January 18, 2012

The Princeton University Orchestra treated its audience to a warm winter musical treat this past weekend with a concert dedicated entirely to the music of George Frideric Handel. Sometime during this academic year, the orchestra conducted a student vocal competition, and seven winners were presented in Richardson Auditorium on Saturday night, accompanied by chamber ensemble and harpsichord. The seven winners, representing all four undergraduate classes, showed themselves to be poised and self-assured singers, and proud to share their vocal skills.

Handel composed forty operas in his career, in an age when the vocal soloist was the star of the show. Arias ruled the day, and often the opera’s plot was merely a vehicle to show off a singer’s ability to race up and down scales, with extensive ornamentation. Contrasting the vocal fireworks were extended arias of sensitivity or pensiveness, giving singers the chance to pour their hearts out to the audience. The University Orchestra Handel Competition winners were capable of both styles, beginning with soprano Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa, who opened the concert with the very popular “O had I Jubal’s lyre” from Handel’s 1747 opera Joshua.

Ms. Tawengwa sang the sprightly aria with lightness and little vibrato, showing no trouble with the rungs and articulating the 16th notes well. University Orchestra guest conductor Ruth Ochs kept the chamber ensemble crisp and agile, with a very steady continuo of cello, double bass, and harpsichord. With violins placed on both sides of the podium, the instrumental themes easily passed back and forth across the stage and the instrumentalists were able to musically talk to one another.

Ms. Ochs excels at putting performers at ease, a helpful skill when presenting emerging competition winners. The second singer on the stage, however, seemed to need no assistance in showing himself to be a vocalist capable of a real career down the road. Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen grew up singing with an excellent and high-profile youth chorus, and was lucky enough to be identified as a counter-tenor in high school, when he could develop his vocal technique from the start. He has been performing solos and singing in competitions since high school, and has clearly incorporated understanding counter-tenor history and legacy into his training. “Ombra mai fu” is Handel’s most well-known aria from the 1738 opera Serse (this aria was later arranged for orchestra) and was composed for the renowned castrato Caffarelli. These arias often do not sit well in women’s registers, but a counter-tenor, with notes at the height of his register, can bring a new level of emotion to the text. Mr. Cohen started right in with the recitative to the aria, and his voice took off into the upper register with the plaintive text of the aria. With Ms. Ochs sustaining the largo tempo in the accompaniment, Mr. Cohen showed exceptional control over expressiveness and vibrato as the upper notes blossomed. It is unusual enough to come across a counter-tenor at this age, but to find one with this solid a technique shows great promise for Mr. Cohen’s musical future.

Handel left the vocal pyrotechnics to the upper voices, composing lyrical arias for the tenor voice. The two tenor competition winners controlled the lyricism of their arias well — Saumitra Sahi singing “Total eclipse” from Samson and Christopher Beard performing “Where’er you walk” from Semele. Mr. Sahi sang with thoughtfulness, and Mr. Beard performed a clean version of the popular aria with careful ornamentation and attention to detail. It was particularly interesting to note that Mr. Beard’s vocal performance background covers a wide range, from Sondheim to Carousel’s nefarious Billy Bigelow to Benjamin Britten.

Sopranos Katherine Buzard and Lieve Hendren both showed great commitment to future musical careers and operatic training, and both selected challenging pieces with dramatic requirements in high registers. Ms. Buzard sang “Ombra pallide” from Alcina with good control over very difficult runs and a solid upper register. Ms. Hendren presented the Ariodante aria “Neghittosi, or voi che fate?” with an ability to toss off the top notes and convey the dramatic mood of the text. The lone bass on the program, Torin Rudeen, sang two selections from the oratorio Messiah with a relaxed sound and good diction in arias which are tough for any bass, much less one of college age.

Ms. Ochs rounded out the vocal program with a concerto for two violins, cello, and orchestra, showing herself to be an accomplished harpsichordist as well as conductor. Violinists Dean Wang and Sophia Mockler, joined by cellist Nathan Pell, communicated well among one another in a performance which was refined from all players, especially in the well-matched instrumental ornaments.

The Princeton University Music Department focuses its attention on “composition, performance, and scholarship,” offering a seemingly never-ending array of opportunities for students to strut their skills and try new things. The seven winners of this year’s Handel Vocal Competition certainly had plenty to be proud of, and the very appreciative audience in Richardson on Saturday night could not argue with an evening of Handel.

The crimes of Bernard Madoff have occupied journalist Diana Henriques since the details of his stunning, $65 billion Ponzi scheme began to unfold in December 2008. Ms. Henriques, a senior financial reporter for The New York Times and the only journalist to have interviewed Madoff in prison since his incarceration, has written a book about the scandal, The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust, published by Henry Holt and Company.

Ms. Henriques’s fascination with the now-legendary character continues. As guest speaker at the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon at the Princeton Marriott on January 5, she expressed amazement at the way that Mr. Madoff, a quiet loner, was able to gain people’s trust and carry out decades of deception.

“We don’t know exactly when he stepped over the line and began to cheat,” she said, adding that her research leads her to believe it had definitely started by about 1987. “Regardless,” she added, “Madoff put his own distinctive stamp on what is an age-old crime: Robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Mr. Madoff conducted what is considered to be the largest financial fraud in U.S. history. In March 2009, he pleaded guilty to 11 federal felonies and admitted to turning his wealth management business into a massive Ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands of investors, from individuals to large, charitable foundations. Clients, located across the globe, ranged from friends and relatives of Mr. Madoff to foundations started by filmmaker Steven Spielberg and author Elie Wiesel.

Ms. Henriques, whose local connections include stints at The Lawrence Ledger and The Trenton Times, credits Mr. Madoff’s troubled upbringing in Queens, N.Y. to his criminal behavior. “His father’s serial business failures put the family in a precarious financial state,” she said, leading to his “nearly pathological inability to meet failure.” As early as 1962, when faced with the choice of admitting failure at one of his ventures, he lied.

“Even then, he found it easier to lie,” Ms. Henriques said. “When I first interviewed him in prison, he refused to even admit he had failed at his Ponzi scheme. He simply got tired of the constant tap dance he had to do to raise fresh cash, and he quit. He let it collapse.”

For several years before the 2008 scandal, Ms. Henriques knew Mr. Madoff as the head of a small firm that was often open past the market’s 4 p.m. closing time, making him a frequent source for late-breaking information. Never, in those days, would she have imagined him as a criminal mastermind, able to convince people to entrust him with their life savings.

“He was a quiet, soft-spoken loner who hated parties,” she said. “Unlike the classic Ponzi schemer, he treated you like you were the smartest person in the room. Instead of trying to impress you that he was a Wall Street wizard, he seemed impressed by you. It was a remarkable form of emotional jiu-jitsu. People were blinded by his quiet magnetism and laid-back confidence. He could win your trust, and that is the sine qua non of Ponzi schemers.”

While other Ponzi scheme masterminds exploited investors’ greed, Mr. Madoff exploited their fear. What people fear most, Ms. Henriques said, are the risks of an increasingly complex market that they don’t understand. “Consistency, safety, and security — that’s what he promised,” Ms. Henriques said. “Americans baffled by the market placed their trust in people like Madoff.”

By the time Ms. Henriques made her second visit to Mr. Madoff in prison, his son Mark, unable to withstand the constant implications that he and his brother were involved in the scheme, had committed suicide. “On the first visit, I could sense only self-deception and denial,” she said. “But on the second visit, I saw a shattered man, almost unrecognizable from the man I had met earlier. There is no doubt he feels remorse, but just how much, I don’t know.”

Ms. Henriques concluded her talk by speaking of lessons that can be learned from the Madoff scandal. “All of us need a crash course in the care and handling of the wizards in our lives,” she said, “before we encounter the next Bernie Madoff.” As an example, she mentioned former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, who resigned last November from his position as chief executive officer of the MF Global securities firm amid an investigation into money that disappeared from client accounts as the company sank into bankruptcy. “Warnings were dismissed, because, well, Corzine was special,” she said. “He was a Wall Street wizard and seemed confident, until things blew up.”

Exceptions were made for Mr. Madoff despite many inconsistencies in his business practices because he, too, seemed like such a wizard. If more people had shared their doubts with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the outcome might have been different.

“We’ve got to figure out how to navigate in a world that runs on trust,” Ms. Henriques said. “The magic spell that keeps us safe from wizards is humility. I have a growing sense of certainty that we still haven’t learned our Madoff lesson. I just hope The Wizard of Lies can change that, one lesson at a time.”

Continuing toward February 7, which would be Charles Dickens’s 200th birthday, this second in a series of bicentenary meditations with an English accent appears on the birthday of Archie Leach (1904-1986), the creator of Cary Grant, and A.A. Milne (1882-1956), the creator of Winnie the Pooh. With apologies to Pooh, who was, after all, only a fictional character, the subject will be the real person who became, according to David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film, “the best and most important actor in the history of the cinema.”

That Cary Grant was real I can offer eyewitness proof, for my wife saw him once, her all-time favorite movie star, on a street corner in 1972 in his hometown, Bristol, where the picture shown here was taken, probably that same year. Though she was in shock, my wife did not faint, but she did stare in spite of having grown up in Hollywood, where children are taught not to stare, even if they find themselves sharing the same elevator with Audrey Hepburn.

In explaining why Cary Grant was the “the best,” David Thomson locates “the essence of his quality” in the ability to be “attractive and unattractive simultaneously; there is a light and dark side to him, but, whichever is dominant, the other creeps into view.”

Cary Grant hints at the same idea, if inadvertently, in the opening of the three-part magazine autobiography he titled “Archie Leach,” writing that he “first saw the light of day — or rather the dark of night” at around 1 a.m. “on a cold January morning.” True to the traditional Dickensian beginning, the house was humble, lacked “modern heating conveniences,” and “kept only one step ahead of freezing by means of small coal fires in small bedroom fireplaces.”

Archie Leach grew up in an area of Bristol called Montpelier, lived in a rowhouse on Picton Street, went to a nearby school, played goalkeeper on the football team, shivered in the damp cold English winters, hung his stockings on the mantel at Christmas, collected stamps, ran errands for his mother, took piano lessons, suffered a siege of puppy love for the butcher’s daughter, and wore his first pair of long trousers (white flannels made by his mother) to a church bazaar. The “high point” of his week was to escape parental supervision every Saturday at the local cinema watching and no doubt learning from favorites like Charles Chaplin, Ford Sterling, Roscoe Arbuckle, Mack Swain, and Bronco Billy Anderson, the cowboy star. As he grew older, he went with his mother to the Clare Street Cinema, “where one could take tea while watching the films,” but he preferred to go with his father to a larger cinema called the Metropole that “smelled of raincoats and galoshes.” His father would stop at a tobacconist’s shop and buy his favorite pipe tobacco, and at the next shop some apples, “an occasional small bag of white round peppermints,” or, if Archie was good, a bar of chocolate. Father and son shared a special fondness for a weekly serial called The Clutching Hand.

In case that sounds too ordinary for a Dickens novel, the plot thickens plenty when nine-year-old Archie comes home from school one day to find his mother has disappeared. No warning, no believable explanation. After a while it became clear that she  was not coming back, ever. Archie’s father, who told him she was on a “long holiday,” had placed her in a “care facility.” It would be 20 years before Archie saw her again. By then he had become Cary Grant.

While Dickens might well have conceived a minor music hall troubadour named Archie Leach searching for his lost mother on the byways of life, surely no novelist prophet on the planet could imagine Archie Leach coming to the U.S. at 16, playing the vaudeville circuit for 10 years as an acrobat, stilt-walker, juggler, and mime, signing a Paramount contract as “Cary Grant” and launching a moving picture career that led to worldwide renown as the paragon of Hollywood sophistication, the embodiment of “class.” And who could imagine that a stilt-walker from Bristol would be named named second only to Humphrey Bogart among “The 50 Greatest Male Stars of All Time” in 1999 by The American Film Institute and first among “The 50 Greatest Movie Stars of All Time” by Premiere magazine in 2005. Even so, he never won a Best Actor Oscar, unless you count the honorary one he was given in 1970.

A Wartime Gesture

One of the two films for which Grant did receive an Oscar nomination, None But the Lonely Heart (1944), was made, as James Agee points out in his Nation review, “under unusually unexpected auspices,” in that “its star, Cary Grant, asked that it be made, and plays its far from Cary Grantish hero so attentively and sympathetically” that Agee “all but overlooked the fact that he is not well constituted for the role.” There’s a poignant irony in such an assessment, since this was the one film (with the exception of his breakthrough role as a Cockney con artist in Sylvia Scarlett) where Cary Grant came consciously closest to playing Archie Leach; it was also his way of identifying with his homeland and mother during the devastating series of bombing raids that ravaged Bristol between 1940 and 1944. The film also evoked his star-crossed relationship with his mother, who communicated with him by cablegram during the war. Based on a Richard Llewellyn novel, the story is about a cockney drifter who comes home to his beleaguered family and ailing mother, and most of the details and the London East End setting were based on Grant’s recollections of his Bristol youth as poured forth in hours of conversation with his chosen director and script writer (and lifelong close friend), Clifford Odets.

According to Graham McCann’s Cary Grant: A Class Apart (Columbia 1996), Grant “gave careful instructions to the set designers, ensuring that the dimensions and décor matched those of the sitting-rooms and bedrooms he had once inhabited in Bristol.” His choice of a left-wing playwright like Odets to both write and direct was a gamble for the apolitical Grant; that, and the proletarian setting, led to the inevitable suspicions about communistic propaganda (in 1953 Grant publicly condemned McCarthyism).

None But the Lonely Heart was the last and least profitable of a wartime group of films that included some of Cary Grant’s darkest, strongest, most personal roles. The series began in 1941 with George Stevens’s Penny Serenade, his first Oscar nomination, for a deeply felt, “good to the point of surprise” performance; the surprised reviewer was Otis Ferguson, who is reacting to the dark/light Grant dynamic, “not only that easy swing and hint of the devil,” but the expression of “faith and passion.” Next was Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion (1941), where the subtle ambiguity of Grant’s persona is brilliantly and definitively exploited, a combination that is also vividly at work in Grants’s virile, exciting performance as a suspected murderer and anarchist in 1942’s The Talk of the Town (another exemplary George Stevens film). Then there’s the charismatic, tough-talking, draft-dodging gangster in H.C. Potter’s Mr. Lucky (1944), where real-life implications come into play when Grant jumps all over the love interest (Laraine Day) for taking umbrage at his avoidance of military service: “Listen this isn’t my war! I had my war: crawling out of the gutter — the hard way. I won that war!” As McCann points out regarding another outburst, there’s a good deal more Archie Leach than Cary Grant in the references to being “awful poor” with “what-for to eat.”

The Blitz

None But the Lonely Heart reflects a wartime state of mind in addition to giving Grant a way of reaching out to his embattled Bristol. On November 24 1940, the Luftwaffe bombed the city for six hours, killing 207 people and leaving 1,400 homeless; two weeks later when the city center was pounded, 256 people died; a month later, on the night of January 3, 1941, while Grant was filming Penny Serenade, another raid took 149 lives and destroyed still more of the most historic part of the city he grew up in. The next and most demoralizing attack, on the night of March 16, 1941, which roughly coincided with the filming of Suspicion, killed 257, devastating the neighborhood where he went to school, experienced first love, and saw his first movies. The Mass Observation Unit noted that “People are getting worn out with the continual bombardment …. The irregular, sporadic, sudden switching of heavy raids here has a strongly disturbing effect.”

But the bombs kept coming, with another major attack, “the Good Friday raid” on April 11, as “wave after wave of bombs dropped incendiary devices and high explosives.” The total death toll for attacks was 1299, with 1303 seriously injured, and 81,830 houses destroyed. While Cary Grant was presumably spared the details of the devastation of Archie Leach’s Bristol, he was not spared the knowledge that his aunt and uncle and two cousins were among the dead.

You don’t need to read much about Cary Grant to know that for all the wit, comic style, and charm that brighten and energize films like Howard Hawks’s Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday, George Cukor’s Holiday and Philadelphia Story, and Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth, he would have found it unconscionable to be living a life of glamour, wealth and ease in La La Land (Aldous Huxley called L.A. “the city of dreadful joy”) while his home city was a blazing inferno. He tried to find a way to get over there to see his mother and do his part (she told him she was “a fire watcher” but wished she “could do more”), his numerous applications for a passport (he didn’t become an American citizen until June 26, 1942) and requests for permission to go abroad on an entertainment tour were denied. He had to settle for touring various camps and bases around the U.S.

Class, Classy, Classic

“Class” is as loaded a word in England as “race” is in the U.S.A. Besides showing the impact World War I had on the class system, Downton Abbey, like Cary Grant, has class. Script, actors, sets, cinematography, all exemplify the positive implications of the word for which “style” is a close relative. Graham McCann played on the nuances of “class” when he subtitled his biography A Class Apart. In his prologue, he sums up his subject, “Socially, he was a glorious enigma, eliding every pat classification. Artistically, he was, in his own particular field, without peers,” and “a master of the ‘high definition performance’ Kenneth Tynan defined as “the hypnotic saving grace of high and low art alike.” You can find both extremes in Cary Grant and Archie Leach, Charlie Chaplin and his tramp, and Charles Dickens and his England.

The 1972 photograph shows 68-year-old Cary Grant on a hotel balcony in Bristol. He is pointing to the 148-year-old Clifton Suspension Bridge, which spans the Avon Gorge. Grant’s birthday is being celebrated by Turner Classic Movies today, January 18, with the showing of seven of his films. Grant’s autobiography “Archie Leach” first appeared in three issues of The Ladies Home Journal, February, March, April 1963. You can read it on the Ultimate Cary Grant pages (www.carygrant.net/faq.html). On YouTube there are a number of sensitively made memorial montages showing both the light and dark sides of the ultimate Class Act. And if you want a glimpse of the neighborhood he grew up in, google earth can set you right down in front of No. 21 Picton Street in Bristol, which remains, in spite of the blitz, one of the most beautiful cities in the British Isles.


January 11, 2012

The Art Way Gallery at Princeton Allliance Church, Schalks Crossing and Wyndhurst roads in Plainsboro, is showing “Seen & Unseen,” a show of photography by Deborah Land and Jeff Currie, through January 21.

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, is exhibiting the photography show “Location of Place,” opening January 12 with a reception from 5-7 p.m. A panel discussion with the photographers will follow the reception. The show explores various approaches and methods taken by photographers in remembering and documenting spaces, places, and geographic locations.

For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

College of New Jersey Art Gallery, Route 31 in Ewing Township, is presenting “Raymond Pettibon: Early Drawings,” an exhibit of more than 40 works by the graphic artist January 25-February 29 in the Arts and Interactive Multimedia Building. Visit www.tcnjartgallery.pages.tcnj.edu or call (609) 771-2633 for information.

Community Art Gallery, Bank of Princeton in Lambertville, is showing “Captures and Releases,” photography by John Treichler, January 17-February 15. An opening reception is January 20 from 3-6 p.m. and a “Meet the Artist” event is February 11 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The location is 10 Bridge Street.

D&R Greenway at 1 Preservation Place in Princeton presents “Textures and Trails,” an exhibit of landscape quilts, metals, textiles, and objects from nature through February 10. The show celebrates the many paths that wind through the New Jersey landscape.

Erdman Center Art Gallery of Princeton Theological Seminary is presenting a show of abstract painting, “Memory Scape,” by Shirley Kem, through February 29. The gallery is at 20 Library Place.

Firestone Library on the Princeton University campus is presenting “Sin & the City: William Hogarth’s London” through January 29.

Gallery at Chapin, 4104 Princeton Pike, presents “Birds and Beast,” showing paintings of Charles David Viera, through January 27. From January 30-March 2, paintings by Jeff Epstein are in a show, “Intersections of the Man-Made and Natural Worlds.” An artist’s reception is February 8, 5-7 p.m.

Gallery 14 presents “Barbershop and Beauty Parlor Portraints in Ghana and Mali” by David Miller through January, and a member group show through February 5. The gallery is at 14 Mercer Street in Hopewell and is open Saturdays and Sundays, 12-5 p.m. and by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Winter Light,” the third annual January Open Call for Artists. All art will feature the theme and media will include oils, pastels, acrylics, watercolors, photography, and collages, through January 30. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 1-3 p.m. Sunday.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton celebrates Chinese New Year with several activities including a Chinese calligraphy demonstration and paper-cutting workshop January 14. The GFS had to postpone the opening of The Meadow, the new seven-acre outdoor gallery, as a result of Hurricane Irene and other weather events. The inaugural exhibit, “Aerial Roots” by Steve Tobin, will run until August. On the main floor of the Museum Building GFS is presenting “White Hot: Expressions in Iron,” an exhibition of contemporary work from nine artists working primarily in cast or fabricated iron and revealing the range of versatility the medium permits. The mezzanine will host “Creating Steelroots,” an illuminating exhibition of maquettes and drawings by Steve Tobin, the featured artist in The Meadow. In the Domestic Arts Building: on the main floor are the cutting-edge works of the young up-and-coming sculptor’s to watch — winners in the International Sculpture Center’s 2012 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Awards. On the mezzanine is “Instrumental Transitions” composed of 14 small-scale machinist works by Michael A. Dunbar. These exhibitions will remain up until April. For detailed information, visit www.groundsforsculp
ture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Suggested admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. The HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road is showing “Picturing Princeton,” historical photos of people and places in Princeton; works by A-Team Artists of Trenton; and an exhibit about the Clarke and Updike families. “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” starts February 1. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information, call (609) 921-6748 x100 or visit www.princetonhistory.org.

Hunterdon Art Museum, Clinton, opens its 60th year with “Nathan Skiles: The Clockmaker’s Apprentice,” January 22-March 25. Mr. Skiles will create and install 100 objects made entirely from foam rubber for the show. Opening February 5 are two shows: “Fragmented” featuring works of Astrid Bowlby, Sebastian Rug, Christopher Skura and Ben Butler; and “Elizabeth Gilfilen: No longer, no later,” four large abstract paintings.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., is hosting “Mavis Smith: Hidden Realities” January 14-May 20. A reception for the painter is February 3 from 6-7:30 p.m. “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements” is a permanent exhibit opening February 3 featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “Transmutation and Metamorphosis: The Painterly Voice: Bucks County’s Fertile Ground” will feature more than 200 works of art by Bucks County’s best-known historic artists through April 1. “Learning to See: Photographs by Nancy Hellebrand,” a series of large-scale photographs combining individual pictures of tree branches will be on view through February 26.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick is hosting “at/around/beyond: Fluxus at Rutgers” through April 1, and a series of original children’s book illustrations that will be on view until June 24.

The Mariboe Gallery at Peddie School, Hightstown, presents “Midwest Filipino,” photography by Daniel Ballesteros, through February 2. The exhibit investigates what it means to be Filipino-American.

Mercer County Community College’s Gallery opens “Surface Tension: Works by Ayami Aoyama and Florence Moonan,” a show of sculpture and painting, January 11, with an opening reception January 18 from 5-7:30 p.m. The show runs through February 9. A gallery talk is February 2 at 7:30 p.m. The college is at 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor.

Morven Museum & Garden opens “Puzzles of the Brain: An Artist’s Journey through Amnesia,” on January 26. The show, which tells the story of Princeton native Lonni Sue Johnson, is on view through June 3. More information is available by visiting www.morven.org or calling (609) 924-8144, ext. 106. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

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

Pennington School’s Silva Gallery of Art, will show a collection of paintings by Trenton artist Mel Leipzig through February 2, when a closing reception will be held from 6-8 p.m. Hours are Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment.

Present Day Club, 72 Stockton Street, is showing “Seeing the Light,” paintings and photographs by Meg Brinster Michael through February 24. The opening reception is January 20 from 5-7:30 p.m. Landscapes, still lifes, and digital photographs are included in the show.

Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery is presenting “Say It With Flowers,” featuring artwork by alumnus Lily Stockman ‘01, through February 2. An artist’s reception on January 14 is open to the public. from 6-8 p.m.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents Art Times Two’s “Eyejinks,” an exhibition of recent works by Princeton area artists John Franklin, Rory Mahon, and Andrew Wilkinson. The exhibit will be up through March 31.

The Princeton University Art Museum is presenting “Multiple Hands: Collective Creativity in Eighteenth-Century Japanese Painting” through January 22. The spiritual lives and religious customs of late medieval Christians are the subject of “Object of Devotion: Medieval English Alabaster Sculpture from the Victoria and Albert Museum,” through February 12. Two photo shows are on view through February 5: “Lee Friedlander: Cars and The New Cars,” 14 prints from the recently rediscovered “The New Cars 1964;” and “Pattern/Picture,” from the Museum’s collection of 15 works from the archives of the Clarence White School of Photography. “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870-1930,” 40 works of art never before exhibited, is on view from February 25-June 24. “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” will run March 17-June 10. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. For further information, call (609) 258-3788.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, is showing small quilts and other fabric art pieces by Sammi Nguyen of Group Hug Quilts through February 7.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, will exhibit “Recyclone!” featuring the work of Eva Mantell, Ina Brosseau Marx, and Eric Schultz. The opening reception is January 13 from 4-7 p.m.

“Undaunted, never-failing love for you, England, is all, to which I cling.” —from P.J. Harvey’s song “England”

PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey, "Let England Shake"

The new year belongs to England, or so it seems after a week listening to and living in P.J. Harvey’s Let England Shake (Vagrant 2011) and watching a DVD of the first season of BBC’s savage, shamelessly gripping detective series Luther. As if those two brilliant broadsides weren’t enough, 2012 is also the Charles Dickens bicentenary. Since the “man who invented Christmas” also had a lot to do with the invention of England, the coming year presents an opportunity to explore one’s inner anglophile and/or anglophobe. If you’ve ever lived for an extended period in the place Nathaniel Hawthorne called “Our Old Home,” you’ve probably known both extremes.

Winner of the Mercury Prize as the best album of 2011 and the Guardian’s choice for Album of the Year, Polly Jean Harvey’s latest record should not be approached as either an indictment of her homeland or an anti-war polemic. Let England Shake is a work of art for the ages. At the moment I can’t remember the last time an album this side of Mozart or Charlie Parker has encouraged me to think in those terms. Well aware of the kneejerk reaction of certain benighted critics (the only one so far is Robert Christgau, who calls it, incredibly, “a suite of well-turned if unnecessarily understated antiwar songs”), Harvey has made it clear in various interviews how careful she was not to let the album become preachy or overtly political. While she’s admitted that her intentions could be called “political,” she uses the term only in the broadest sense, as in “how people relate to one another.”

Harvey’s lyrics can be as unsparing as the dark twists and turns of the action in Luther: England’s “weighted down with silent dead,” its “dancing days are done,” and “by the shores/heavy stones are falling.” In “The Last Living Rose,” Harvey sings:

Let me walk through the stinking alleys

To the music of drunken beatings

Past the Thames river glistening

Like gold hastily sold

For nothing … nothing

In “This Glorious Land,” the answer to her question, “What is the fruit of our glorious land?” is “deformed children” and “orphaned children.”

Charles Dickens might not be quite so harsh, but he would know where she’s coming from, having created characters like Fagin and Bill Sikes and, in Bleak House, a man so freighted with the stuff of sin that he simply exploded, leaving a toxic miasma in his wake. In Neil Cross’s fascinating Luther, mentally deformed Londoners kidnap, torture, and murder women and children and occasionally men, and England’s favorite couple, Alice and Luther, a pretty psychopath and a troubled black genius chief of detectives, take their romance to another level, discussing Paradise Lost in a church while a statue of Milton listens in.

And now we have the return of Downton Abbey, English life upstairs and downstairs during the Great War, featuring another star-crossed couple, Matthew and Mary. In Let England Shake, P.J. Harvey sings of war and death and pain with a ferocity that puts the token battle scenes in Downton Abbey to shame. While the themes and movements coming together in the concluding episode of Luther will have your heart in your throat, Harvey’s “All and Everyone” is a far more sophisticated and accomplished piece of emotional enchantment, driven, even diabolic, in its relentless pattern of pressure and release, crescendo and diminuendo, pounding out its message of death “everywhere, in the air.” Death isn’t confined to the battlefield, it’s as the title says “all and everyone.” The way the song is paced, moving in grim, stirring surges, creates an intensity that is both harrowing and beautiful. But then every song in this album is rich with beauty, no matter how grim the lyric or how dirge-like the sax/trombone/drumbeat of doom created by Harvey, who plays saxophone as well as autoharp, and is accompanied by John Parish, Mick Harvey (no relation), and John Marc Butty.

“The Dark Places,” another devastating lament (“So our young men hid/with guns, in the dirt/and in the dark places”), is as raw and pure as a cry of anguish. There’s nothing of mere message in Let England Shake. Like the title, the music simply moves in on you, grabs you, holds you, and, yes, shakes you.

“The world we live in” was Harvey’s answer when she was asked by an interviewer what inspired the album. These 12 songs ultimately celebrate life, music, nature, love, poetry, and the creative spirit. At the same time, considering that war and waste, greed and madness, sickness and death, are all worthy, challenging subjects for an artist with Harvey’s gifts, she embraces them, takes them on, makes a mission of them. When the album came out last February, she told an interviewer on Radio 4 that she’d started wondering “where the officially appointed war songwriter was. You’ve got your war artists, like Steve McQueen, and your war photographers. I fantasized that I had been appointed this official songwriter.” When her thoughts were brought to the attention of Roger Tolson at the Imperial War Museum, he was ready to explore the possibility that Harvey might actually visit the war zone in Afghanistan, submitting her name to the museum’s committee for discussion.

Clearly Harvey had a great deal more than England, the Great War, and the Gallipoli debacle on her mind during the two years she was gathering material for this album. She told New Musical Express that what most interested her were the “cycles of conflict across many eras” from World War I “right up to Iraq and Afghanistan” and “long after we’ve come and gone.” Part of her lengthy preparation involved reading blogs from Afghani women and Iraqis, “to hear what people are actually saying now.” Another key influence was Darkness Visible: Afghanistan, a photography exhibit by Seamus Murphy, whose videos accompany each of the album’s 12 songs. Since the lyrics are not always completely audible, Murphy begins most of his videos with someone speaking words from the song (my favorite is the auto mechanic reciting “Bitter Branches” as he works on an engine).

Harvey’s England

Harvey considers her conflicted view of England, “the push and pull you feel with your native land,” as a universal reality, something she hopes people from other countries will understand and sympathize with when they hear Let England Shake. In the title track, which is sung over the xylophone riff from the old pop novelty song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” a play on the Gallipoli theme, Harvey creates a realm of sound that rises like a rainbow over a lyric “weighted down with the silent dead.” The words and music run free, turning heavy death into a fountain to “splash about, swim back and forth, and laugh out loud” in.

From the first song on, Harvey gives herself up to the “cruel nature” of her theme, which the wind says “has won again” in “On Battleship Hill.” The first time you hear “England,” where she sings beyond singing in a transport of pure sound, it’s hard to listen to, a dissonant wailing that blends stridently with a sample of “Kassem Miro” by Said el Kurdi. As the song progresses, she seems to be letting it have its way with her, as if the song were singing her. The effect is searing, like the sound of an embattled spirit crying to be heard.

Other Englands

“England” is as scary a love song as you’ll ever hear, but a love song is what it profoundly is, “Undaunted, never failing love for you, England, is all, to which I cling.” Compared to Harvey’s England, Kate Bush’s love song for her homeland in “Lionheart” is an idyll. When Bush sings the line “You read me Shakespeare on the rolling Thames — That old river poet that never, ever ends,” she wants love of England to make your heart ache, not to pierce it. While Polly’s war and death England tears her up, Kate dives into her lyrical war (“Dropped from my black Spitfire to my funeral barge”) where “the air raid shelters are blooming clover,” and, typically, kiss-me Kate sings, “Give me one kiss in apple-blossom./Give me one wish, and I’d be wassailing/In the orchard, my English rose.”

The “drunken beatings” in P.J. Harvey’s “Last Living Rose” that suggest the land of Luther take a gentler turn (“the sky move, the ocean shimmer, the hedge shake”) at the end. But the music recalls a line from an older song, Sinéad O’Connor’s “England’s not the mythical land of Madame George and roses/It’s the home of police who kill black boys on mopeds.”

Then there’s Ray Davies’s England in Arthur, Or the Decline and Fall of The British Empire, but that’s something for another column, in the year of Charles Dickens’s 200th birthday.

If Ray is the UK’s rock and roll poet laureate, P.J. Harvey in Let England Shake performs in that realm where issues of custom, culture, time and place give way to the power of art. I can imagine her singing for England’s poets and writers, composers and painters, Turner and Whistler, Dickens and Wilde, Britten and Elgar, Rupert Brooke and Kipling, Chaplin and Shaw, among many others, dating back to Blake and Milton, shadowy figures in the balcony of the church in Harvey’s Dorset hometown of Bridport, where the album was recorded, watching the woman holding the autoharp to her chest and singing “I live and die through England.”

January 10, 2012
jim-weaver

A CHEF’S MEMOIR: Jim Weaver, the executive chef/owner of Princeton’s Tre Piani Restaurant, has just published “Locavore Adventures” (Rivergate Books $22.95), a memoir about growing a sustainable food culture that also features 40 recipes.

Jim Weaver, the executive chef/owner of Princeton’s Tre Piani Restaurant, has written a book. Locavore Adventures (Rivergate Books $22.95) is a memoir about growing a sustainable food culture and a guide to “slowing down, savoring locally grown food, and celebrating life.”

Mr. Weaver is also the founder of the Central New Jersey Chapter of the “Slow Food” International Movement. The Slow Food Movement started in Italy a decade ago and is committed to preserving “endangered foods,” as well as small farms and unique food production methods. Slow Food enthusiasts argue that the contemporary obsession with fast, processed foods has destroyed people’s ability to taste, savor and understand the origins of food.

In Locavore Adventures, Mr. Weaver shares the story of how he came to solve this problem — building a local slow food culture that is ecologically responsible and also yields delicious results. He tells of his odyssey founding the Central New Jersey chapter of Slow Food, connecting local farmers, food producers, and chefs with the public to forge communities that value the region’s unique bounty. There are more than 40 recipes throughout the book, from Hot Smoked Brook Trout with Asparagus Puree and Pickled Cippollini Onions to Zuppa di Mozzarella.

“The Slow Food mission is aggressive,” according to Mr. Weaver. “We are active in many areas of food education, taste education, public awareness and promotion. We promote the dining table as a place of pleasure and conviviality. We promote diversity in food products and have helped many farmers find niche markets for products that supermarkets do not want to deal with because of looks, price, or perishability, such as heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables and rare breeds of animals.”

Slow Food has also started an “Ark of Taste” to preserve “endangered foods” and food production methods from extinction. “If you want to taste true American history, try a genuine Delaware Bay Oyster,” says the chef who spearheaded the effort to preserve the Delaware Bay Oyster from extinction, which is threatened due to over-cultivation and environmental deterioration. He nominated and succeeded in getting the Delaware Bay Oyster inducted into the United States Slow Food Ark of Taste.

Chef Weaver works with many state and local organizations to sponsor events highlighting local foods. He was also a featured speaker at the 2004 NJ Vegetable Grower’s Annual Meeting in Atlantic City, to help market Jersey fresh produce. He recently served on the board of directors for the New Jersey Restaurant Association and is affiliated with countless professional organizations and charity events.
According to Josh Viertel, president, Slow Food USA, ”We are working to build a different world — one where food and farming are sources of health and well being for all people and the planet; one where food can be good, clean and fair. Jim Weaver sees that that different world is already partially built. Through telling that story, he paints a picture of what is possible.”

 

Intelligent Design, an exhibit highlighting studio Delaware Valley area studio craft from its earliest beginnings through today, will open at Michener Museum on February 3.

The exhibition will feature work from the studio shops of such makers and designers as Frederick W. Harer, Wharton Esherick, George Nakashima, Mira Nakashima-Yarnell, Phillip Lloyd Powell, Paul Evans, David Ellsworth, Mark Sfirri, Robert Dodge, Toshiko Takaezu, Robert Winokur, and Matthias Pliessnig.

“The creative energy, broad technical repertoire, and innovative designs of the artists represented here make them highly desirable candidates for the Michener’s permanent collection,” said Curator of Collections Constance Kimmerle. “The strong studio craft tradition of southeastern Pennsylvania represents a significant collecting opportunity for the Michener Art Museum, and it’s exciting to be doing this in the area in which the museum is actively building its permanent collection.”

The James A. Michener Art Museum is located at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission for members and children under six is free; adults, $12.50; seniors, $11.50; college students with valid ID, $9.50; ages 6 to 18, $6.

For more information, visit www.michenerartmuseum.org or call (215)340-9800.

January 9, 2012

MADAM PRIME MINISTER: Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) is shown here as the prime minister of Great Britain. She shepherded her country through several tempestuous periods during her tenure, namely the troubles with the Irish Republican Army and the Falkland Islands war. (Photo by Alex Bailey

Over the course of her career, Meryl Streep has landed more academy award nominations (16 and counting) than any other actor. Blessed with a great emotional range and a knack for foreign accents and regional dialects, the versatile actress has repeatedly demonstrated her uncanny ability to disappear into whatever role she’s been asked to play.

Such is the case with The Iron Lady, a comprehensive biopic about Margaret Thatcher, who served as the prime minister of Great Britain from 1979 to 1990. The movie was directed by Phyllida Lloyd who has collaborated with Streep on Mamma Mia! in 2008.

Ms. Streep will undoubtedly receive another Oscar nomination for her spot-on impersonation of Margaret Thatcher’s persona, such as her pursed lips, steely demeanor, and haughty tone of voice. She further rises to the challenge of capturing Ms. Thatcher’s descent into dementia.

Unfortunately, Streep’s sterling performance has been squandered by an overambitious screenplay by Abi Morgan which bites off more than it can chew in a less than two hour film. As a result, the movie fails to do justice to the touchstones in Thatcher’s life and career, and teases the audience with allusions instead of presenting the material in depth.

Presented as a series of flashbacks, the movie superficially presents events such as Thatcher’s coming of age during World War II, her college days at Oxford, her marriage to Denis Thatcher (Jim Broadbent), their starting a family together, her developing a feminist consciousness, and her entrance into politics. The bulk of the film’s focus is devoted to her tempestuous tenure at Number 10 Downing Street, a period marked by both domestic and international unrest such as the troubles with the Irish Republican Army and the war in the Falkland Islands.

Overall, this empathetic portrait paints the prime minister as a headstrong conservative who was dedicated to her family and to her country. But by the film’s end, we really haven’t learned much more about Margaret Thatcher beyond her enduring love for her devoted husband who predeceased her.

An underwhelming production that is singlehandedly elevated by Meryl Streep’s tour de force performance.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for violent images and brief nudity. Running time: 105 minutes. Distributor: The Weinstein Company.

The State Theatre presents the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra with Conductor Jeffrey Tate on Wednesday, January 18, at 8pm. The program includes Vaughn Williams, Wasps: Overture; Johannes Brahms, Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77; and Dvorák, Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70, B. 141.  Tickets range from $36-$58.

Mr. Tate originally studied medicine at Cambridge University and  practiced three years as an eye surgeon in London before he started his professional artistic career by joining the music staff at the Royal Opera Covent Garden in 1970. He assisted Sir George Solti in London, Sir John Pritchard in Cologne, Pierre Boulez for the centenary Ring at the Bayreuth Festival, and Herbert von Karajan in Salzburg. He made his conducting debut with Carmen at Gothenburg Opera in 1978.

Mr. Tate has since worked with most of the major orchestras in the world. He has recorded a vast number of landmark recordings, and  regularly conducts in the world’s leading opera houses and festivals. He is a specialist in the music of Wagner and Strauss, of core classical and romantic repertoire, of British music of the late 19th and 20th century and of classical modern and contemporary music. Since 2001, he has been Honorary Director of the National Italian Radio Orchestra. He was appointed Principal Conductor of the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra in 2009.

Violinist Guy Braunstein was born in Tel Aviv and studied the violin under Chaim Taub, Glenn Dicterow, and Pinchas Zuckerman. He started performing as an international soloist and chamber musician at a young age and has since played with orchestras such as the Israel Philharmonic, the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich, the Bamberg Symphony, the radio orchestras in Copenhagen and Frankfurt, the Filarmonica della Scala, and the Berlin Philharmonic.

He has collaborated with musicians such as Isaac Stern, András Schiff, Zubin Mehta, Maurizio Pollini, Vladimir Fedosejew, Yefim Bronfman, and Daniel Barenboim, among others. Mr. Braunstein was the youngest person ever to be appointed concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic in 2000, a position which marked his debut as an orchestral member and which he currently retains, working with the Berlin Philharmonic for four months of the year.

The State Theatre is located at 15 Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick. For tickets or more information, call the State Theatre ticket office at (732) 246-7469, or visit www.StateTheatreNJ.org.

For the past four years, William H. Scheide has celebrated his birthday by indulging two of his passions: Music and philanthropy. This year, the noted nonegenarian (he turns 98 January 6), adds another of his interests to the mix. Mr. Scheide is a famed bibliophile, and he and his wife Judith McCartin Scheide will donate the proceeds of this year’s birthday concert on Friday, January 27, to the Princeton Public Library.

“It’s a perfect fit,” says Linda David Pizzico, who is producing the concert. “It’s a marriage between his love of books and his love of music.”

Tickets are $35 for the 8 p.m. concert, which will be led by Mark Laycock, former conductor of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, with stellar soloists Jaime Laredo on violin and Sharon Robinson on cello. The Vienna Chamber Orchestra and the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York complete the bill, which will feature the Overture to Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, Brahms’s Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Mr. Laycock’s special birthday arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

Mr. and Mrs. Scheide are longtime benefactors of the Princeton Public Library. Books have been a passion for Mr. Scheide since childhood. His family founded the Scheide Library, which includes books and manuscripts collected by three generations. Today, the Scheide Library is housed at Princeton University’s Firestone Library, and it contains copies of the first four Bibles ever printed, materials on the invention and history of printing, and prized musical manuscripts by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Wagner, to name a few.

Mr. Scheide has also made gifts to libraries at Princeton Theological Seminary, Westminster Choir College, and the Seed School in Washington, D.C. as well as the Bodleian libraries at Oxford University.

Music came into Mr. Scheide’s life early. His father played piano and his mother sang. He began piano lessons at age six, and soon took up the organ as well. He graduated from Princeton University in 1936 and earned a master’s degree at Columbia University four years later. His thesis topic was “What Happened to Bach’s Music in the First Century After his Death.” Mr. Scheide taught at Cornell University for two years, playing the oboe with a group of amateur musicians who performed an all-Bach repertory. He founded the Bach Aria Group in 1946 to bring some of his music that was virtually unknown to a wider audience, and was its director until 1980.

A concern for human rights has also figured highly in Mr. Scheide’s life. He played a vital role in advancing the goals of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Past concerts honoring his birthday have benefitted Princeton Healthcare System, the Arts Council of Princeton, Centurion Ministries and Isles, Inc.

The Scheides don’t limit their sponsorship of arts events to the annual January concerts. The couple also host musical events each summer. But the birthday concert is clearly a highlight and a focus. “They do this instead of throwing a birthday bash, and every year a community organization is selected as a recipient,” says Ms. Pizzico. “This is going to be a great concert, with a packed stage. We’re hoping for packed seating as well.”

Sam Wang, associate professor of neuroscience at Princeton University and co-author of Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows From Conception to College, will launch Princeton Public Library’s “Inside a Child’s Mind” series Wednesday, January 18 at 7 p.m.

In their book, Mr. Wang and co-author Sandra Aamodt challenge popular myths and misinformation about brain development and how children think. During his appearance, Mr. Wang will discuss the book’s surprising revelations and offer practical advice backed by real, reliable science about issues such as sleep problems, ADHD, language learning, gender differences and autism.

The series continues at the library on February 15 at 7 p.m. when Christiane Fellbaum presents “Language Acquisition and the Bilingual Child.” Ms. Fellbaum, a Princeton University professor, will review recent findings comparing the linguistic and cognitive development of monolingual and bilingual children and examining the nature of the “Bilingual advantage” from a range of different perspectives.

“Conversations with Autism” is the March 8 segment of the series and features a discussion with Outreach Specialist Michelle Brooks of Eden Autism Services and Sean Fitzmaurice, a junior at Hunterdon Central Regional High School, who is living with autism and is interested in a career that involves helping and advocating for students with disabilities. The discussion takes place at 7 p.m.

The series concludes Wednesday, April 18, when children’s librarian and literacy expert Kapila Love presents “Reading the World and Other Miraculous Feats for People Big and Small” at 7 p.m. Ms. Love, editor of the Collaborative Summer Library Program’s Early Literacy Manual, will focus on “the fundamentals: a way to look at reading, and children’s reading particularly, that is compassionate, humanistic and downright magical.”

Professional development credits are available for educators who attend programs in the Inside a Child’s Mind series, all of which take place in the library’s Community Room.

 

The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers continues its series of one-person shows devoted to Soviet nonconformist artists with In the Search of an Absolute: Art of Valery Yurlov, on view through June 3.

“We are very pleased to spotlight these 50 pioneering works, selected from more than 200 by the artist in the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection at the Zimmerli,” said director Suzanne Delehanty. Mr. Yurlov stands out as one of the earliest proponents of analytical abstraction within Soviet nonconformist art and was among those artists who, as early as the 1950s, defied the restrictions placed on artists by the Communist government.

Mr. Yurlov, who is based in Moscow, will appear at the Zimmerli’s Art After Hours program on Wednesday, April 4. In addition to a discussion with the artist, the 5 to 9 p.m. evening features an exhibition tour of with associate curator Julia Tulovsky, and a performance of contemporary Russian music by Mason Gross School of the Arts students.

The exhibition focuses on works from the late 1950s and 1960s, with a few later pieces from the collection of the artist. “Valery Yurlov continues the intellectual traditions of the Russian avant-garde of the 1920s,” noted Ms. Tulovsky. “However, in order to pursue his artistic journey, he chose to live in a self-imposed exile away from any art community that might drag him into politics.”

Born in 1932 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, near the border with China, Valery Yurlov’s childhood and young adult experiences shaped his lifelong artistic endeavors. As a schoolboy, he had access to a vast library, learning about the lives and practices of the masters in art. During World War II, Russia’s intelligentsia and thousands fleeing the Nazis found refuge in Almaty, creating a rich socio-cultural environment, far from the atmosphere of war in Moscow and Leningrad. Mr. Yurlov’s family befriended many of these dislocated intellectuals. With exposure to a broad range of historical and contemporary philosophies at a relatively young age, Mr. Yurlov began advanced classes at the Almaty Art School, although he was not yet a teenager.

In 1949, Mr. Yurlov entered Moscow Polygraphic Institute, the leading center for the study of book and graphic design, where he was a student of Vladimir Favorsky and Petr Miturich. Both of these teachers preserved the traditions of artistic freedom of the 1920s, which were prohibited by the emergence of Socialist Realism, the art style based on Communist collective propaganda and the only method permitted in the Soviet Union at the time. They covertly taught their students that the most important considerations in creating art are form, texture, composition, and structure – not the ideological subject matter supported by the official doctrine. They encouraged independent artistic thinking and gave their students absolute creative freedom, another risky endeavor at the time.

The legacy of his teachers manifested itself in Mr. Yurlov’s life-long search for an “absolute,” or a form, constructed in accordance with universal principles. As early as 1959, Mr. Yurlov began experimenting with the concept of a “para-form,” or a pair of forms, which has significantly defined his artistic path. Throughout his career, he has explored and continues to analyze the endless possibilities of para-forms and their interrelationships, ranging from harmony to conflict. Duality, the union of opposites that underlies the universe, constitutes the deeper meaning of Mr. Yurlov’s paintings, drawings, and reliefs.

Although Mr. Yurlov incorporated the latest developments and theories in contemporary art – such as neo-constructivism, structuralism, impermanence, and even performance art – he continued to work outside established circles of artists and stayed beyond the confines of politics. He made his living as a freelance illustrator during school and for much of his adult life, allowing him to live outside of Moscow and freely develop his own artistic language.

This exhibition is curated by Ms. Tulovsky with assistance by Olena Martynyuk and Corina Apostol, graduate students in the Department of Art History and Dodge Fellows at the Zimmerli Art Museum. Most of the works are drawn from the museum’s 20,000-piece Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Soviet Nonconformist Art, the largest and most comprehensive collection of Soviet dissident art from the historical Cold War period between 1956 and 1986.

For more information on the Zimmerli, call (732) 932.7237, ext. 610 or visit the museum’s website at www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu.

SALINGER BIOGRAPHER: Kenneth Slawenski, author of “J.D. Salinger: A Life” and creator of the Salinger website Dead Caulfields, will be talking and answering questions about Salinger in the Community Room of the Princeton Public Library on Tuesday, January 10 at 7 p.m.

Kenneth Slawenski, author of J.D. Salinger: A Life and creator of the Salinger website Dead Caulfields, will speak and sign copies of his book on Tuesday, January 10 at 7 p.m. at Princeton Public Library. His appearance in the library’s Community Room will largely be a question and answer session, and attendees will be welcome to share their insights.

Mr. Slawennski will also be speaking to Princeton High School students in the PHS Performing Arts Center earlier that same day, January 10 at 1:30 p.m.

The Princeton event will mark the official launch of the paperback edition of J.D. Salinger: A Life, which appeared in hardcover a year after Salinger’s death on January 27, 2010, at the age of 91. Mr. Slawenski’s biography of the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye was a Book of the Month Club selection. The English edition was reviewed by Peter Ackroyd, who found the book “well-written, energetic and magnificently researched.” A review in The Spectator pointed out the “love and zest” with which Mr. Slawenski “sets about his task.”

In citing the biography’s focus on the impact of Salinger’s combat experience in World War II, the Town Topics review (Jan. 26 2011) quoted a passage describing Salinger’s state of mind on completing The Catcher in the Rye in the autumn of 1950:

“Holden Caulfield, and the pages that contained him, had been the author’s constant companion for most of his adult years. Those pages were so precious to Salinger that he carried them on his person throughout the war. In 1944 he confessed … that he needed them with him for support and inspiration. Pages of The Catcher in the Rye had stormed the beach at Normandy; they had paraded down the streets of Paris, been present at the deaths of countless solders in countless places, and been carried through the death camps of Nazi Germany.”

Mr. Slawenski’s website deadcaulfields.com currently features birthday celebrations of The Catcher in the Rye’s 60th and Franny and Zooey’s 50th. The site offers everything from a timeline and photos, to a comprehensive inventory of Salinger’s unpublished fiction.

All Princeton Public Library programs are free and open to the public. If programs require registration, preference is given to library cardholders. The physically challenged should contact the library at (609) 924-9529 48 hoursbefore any program with questions about special accommodations.

The library is in the Sands Library Building at 65 Witherspoon St. in Princeton Borough. Parking is available on neighboring streets and in the borough-operated Spring Street Garage, which is adjacent to the library. For more information about library programs and services, call (609) 924-9529 or visit www.princetonlibrary.org

 

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., three community organizations are partnering to bring his ideals to life for an afternoon of creative learning, artistic expressions, and fun for children and tweens. An open house program will run from 1-4 p.m. on Monday, January 16, Martin Luther King Day, at the Arts Council of Princeton’s Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, Princeton.

This is the fourth year that a tolerance-related program has been offered to families on Martin Luther King Day by the Arts Council of Princeton, Kidsbridge and the Historical Society of Princeton. Assisting with the event this year will be the Princeton High School Community Service Group.

The afternoon will feature an assortment of creative and thought provoking hands-on art workshops, student led puppet shows, and collaborative projects, geared to both elementary and middle school students and inspired by Dr. King’s words and inspirational messages.

For more information, call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

January 4, 2012

WHY DIDN’T I JUST TAKE THE ELEVATOR: Crack undercover agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is the human fly who is scaling a skyscraper in Dubai, as part of his assignment to recover the activation codes for Russia’s nuclear device. To find out if his team succeeds in their quest, see the movie.

Cruise and Company Go Undercover in Dangerous Assignment

Before he could intercept a courier carrying the activation codes for Russia’s nuclear devices, an American spy (Josh Hollaway) was slain in Budapest, Hungary by a blonde assassin (Lea Seydoux). She was working on behalf of Cobalt (Michael Nyst), a person of interest whose identity can only be determined by infiltrating top secret files that are located inside the Kremlin.

That dangerous assignment is accepted by the latest crack IMF team assembled by Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), with the usual understanding that the secretary will disavow any knowledge of its existence if they are killed or captured. So, when Cobalt blows up the Kremlin during the operation and America is accused of the bombing, the president of the United States has no choice but to issue a Ghost Protocol declaring them as rogue agents.

This means that Hunt and his crew have been blamed for the attack, and the only way they can clear their names is by tracking down the real culprit and retrieving the codes before he can trigger a weapon of mass destruction. That, in a nutshell, is the plot of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the fourth and arguably the best movie in the international espionage series.

Directed by Brad Bird (Ratatouille), the picture ups the ante in terms of state-of-the-art gadgetry and eye-popping feats on land, sea, and air. Besides the scenes of action that unfold against breathtaking backdrops of such exotic locales as Moscow, Dubai, and Mumbai, the production also has a plot compelling enough to hold your attention throughout the film.

Tom Cruise is in top form, displaying a sophisticated savoir faire instead of the easy boyish charm that’s served him so well in the past. His talented supporting cast includes Simon Pegg who offers comic relief as Benji Dunn, Hunt’s bumbling new sidekick. Joining them are Paula Patton as the sultry agent Jane Carter, and Jeremy Renner as William Brandt, an IMF bureaucrat pressed back into field duty by unusual circumstances.

Michelle Monaghan and Ving Rhames reprise their roles as Hunt’s wife, Julia, and his best friend, Luther, respectively, but only in short cameo appearances.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for violence and intense action sequences. Running time: 132 minutes. Distributor: Paramount Pictures.

The Art Way Gallery at Princeton Allliance Church, Schalks Crossing and Wyndhurst roads in Plainsboro, is showing “Seen & Unseen,” a show of photography by Deborah Land and Jeff Currie, through January 21. The opening reception is Friday, January 6, from 5-8 p.m. (snow date January 13).

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, is holding registration for winter classes for all ages in the visual, literary and performing arts. Twenty new instructors have joined the faculty. Classes begin January 9. A show of photography, “Location of Place,” will open January 12 with a reception from 5-7 p.m. A panel discussion with the photographers will follow the reception. The show explores various approaches and methods taken by photographers in remembering and documenting spaces, places, and geographic locations.

For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

D&R Greenway at 1 Preservation Place in Princeton presents “Textures and Trails,” an exhibit of landscape quilts, metals, textiles, and objects from nature through February 10. The show celebrates the many paths that wind through the New Jersey landscape.

Dorothea’s House at 120 John Street will present a program on Italian Renaissance and Baroque art Sunday, January 8 at 5 p.m. Veronica White of Columbia University will talk about a unique collection of art by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, a 17th century Italian baroque painter best known as “Guercino.”

Erdman Center Art Gallery of Princeton Theological Seminary is presenting a show of abstract painting, “Memory Scape,” by Shirley Kem, through February 29. The gallery is at 20 Library Place.

Firestone Library on the Princeton University campus is presenting “Sin & the City: William Hogarth’s London” through January 29.

Gallery at Chapin, 4104 Princeton Pike, presents “Birds and Beast,” showing paintings of Charles David Viera, through January 27.

Gallery 14 presents “Barbershop and Beauty Parlor Portraits in Ghana and Mali” by David Miller through January, and a member group show from January 6-February 5. The opening reception for the group show is January 6 from 6-8:30 p.m. Meet the Photographers is Sunday, January 8 from 1-3 p.m. The gallery is at 14 Mercer Street in Hopewell and is open Saturdays and Sundays, 12-5 p.m. and by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Winter Light,” the third annual January Open Call for Artists. All art will feature the theme and media will include oils, pastels, acrylics, watercolors, photography, and collages, through January 30. The “Celtic Tea” reception is Sunday, January 8 from 1-3 p.m. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 1-3 p.m. Sunday.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton had to postpone the opening of The Meadow, the new seven-acre outdoor gallery, as a result of Hurricane Irene and other weather events. The inaugural exhibit, “Aerial Roots” by Steve Tobin, will run until August. On the main floor of the Museum Building GFS is presenting “White Hot: Expressions in Iron,” an exhibition of contemporary work from nine artists working primarily in cast or fabricated iron and revealing the range of versatility the medium permits. The mezzanine will host “Creating Steelroots,” an illuminating exhibition of maquettes and drawings by Steve Tobin, the featured artist in The Meadow. In the Domestic Arts Building: on the main floor are the cutting-edge works of the young up-and-coming sculptor’s to watch — winners in the International Sculpture Center’s 2012 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Awards. On the mezzanine is “Instrumental Transitions” composed of 14 small-scale machinist works by Michael A. Dunbar. These exhibitions will remain up until April. For detailed information, visit www.groundsforsculp
ture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Suggested admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. The HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quakerbridge Road is showing “Picturing Princeton,” historical photos of people and places in Princeton; works by A-Team Artists of Trenton; and an exhibit about the Clarke and Updike families. “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” starts February 1. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information, call (609) 921-6748 x100 or visit www.princetonhistory.org.

Hunterdon Art Museum, Clinton, opens its 60th year with “Nathan Skiles: The Clockmaker’s Apprentice,
” January 22-March 25. Mr. Skiles will create and install 100 objects made entirely from foam rubber for the show. Opening February 5 are two shows: “Fragmented” featuring works of Astrid Bowlby, Sebastian Rug, Christopher Skura and Ben Butler; and “Elizabeth Gilfilen: No longer, no later,” four large abstract paintings.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., is hosting “Mavis Smith: Hidden Realities” January 14-May 20. A reception for the painter is February 3 from 6-7:30 p.m. “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements” is a permanent exhibit opening February 3 featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others. “Transmutation and Metamorphosis: The Painterly Voice: Bucks County’s Fertile Ground” will feature more than 200 works of art by Bucks County’s best-known historic artists through April 1. “Learning to See: Photographs by Nancy Hellebrand,” a series of large-scale photographs combining individual pictures of tree branches will be on view through February 26.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick is hosting “at/around/beyond: Fluxus at Rutgers” through April 1, “Two Venetian Masters,” an exhibition of etchings by Canaletto and Tiepolo through January 8, and a series of original children’s book illustrations that will be on view until June 24. On Wednesday, January 4 at 5:30 p.m., Art After Hours will begin with a tour of the exhibit “Abstraction in Sculpture,” a jazz concert with the Vanessa Perea Band, and The Art of Paper Cutouts Design activity. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, and free for members, faculty and staff.

The Mariboe Gallery at Peddie School, Hightstown, presents “Midwest Filipino,” photography by Daniel Ballesteros, January 6-February 2. The exhibit investigates what it means to be Filipino-American. An opening reception and artist talk is Friday, January 6 from 6:30-8 p.m.

Morven Museum & Garden’s “Stars and Stripes: Fabric of the American Spirit,” featuring 100 flags from The Pierce Collection of American Parade Flags, has been extended through January 8. More information is available by visiting www.morven.org or calling (609) 924-8144, ext. 106. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

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

Pennington School’s Silva Gallery of Art, will show a collection of paintings by Trenton artist Mel Leipzig from January 6 – February 2, when a closing reception will be held from 6-8 p.m. Hours are Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment.

Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery is presenting “Say It With Flowers,” featuring artwork by alumnus Lily Stockman ‘01, January 9-February 2. An artist’s reception on January 14 is open to the public from 6-8 p.m.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents Art Times Two’s “Eyejinks,” an exhibition of recent works by Princeton area artists John Franklin, Rory Mahon, and Andrew Wilkinson. The exhibit will be up through March 31.

The Princeton University Art Museum is presenting “Multiple Hands: Collective Creativity in
Eighteenth-Century Japanese Painting” through January 22. Mark Rothko’s painting Magenta, Black, Green on Orange (No. 3/No. 13) is on view through January 8. The spiritual lives and religious customs of late medieval Christians are the subject of “Object of Devotion: Medieval English Alabaster Sculpture from the Victoria and Albert Museum,” through February 12. Two photo shows are on view through February 5: “Lee Friedlander: Cars and The New Cars,” 14 prints from the recently rediscovered “The New Cars 1964;” and “Pattern/Picture,” from the Museum’s collection of 15 works from the archives of the Clarence White School of Photography. “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870-1930,” 40 works of art never before exhibited, is on view from February 25-June 24. “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” will run March 17-June 10. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. For further information, call (609) 258-3788.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, will exhibit “Recyclone!” featuring the work of Eva Mantell, Ina Brosseau Marx, and Eric Schultz. The opening reception is January 13 from 4-7 p.m.

I don’t have the evidence to prove it but I’d bet that the majority of first-run movies made between 1920 and 1950 are set in New York City and that of those, more than half open with a shot of Times Square at night. Since Times Square and New Year’s Eve are virtually synonymous, this, the first column for 2012, features the Times Square fantasia from Love Happy, the last, least shown, and most roundly dismissed and generally disdained of the Marx Brothers’ pictures.

Love Happy opened at the Criterion Theatre on Times Square the first week in April 1950. Among several things the “horrible movie” (Groucho’s comment) has going for it is Marilyn Monroe, who pays a brief, breathtaking, off-the-shoulder-evening-gowned visit to Groucho’s nearsighted private eye Sam Grunion (“Men follow me” is how she explains her predicament). There’s also a classic Harpo routine in which three heavies looking for a stolen diamond necklace search in his bottomless coat, extracting, among other things, the leg of a female mannequin, a welcome mat, an umbrella, a barber’s pole, a mailbox, the mannequin’s other leg, an inner tube, and a dog. In addition to the thankless task of frisking the silent one, the thugs are [my italics] asking Harpo questions: “We have ways of making you talk!” Which is like telling the Rock of Gibraltar “We have ways of making you move.”

Above all, there’s Harpo’s flight. Some might call it a chase scene with the three hoods in pursuit but in truth it’s a Harpo Marx solo, “Swinging on a Star” meets “Racing with the Moon” in a slapstick scramble across the floodlit playground of animated neon above Times Square. First he seeks refuge in the massive company of the yawning, pajama-clad Fisk Tire boy, stifling a yawn himself before blowing out the big sleepyhead’s candle and diving under a Wheaties box the size of a house, only to rise through some mad gremlin power of his own to the flying red horses of Mobil, a flashing sequence of neon steeds, leaving his earthly pursuers falling all over themselves on the rooftop below. Seconds later, with the villains at his heels again, he catches hold of the swinging neon pendulum of the big Gruen clock, a primitive version of the one that marked the 2012 countdown four nights ago with some help from a silver-sheathed Lady Gaga. Hanging on, swinging high and low, he lets the pendulum do all the work; every time the bad guys try to grab him on the downswing, boom, ass over backwards they go, the hands of the clock spinning like a roulette wheel as Harpo flies headlong, arms out, straight into the open beak of Joe Kool, the chain-smoking penguin. When Joe opens his beak to exhale another puff, it’s Harpo’s lunatic gargoyle face and mashed stovepipe hat you see; it takes three tries before he manages to extract himself, climbing out wrapped in a blast of smoke and sliding down the penguin’s wing to the floodlit parapet, where he staggers around, smoke-drunk, pushed to the sheer edge of the roof by the three hoods, lights of cars far below on Broadway, oh-oh it’s all over, he’s cornered, nowhere to go but straight down except that when they punch at the junky inner sanctum of his big coat, he erupts, Mt. Harpo belching forth a fat stream of smoke that blinds his assailants. He’s sated with secondhand smoke, teeming with it, cranking his arms, blowing it out both ears, like some crazed pagan spirit, the god of Pandemonium lording it over the Great White Way.

Bird at the Roost

In the relatively real world down below at the Royal Roost, the House That Bop Built, 1580 Broadway, practically next door to the Criterion at 1530 where Love Happy will open more than a year later, it’s December 31, 1948, midnight’s looming, and Charlie Parker has just completed a solo flight on “How High the Moon” that could be transcribed to score every fast and fluid rise and fall and starry surprise of Harpo’s flight from Fisk to Kool on the big signs overhead. And if that seems like excessive synchronicity, what better occasion than the changing of the years on a square named for the Times? Surely this is the one night out of 365 that begs for the muse of fantasy.

In fact, the music, the time and the place are for real. You can hear the New Year’s Eve Broadcast on Bird at the Roost: The Savoy Years Volume Two, with Symphony Sid sending it out live over WMCA, courtesy of Music Hall Credit Jewelers, which “give up their time just to wish you all a very happy new year from the Original Metropolitan Bopera House.”

The 1911 Club

So here I am looking back on 2011 and realizing that my only celebrity centenary columns were on Ronald Reagan and Ginger Rogers, which is why I’m imagining that the old Times Square magnetism has lured a whole host of 1911 birthmates down the stairway into the cozy confines of the Roost for a New York New Year’s Eve with Charlie Parker. All in their prime at 37, the members of the 1911 club waiting for 1948 to become 1949 undoubtedly suggest a “strange bedfellows” scenario, as scholar anarchist Paul Goodman discusses baseball and Thoreau with slugger Hank Greenberg while Butterfly “Prissy” McQueen shares a shrill toast with Big Joe Turner in memory of Jean Harlow and Robert Johnson, two members of 1911 club who died in the late 1930s. A few minutes ago, during intermission, Roy Rogers and Vaughan Monroe had been prevailed upon to team up for an impromptu a cappella rendition of “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” the song Monroe will put on the musical map later in the new year. Now here comes Lee J. Cobb, dropping in to unwind after weeks of heavy rehearsing for the part of Willy Loman; in a month he’ll be opening around the corner at the Morosco in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Right now he’s talking shop with Broderick Crawford, who will play the role of his life and cop an Oscar in 1949 as Willie Stark in All The King’s Men.

The handsome guy handing his coat to the coat check girl is Nicholas Ray, whose first film, They Live By Night, is due for release later in the new year. Jules Dassin, there with his first wife Bea, has been talking about the location filming he did for The Naked City after hearing from Nick about the controversy he encountered directing Duke Ellington’s interracial musical Beggar’s Holiday a few years back. Ray’s new wife Gloria Grahame has settled down at a ringside table meanwhile and is already flirting up a storm with trumpeter Roy “Little Jazz” Eldridge and the artist Romare Bearden, who has been sketching the scene onstage where Bird and his All-Stars are playing “Half-Nelson” at breakneck speed. Sharing the adjacent table though they appear not to know one another are Marshall McLuhan and L. Ron Hubbard, both busy taking notes.

Also seated at ringside are three imposing women to whom Parker is devoting special frenzied attention as his solo peaks and falls back, appearing to falter only to soar into brave new worlds. The tall redhead in the big hat is Lucille Ball, who is distracted by the fear that her husband Desi may be playing a New Year’s Eve gig in the Never Never Room of The Hotel Showgirl. Next to her is Gypsy Rose Lee, hatless, bejeweled and serenely beautiful in a fabulous Aubrey Beardsley dream of a dress. On Gypsy’s left wearing a confectionary headpiece that doesn’t go with her natural good looks is Tarzan’s first Jane, Maureen O’Sullivan, the only person at the table willing to give herself up to the music.

An interlude of softly swinging pianistic magic from 24-year-old Al Haig gives Charlie a chance to chat up “Jane” before falling into a conversation about Honegger’s “Song of Joy” with Gian Carlo Menotti, whose Medium and Telephone are at City Center, and Stan Kenton, who is still beaming about the nice things Bird said about him (“the closest thing in jazz to classical music”) in a recent Blindfold Test. Keeping his own counsel at the same table is Bernard Hermann, whose score for Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train has just been quoted, with a wink for the composer, by Al Haig. At the next table, Elizabeth Bishop and Tennessee Williams, are talking about Key West, Bishop’s asthma, which is always less of a bother in New York, and her next door neighbor, who happens to be Jessica Tandy’s understudy in Streetcar Named Desire. Williams’s latest play, Summer and Smoke, has just opened at the Music Box.

There’s a buzz in the room as Merle Oberon enters with her new husband cinematographer Lucien Ballard. Haig salutes her with Cathy’s theme from the score of Wuthering Heights. Another gasp from the crowd greets Harpo Marx’s backstage emergence. Out of costume and out of breath after his night flight amid the billboards, Harpo mutely counts down the last ten seconds of 1948 with Symphony Sid as Spike Jones, Robert Taylor, and Vincent Price hurry in with their significant others, fresh from the Times Square crush.

Midnight! 1949! Over the cheering and kissing hoopla, Charlie Parker shouts “If music be the food of love, play on!” as he makes way for Mahalia Jackson, who leads everyone in a spine-chilling rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.”

Note: Everyone I imagined showing up at the Roost that night was born in 1911 (all 26, not counting Harlow and Johnson) with a few obvious exceptions. To see who didn’t show up, google “Born in 1911” (http://www.nndb.com/lists/910/000105595/) which is still incorrectly listing Margaret Sullavan, who was born in 1909 and the subject of my May 13, 2009 column. A DVD of Love Happy was released in 2004 by Republic Pictures. A limited number are available on Amazon.

December 28, 2011

The Art Way Gallery at Princeton Allliance Church, Schalks Crossing and Wyndhurst roads in Plainsboro, is showing “Seen & Unseen,” a show of photography by Deborah Land and Jeff Currie, through January 21. The opening reception is Friday, January 6, from 5-8 p.m. (snow date January 13).

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, is holding registration for winter classes for all ages in the visual, literary and performing arts. Twenty new instructors have joined the faculty. Classes begin January 9.

For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

D&R Greenway at 1 Preservation Place in Princeton presents “Friends in Field and Forest,” which has winning student art and essays by fifth graders in the Olivia Rainbow Student Gallery. One winner from each county created art on threatened and endangered Garden State wildlife. The show is open through December 31. “Textures and Trails,” an exhibit of landscape quilts, metals, textiles, and objects from nature is on view through February 10, and celebrates the many paths that wind through the New Jersey landscape.

Dorothea’s House at 120 John Street will present a program on Italian Renaissance and Baroque art Sunday, January 8 at 5 p.m. Veronica White of Columbia University will talk about a unique collection of art by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, a 17th century Italian baroque painter best known as “Guercino.”

Firestone Library is presenting “George Segal: Sculptor as Photographer” at the Milberg Gallery through December 30. “Sin & the City: William Hogarth’s London” will run through January 29. Recently rediscovered watercolors by British painter Gwen John are on view through December 31 in the 18th Century Window of the Main Gallery.

Gallery at Chapin, 4104 Princeton Pike, presents “Birds and Beast,” showing paintings of Charles David Viera, from January 3-27.

Gallery 14 presents three photography exhibits through December: “African Children” by Larry Parsons, “High Water” by John Blackford, and “Travels in Iberia II” by Martin Schwartz. The gallery is at 14 Mercer Street in Hopewell and is open Saturdays and Sundays, noon-5 p.m. and by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Winter Light,” the third annual January Open Call for Artists. All art will feature the theme and media will include oils, pastels, acrylics, watercolors, photography, and collages, January 2-30. The “Celtic Tea” reception is Sunday, January 8 from 1-3 p.m. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 1-3 p.m. Sunday.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton had to postpone the opening of The Meadow, the new seven-acre outdoor gallery, as a result of Hurricane Irene and other weather events. The inaugural exhibit, “Aerial Roots” by Steve Tobin, will run until August. On the main floor of the Museum Building GFS is presenting “White Hot: Expressions in Iron,” an exhibition of contemporary work from nine artists working primarily in cast or fabricated iron and revealing the range of versatility the medium permits. The mezzanine will host “Creating Steelroots,” an illuminating exhibition of maquettes and drawings by Steve Tobin, the featured artist in The Meadow. In the Domestic Arts Building: on the main floor are the cutting-edge works of the young up-and-coming sculptor’s to watch—winners in the International Sculpture Center’s 2012 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Awards. On the mezzanine is “Instrumental Transitions” composed of 14 small-scale machinist works by Michael A. Dunbar. These exhibitions will remain up until April. For detailed information, visit www.groundsforsculp
ture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Suggested admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. The Updike Farmstead on Quakerbridge Road is showing “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” starting February 1. Opening hours are Saturday and Wednesday from 12-4 p.m. For more information, call (609) 921-6748 x100 or visit www.princetonhistory.org.

Hunterdon Art Museum, Clinton, opens its 60th year with “Nathan Skiles: The Clockmaker’s Apprentice,” January 22-March 25. Mr. Skiles will create and install 100 objects made entirely from foam rubber for the show. Opening February 5 are two shows: “Fragmented” featuring works of Astrid Bowlby, Sebastian Rug, Christopher Skura and Ben Butler; and “Elizabeth Gilfilen: No longer, no later,” four large abstract paintings.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., is hosting “Quilt Art: International Expressions,” through December 31 in the Fred Beans Gallery. “Mavis Smith: Hidden Realities” is on view January 14-May 20. A reception for the painter is February 3 from 6-7:30 p.m. “Intelligent Design: Highlights of Arts and Crafts Studio Craft Movements” is a permanent exhibit opening February 3 featuring works by Wharton Esherick, George and Mira Nakashima, David Ellsworth, and others.

“Transmutation and Metamorphosis: The Painterly Voice: Bucks County’s Fertile Ground” will feature more than 200 works of art by Bucks County’s best-known historic artists through April 1, 2012. “Learning to See: Photographs by Nancy Hellebrand,” a series of large-scale photographs combining individual pictures of tree branches will be on view through February 26.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick is hosting “at/around/beyond: Fluxus at Rutgers” through April 1, “Two Venetian Masters,” an exhibition of etchings by Canaletto and Tiepolo through January 8, and a series of original children’s book illustrations that will be on view until June 24. On Wednesday, January 4 at 5:30 p.m., Art After Hours will begin with a tour of the exhibit “Abstraction in Sculpture,” a jazz concert with the Vanessa Perea Band, and The Art of Paper Cutouts Design activity. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, and free for members, faculty and staff.

The Mariboe Gallery at Peddie School, Hightstown, presents “Midwest Filipino,” photography by Daniel Ballesteros, January 6-February 2. The exhibit investigates what it means to be Filipino-American. An opening reception and artist talk is Friday, January 6 from 6:30-8 p.m.

Morven Museum & Garden’s “Stars and Stripes: Fabric of the American Spirit,” featuring 100 flags from The Pierce Collection of American Parade Flags, has been extended through January 8. More information is available by visiting www.morven.org or calling (609) 924-8144, ext. 106. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

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

Pennington School’s Silva Gallery of Art, will show a collection of paintings by Trenton artist Mel Leipzig from January 6-February 2, when a closing reception will be held from 6-8 p.m. Hours are Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment.

Plainsboro Public Library’s Gallery hosts works by Tamara Woronczuk, Plainsboro resident, through December 28. The gallery is at 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro.

Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid ’72 Art Gallery is presenting “Say It With Flowers,” featuring artwork by alumna Lily Stockman ’01, January 9-February 2. An artist’s reception on January 14 is open to the public from 6-8 p.m.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents Art Times Two’s “Eyejinks,” an exhibition of recent works by Princeton area artists John Franklin, Rory Mahon, and Andrew Wilkinson. The exhibit will be up through March 31.

The Princeton University Art Museum is presenting “Multiple Hands: Collective Creativity in Eighteenth-Century Japanese Painting” through January 22. Mark Rothko’s painting Magenta, Black, Green on Orange (No. 3/No. 13) is on view through January 8. The spiritual lives and religious customs of late medieval Christians are the subject of “Object of Devotion: Medieval English Alabaster Sculpture from the Victoria and Albert Museum,” through February 12. Two photo shows are on view through February 5: “Lee Friedlander: Cars and The New Cars,” 14 prints from the recently rediscovered “The New Cars 1964;” and “Pattern/Picture,” from the Museum’s collection of 15 works from the archives of the Clarence White School of Photography. “Princeton and the Gothic Revival: 1870-1930,” 40 works of art never before exhibited, is on view from February 25-June 24. “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” will run March 17-June 10. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. For further information, call (609) 258-3788.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, will exhibit “Recyclone!” featuring the work of Eva Mantell, Ina Brosseau Marx, and Eric Schultz. The opening reception is January 13 from 4-7 p.m.

I never thought I’d say it, but the newly released Blu-ray DVD of Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me in St Louis (1944) has to be one of the most beautiful motion pictures ever made. Before Blu-ray, the beauty was secondary to the original songs by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane (“The Boy Next Door,” “The Trolley Song,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”), the peerless singing of Judy Garland, and the scene-stealing of Margaret O’Brien as Judy’s little sister Tootie.

When DVDs first came on the scene, people would say, speaking of such-and-such a movie, “You think you’ve seen it, but you haven’t. In DVD, it’s like another film.” David Kehr seems to be saying as much in his recent New York Times review of the Blu-ray Meet Me in St Louis when he celebrates the “pinpoint accuracy that even the original nitrate prints did not possess.” Probably the only way to know if you’re seeing the film in a state true to its original release would be to travel back to November 1944 and see it on the screen at the Astor Theatre.

Depth and Clarity

The colors in the film’s opening sequence showing the stately Victorian homes of a St. Louis neighborhood in the spring before the 1904 World’s Fair have a depth and clarity that make you catch your breath — the effect is so real that it’s almost un-real, and people, seen in motion from a distance, seem to be moving in another dimension. Once you enter the spacious gingerbread residence of the Smith family, the colors are even more stunning; the stained glass window in the grandfather’s room, to name one detail among many, makes you want to hit the pause button and just stare. You have to think that had the film looked this good on its first release, reviewers should have been raving about it. The New York Times’s Bosley Crowther, however, merely refers to “eyefuls of scenic delight” while praising Minnelli for the “period charm” and “rooms lush with golden-oak wainscotting, ormolu decorations, and red-plush chairs.”

In his Nation review, James Agee begins by knocking “the chromium and glucose style” and “colors too perfectly waxen” before going on to admit that he “can’t remember ever having seen studio-sealed Technicolor better used.” He then gives an example that could be describing the Blu-ray effect: a shot “in which a mother and four daughters, all in festal, cake-frosting white, stroll across their lawn in spring sunlight, so properly photographed that the dresses all but become halations.” Later he cites the Halloween scene, where Margaret O’Brien’s acting, “the lovely, simple camera movement,” and “color control” combined to make his hair “stand on end.” As happens when Agee is coming to terms with a film that impresses him, he seems to be contending with the momentum of his own enthusiasm as he suggests: “If the rest of the picture’s autumn section … had lived up to the best things about that shot, and if the rest of the show, for all its prettiness, had been scrapped, Meet Me in St Louis would have been, of all things on earth it can never have intended to be, a great moving picture.” In spite of having effectively rejected everything in the film but that one shot, he takes the implication even farther by suggesting that it would have been “the first great moving picture made in this country” since Modern Times (1936). From a devotee of Chaplin as fervent and outspoken as Agee, that’s a remarkable claim, however much he may qualify it up front.

Even aside from the Blu-ray-brightened and clarified color and the mercurial presence of Margaret O’Brien (“a wholly delightful imp of Satan” croons stuffy Bosley Crowther), Minnelli’s film has a lot going for it. It’s a great family movies, a holiday classic that does full justice to both Christmas and Halloween, a lovesick spring and an ice cream summer; there are no false moves, as each musical number emerges spontaneously from each situation, including the opening title song and an exhilaratingly true-to-life “Skip to My Lou” dance sequence; everyone in the cast is likeable and believable in their own way (Marjorie Main’s tough-talking cook in particular), with none of the MGM goody-goody overkill you might anticipate. What could be cornier, you may wonder, than a boy-next-door theme or a family crisis about the possibility of a suitor calling the eldest sister (Lucille Bremer) long-distance during dinner? Or consider the sentimental potential of a tearful Christmas with Margaret O’Brien’s Tootie in hysterics knocking the heads off snow men after listening to Judy Garland sing her heart-breaking rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a song whose downbeat lyrics had to be revised (“It may be your last/Next year we may all be living in the past” becoming “Let your heart be light/Next year all our troubles will be out of sight”).

I doubt very much if Agee’s scrapping of “the rest of the show” would include Tootie’s ecstatic rendition of “I Was Drunk Last Night, Dear Mother” prior to the famous cakewalk routine where she and Judy Garland sing “Under the Bamboo Tree.” Nor is it likely that he’d have given up the seductively directed scene where Garland lures the boy next door into the house to help her “turn out the lights” and leads him through the rooms snuffing the gaslit chandeliers and lamps until she has him and us under her spell. “Beautiful” is the only word for it. Presumably that’s part of the “prettiness” that Agee admires but ultimately sees as the enemy of “truth.”

Vintage Agee 

One of the primary attractions of Meet Me in St Louis is the excuse it gives me to share some vintage James Agee. If you know his work, you know he will have little if any resistance to what Margaret O’Brien does as five-year-old Tootie, whose charm is infused with a sort of irrepressible morbidity. You might think Crime and Punishment or Poe’s Tales were her favorite bedtime stories. This outlandish little creature singlehandedly explodes the city-of-dreadful-joy aspect of MGM and somehow succeeds in being wholesome at the same time. So uncannily delightful is her performance, it makes Mickey Rooney’s manic turn as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream look tame.

Now listen to Agee. After admitting his admiration for “the general intention of the movie, which is to make “the well-heeled middle-class life of some adolescent and little girls in St. Louis seem so beautiful that you can share their anguish when they are doomed to move to New York,” he confesses that he “could have liked it much better still” if the girls in the film had “approached and honored rather than flouted and improved on reality.” This is only a brief summary of the rhetorical maze Agee moves through before he comes to his “childishly blunt point,” which is turned “over and over again, into a heart-piercing sword” by “the incredibly vivid and eloquent Margaret O’Brien.” This may seem a roundabout way of stating that the little girl steals the movie. (She is also the only person in the production who received an Oscar, a special one for the best performance by a child). For Agee, “many of her possibilities and glints of her achievement hypnotize [him] as thoroughly as anything since Garbo.”

It takes Agee two long paragraphs to describe the “glints of her achievement.” After observing the way she manages to “mix stock cuteness with enchantment and with accurate psychology,” he refers to “the scene in which she is lugged in with her lip cut, screaming half-lies and gibberish” as “the most complex and impressive job of crying” he has ever seen.

Reviewing the same film for Time, Agee has to harness his narrative energy. In The Nation he can let go, playfully expanding on the little girl’s “annihilation of the snowmen she can’t take to New York,” which “would have been terrifying if only she had had adequate support from the snowmen and if only the camera could have had the right to dare to move in close.” At this point, the Agee momentum carries him into an inspired delirium no one but the author of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men could survive: “Being only the well-meant best that adult professionals could design out of cornflakes or pulverized mothballs or heroin or whatever they are making snow out of just now, these statues were embarrassingly handicapped from their birth, and couldn’t even reach you deeply by falling apart.” In his own way, Agee is channeling the free spirit he sees in the child to express what he feels is a fatal artificiality in the movie itself. In the Time review, he states it straight up when he concludes by finding the film finally “too sumptuously, calculatedly handsome to be quite mistaken for the truth.”

And in the context of things artificial and “calculatedly handsome,” what would James Agee make of innovations like Blu-ray? My guess is that he’d have taken an even-handed film-by-film approach. For myself, I’m grateful to the new technology for making all-time favorites like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly look even better than they did when they were first released. Two other Blu-ray enhanced films I saw last week seemed less dramatically transformed. No doubt you need to see Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams in person, in 3-D in an I-MAX theatre, to experience the scale and intensity of detail I was expecting. As for Hitchcock’s black and white The Lady Vanishes, it’s hard to imagine what could have been improved on. How much clearer do you have to see the tweed fabric of the title character’s jacket when you’re already in movie heaven?

I hope the Princeton Public Library will add the Blu-ray version of Meet Me In St. Louis to the collection, so more people can appreciate its beauty. The packaging may make this a challenge for the library, since the DVD is designed as a book with a CD “Soundtrack Sampler,” along with other special features such as an audio commentary that includes Margaret O’Brien; an introduction by Liza Minnelli, and a featurette about the making of the film. Agee’s Nation and Time reviews are available in the Library of America collection, Agee: Film Writing and Selected Journalism.

December 27, 2011
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

NO COMMENT: As he is exiting the courtroom, Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig, center) is besieged by reporters seeking a statement from him about the trial in which he lost the libel case against a powerful billionaire Ulf Friberg.

Fincher Makes First-Rate Adaptation of Swedish Mystery Novel

Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig) resigns in disgrace from his position as the editor of Millennium Magazine after being unable to substantiate in court the allegations he’d made about a corrupt billionaire (Ulf Friberg). Fortuitously, the disgraced journalist is secretly approached by an intermediary representing recently retired industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) who wants Mikael to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his beloved niece, Harriet (Moa Garpendal), in 1966.

Mikael accepts the offer in order to escape the media circus surrounding him in Stockholm because the investigation of the case will be based at the family’s secluded estate where the niece had disappeared. An additional incentive is Henrik’s promise to provide the proof necessary to overturn Mikael’s libel conviction.

So he moves up to the remote island of Hedestad in northern Sweden and starts sifting through boxes of 40-year-old evidence. After unearthing an array of sordid skeletons in the Vanger family closet ranging from anti-Semitism to sadomasochism, he realizes that he needs help, and takes Henrik’s suggestion that he collaborate with Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), an eccentric and brilliant computer expert.

Mikael is willing to overlook the young hacker’s tattoos, piercings, and hairstyle because her computer skills complement Henrik’s interviews of surviving witnesses. However, as they close in on solving the mystery they find that both of their lives are threatened.

So unfolds The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a remake of the Swedish language movie of the same name that was released in 2009. Directed by David Fincher (The Social Network) the English version is actually a rarity because it is an improvement over the original film.

Both movies are based on the first book of the trilogy of novels by the late Stieg Larsson, and Sony Pictures has already committed to adapting the other two books to the screen. In the movie reviewed here, Rooney Mara is riveting as Lisbeth and Daniel Craig disappears into his role as Mikael so well that you forget that he has portrayed James Bond in the past.

Excellent (****). Rated R for rape, torture, brutal violence, profanity, nudity, and graphic sexuality. Running time: 158 minutes. Distributor: Columbia Pictures.

December 21, 2011

The best picture I ever made in my life.
—Ernst Lubitsch
I don’t like any holiday movies.
—various people

I walked into a silent movie at a loud and lively holiday party the other night. It wasn’t like what happens when Buster Keaton walks out of the audience right into the screen to save a damsel in distress in Sherlock Jr. Buster wanted to be in the picture. Not me. I’d just hung up my coat and was on my way into a new downtown office space I’d never been in before and straight ahead of me filling an entire wall was an enormous image of Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Meanwhile the people at the party were talking, drinking, snacking on the hors d’oeuvres, and nobody seemed to be aware that looming on the wall behind them a larger-than-life George Bailey was having words with a monstrously enlarged version of the ruthless banker Mr. Potter, and no wonder, since you couldn’t hear what they were saying. It’s odd, but when you turn off the soundtrack, it drains the meaning from the film, cuts it loose, so that it becomes another element, a sort of fluid filmic wallpaper where it no longer really matters that Mr. Potter is evil and George Bailey is good, or that the good man is so deep in despair that he’s about to kill himself, all because of some missing moneyDVD rev. Without sound, without the ballast of an audience’s attention to it, even if you know the movie by heart, as I know this one, it turns into a ghostly dream from 1946 floating meaninglessly around in the background of real-life party circa 2011.

Sorry, I forgot, this is supposed to be a cheery Christmas column about films of the season where good conquers or simply ignores evil, Scrooge is transformed, George Bailey is saved by an angel in need of wings, Bing Crosby sings “White Christmas,” and Mr. Kralik and Miss Novak, the feuding employees of Matuschek & Company known in real life as Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, discover true love on Christmas Eve.

This week’s Town Talk question elicited the usual answers, from It’s a Wonderful Life to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the happy exception being the person who simply said, “I don’t like holiday movies.” The truth is, most of the best films from any period in the past 100 years have not been conceived of or even promoted as holiday movies. The whole notion suggests warm and fuzzy, bright and sane films to feel good about. So what are the movies getting serious play in the December 20 New York Times? The David Fincher-Rooney Mara version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and that September 11 Christmas Carol, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

A City Lights Ending

If you put the climactic moment of recognition from Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner (1940) on the wall at a Christmas party, the meaning might remain intact even if the sound were off. Except of course that you’d be missing two of the most appealing voices ever to come out of Hollywood. Margaret Sullavan’s is rare enough to justify all by itself the advent of motion picture sound (“strange, fey, mysterious,” in the words of another rare star, Louise Brooks “like a voice singing in the snow”). In the denouement of this Budapest fairy tale, Sullavan’s stunned expression behind one word (“You?”) says it all. Jimmy Stewart has finally gently revealed that the person she’s fallen in love with through the eloquent anonymous letters he’s been writing her (with some help from Victor Hugo) is he, Kralik, the quarrelsome fellow worker she’s insulted (he’s bow-legged, has a “hand-bag” instead of a heart, “a suitcase instead of a soul,” and “an intellect like a cigarette lighter that doesn’t work”). It’s not as overwhelming a moment as the one it somewhat resembles, the shattering ending of Chaplin’s City Lights when the flower girl realizes that the silly little tramp (“You?”) is the rich handsome savior who paid for the operation that restored her sight. When Sullavan makes the adjustment from misery to doubt to luminous joy, it’s as if the bow-legged jerk has turned into a handsome prince and who else but Ernst Lubitsch would end a romance with the handsome prince hiking up his trousers to show that he’s not bow-legged?

Behind the Scenes

The back story to The Shop Around the Corner is worth telling. For one thing, Margaret Sullavan was by all accounts the love of Jimmy Stewart’s life (even his wife, Gloria, has admitted knowing that he was “always madly in love” with Sullavan “and she with him”). A year ago, I described a scene between Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur in Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You (1938) in which Stewart’s passionately delivered speech about “the tiny engine” in a blade of grass shows “a true American idol coming into his own.” In fact, it was Margaret Sullavan who, more than any other person, helped Stewart develop his unique style as an actor. Only two years earlier, he’d been going nowhere in minor roles at M-G-M. According to Lawrence J. Quirk’s 1986 biography Margaret Sullavan Child of Fate, when she was a top star at Universal, she insisted on having Stewart play the lead opposite her in Next Time We Love (1936), and when he struggled under the direction of Edward H. Griffith, who complained that the gangly young actor was “wet behind the ears” and “going to make a mess of things,” Sullavan spent the evenings “coaching him and helping him scale down his awkward mannerisms and hesitant speech,” the very qualities that were destined to be central to his appeal. Later, Griffith himself was among those who gave Sullavan credit for making Stewart a star.

You can see Next Time We Love in all its disappointing entirety on YouTube. Like so many films from the period, it begins charmingly enough with Margaret Sullavan as a college girl who goes to “junior proms with little boys from Princeton.” She and Stewart are at Penn Station, where she’s returning to school  via a 1936 version of Jersey Transit (“Princeton Junction” the third stop called out) until a goodbye embrace with Stewart convinces them to get married instead; she’s a budding actress, he’s a foreign correspondent whose job will put a fatal strain on their marriage. The love scenes, which are mostly centered on close-ups of her face, reveal the real-life emotional bond between the two actors.

Sullavan and Stewart co-starred again two years after Next Time We Love in Shopworn Angel, but it’s not until The Shop Around the Corner that they share a film as true equals, both major stars. Only ten years before, Stewart had been a sophomore at Princeton and Sullavan was working at the Harvard Coop.

Remakes

I’ve seen neither The Shop Around the Corner’s 1949 turn-of-the-century musical remake, In the Good Old Summertime, with Van Johnson and Judy Garland, nor Nora Ephron’s 1998 version, You’ve Got Mail, which takes the medium of communication from snail mail to email and moves the story to the Upper West Side with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. I can’t say that I’ve avoided either film out of any particular devotion to the original, but after a YouTube tour of each of the concluding recognition scenes, I think my instincts were right. The 1949 version of the last scene follows the script almost word for word and move for move, but Van Johnson’s charm is a long, long way from Jimmy Stewart’s. When she’s singing, Judy Garland can light up the dimmest of movies, but she has no song to sing in the last scene and even if she had, it couldn’t have given the moment the magic it has in The Shop Around the Corner. In fact, Garland’s signature song is used to provide some emotional heft to the conclusion of You’ve Got Mail, with Harry Nilsson’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the soundtrack to help Meg Ryan suffer the touching revelation as Tom Hanks approaches amid the flowers of Riverside Park with his dog, Brinkley.

A Bergman Holiday

Imagine a Woody Allen scene where for an upbeat holiday date, he takes a warm-and-fuzzy type girl to an Ingmar Bergman double feature of The Seventh Seal and Through a Glass Darkly. The idea started me wondering what the great European directors have done with the holiday. Fellini for Christmas? Antonioni, Godard, Chabrol? Can you think of a French Christmas movie this side of Desplechin’s not very joyous Christmas Tale? How about Germany? Christmas with Pabst and Murnau? A Fassbinder noel? Herzog for the holidays?

Strangely enough, that gloomy Swede, Ingmar Bergman has made not one but two great holiday films, The Magic Flute and Fanny and Alexander, which I just revisited on YouTube. As fine a Christmas scene as you’ll ever see begins with a gift exchanged between the grandparents followed by a kiss with a newly wed glow to it. Then, when they open the window and the sounds of the street come in, the grandmother peers out smiling at the children cavorting in the snow, and says, “Here comes my family.” True, things do get very bleakly Bergman before his autobiographical epic comes to a close, a possibility introduced in the title sequence, which is set to some of the most beautiful and funereal music ever written (the second movement of Schumann’s piano quintet in E flat major), life and death and love, as Alexander wanders through empty rooms that will soon be filled with festive life, calling the names of family members who are no longer there.

December 20, 2011

The Art Way Gallery at Princeton Allliance Church, Schalks Crossing and Wyndhurst roads in Plainsboro, is showing “Seen & Unseen,” a show of photography by Deborah Land and Jeff Currie, through January 21, 2012. The opening reception is Friday, January 6, from 5-8 p.m. (snow date January 13).

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, is holding the annual “Sauce for the Goose” holiday show and sale through December 22, with work by regional artists, artisans and crafters for sale. A mix of art and crafts, including paintings, drawings, functional and decorative ceramics is included. Registration for winter classes for all ages in the visual, literary and performing arts is now open. Twenty new instructors have joined the faculty. Classes begin January 9.
For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

D&R Greenway at 1 Preservation Place in Princeton presents “Friends in Field and Forest,” which has winning student art and essays by fifth graders in the Olivia Rainbow Student Gallery. One winner from each county created art on threatened and endangered Garden State wildlife. The show is open through December 31. “Textures and Trails,” an exhibit of landscape quilts, metals, textiles, and objects from nature is on view through February 10 and celebrates the many paths that wind through the New Jersey landscape.

Dorothea’s House at 120 John Street will present a program on Italian Renaissance and Baroque art Sunday, January 8 at 5 p.m. Veronica White of Columbia University will talk about a unique collection of art by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, a 17th century Italian baroque painter best known as “Guercino.”

Firestone Library is presenting “George Segal: Sculptor as Photographer” at the Milberg Gallery through December 30. “Sin & the City: William Hogarth’s London” will run through January 29. Recently rediscovered watercolors by British painter Gwen John are on view through December 31 in the 18th Century Window of the Main Gallery.

Gallery at Chapin, 4104 Princeton Pike, presents “Birds and Beast,” showing paintings of Charles David Viera, from January 3-27.

Gallery 14 presents three photography exhibits through December: “African Children” by Larry Parsons, “High Water” by John Blackford, and “Travels in Iberia II” by Martin Schwartz. The gallery is at 14 Mercer Street in Hopewell and is open Saturdays and Sundays, 12-5 p.m. and by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery at Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street in Cranbury, is showing “Cranbury Gardens IX: Works from Art in the Park 2011,” a plein air series that this year included 30 artists capturing scenes at local farms, gardens, and historic homes, through December 26. From January 2-30, the gallery will exhibit “Winter Light,” the third annual January Open Call for Artists. All art will feature the theme and media will include oils, pastels, acrylics, watercolors, photography, and collages. The “Celtic Tea” reception is Sunday, January 8 from 1-3 p.m. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 1-3 p.m. Sunday.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton had to postpone the opening of The Meadow, the new seven-acre outdoor gallery, as a result of Hurricane Irene and other weather events. The inaugural exhibit, “Aerial Roots” by Steve Tobin, will run until August. On the main floor of the Museum Building GFS is presenting “White Hot: Expressions in Iron,” an exhibition of contemporary work from nine artists working primarily in cast or fabricated iron and revealing the range of versatility the medium permits. The mezzanine will host “Creating Steelroots,” an illuminating exhibition of maquettes and drawings by Steve Tobin, the featured artist in The Meadow. In the Domestic Arts Building: on the main floor are the cutting-edge works of the young up-and-coming sculptor’s to watch—winners in the International Sculpture Center’s 2012 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Awards. On the mezzanine is “Instrumental Transitions” composed of 14 small-scale machinist works by Michael A. Dunbar. These exhibitions will remain up until April. For detailed information, visit www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through January 16. Suggested admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. The Updike Farmstead on Quakerbridge Road is open to the public on the first Saturday and third Wednesday of every month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call (609) 921-6748 x100 or visit www.princetonhistory.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., is hosting “Quilt Art: International Expressions,” through December 31 in the Fred Beans Gallery. “Transmutation and Metamorphosis: The Painterly Voice: Bucks County’s Fertile Ground” will feature more than 200 works of art by Bucks County’s best-known historic artists through April 1. “Learning to See: Photographs by Nancy Hellebrand,” a series of large-scale photographs combining individual pictures of tree branches will be on view through February 26.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick is hosting “at/around/beyond: Fluxus at Rutgers” through April 1, 2012; “Two Venetian Masters,” an exhibition of etchings by Canaletto and Tiepolo through January 8; and a series of original children’s book illustrations that will be on view until June 24.

The Mariboe Gallery at Peddie School, Hightstown, presents “Midwest Filipino,” photography by Daniel Ballesteros, January 6-February 2. The exhibit investigates what it means to be Filipino-American. An opening reception and artist talk is Friday, January 6 from 6:30-8 p.m.

The Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, presents the paintings of Mavis Smith from January 14-May 20. The artist is a Bucks County native who began as a children’s book illustrator and uses egg tempera. She will do a gallery talk Sunday, January 22 at 3 p.m.

Morven Museum & Garden’s “Stars and Stripes: Fabric of the American Spirit,” featuring 100 flags from The Pierce Collection of American Parade Flags, has been extended through January 8. More information is available by visiting www.morven.org or calling (609) 924-8144, ext. 106. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

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

Plainsboro Public Library’s Gallery hosts works by Tamara Woronczuk, Plainsboro resident, through December 28. The gallery is at 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro.

Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery is presenting “Say It With Flowers,” featuring artwork by alumnus Lily Stockman ‘01, January 9-February 2. An artist’s reception on January 14 is open to the public from 6-8 p.m.

Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute at 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, presents Art Times Two’s “Eyejinks,” an exhibition of recent works by Princeton area artists John Franklin, Rory Mahon, and Andrew Wilkinson. The exhibit will be up through March 31.

Princeton High School’s Numina Gallery hosts “Dream,” a collection of work by students in media that are individual interpretations of dreams. The show runs through December 23.

The Princeton University Art Museum is presenting “Multiple Hands: Collective Creativity in Eighteenth-Century Japanese Painting” through January 22. Mark Rothko’s painting Magenta, Black, Green on Orange (No. 3/No. 13) is on view through January 8. The spiritual lives and religious customs of late medieval Christians are the subject of “Object of Devotion: Medieval English Alabaster Sculpture from the Victoria and Albert Museum,” through February 12, 2012. Two photo shows are on view through February 5: “Lee Friedlander: Cars and The New Cars,” 14 prints from the recently rediscovered “The New Cars 1964;” and “Pattern/Picture,” from the Museum’s collection of 15 works from the archives of the Clarence White School of Photography. “John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum” will run March 17-June 10. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. For further information, call (609) 258-3788.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, will exhibit “Recyclone!” featuring the work of Eva Mantell, Ina Brosseau Marx, and Eric Schultz. The opening reception is January 13 from 4-7 p.m.

Sherlock Holmes 2

WATSON, HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?: An unhappy looking Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr., left) is witnessing the marriage of his faithful companion Dr. Watson (Jude Law, center) marry his bride Mary (Kelly Reilly). Little does Holmes know that soon he and Watson will be on a trans-European escapade trying to foil the evil plot of the nefarious Professor Moriarty (not shown).

Holmes and Moriarty Match Wits in Action Packed Sequel

Guy Ritchie has once again created an interpretation of Sherlock Holmes that will undoubtedly have Sir Arthur Conan Doyle purists squirming in their seats. Nonetheless, the movie is a cinematic treat that is both cerebral and visually captivating.

Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law reprise their roles as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively, and Jared Harris is the pair’s diabolical archenemy, the evil Professor James Moriarty.

At the point of departure we find Holmes throwing a bachelor party for Watson who will be getting married to Mary (Kelly Reilly) the next morning. However, after the wedding, the newlyweds’ travel plans go awry due to a series of errors that result in the bride being unceremoniously thrown off the train. As a result, Watson and Holmes find themselves sharing the honeymoon suite aboard the Trans Europe Express.

It’s just as well, because Holmes has been the only detective who is able to connect the dots among a series of recent murders of, among others, an Indian cotton tycoon, a Chinese opium trader, and an American steel magnate, as well as some suspicious bombings in Strasbourg and Vienna. Holmes has figured out that it must be the work of his archenemy Moriarty, and that the maniacal madman is trying to create an international incident.

From this point on, a frenetically paced cat-and-mouse mystery unfolds in which the protagonists chase the professor through France, Germany, and Switzerland. Along the way, they are assisted by Holmes’ brother (Stephen Fry) and a gypsy fortune teller (Noomi Rapace), who has a proverbial heart of gold.

Prepare yourself for the stylized high impact fare for which director Ritchie is best known. Aside from the bravado and over-the-top derring-do, the movie also has intellectual interludes during which Sherlock and his Moriarty match wits.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for drug use and intense violence. In English and French with subtitles. Running time: 129 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.

December 15, 2011
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

PLAYING A DEADLY CHESS GAME: George Smiley (Gary Oldman) has been assigned the task of ferreting out the Soviet double agent who has infiltrated the highest echelon of Britain’s famed MI6 agency. To make the job even more difficult, he must work alone in order to avoid tipping off the mole.

Dateline: Budapest, 1973. It is the height of the Cold War, and British spy Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) has been sent behind the Iron Curtain on a covert anti-Communist mission. But when the operation is badly botched and blood is shed, there are consequences back in London at MI6 headquarters where both the head of the organization (John Hurt) and his right-hand man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), are forced to resign in disgrace.

However, it isn’t very long before Smiley is secretly rehired by Undersecretary Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney), the member of the Prime Minister’s cabinet responsible for overseeing the intelligence agency. It seems that there is good reason to believe that a Soviet mole has infiltrated the “Circus,” the government’s name for MI6’s highest echelon. As it turns out, Prideaux was in Hungary in search of the double agent whose identity has been narrowed down to four suspects referred to by their codenames Tinker (Toby Jones), Tailor (Colin Firth), Soldier (Ciaran Hinds), and Poor Man (David Dencik).

It falls to the wily Smiley to match wits with a savvy and inscrutable adversary. What makes the task particularly perilous is that Smiley dare not risk suspicion by confiding in any of his contacts inside MI6. Instead, as a lone wolf, he must rely on a combination of experience and his finely-tuned personal radar to ensnare his elusive prey.

Is the traitor the ambitious Percy Alleline (Tinker), the unflappable Bill Haydon (Tailor), the rough-edged Roy Bland (Soldier), or the officious Toby Esterhase (Poor Man)? The result is a spellbinding espionage thriller.

It should be no surprise that the multi-layered mystery is so intriguing, because it’s based on the bestseller that many fans of the genre consider to be the best spy novel of all time. Author David John Moore Cornwell, aka John Le Carré, who wrote under a pseudonym as required by MI6 of its former agents, appears in a cameo in the picture as a guest at a Christmas party.

This adaptation is considerably denser compared to the miniseries the BBC shot in 1979 that starred Sir Alec Guinness. Director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) has distilled the 400-page opus down to its essential elements while remaining faithful to the source material.

Excellent (****). Rated R for violence, profanity, sexuality, and nudity. Running Time: 127 minutes. Distributor: Focus Features.

In his more than twenty-five years conducting the Princeton University Orchestra and directing the Program in Musical Performance, Michael Pratt has no doubt seen a number of his students go on to undertake careers in music. One of the department’s early success stories has been Hobart Earle, a 1983 graduate of the University (only six years after Pratt’s arrival) and now an international conductor with a long-term post in the Ukrainian city of Odessa. Mr. Earle returned to Princeton this past weekend to conduct his alma mater’s orchestra in a program of expansive symphonic works.

Mr. Earle programmed three works composed within twenty years of one another, and each one painted a picture of a geographic region or musical era. The selections from Edvard Grieg’s music from Peer Gynt were likely more familiar to the audience from their piano transcriptions, and effectively told a story from Norwegian folklore. This music was characterized by the playwright as reflecting “apathy,” but there was nothing apathetic about the orchestra’s performance on Friday night in Richardson Auditorium (the concert was repeated on Saturday night). Mr. Earle proved right off to be a very decisive conductor, conducting without the score but with very broad conducting strokes. In the opening excerpt, he focused on the lament, emphasizing that it was clear something had happened beforehand. Steady timpani provided by Karis Schneider kept the rhythm moving forward, aided by clean upper flutes, cellos, and double basses. The melodic “Morning Mood” tune was well played by the flute, answered by oboist Drew Mayfield, and kept instrumentally lush by Mr. Earle. Flexibility was the key in the “Hall of the Mountain King” excerpt, with the staccato passages played cleanly and with direction by the ensemble.

Erik Satie’s three Gymnopedies were also originally composed for piano, with two later orchestrated by Satie’s great friend Claude Debussy. Being Debussy, one might expect a multi-palette orchestration with many winds, but in fact, the pieces are scored for strings, one oboe and two flutes. In presenting these works, Mr. Earle kept the focus on simplicity and a gentle approach, allowing the sound to float along. Crucial to Friday night’s performance was the exemplary oboe playing of Alexa McCall against a pair of horns. The second Gymnopedie was titled “Lent et grave,” with subtle shifts in effect that were well brought out by Mr. Earle and the orchestra.

Mr. Earle brought the orchestra to full volume with Johannes Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 in F Major, a monumental work with a great deal of dynamic variety in the writing. Conducting from memory (as he did all the pieces on the program), Mr. Earle maintained an easy flow to the music (aided by very subtle and precise brass), bringing the dynamics up at the end of the movement to be solid but not overwhelming. Clarinetist Jeffrey Hodes delivered an elegant melody in the first movement, in conjunction with very smooth flute playing by the section.

The second andante movement opened with very delicate playing by Mr. Hodes and fellow clarinetist Matt Goff and bassoonists Louisa Slosar and Tiffany Huang. Wind playing excelled in this movement, especially from the four oboes and perfect unison playing between Mr. Hodes and oboist Lija Treibergs. Mr. Earle kept the melody of the third movement flowing with emphasis on the offbeat phrasing, bringing out the warmth of the movement with well-blended instrumental solos. Throughout the concert, Mr. Earle held a baton, but often put it aside to move the music more effectively with his hands. This was especially the case in the allegro fourth movement, in which he allowed the orchestra to play almost on its own.

In his 19 years with the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra in the Ukraine, Mr. Earle has been credited with introducing the region to the great symphonies of composers the rest of the world may take for granted but which may have been unknown to the closed musical circles of Ukraine. Mr. Earle seems to be one of the unknown conducting gems in this country, and as a representative of Princeton, the University could not ask for a better musical ambassador.