatural.”

Birthday Month

Presumably the almost month-long celebration of Lawrence’s birthday (September 6-24) in and around his birthplace, Eastwood, will pause on September 11 long enough to remember the 12th anniversary of the attacks. There will be a September 11 birthday lecture as well, “D.H. Lawrence as a Philosophical Novelist.” The emphasis this year is on the centenary of one of his best-known works, Sons and Lovers. There are Sons and Lovers country walks, museum tours, photo scavenger hunts, and of course a showing of the film.

It took his hometown a long time to accept the author of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and a long time to forgive him for portraying townspeople (sometimes under their real names) in his work. Now there’s a Lawrence museum, a White Peacock Cafe (after his first novel), and a Phoenix snooker hall. You can see photos and such on the Lawrence Heritage facebook page www.facebook.com/dhlawrenceheritage.

 

 

“EL MIGRANTE:” Elsa Medina is considered among the best of Mexico’s photojournalists. Besides reporting on Guatemala, Haiti, and Nicaragua, she has recorded the plight of Mexicans crossing the border into the United States. The photograph shown here was taken in the dry dusty desert of Cañon Zapata, Tijuana, in 1987. A 2011 gelatin silver print, it is on view as part of the exhibition, “The Itinerant Languages of Photography,” currently on view at the Princeton University Art Museum. For more information, call (609) 258-3767, or visit: www.princeton. (Courtesy of the Artist)

“EL MIGRANTE:” Elsa Medina is considered among the best of Mexico’s photojournalists. Besides reporting on Guatemala, Haiti, and Nicaragua, she has recorded the plight of Mexicans crossing the border into the United States. The photograph shown here was taken in the dry dusty desert of Cañon Zapata, Tijuana, in 1987. A 2011 gelatin silver print, it is on view as part of the exhibition, “The Itinerant Languages of Photography,” currently on view at the Princeton University Art Museum. For more information, call (609) 258-3767, or visit: www.artmuseum.princeton.edu
(Courtesy of the Artist)

With a camera in every cell phone and a cell phone in practically every pocket, photographs are no longer what they used to be. An individual image can take on a life of its own as it travels beyond the traditional photo album to all corners and cultures of the world. The meaning of the photographic images in relation to changing context is examined in a new exhibition that opened Saturday at the Princeton University Art Museum.

“The Itinerant Languages of Photography,” traces historical modes of photographic itinerancy from its origins in the 19th century as a shifting archival record to its conceptualist manifestations in the present.

On view are rare black and white photographs by masters as well as lesser known and emerging photographers: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Strand, Marc Ferrez, Manuel and Lola Alvarez Bravo, Joan Colom, Graciela Iturbide, Susan Meiselas, Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, Joan Fontcuberta, and Rosângela Rennó.

“This exhibition asks us to consider the photograph as a globally transmitted, continually translated and annotated document — reinterpreted and re-animated through the lens of our shared histories, memories, and experiences,” said Princeton University Art Museum Director James Steward.

The image that opens the show is a “Googlegram” by the Catalan photographer Joan Fontcuberta who was born in 1955. Titled Niépce, the work takes inspiration from the earliest-known photograph, View from the Window at Le Gras, by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, circa 1826. Mr. Fontcuberta created his tribute by processing the results of a Google image search for the words “photo” and “foto” through photomosaic software.

The result is a huge composite comprised of some ten thousand pieces from all over the world that brings the past and the present together and sets the stage for rest of the exhibition, which is arranged in four sections. The dizzying artwork suggests that every image is laced with multiple connotations.

Mr. Fontcuberta received the prestigious Hasselblad Award this year and will deliver the keynote address at a symposium on Thursday, November 21, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

The show’s first section, “Itinerant Photographs,” features work from two Brazilian collections, one assembled between 1891 and 1925 and held in the National Library of Brazil, and the other from a similarly early collection of work by the itinerant photographer Marc Ferrez and others.

The second, “Itinerant Revolutions,” presents several modernist photographers working during and after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), including locals Manuel and Lola Alvarez Bravo as well as pieces by Tina Modotti, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Paul Strand.

Don’t miss Hugo Brehme’s portrait of Emiliano Zapata and his marvelous mustache with his sash and sword; Gracielo Iturbide’s cemetery with flocking birds; the iconic image of Adelita the Soldadera; and photojournalist Enrique Metinides’s sorrowful images among others depicting mourning mothers, murdered men, and dead children.

Almost all of the photographs in this small show of some 90 works from public and private collections in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and the United States, are black and white. The exhibition is detailed and well-presented, informative and thought-provoking. Curators Eduardo Cadava, of the department of English, and Gabriela Nouzeilles, of the department of Spanish and Portuguese languages and cultures, offer a privileged look at this material and have authored an illustrated 240-page catalogue that includes an essay by Mr. Fontcuberta.

The third section, “Itinerant Subjects,” examines ways in which photography approaches moving subjects with scenes from the streets of Spain and Latin America. Here is the work of street photographer Joan Colom and surrealistic photo-essays by Mexican photojournalist Nacho López as well as work by Eduardo Gil, Graciela Iturbide, Elsa Medina, Susan Meiselas, and Pedro Meyer.

“Itinerant Archives,” the last section of the exhibition, explores ways in which photographs are used and reused, quoted and revitalized. The highlight here is a stunning piece that is an aerial perspective of a crowd, “Multiples: it is us (people),” by Cassio Vasoncellos. Everyone is wearing a hat and the effect evokes an organic form like moss or lichen.

Highlights include Marcelo Brodsky’s The Undershirt / La Camiseta, shot in 1979 and reprinted in 2012; Joan Colom’s Fiesta Mayor, 1960; and Manuel Alvarez Bravo’s Striking Worker, Assassinated (Obrero en Huelga, Asesinado), 1934.

According to a press release, “Latin America has been at the forefront of the development of new aesthetic paradigms in modern and contemporary photography and the exhibition calls attention to “significant but often neglected histories of photography beyond the dominant European and American canon.”

The digital revolution has created an explosion in the production, circulation, and reception of photographic images. Attending this exhibition brings fresh perspective to the activity of taking and/or making photographs.

“The Itinerant Languages of Photography” is on view at the Princeton University Art Museum through January 19. For more information, call (609) 258-3767, or visit: www.artmuseum.princeton.edu.

 

IT’S NOT SO EASY TO GET RID OF RIDDICK: The elusive antihero Riddick (Vin Diesel) is pursued yet again in this third sequel in the series. In this episode, the superhuman alien is able to elude two teams of bounty hunters who are desperately trying to claim the reward for capturing the antihero.

IT’S NOT SO EASY TO GET RID OF RIDDICK: The elusive antihero Riddick (Vin Diesel) is pursued yet again in this third sequel in the series. In this episode, the superhuman alien is able to elude two teams of bounty hunters who are desperately trying to claim the reward for capturing the antihero.

When we first met Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel) in Pitch Black, the notorious criminal had been arrested by a bounty hunter and was being transported to prison when the spaceship encountered a comet and had to make a crash-landing on an uncharted planet. Riddick escaped, and proceeded to elude his captors in a gruesome struggle for survival that would consume most of their lives.

This sequel has more of the same, as we find the title character still at large but marooned on another desolate planet. Now he’s being hunted by two teams of mercenaries, one of which is led by the father (Matt Nable) of the bounty hunter Riddick had killed in the original film.

Although Riddick is wanted dead or alive, the reward is double if he’s brought back in a body bag. Of course, that’s easier said than done, since this indomitable alien from planet Furya has superhuman strength, intuition, willpower, and night vision; traits which make him a formidable opponent, even when outnumbered by pursuers who are armed to the teeth.

So, this movie is an intergalactic posse’s attempt to apprehend Riddick as he tries to hijack one of their rocket ships in order to return to his faraway homeland. Unfortunately, the scriptwriters of this boring film ran out of new ideas for this sequel.

Consequently, the movie does little more than generate a sense of déjà vu because of the barren backdrop (except for a swarm of voracious critters) and the familiar ways in which the elusive antihero’s adversaries are killed. After all, how many different ways can you lop off a head or gut a guy so his entrails spill out?

The job of tracking down Riddick with the assistance of “futuristic” technology might best be described as pseudo-scientific nuttery. The movie is more of an uninspired remake than a interest-catching sequel.

Fair (*). Rated R for profanity, nudity, sexuality, and graphic violence. Running Time: 119 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.

September 4, 2013

DVD_Review_Annex - Dean, James (East of Eden)_03I doubt that Jimmy would ever have got through East of Eden (1955) except for an angel on our set. Her name was Julie Harris and she was goodness itself with Dean, kind and patient and everlastingly sympathetic.

–Elia Kazan, from A Life

Kazan was on the money about Julie Harris. The five-time Tony-Award-winning actress, who died at 87 on August 24, was the heart and soul of East of Eden, the film that gave the world James Dean. When you see his moody, spectacularly conflicted character Cal through the eyes of Harris’s Abra, your affection for her fuels your fascination with him. It’s the quality of Abra’s eventual devotion to Cal that lends credibility to Dean’s over-the-top performance.

When studio head Jack Warner wanted to dump Harris for a “prettier” girl, Kazan insisted on casting her. He counted on the special presence she would bring to the film and she gave him even more than he expected: “As a performer, she found in each moment what was dearest and most moving.” She also had “the most affecting voice” he’d ever heard in an actress, one that “conveyed tenderness and humor simultaneously.” Kazan ends by admitting, “She helped Jimmy more than I did with any direction I gave him.”

It’s not just that Julie Harris becomes Dean’s muse, shining the light of her sympathy and understanding on his theatrics, she gives warmth, humor, and unspoiled loveliness to a big, sprawling, sometimes off-puttingly histrionic film, with music by Leonard Rosenman to match its most florid passages. No surprise, the best thing in the score is the love theme that plays whenever Cal and Abra are together.

Dealing With Dean

Harris clearly knew how to approach her notoriously difficult and unruly co-star. When they first met, he tried to get a rise out of her by making a comment about her age (“Do you think you look too old for me?”), which she laughed off, pointing out that she was only five years older. Although she was already a seasoned, award-winning actress, she was also “utterly lacking in airs or affectation,” as Donald Spoto’s Rebel: The Life and Legend of James Dean (1996) points out. Instead of treating him as a nemesis, she saw him as a character out of classic American fiction: “He reminded me of Tom Sawyer, always looking for adventure, always looking to mix it up.”

According to Kazan, Dean enjoyed antagonizing Raymond Massey, who played Cal’s father, Adam (“They hated one another”). Instead of trying to smooth things over, Kazan let the hostility simmer, rightly figuring that it would contribute to the tension he wanted. Based on John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel, with its allusion to the Cain-Abel story, the film is centered on Cal the “bad” son, Aron (Richard Davalos) the good son, and Aron’s girl Abra; the plot is driven by Cal’s move from defiance of Adam to a struggle to win his love and acceptance. While Massey fumed about Dean’s unprofessional behavior on and off the set, Harris, much like her character Abra, let Dean be what he was. As she told Spoto in a 1995 interview, “The raw material of our work is people, and I’ve always thought it’s wrong to say, ‘Why can’t you behave?’ If somebody’s not behaving, you just say, ‘Well, he’s not behaving,’ and you deal with it.”

Spoto thinks the scenes between Harris and Dean “bring the film to life as do no other moments.” The first such scene takes place in a field when Abra encounters Cal as she’s bringing Aron his lunch. Up to that point, her response to him has been wary, even fearful, but curious, interested. Now there’s no doubt that she’s attracted, and emboldened, drawing him out, moving beyond casual conversation as she charmingly relates how in a fit of anger she threw away her stepmother’s engagement ring. To get his attention she blurts out, “I threw away three thousand dollars once!” What she wants is to show that he’s not the only person who ever behaved irrationally at the expense of a parent. The remarkable thing about the scene is that it’s essentially all Harris. Dean enjoys it, says very little, laughs a bit, his low-key response charming in itself in the way it shows his awareness of the delicate balance of the flirtation they’re engaged in.

The Kiss

For 17-year-old males, and presumably females, the key love scene — the one most likely to lead to misery and humiliation when imitated in real life — takes place on a ferris wheel. As a childhood devotee of Saturday matinee westerns who shouted “Mush!” whenever a kiss between cowboy hero and comely maid was in the offing, I can testify that the kiss on the ferris wheel is beyond reproach. It’s not mushy, or corny, or silly, or anything but what it should be. We want it to happen; all of us vicarious Cals and Abras in the audience are hoping hoping hoping it will happen, and when it does, it’s like a line of perfectly imperfect poetry falling into place almost in spite of itself  — he leans toward her, she leans toward him, they kiss, but without embracing. Both begin to make a move in that direction but it’s a passionately inconclusive gesture and as he’s about to take it further, she pulls back and begins to cry, insisting miserably that she loves Aron.

Later the same night, after a riot erupts around a German American man who is set upon when he denounces the wartime propaganda (it’s 1918), Cal and Aron have it out, Cal explodes, knocking Aron down. Abra knows who’s really hurting, however, and goes to comfort Cal, and from then on, she’s determined to save him, heal his wounds, and bring together father and son. Which is another way of saying Julie Harris saves James Dean and the movie by helping bring him together with the audience.

Dean’s most extreme piece of acting, possibly the most extravagant moment of his short career, occurs after he and Abra arrange a special birthday celebration for his father. All goes well until Aron shows up and announces that he and Abra are going to be married (not having told her or anyone else in advance). Adam says this is the best possible present, nothing could be better, a blow to Cal even before he has a chance to offer his own gift, which is the money he made by taking advantage of the wartime rise in the price of beans. Adam, who serves on the local draft board, huffily condemns this as war profiteering, and hands back the money with a forced, hollow, thanks-for-the-thought brush-off far more hurtful than an angry rejection would have been. To say that Cal is devastated doesn’t come close. His naked agony is embarrassing to behold, as Kazan knew it would be; although he doesn’t comment on it in his book, the painful, cringe-inducing excessiveness of the scene must have aroused serious debate in the screening room. Presumably Kazan left it in the film because such extremity of misery is rarely seen, not to mention being a graphic example of Actors Studio acting.

Cal’s sobbing meltdown is hard to watch. It certainly wasn’t easy for Massey, who was shocked and repelled because he didn’t know it was coming. The son’s groveling, wretched travesty of an embrace as he sinks to the floor at his father’s feet was not in the script. Today’s audiences may laugh at the scene or wince or roll their eyes, while others may still respond the way those of us guided by Abra’s loving understanding did. Julie Harris had our hearts in her hand and her heart was with Cal. If she hadn’t felt for him in that horrible moment, neither would we, so that when he hurls himself into the night baying like a wounded animal, we’re with her as she goes to console him, and though we can’t see them in the shadows, we can hear her sweet soothing loving voice and his moaning misery. Kazan keeps the scene hidden, reflecting Aron’s point of view, but we know what’s happening, that this love will be taken to the limit now, she’s his, he’s hers, and Aron knows it.

Loving Her Again

The few films Julie Harris made reveal her range and her genius, from the vulnerable adolescent in Member of the Wedding to the vivacious Sally Bowles in I Am a Camera, parts she also played on the stage. I was glad that she made so few movies. I didn’t want to see her in anything else. I wanted Julie Harris to keep being Abra forever. It’s only now, with the news of her death, that I realize how much her Abra meant to me. It was the first time I ever cared that much about someone in a film.

Over the years friends have told me “You must see Julie Harris in The Belle of Amherst,” a suggestion I had no interest in taking up, again perhaps partly because I felt so protective of my teenage ideal. Also, much as I admire Emily Dickinson’s poetry, the idea of a one-woman show left me cold. Even if easy access to The Belle of Amherst had been available, I’d have foolishly stayed away. Now that she’s gone — the saddest of excuses — I find the complete performance is available online and there she is — Abra 20 years later, and if anything, even lovelier now because she’s infused with the genius of a great poet and what a joy she is, what a funny, infinitely charming person. How thankful I am to be able to see her now. And how stupid I feel, to have waited this long.

The special edition DVD of East of Eden I watched was purchased at the Princeton Record Exchange. In the still from the film shown here, Abra (Julie Harris) and Cal (James Dean) are about to get on the ferris wheel, where they will share “a passionately inconclusive kiss.”

—Stuart Mitchner

 

BOUNTIFUL HARVEST: Inspired by the still lifes of the Dutch 17th century masters, photographer Terri Hood takes great pains to create a composition that invites the eye, and in this case, the palate. Her “Bountiful Harvest” will be part of an exhibition of her work opening this Friday in the main gallery at Gallery 14 in Hopewell. Work by Charles Miller will be featured in the Jay Goodkind Gallery. For more information, call (609) 333-8511, or visit: www.photogallery14.com.

BOUNTIFUL HARVEST: Inspired by the still lifes of the Dutch 17th century masters, photographer Terri Hood takes great pains to create a composition that invites the eye, and in this case, the palate. Her “Bountiful Harvest” will be part of an exhibition of her work opening this Friday in the main gallery at Gallery 14 in Hopewell. Work by Charles Miller will be featured in the Jay Goodkind Gallery. For more information, call (609) 333-8511, or visit: www.photogallery14.com.

Gallery 14 in Hopewell begins its fall season, its 13th annual, with an exhibition of work that will transport viewers to another time. Theresa (Terri) Hood’s color photographs conjure up the still lifes of the Dutch masters of the 17th century, painters like Willem Kalf (1619-1693) whose work is much admired by Ms. Hood. Her black and white landscapes are evocative of Ansel Adams (1902-1984).

That Ms. Hood has chosen her influences well will be shown by an exhibition of 26 of her photographs, (13 color, 13 black and white) opening this Friday, September 6, at Gallery 14 with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m.

“I fell in love with still lifes when studying the Dutch masters,” said Ms. Hood in a phone interview. “They studied light and that is what photography is all about. I’ve been working on still lifes for some five
years now and I craft them painstakingly.”

Ms. Hood’s attention to composition results in gorgeous images of pottery and drapery with artful placement of gourds and grapes, a wine glass, ferns, fruits, and flowers.

But while the Dutch painters infused their compositions with symbolic meaning, Ms. Hood focuses on beauty and light. “Sometimes I am able to use natural light from a window but more often than not I use studio lighting to mimic natural light,” says the artist for whom photography is not only a passion, it’s something of a second career.

Before turning serious attention to the camera some seven years ago, Ms. Hood had her own title insurance agency. “Now I have another life,” said the art photographer, who is in her 50s and works from her home studio in Glen Gardner, Hunterdon County.

The seeds of her present passion were sown when Ms. Hood took a college course and was introduced to the work of the great American photographer Ansel Adams. “Now, I embrace it with unbridled joy,” she said. “When I am working in my studio I am totally absorbed and unaware of the passage of time. There is so much beauty around and that’s what I am hoping to make people realize. Everybody has digital cameras in their phones today and go around taking pictures all the time, but there is a difference between taking a photograph and making a photograph. I make photographs.”

Besides Gallery 14, which she joined less than a year ago, Ms. Hood is a member of the Hunterdon County Photography Club and the Photographic Society of America where she serves as a commentator for a digital study group program on Nature. She co-manages the Exhibition Committee and the Contemporary Arts Group of the New Jersey Photography Forum.

Her work has previously been exhibited in the Hunterdon County Library; Mayo Performing Arts Center; Crane’s Mill Gallery; Overlook Hospital, Somerset County Cultural and Heritage Commission, and the Watchung Arts Center where she received an award of merit for her “Shabby Chic” portrait of a house.

She’s been in the New Jersey Photo Forum Juried Show for the past three years and has participated in the Grounds for Sculpture Focus on Sculpture juried show two years running. In 2012, her black and white image Ocean Zen received Best in Show award there.

According to Ms. Hood, black and white photography is very different from color photography. The latter forces you to look at content. “Anyone who sees a black and white photograph develop in a dark room witnesses something magical and will be transported by it, as I was.”

Her solo exhibition “Life Along the River” is currently being displayed at the Musconetcong Watershed Association Gallery.

The works in her Gallery 14 show are either 16 x 20 or 16 x 24 inches. Prices for the former at $145, and for the latter, $175.

Also featured at Gallery 14, alongside Ms. Hood’s work, will be photographs by Charles Miller of Ringoes. “Waterlilies — Monet’s Flower” in the Jay Goodkind Gallery includes traditional photography as well as images printed on fabric as large wall hangings, photographs on watercolor paper, and macro images. Mr. Miller has exhibited throughout New Jersey and has won several best in show awards.

Both exhibits open on Friday, September 6. There will also be an opportunity to Meet The Artists on Sunday September 8, from 1 to 3 p.m.

The exhibit runs in Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street Hopewell, through October 6. Hours are Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment. For more information, call (609) 333-8511, or visit: www.photogallery14.com.

 

PAY CLOSE ATTENTION AND LEARN FROM THE MASTER: Grandmaster Yip Oi-dor (Tony Leung) demonstrates some of the moves that made him the Grandmaster of martial arts in all of China. He developed techniques which were fewer in number than the 64 moves employed by his predecessor Gong Yutian (not shown).

PAY CLOSE ATTENTION AND LEARN FROM THE MASTER: Grandmaster Yip Oi-dor (Tony Leung) demonstrates some of the moves that made him the Grandmaster of martial arts in all of China. He developed techniques which were fewer in number than the 64 moves employed by his predecessor Gong Yutian (not shown).

Yip Oi-dor (1893-1972), aka Ip Man, was a legendary martial arts teacher best remembered for some of the prominent protégés who attended his kung fu school, most notably, Bruce Lee. This influential instructor has finally been getting his due in recent years as the subject of several biopics.

The latest, The Grandmaster, directed by Wong Kar-wai (In the Mood for Love), is a majestic epic chronicling Ip Man’s life, who’s very capably played by Tony Leung, from the womb to the tomb.

At the picture’s point of departure, we learn that Ip came from Foshan, a city in Guangdong province where he started studying martial arts at an early age. By the time he was a young man, he had developed a reputation as a formidable fighter, and was enlisted by his region’s elders to represent all of southern China in a match against Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang), the best man from the north.

Yip prevails in the match by employing an innovative combination of his trademarked “Spade,” “Pin” and “Sheath” techniques which prove to be far simpler than the 64 moves relied upon by his aging opponent. Soon thereafter, Gong finds himself dealing with dissension in the northern ranks as he is betrayed by a disloyal heir apparent (Zhang Jan) and disappointed by his daughter’s (Zhang Ziyi) decision to practice medicine rather than follow in his footsteps.

That enables Yip Man to fill the void and eventually emerge as the greatest grandmaster in all of China. Director Kar-wai resorts to flying harnesses, slow motion, and other state-of-the-art trick photography to showcase his hero’s considerable skills. If you’re familiar with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, then you have a good idea of what to expect in terms of gravity defying kick and fisticuffs.

The production’s only flaw is its occasionally confusing editing, which unnecessarily resorts to flashbacks in order to recount the decades-spanning tale, when the movie might have worked just as well if allowed to unfold chronologically. Regardless, this comprehensive combination history lesson, love story, and action film features everything necessary to entertain any fan of the martial arts.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, smoking, and brief drug use. In Mandarin, Cantonese, and Japanese with subtitles. Running time: 108 minutes. Distributor: The Weinstein Company.

 

August 28, 2013
NEW YORK MOVIE (1939): Viewing this oil on canvas by Edward Hopper (1882–1967), you may think the usherette is holding a cell phone. In fact, it’s the artist’s wife Josephine, deep in thought. The original work and the many drawings that led up to it can be seen through October 6 in the Whitney Museum’s exhibit, “Hopper Drawing.” The painting, 32 1/4 x 40 1/8 in. (81.9 x 101.9 cm), on loan from The Museum of Modern Art, New York, was given anonymously. 396.1941© Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by the Whitney Museum of American Art. Digital Image© The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, N.Y.

NEW YORK MOVIE (1939): Viewing this oil on canvas by Edward Hopper (1882–1967), you may think the usherette is holding a cell phone. In fact, it’s the artist’s wife Josephine, deep in thought. The original work and the many drawings that led up to it can be seen through October 6 in the Whitney Museum’s exhibit, “Hopper Drawing.” The painting, 32 1/4 x 40 1/8 in. (81.9 x 101.9 cm), on loan from The Museum of Modern Art, New York, was given anonymously. 396.1941© Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by the Whitney Museum of American Art. Digital Image© The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, N.Y.

When I was 15 I used to walk from Washington Square North across Sixth Avenue and down Greenwich Avenue for a midnight snack at a cozy little White Tower hamburger joint located where Greenwich meets 7th Avenue South and 11th Street. Quoted in Gail Levin’s Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography (Rizzoli 2007), the artist says the setting of his most famous work, Nighthawks (1942), was “suggested by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet.” At least half a dozen websites have been dedicated to determining the identity and actual location of the place Hopper’s referring to, the consensus being that it can’t be found. However, the only actual late-night eatery shown to have occupied the triangle formed by that three-way intersection is the humble White Tower (you can see it in various online photos including the one on shadeone.com/nighthawks); while the tiny building — it looks like a white toy next to a toy gas station — has little in common with the spacious, streamlined structure in the painting, it sits in the only locale that could have accomodated the Flatiron shape of Hopper’s nighthawk’s cafe.

All I know is that I was enjoying those little melt-in-your-mouth hamburgers on the piece of Manhattan geographically aligned with one of the landmarks of 20th century art, the iconic image that has been alluded to, celebrated, and improvised upon by generations of artists, writers, filmmakers, and poets. It’s also nice to know that Edward Hopper (1882-1967) was still alive and well and painting at the time in a studio on the other end of the block at 3 Washington Square North.

Nighthawks has to be seen in person to be truly appreciated. Of course this is true of just about any accomplished work of art, but the only way to comprehend the magnitude of this painting is to stand in front of it. You can see Nighthawks, along with other key works like New York Movie (1939) and Office at Night (1940), in the Whitney Museum’s “Hopper Drawing,” which is billed as “the first major museum exhibition to focus on the drawings and creative process of Edward Hopper.” Organized by curator of drawings Carter Foster, the exhibit will be on view through October 6.

The Power of the Painting

It’s a tribute to the power of Nighthawks that admirers have gone to such lengths to determine the real-world model and location of a place that is so obviously a composite developed in the artist’s imagination. One feature that strikes you when you stand before it is the color and smoothness and sweep of the pale green sidewalk comprising almost half the painting. It’s safe to say that you will not find pavement that immaculate nor of such a subtle shade of green anywhere on the island of Manhattan or indeed anywhere this side of The Land of Oz. The countertop in this extraordinarily roomy “coffee stand” is, according to the notes in the artist’s ledger, made of “cherry wood” rather than the standard greasy spoon formica. Also painted as if they were things of rare worth are the sugar sifters, salt and pepper shakers and napkin holders, and, noted in the ledger under “bright items,” two “metal tanks” more familiarly known as coffee urns.

As for the nighthawks of the title, there’s the man with his back to us, hunched over the counter, described in the ledger as a “figure dark sinister.” Faces lit with a caffeinated intensity, the man and woman, posed for by Hopper (using a mirror) and his wife, are described in the ledger’s shorthand: “night hawk (beak) in dark suit, steel grey hat, black band, blue shirt (clean) holding cigarette,” the brunette in “red blouse” looks venal and lively compared to Hopper’s generally passive, lost, spaced-out females; this one’s wide awake and hungry for action, ready to take a bite out of the counter man once she finishes her sandwich. The dark figure whose face is hidden could pass for (and might even have been inspired by) one of the title characters in Ernest Hemingway’s 1927 story, “The Killers.” An admirer of Hemingway, Hopper actually wrote a letter to Scribners Magazine praising the story in contrast to “the vast sea of sugar coated mush that makes up most of our fiction.”

As Hemingway does in “The Killers,” Hopper presents a situation and some characters and leaves it to us to imagine the rest. The hypnotic image inspired a poem by Joyce Carol Oates and five different dramatizations in a special issue of Der Spiegel; has surfaced as a favored setting in The Simpsons; in a film-within-a-film in Wim Wenders’s End of Violence; and in a parody, Nighthawks Revisited, by Red Grooms, who calls himself “a jester to the great sage” in the National Gallery Hopper documentary narrated by Steve Martin.

The timing of Nighthawks is a story in itself. Unfazed by the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and FDR’s declaration of war, Hopper remained tenaciously focused on the immense canvas while his wife Jo feared “the very likely prospect of being bombed” (“we live right under glass sky-lights and a roof that leaks whenever it rains”). Jo wasn’t alone. Hopper’s gallery thought he should take the precaution of moving some of his paintings to a storehouse for safekeeping. Clearly the artist knew he was on to something special. “E. doesn’t want me even in the studio,” Jo complained. “I haven’t gone thru even for things I want in the kitchen.”

According to Gail Levin’s biography, Jo was “short, open, gregarious, sociable, and liberal” while Hopper was “tall, secretive, shy, quiet, introspective, and conservative.” Both were in their early forties when they married in 1924. A painter of real gifts, Jo was Hopper’s model and his advocate, but she resented the fact that her career was secondary to his. Of all her “roles,” the most warmly, sympathetically, and interestingly rendered was as the blond usherette in New York Movie.

At the Movies

Ask any film buff about Hopper’s influence on film noir and they will likely start talking about Nighthawks. Bring up film in general and they will mention New York Movie. Hopper was an ardent filmgoer. At the time of the painting, while there had been only intimations of noir like 1940’s The Stranger on the Third Floor (where someone is murdered in a diner), Hopper had seen and absorbed gangster flicks like Scarface (1932), Public Enemy (1930), Little Caesar (1931), and Bullets or Ballots (1936). Meanwhile he’d also discovered an appealing subject in moviehouse interiors like the one in New York Movie, which Hopper researched by taking his sketchbook to Times Square theatres like the Globe, Republic, Strand, and his primary model the Palace. Before it was finished, New York Movie required 54 drawings, more than any other painting in his career.

For the thoughtful usherette standing in an alcove out of view of the screen, Hopper posed his wife in slacks in a lighted corner of the studio. As he’d done with the diner in Nighthawks, Hopper added a touch of elegance that in this case makes the word “usherette” seem too workaday for the pensive blonde in the lustrous blue uniform and the stylish shoes (in one of the drawings, he pencils in “flesh-colored feet in black sandals”). Though Jo was in her mid-fifties at the time, Hopper painted her as a young woman in her twenties. Like the female in Nighthawks, the usherette is a departure from the lonely, abstracted, lost-looking individuals Hopper customarily depicted. There’s a benignly encompassing warmth about this person, enhanced by the yellow light all around her, that tempts you to guess at her thoughts. She may only be listening to voices on the soundtrack of the film, but what makes her so sympathetic and interesting is that you can feel the intelligent presence of the artist’s wife. She was a painter, too, remember, who might well be thinking, as she holds the pose, that she should be doing her own work. Or she might be pondering a new project as she stands there locked into the image of the thinker, chin propped on hand, her time and her art at the mercy of her artist husband. The positive side of the tension that makes her so much worthier of our notice than even the beautifully crafted interior of the theatre is in what we know to be her absolute devotion to Hopper’s work, her confidence in its greatness and superiority to her own, in spite of her sense of herself as an artist, an intelligence, a creative individual in her own right.

In the Office

In Office at Night, the curvaceous secretary standing by the filing cabinet offers yet another alternative to Hopper’s less forthright females and once again, the 20-something brunette secretary is being impersonated by a 50-something Josephine Hopper in a form-fitting skirt that reveals a shapely hip and leg that you know will eventually catch the eye of her boss, who is seated at his desk intently reading a letter. Of all the stories to develop from Hopper’s images, this would be the oldest, easiest, and most obvious to imagine. A better story, however, concerns the painter and his wife, who writes in her journal, of the young woman “fishing in a filing cabinet” that “I’m to pose for … tonight in a tight skirt — short to show legs. Nice that I have good legs and up and coming stockings.” A few days later Hopper is still working on Office at Night when a Viennese waltz comes over the radio. Edward “left the easel and came to waltz with me — and did very nicely …. The music got E. and about he went. He’s amazingly light on his feet when he dances.”