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

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

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

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

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

The Power of the Painting

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

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

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

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

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

At the Movies

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

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

In the Office

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

 

BLOCK PARTY: Crowds enjoyed a selection of festive activities and foods from local eateries at McCarter Theatre’s third annual outdoor Block Party last Wednesday as they listened to the Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra.(Photo by Emily Reeves)

BLOCK PARTY: Crowds enjoyed a selection of festive activities and foods from local eateries at McCarter Theatre’s third annual outdoor Block Party last Wednesday as they listened to the Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra. (Photo by Emily Reeves)

Rain stopped long enough last week for throngs of local residents and visitors to attend McCarter Theatre’s third annual block party. The event took place under festive lantern-lit trees on the lawn in front of the Matthews Theatre.

The free three-hour event, from 5 to 8 p.m., drew a crowd of all ages. Children took part in tot-sized versions of carnival like games such as the high-striker (also known as the strongman) as well as spin art, a scavenger hunt, and activities from JaZams. There were also ticket giveaways and, for the first time this year, stage tours.

People brought picnic blankets and lawn chairs and their pet dogs too. After buying food, they settled down at the tables and chairs provided or on the grass to enjoy music from the Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra.

The orchestra, which was also at the event in previous years, is made up of high school and college performers from New Jersey and Greater Philadelphia. It was led by founder Joseph Bongiovi, who also directs the Princeton High School band. Vocalists Emily Zetterberg and Caitlyn Bongiovi (Mr. Bongiovi’s daughter) wowed the crowd with renditions of jazz standards.

Food ranged from gourmet pizza and paella to hotdogs from Nomad Pizza, Mediterra, Mistral, Terra Teatro, elements,4 Daughters Franks, Bitter Bob’s BBQ + Comfort Food, D’Angelo Italian Market, among others. Sweet dessert treats were to be had from Chez Alice Catering, Gil & Bert’s Ice Cream, and Maddalena’s Cheesecake & Catering.

Christine Murray, special events manager at -McCarter, said the block party “welcomes the community into our doors in a different way.”

In past years, as many as a thousand people have turned out for the event, which makes Wednesday evening’s count something of a record. “We didn’t get an exact count but I would say we had somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 people,” said Christine Murray, who was in charge of the event. “I am very grateful to the 80 staff and volunteers who helped make the evening run smoothly. Without the help of these fabulous people the event would not be possible.”

In addition to informative stage tours led by Stage Supervisor Stephen J. Howe, teaching artists Jillian Carucci and Stacy Horowitz presented classes throughout the day for children in grades K through 2nd and 3rd through 5th in the theater lobby.

“All of us at McCarter are thrilled by the Block Party’s growing success,” said Ms. Murray. “We feel it’s important, as a member of the Princeton community, to have an event that kicks off our new season and brings together young and old for a great night of food, music, and activities. A fun time was had by all.”

McCarter’s upcoming season includes five-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, Grammy winner Chris Botti, standup comedian Lewis Black as well as a joint recital by Pinchas Zukerman and Yefim Bronfman. Plays include Proof by David Auburn, The White Snake by Mary Zimmerman and August Wilson’s Fences and two by Beaumarchais, directed and adapted by Stephen Wadsworth: The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. 

For more information, call (609) 258-2787, or visit: www.mccarter.org.

 

ArtRev2

TANG DYNASTY POETRY FOR TODAY: This illustration by the Long Island husband and wife team Jean and Mou-sien Tseng is on view from September 1 at the Zimmerli Museum as part of the exhibition “Maples in the Mist: Chinese Poems for Children Illustrated by Jean and Mou-sien Tseng.” It is the Tsengs’ visual expression of the poem “Traveler’s Song” by the Tang Dynasty poet Meng Jia.

The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University reopens September 1, after an August hiatus, with an exhibition of work by beloved children’s book illustrators Jean and Mou-sien Tseng.

“Maples in the Mist: Chinese Poems for Children” in the museum’s Duvoisin Gallery brings together art and children’s literature. 

Earlier in the year, the Zimmerli presented this exhibition in a curator-led Art After Hours program and musical performance. At that time, Marilyn Symmes, director of the Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and curator of the museum’s prints and drawings presented vibrant images by the Taiwanese husband and wife team whose illustrations have introduced some of the celebrated poets of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) to a contemporary audience. “These are poems that have been popular since the 18th century and many Chinese children today learn to read by reciting these poems,” she said. The poems were translated into English by Minfong Ho with the aim of introducing her own children and those of others to traditional Chinese culture. Each image in the exhibition is accompanied by the poem that inspired it.

“The Tang Dynasty is known as the golden age of poetry in China’s 2000-year literary history and the Tsengs’ illustrations are a captivating introduction to that rich heritage,” said Ms. Symmes who organized the exhibition with Beth McKeown, former assistant curator of prints and drawings.

The 22 original watercolors on view were chosen from the Zimmerli’s extensive collection of original artwork for children’s books. The Tsengs’ book was published in 1996; they donated their original watercolor illustrations to the museum in 1998. Each image demonstrates the Tsengs’ mastery of composition and color.

The illustrators capture the coziness of traditional customs against a rural backdrop to yield glimpses of domestic life with some nostalgia. In their illustration of “Traveler’s Song” by Meng Jia we see a mother mending her son’s coat by candlelight before he leaves home. Their image for “Quiet Night” by Li Bai, shows a young man in bed, gazing at the moon and longing for home.

The Tsengs’ feeling for nature finds expression in their illustration to “Symmetry” by Du Fu in which a flock of white egrets fly between willow trees in the foreground and majestic snow-capped mountains in the distance. See also their tender treatment of sunset for “Climbing Stork Tower” by Wang Zhi-Huan.

The exhibition uses three preliminary sketches by the Tsangs to show their creative process in working toward an illustration for Wang Jian’s poem “Little Pine.” The working drawings document the artists at work in developing the pose, clothing, and gesture of a little boy tending a sapling.

According to Museum Director Suzanne Delehanty, the images “demonstrate the craft and process of designing books before computer-generated illustrations became common practice.”

Born in Taiwan in 1940 and 1935, respectively, Jean and Mou-sien Tseng met while studying art at the National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei. Since the couple immigrated to the United States in 1974, they have illustrated more than 30 children’s books, including The Seven Chinese Brothers by Margaret Mahy (Scholastic, 1990), Kenji and the Magic Geese by Ryerson Johnson (Simon & Shuster, 1992), and Fa Mulan by Robert D. San Souci (Hyperion, 1998). In 1999, they illustrated White Tiger, Blue Serpent (HarperCollins) by their daughter Grace. They now live on Long Island, New York.

“Maples in the Mist: Chinese Poems for Children Illustrated by Jean & Mou-sien Tseng” is at the Zimmerli Art Museum at 71 Hamilton Street at George Street on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Hours are: Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission: $6 for adults; $5 (65 and over); free for museum members, children under 18, and Rutgers students, faculty, and staff (with ID), and on the first Sunday of every month. For more information, call (848) 932-7237 or visit: www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu.

 

HOW WILL WE EVER GET OUT OF THIS?: Surrounded by police cars, retired racecar driver Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke, right), accompanied by the kid (Selena Gomez), uses his driving skills to outmaneuver the two police cars and continue on their quest to locate and rescue Brent’s kidnapped wife Leanna (Rebecca Budig, not shown) from her abductors.

HOW WILL WE EVER GET OUT OF THIS?: Surrounded by police cars, retired racecar driver Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke, right), accompanied by the kid (Selena Gomez), uses his driving skills to outmaneuver the two police cars and continue on their quest to locate and rescue Brent’s kidnapped wife Leanna (Rebecca Budig, not shown) from her abductors.

Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke) is a former racecar driver who recently moved, with his wife Leanna (Rebecca Budig), from the United States to her hometown of Sofia, Bulgaria. But their plans for a quiet retirement are rudely interrupted when she is kidnapped at the height of the Christmas season.

Brent gets a call from a mysterious madman (Jon Voigt) who tells him that the only hope of seeing her alive is to follow his instructions without calling the police. Then, Brent is ordered to steal a specific custom-built Ford Mustang that is parked in a nearby garage.

After he gets behind the wheel, he realizes that the auto has been outfitted with cameras and microphones. Soon, he finds himself being ordered by the kidnapper to execute a series of dangerous maneuvers, at high speed, through a crowded market place, across a rink filled with skaters, up onto a stage, and down a flight of steps.

Of course the car’s maneuvers attract the attention of the cops, who set up a dragnet to put an end to the dangerous shenanigans. Brent, however, relies on his professional skills to elude the authorities, although he still has no idea of his wife’s whereabouts — or what crazy stunt is next on the inscrutable abductor’s bizarre agenda.

Getaway is a thriller that borrows popular elements from Taken, Speed, and Ransom. Unfortunately, the execution leaves a lot to be desired, since the picture is an hour and a half of chase scenes that are punctuated by crashes and pyrotechnics.

For some reason, director Courtney Solomon (Dungeons & Dragons) ignored character development in favor of incessant action and spectacular special effects. Hence, the audience is never able to invest emotionally in the plight of the anguished protagonist or his imperiled spouse. Instead, we repeatedly watch careening cars crashing, rolling over, almost hitting pedestrians, and (this reviewer’s personal favorite), flying off a bridge in flames.

Along the way, Brent encounters the hijacked car’s true owner (Selena Gomez), a spoiled rich kid who wants her graduation present back. Fortunately for Brent, the tech-savvy kid sympathizes with Brent’s plight, and decides to use her laptop in order help him find his spouse.

Unfortunately, the dialogue never rises above trite lines like “Why is this happening?” “You’re running out of time. Tick-tock!” and “You don’t have to do this.” The movie is a frenetically-paced Selena Gomez vehicle that is full of sound and fury and ultimately signifies nothing.

Good (**). Rated PG-13 for profanity, rude gestures, mayhem, and pervasive violence. Running time: 94 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.

 

August 21, 2013

book revWhat’s not to like when two giants of English literature are making news in the 21st century? What’s not to like about seeing a portion of Shakespeare’s handwriting on the front page of the New York Times and Jane Austen’s face peering out from the 10 pound note the Bank of England will put into circulation in 2016?

Shakespeare made page one of the Times last week (“Much Ado About Who: Is It Really Shakespeare”) because a scholar in Texas has claimed that the Bard is responsible for 325 lines among the “additional passages” included in the 1602 quarto edition of Thomas Kyd’s play, The Spanish Tragedy. This claim has some residual merit, if only because Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Charles Lamb noted the possibility in 1833. It does seem odd that it’s taken 180 years before the news was deemed fit to print. Not that I don’t enjoy seeing Shakespeare’s name first thing in the morning in bigger type than Christie’s or Weiner’s or Bloomberg’s.

This was not the only time Shakespeare finds have been front-page news. In January 14, 1996, a professor at Vassar was toasted for having proven through computer analysis that a hitherto anonymous 578-line elegy was by Shakespeare. Six years later, when the dust of the ensuing debate cleared, the professor made news again by recanting his claim after overwhelming evidence showed that the elegy was by Shakespeare’s contemporary, John Ford.

Another bogus news flash in the name of the Bard lit up page one of the November 24, 1985 New York Times, to tell the world that Gary Taylor, a “32-year-old American from Topeka, Kan. has discovered a previously unknown nine-stanza love lyric” that “appears to be the first addition to the Shakespeare canon since the 17th century.”

An addition to the canon sounds exciting until you read the lyric in question, a piece of borderline doggerel that begins “Shall I die? Shall I fly” and features gems like “Suspicious doubt, O keep out” and “’Twere abuse to accuse,” “Fairest neck, no speck,” and “For I find to my mind pleasures scanty.” Besides being occasionally incoherent, it’s teeming with cliches like love/dove, fair brow, love’s prize, “gentle wind did sport” and so on and on.

Worse yet, the man from Topeka was allowed to include this embarrassment, this insult to Shakespeare, in the edition of the Works he was co-editing (don’t ask why or how). The only person quoted backing Taylor’s claim in the Times’ jump-the-gun story (“It looks bloody good to me”) was one John Pilcher of St. John’s College, whose position there is unstated, and no wonder. Meanwhile Taylor managed to insult yet another genius in the process of admitting that “while it’s not Hamlet,” it’s “a kind of virtuoso piece, a kind of early Mozart piece.” Taylor’s Wikipedia entry admits that his claim “has since been almost universally rejected.” Undaunted, unbowed, unashamed, the Florida State University professor is the author or editor of four of the volumes included on the Random House list of the 100 most important books on Shakespeare. In 2010, Oxford University Press named him the lead editor of The New Oxford Shakespeare, to be published in 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The mind reels at the thought of what may be done in the course of, in Taylor’s words, “determining what Shakespeare wrote” in the ensuing “enormous, international frenzy of historical research.”

As Fats Waller liked to say, “One never knows, do one?”

It would take Terry Southern come back from the dead to do black-comedy justice to the tale of two sixties-styled Americans, one from Texas with shoulder-length hair, in 2013, and one from Kansas with an earring in his ear, in 1985, who managed to parlay themselves into page one prominence as Shakespeare heavyweights. It could be really funny, painfully funny.

The Ring

So what’s not to like about putting Jane Austen on the ten pound note? Don’t ask Mark Twain whose admission in a letter from 1898 — “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone” — would delight some of the bloggers who attacked Austen after the Bank of England broke the news. Never mind the shin-bone: two women who lobbied for Jane have been threatened with bombing, burning, pistol-whipping, and rape.

On a brighter note, there’s the saga of the Ring, not the Wagner Ring nor the Tolkien Ring but the turquoise and gold ring once worn by Austen and recently purchased at auction for £152,450 (about $230,000) by Texas-born pop singer Kelly Clarkson, whose worldwide hit single, “My Life Would Suck Without You” holds the record for the biggest leap to number one in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Perhaps the most famous member of the American wing of the Jane Austen Appreciation Society, Clarkson seemed to take it in stride when the government refused to let the ring leave the country. If you want to read some generally amusing back and forth on the issue, visit the Guardian blog (“Jane Austen Ring: would its sale to Kelly Clarkson be a loss to the nation?”), where Clarkson comes out on top in a poll (the “no”s have it, 65 to 35 percent) and the target of choice is the Tory government.

I don’t have a problem with the surfacing of Jane Austen in the regions of pop culture graced by Kelly Clarkson. In fact, the Jane Austen people busy raising money to buy back the ring see only good things for their cause in the pop star’s devotion.

What would Jane Austen make of her ebullient American fan? An impossible question, of course, but my guess is that she wouldn’t take long to warm to Clarkson, and that in spite of the title, she might actually tolerate “My Life Would Suck Without You,” with all its joyous emotional energy. More to the Pride and Prejudice point, how could she resist the singer’s latest, a jaunty, jumping wedding number called “Tie the Knot”?

While Austen would no doubt need another internet crash course to travel through time from John Dowland’s “Weep No More Sad Fountains” to Schubert to the Beatles to an appreciation of Clarkson, music is very much “the food of love” when Elizabeth Bennet’s singing and playing and dancing help put things in perspective with Mr. Darcy. Earlier in the narrative, during a gathering at which Darcy is present, Elizabeth experiences “the mortification” of seeing her younger sister Mary, “after very little entreaty, preparing to oblige the company” with a song. After unsuccessfully attempting to discourage Mary with “significant looks” and “silent entreaties,” Elizabeth suffers through the performance with “the most painful sensations” and “an impatience which was very ill rewarded” when Mary is asked to sing another song and happily does so. The problem for Elizabeth is that “Mary’s powers were by no means fitted for such a display; her voice was weak, and her manner affected.”

Whether she’s singing “My Country Tis of Thee” at President Obama’s second inaugural or making the most of the cliched love-is-a-battlefield lyrics of “My Life Would Suck,” Kelly Clarkson’s considerable powers are definitely fitted for such displays.

A Delightful Creature

Published 200 years ago, in January 1813, Pride and Prejudice was Jane Austen’s “own darling child,” as she told her sister Cassandra. In the same letter, she called Elizabeth Bennet “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print” and wondered how she “would be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least.” With those words, it’s as if the author were introducing one of her favorite characters into the society of the ages, where she will be liked and loved even into the 21st century, on the page and on the screen — and on the Jane Austen ten pound note, where you can see Elizabeth in the background above an image of Godmersham Park, home of Jane’s brother, Edward Austen Knight. She’s at her writing desk, an image that also suggests the author at work. The drawing, pen and black ink, gray wash, over pencil, is by the American artist Isabel Bishop (1902-1988), from the edition of Pride and Prejudice (E.P. Dutton 1976) that features 20 illustrations of the 31 she contributed, all of which are now at the Morgan Library and Museum. It’s impossible to regard Bishop’s depictions of the novel’s female characters without thinking of the girl friends, shop girls, and working women she drew and painted for the better part of 50 years in her Union Square studio.

To know Isabel Bishop was to sometimes feel that you were in a novel that, depending on the occasion, could have been imagined by Jane Austen, or George Eliot, or Henry James, or Edith Wharton. Isabel would have been amused to find that the Bank of England had put her image of Elizabeth Bennet on the ten pound note. What would Jane Austen think? Writing to her brother Frank in September 1813 when Pride and Prejudice was being read and wondered over, she observes “that the Secret [of her authorship] has spread so far as to be scarcely the Shadow of a secret now …. I shall not even attempt to tell Lies about it — I shall rather try to make all the Money than all the Mystery I can of it — People shall pay for their knowledge if I can make them.”

As for Shakespeare’s standing with the Bank of England, he’s got nothing to complain about. From 1970 to 1993 his was the face on the 20 pound note.

 

ROYAL COUPLE: An exhibition at the Michener Museum in Doylestown this fall will focus on the life and legacy of Grace Kelly (1929-1982), the Philadelphia girl and award-winning actress who became Princess Grace of Monaco when she married Prince Rainier III on April 18, 1956. Remembered as a screen legend and fashion icon, Ms. Kelly was also a United Nations advocate for children, and muse to director Alfred Hitchcock. For more information and hours, call (215) 340-9800, or visit: www.michenermuseum.org.(Courtesy of James A. Michener Museum of Art)

ROYAL COUPLE: An exhibition at the Michener Museum in Doylestown this fall will focus on the life and legacy of Grace Kelly (1929-1982), the Philadelphia girl and award-winning actress who became Princess Grace of Monaco when she married Prince Rainier III on April 18, 1956. Remembered as a screen legend and fashion icon, Ms. Kelly was also a United Nations advocate for children, and muse to director Alfred Hitchcock. For more information and hours, call (215) 340-9800, or visit: www.michenermuseum.org. (Courtesy of James A. Michener Museum of Art)

With its new Grace Kelly exhibition opening in just two month’s time, the staff of the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown held a press conference last Thursday to show just what all the fuss is about.

Lisa Tremper Hanover, Michener Director and CEO, described the contents of the exhibition, “From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly Beyond the Icon,” which aims to immerse visitors in the life and legacy of the Oscar-winning American actress and Princess of Monaco.

Besides items of designer clothing worn by Ms. Kelly, personal letters and memorabilia, there will be film clips and archival documents. The Michener is the sole U.S. destination for the exhibition, which was seen earlier in Canada.

According to Ms. Tremper Hanover, the exhibition sets out to relate “the real story” of the girl from Philadelphia who loved scrapple and adored raising her children as much as she loved clothes and culture. “Her real story isn’t a fairy tale as you will see from the exhibition’s intimate photographs, love letters from her husband, home movies and fashions that are as elegant today as they were 50 years ago,” she said.

On hand to raise the level of excitement were representatives of the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, the Consulate General of Monaco in New York, and other exhibition funders such as the Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau.

Consul General and Minister Counselor Maguy Maccario Doyle described Grace Kelly’s lasting impact on Monaco through the theater and arts festival she founded there as well as the library that was created from her private collection of Irish literature after her death.

Ms. Kelly’s son, His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco, spoke via Skype from his home. “Those of us who were fortunate enough to know my mother knew her to be a genuine, warm, and loving woman — a woman who always put her family first. I hope that through experiencing this exhibition you will be able to glimpse the real Grace Kelly,” he said. It was Prince Albert who provided the impetus for the exhibition’s North American tour.

The press conference, which was held, appropriately enough, at the Hotel Monaco in the heart of the actress’s hometown of Philadelphia, also featured short presentations by Regina Canfield of the PNC Arts Alive program which is funding the exhibition, and others.

Kristina Haugland, of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and author of Grace Kelly: Icon of Style to Royal Bride and Grace Kelly Style, described Ms. Kelly’s iconic style and provided a perspective on her influence on fashion. “She was far from the typical Hollywood clotheshorse,” said Ms. Haugland. “Her signature style was timeless, simple and elegant, a classic look that is emulated today on red carpet runways and exemplified by brides like Kate Middleton.”

“This exhibition will benefit the whole of Bucks County as well as Doylestown,” commented Paul Bencivengo, Bucks County marketing and communications director, anticipating the regional economic impact. “Bucks county tourism provides some 11,000 jobs and brings in some $850 million a year,” he said, adding that Grace Kelly was a “simple sell” for the region and the state.

“The opportunity to bring together a comprehensive exhibition that focuses on the depth and breadth of Grace Kelly’s life is an important acknowledgment of her impact on so many facets of the 20th century,” said Ms. Tremper Hanover. “Throughout the years, interest in Grace — her compassion, her radiance, her dignity, and her individuality — has never waned. Her hometown of Philadelphia is eager to honor this spirit.”

Ms. Kelly’s nephew, Christopher Le Vine, provided a touching take on his relative. “Grace never lost touch with her family here in Philly, her children grew up much as she did,” said Mr. Le Vine as he recalled home movies of his aunt and his mother on the beach at Ocean City. Mr. Le Vine is the owner, of Grace Winery and Sweetwater Farm Bed and Breakfast in Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley.

“From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly Beyond the Icon” will be accompanied by a series of events on Grace Kelly’s jewelry, fashion, style and impact as a royal bride, culminating with a screening of one of her most popular films High Society in December.

GRACE KELLY REMEMBERED: Another side of screen legend Grace Kelly was recalled when her nephew, Christopher Le Vine, shared memories of his aunt and his mother frolicking at the New Jersey shore at a press conference organized by the Michener Museum at the Hotel Monaco in Philadelphia last week to promote its fall exhibition “From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly Beyond the Icon.” Mr. Le Vine is the owner of Grace Winery and Sweetwater Farm Bed and Breakfast in Glen Mills, Pa.(Photo by L. Arntzenius)

GRACE KELLY REMEMBERED: Another side of screen legend Grace Kelly was recalled when her nephew, Christopher Le Vine, shared memories of his aunt and his mother frolicking at the New Jersey shore at a press conference organized by the Michener Museum at the Hotel Monaco in Philadelphia last week to promote its fall exhibition “From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly Beyond the Icon.” Mr. Le Vine is the owner of Grace Winery and Sweetwater Farm Bed and Breakfast in Glen Mills, Pa. (Photo by L. Arntzenius)

The Michener will also celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Bucks County Playhouse, where Ms. Kelly made her stage debut.

Jed Bernstein, the theater’s producing director spoke about Ms. Kelly’s early years and of the role that the Buck’s County Playhouse has played in the region and in American theater as a whole. Besides Ms. Kelly, those associated with the theaters comprise a veritable “who’s who” of American stage and screen in the 20th and early 21st centuries: Robert Redford, Liza Minnelli, Helen Hayes, Walter Matthau, Angela Lansbury, and Tyne Daly, as well as renowned playwrights George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart, Neil Simon, and Terrence McNally.

The companion exhibition, “Local Mill Makes Good: Celebrating 75 Years of American Theater at the Bucks County Playhouse,” will be on view from October 26, through March 2, 2014.

“From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly Beyond the Icon” opens October 28 at the James A. Michener Art Museum,138 South Pine Street, Doylestown. For more information and hours, call (215) 340-9800, or visit: www.michenermuseum.org. The Michener will be using a timed ticket entry system for non-members. Advance ticket purchase is highly recommended, and available only at www.MichenerArtMuseum.org or by calling (800) 595-4849.

 

KEEPER OF THE KEYS: Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) has the unenviable task of keeping out the destitute earthlings from overrunning the exclusive space station Elysium, which the wealthy Earth citizens have created as a haven from the miserable conditions on their home planet Earth which is over populated and polluted.

KEEPER OF THE KEYS: Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) has the unenviable task of keeping out the destitute earthlings from overrunning the exclusive space station Elysium, which the wealthy Earth citizens have created as a haven from the miserable conditions on their home planet Earth which is over populated and polluted.

It’s 2154, and the planet Earth has become so polluted and overpopulated that anyone who can afford it has abandoned it to live in a luxurious state-of-the-art space station. Their decadent enclave, Elysium, looks similar to Beverly Hills, and is filled with palm trees and mansions with private swimming pools.

Meanwhile, down on Earth, the teeming masses of poor people struggle to survive, and escape to Elysium is their only hope for a decent existence. Of course, that’s easier said than done, since you have to be able to afford an expensive ride aboard a space ship to get there. And, even after arriving, you have to provide the authorities with proof of citizenship in order to stay.

The job of preventing illegal immigrants from entering Elysium falls to Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster), a heartless executive who has no qualms about shooting down unauthorized space shuttles. She takes her orders from John Carlyle (William Fitchner), the nefarious CEO of Armadyne Corporation, much to the annoyance of the space station’s president (Faran Tahir).

It turns out that it’s impossible for any politician to control the powerful defense contractor, a fact which Earth dwelling Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) learns the hard way. He only has five days to live after being exposed to a lethal dose of radiation in an industrial accident.

After his request for medical treatment, that is readily available on Elysium, is summarily denied, he becomes determined to reach the space station by hook or by crook. He also wants to bring his childhood friend, Frey (Alice Braga), and her young daughter (Emma Tremblay) who is suffering from acute leukemia along with him. Standing in their way, however, is Kruger (Sharlto Copley), a blood-thirsty heavily armed mercenary, deputized by Delacourt to patrol Los Angeles to make sure that no unworthy earthlings make it to Elysium.

Directed by Neill Blomkamp, Elysium is a disappointing sophomoric effort from the South African who had made such a spectacular splash in 2009 with the sleeper hit District 9. This film feels like he’s all out of ideas, because he uses similar themes from his earlier success, and has a cliché-ridden script filled with hackneyed lines like: “That’s what I’m talking about,” “You have no idea,” and “I’m just getting started.”

Fair (*½). Rated R for pervasive profanity and graphic violence. Running time: 109 minutes. Distributor: Tri-Star Pictures.

 

August 14, 2013

dvd rev“Ever go to the movies?”

“Once in a while.”

“You ought to go to the movies more. The movies are fine for a bright boy like you.”

—from Ernest Hemingway’s “The Killers”

Last week’s Hemingway binge began with both the 1946 and 1964 film versions of his story, “The Killers,” on a 2-disc Criterion Collection DVD from the Princeton Public Library.

Meanwhile, to catch up on what’s been happening in the Hemingway marketplace, I went back to the library and checked out a copy of Paula McLain’s best-selling The Paris Wife (Ballantine 2012), still in the top 20 after 30-plus weeks on the New York Times trade paperback list. Right now I’m still recovering from two and a half hours of another library item, HBO’s Hemingway and Gellhorn (2012), which I watched on the assumption that between a solid director like Philip Kaufman and an actress I admire, Nicole Kidman, it would be worth seeing, which it sort of almost was. Except that by the end, even the impressively replicated illusion of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War and Kidman’s performance as journalist Martha Gellhorn had been fatally tainted by the humiliation visited on Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961).

Assuming no one has organized a Hemingway Anti-Defamation League, we will have to make do, for now, with The Paris Wife. Although this novel offers one of the most sympathetic depictions of the young writer ever put between covers, it surely has Hemingway doing somersaults in his grave, outraged not only by the idea of a woman taking possession of his story but, to put it crudely, stealing his first wife Hadley’s soul. In spite of being sneeringly dismissed out of hand by some reviewers, McLain accomplishes her mission with grace and style. You may occasionally cringe or roll your eyes, but by the end, you feel that you know Hadley (1891-1979) as well if not better than you do in Hemingway’s end-of-life love letter to her in A Moveable Feast — and without the happier and nicer and smarter than thou smugness that sometimes infects his account of the relationship.

One reason to celebrate The Paris Wife’s extraordinary success is the hope that many more people will have encountered McLain’s Hemingway than the loutish travesty perpetrated by Hemingway and Gellhorn, where Clive Owen’s in-your-face blowhard suggests Groucho Marx on steroids crossed with Ali G at his most embarrassingly buffoonish. You rarely believe that this guy is capable of writing “the one true word” Hemingway said every story should begin with. Philip Kaufman seems to have sold Hemingway short in his eagerness to show why, as he says in an online Hollywood Reporter interview, Gellhorn is worth a great deal more than a footnote in the life of the 20th century’s most famous writer. And when Kaufman says that Gellhorn was “the only one of Hemingway’s wives who loved him,” you know he hasn’t read The Paris Wife. All the well-known character defects are there, but instead of making you think what a jerk he is, you see him as Hadley does and you suffer with her when he makes the same wrong moves that he himself ends up lamenting in the luminous memoir that was in his typewriter on the July morning he took the story of his life in his own hands and ended it on his own terms.

Thinking the Unthinkable

The first half of Hemingway’s most famous, most anthologized story, “The Killers,” is an entertainment. Think of it as gangster vaudeville. Al and Max, two hit men from Chicago, small in stature, wrapped in big tight-fitting overcoats and gloves, come into a suburban lunch-room, engage in a kind of tag-team taunting of George, the man behind the counter, and the sole customer, Nick Adams, Hemingway’s youthful alter ego. Al and Max are cracking themselves up even as they blithely admit they are there to blow away the Swede who is known to stop in at six every evening. The verbal bullying (“Well, bright boy, why don’t you say something?” “What’s it all about?” “Hey, Al … bright boy wants to know what it’s all about”) is not that far removed from Hemingway’s own approach to journalists, correspondents, and interviewers, including even “bright boy” George Plimpton in the Paris Review (“when you ask someone old, tired questions, you are apt to get old, tired answers”). After Al eats his ham and eggs and Max his bacon and eggs, which they do with their gloves on, they get down to business and tie up and gag Nick and Sam, the black cook, and when the Swede doesn’t show up, they go looking for him.

At this point, with Nick hurrying ahead to the Swede’s rooming house to warn him, entertainment becomes literature. As can be seen by the piece he wrote for the Oak Park and River Forest High School literary magazine in 1916 (“A Matter of Color”), Hemingway already had a knack for gangland dialogue at 17. Nick’s exchange with the Swede, who is lying in bed staring at the wall, is on another, more darkly suggestive level. Every dead flat toneless sentence the Swede utters in response to the news that two men have said they’re going to kill him (“There isn’t anything I can do about it …. That wouldn’t do any good …. There ain’t anything to do”) is hard core Hemingway, the haunting, hypnotic endgame edge and acid essence of his style. Here’s a man receiving word of his impending death without emotion, without the least sign of resistance to the prospect. Appalled at what he’s witnessed, Nick goes back to the lunch room, where he and George speculate about the Swede’s attitude and what he must have done to draw the death sentence. Nick is shaken. He can’t stand to think about the man “waiting in that room and knowing he’s going to get it. It’s too damned awful.” What George says next seals the story, wraps it up, and leaves the reader in a hush.

“Well,” said George, “you better not think about it.”

That’s it. Neither motion picture version of The Killers replays that essential Hemingway advisory because it wouldn’t work. It was made for the page and nothing but the page. Imagine trying to end a film with someone saying “Well, you better not think about it.” No actor on the planet could make of that sentence anything remotely comparable to what Hemingway accomplishes by laying it out in cold hard type. This is where the old adage about a picture being worth a thousand words just doesn’t cut it.

Two Movies

So how do you make a movie out of a short story that slams the door in your face with that last line? First you have to figure out what the Swede did to earn a death sentence (“I got in wrong” is all he tells Nick) and then you have to show why he doesn’t care (“There ain’t anything to do now”). Anthony Veiller and John Huston’s screenplay for the 1946 version directed by Robert Siodmak recreates the scene in the lunch room, with most of the Hemingway dialogue intact, along with Nick’s visit to the Swede. The flashback that fills out the 105 minutes of screen time is a well-done if routine film noir about a bungled heist, a femme fatale (Ava Gardner), a lovelorn boxer (Burt Lancaster’s Swede), and a crime boss (Albert Dekker). In Don Siegel’s 1964 technicolor version the lunch room scene with the Hemingway dialogue is gone, the doomed man is a race car driver (John Cassavetes) and everyone dies, including both killers (Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager), the femme fatale (Angie Dickinson), and the crime boss (Ronald Reagan). If it weren’t for the title, you wouldn’t know that what you were seeing was based on Hemingway’s story. While the two hit men in Siodmak’s film are true to the original in being confined to the setting of the opening act, the killers in Siegel’s film behave like protagonists. With Gulager providing the entertainment by way of his sarcastic one-liners, Lee Marvin carries the weight of the story, for he wants more than the missing money. He wants to know why the Cassavetes character just stood there not caring when they killed him. Marvin is an amazing actor (as Gulager movingly testifies on the Criterion DVD), one of the few who could give a charge to the you-better-not-think-about-it line. But he doesn’t have to say it, he presents it physically. He is it, he’s the medium for that terse message.

Both films fall short of the story in the end because the reason for each victim’s indifference to death amounts to nothing more than a film noir cliche: betrayal by a woman. Hemingway doesn’t go there. No need to. As he once put it, “that story probably had more left out of it than anything I ever wrote …. I left out all Chicago, which is hard to do in 2951 words.”

He also thought that the 1946 Killers was “the only good picture made of a story of mine.” When producer Mark Hellinger sent a publicist to Idaho with a print to personally screen for him, Hemingway watched it with a pint of gin and a pint of water handy so that he could numb the pain if the film got bad. After the screening, he held up the full bottles with a big smile.

The truth is, Hollywood served Hemingway well, at least when the directors were of the stature of Frank Borzage and Howard Hawks. The author was also fortunate that his close friend Gary Cooper was born to play the Hemingway hero in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), and Borzage’s Academy-Award-nominated version of A Farewell to Arms (1932), which Hemingway considered a romanticized abomination. As for To Have and Have Not (1944), loosely based on a novel Hemingway himself made no claims for, it’s hard to imagine how anyone, least of all the author, could have a problem with the happy wonders Hawks and Faulkner, Bogart and Bacall did with that one.

Clearly, Hemingway had little respect for the medium, as the teasing reference in the “The Killers” quoted in this column’s epigraph indicates. In fact, hitman Al’s “the movies are fine for a bright boy like you” never made it into the 1946 film version of the lunch room scene. Given the twisted concerns of an industry that was always watching its back, perhaps the Hays Office and the custodians of the Code feared that audiences would think going to the pictures was endorsed by gangsters.

“Mrs. Hemingway”

Princeton native Mary Chapin-Carpenter puts the heart-in-the-right-place essence of Paula McLain’s novel into a six-minute ballad, “Mrs. Hemingway,” from her 2010 The Age of Miracles. Hadley is left out of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, but then she’s used to that: Hemingway left her out of The Sun Also Rises. He more than made up for that in A Moveable Feast, of course.

One reason to see the Criterion DVD of The Killers is its inclusion of -Andrei Tarkovsky’s 20-minute student film version of the story.

 

CAN YOU HEAR THEM COO? Beatrice Bork’s watercolor “Lovie Dovie” conveys the characteristic peacefulness and loyalty of mourning doves in D&R Greenway’s current art exhibition, “The Feathered and the Field.” In addition to Ms. Bork, featured artists are Francesca Azzara, Bill Dix, Carolyn H. Edlund, Jennifer Hawkes, Brenda Jones, David Robinson, Rye Tippett, and Charles David Viera. Admission is free and the show runs through October 5. A percentage of each work sold supports the Land Trust at One Preservation Place, off Rosedale. For more information and hours, call (609) 924-4646 or email rsvp@drgreenway.org.

CAN YOU HEAR THEM COO? Beatrice Bork’s watercolor “Lovie Dovie” conveys the characteristic peacefulness and loyalty of mourning doves in D&R Greenway’s current art exhibition, “The Feathered and the Field.” In addition to Ms. Bork, featured artists are Francesca Azzara, Bill Dix, Carolyn H. Edlund, Jennifer Hawkes, Brenda Jones, David Robinson, Rye Tippett, and Charles David Viera. Admission is free and the show runs through October 5. A percentage of each work sold supports the Land Trust at One Preservation Place, off Rosedale. For more information and hours, call (609) 924-4646 or email rsvp@drgreenway.org.

A reception for the artists with works in the D&R Greenway Land Trust’s latest exhibition will take place Thursday, August 15 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The exhibition, titled “The Feathered and the Field: Birds in Autumn,” features stirring images in many media with artists interpreting the transition from summer to autumn, a time when preserved habitat is particularly essential to migrating birds. It is designed to encourage people to preserve and to plant bird-friendly habitats and throughout the evening, native plants may be purchased from the Trust’s on-site Native Plant Nursery, to transform home gardens into bird-friendly habitats.

Artists include Francesca Azzara, Beatrice Bork, Bill Dix, Carolyn H. Edlund, Jennifer Hawkes, Brenda Jones, David Robinson, Rye Tippett, and Charles David Viera.

All the art is for sale, with a percentage supporting the land trust’s preservation and stewardship mission.

Guests are also encouraged to include a sunset bird exploration in Greenway Meadows.

Linda Mead, D&R Greenway CEO and president, suggests that guests treat this exhibition as a bird walk, even to the extent of beginning “a life list” of species represented in these diverse works, such as committed birders maintain. She reminds visitors to hike St. Michaels Farm Preserve in Hopewell, where D&R Greenway preservation is increasing sightings of rare and threatened species such as the meadowlark, the American kestrel, and the bobolink.

“This exhibit celebrates the diverse beauty of birds, particularly their vulnerability during migration to their wintering grounds,”

notes D&R Greenway Curator Diana Moore.

“The Feathered and the Field: Birds in Autumn,” is on view during business hours of business days at the D&R Greenway Land Trust, One Preservation Place, off Rosedale Road, through October 5. Admission is free. For more information and to register for the free reception, call (609) 924-4646 or email rsvp@drgreenway.org.

ART IN THE GARDEN: This handwoven artwork by Amy Turner also serves as a scarf and is among an abundance of arts and craft items for sale at the 14th Annual Art in the Garden at Paxson Hill Farm, Saturday, August 31 and Sunday, September 1 at 3265 Comfort Road, Solebury Township, across the river in Bucks County. Ms. Turner uses hand-dyed yarns, painted warps, tapestry inlay, and beads into her work. For more information, call (215) 297-1010, or visit: www.paxsonhillfarm.com.

ART IN THE GARDEN: This handwoven artwork by Amy Turner also serves as a scarf and is among an abundance of arts and craft items for sale at the 14th Annual Art in the Garden at Paxson Hill Farm, Saturday, August 31 and Sunday, September 1 at 3265 Comfort Road, Solebury Township, across the river in Bucks County. Ms. Turner uses hand-dyed yarns, painted warps, tapestry inlay, and beads into her work. For more information, call (215) 297-1010, or visit: www.paxsonhillfarm.com.

The 14th Annual Art in the Garden at Paxson Hill Farm will be held, Saturday, August 31 and Sunday, September 1. The event, which runs each day from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is held rain or shine, will feature an exhibition and sale of work by local artists and fine-crafters.

This is the first time Art in the Garden will take place over two days.

Sponsored by horticulturist Bruce Gangawer, owner/operator of the nursery at Paxson Hill Farm, the event brings together some 58 painters, printmakers, jewelers, photographers, wood turners, fiber artists, ceramicists, and others.

This year’s exhibitors include Sandy Askey-Adams, Mandy Baker, Kathy Barclay, Rob Barrett, Kristen Birdsey, Nurit Bland, Jen Brower, Karen Caldwell, Keppler Castano, Diana Contine, Sheila Watson Coutin, Lara Ginzburg, Bernard Hohlfeld, Deborah Holcomb, Michael Holcomb, Mickie Marshall-Jacoby, Brenda Jones, Sandra Jones, Susan Kern, Evelyn King, Carla Klouda, Donna Kudra, Carole Kyle, Nora Lewis, Leda Manfre, Denise Marshall, Sallie Marshall, Claudia McGill, Kim McGuckin, Janet Miller, Kelly Money, David Money, Mindy Mutterperl, Susan Nadelson, Isabel O’Brien, Rebecca Proctor-Weiss, Ron Prybycien, Michael Ressler, Robert J. Richey, Jr., Glenn Rile, Susan Rosetty, Cindi Sathra, Scott Schlauch, Gale Scotch, Kathe Scullion, Jane Stoller, Deborah Tinsman, Patricia Tolton, Sean Tucker, Amy Turner, Helena van Emmerik-Finn, John Wear, Dawn Weseman, John H. Williams, Katy Winters, Steve Zazenski, and Barbara Zietchick.

Since 2000, Art in the Garden has grown from 17 artists selected for the first event. The garden setting includes numerous sun, shade, Oriental, and water gardens. Visitors are encouraged to wander the gardens, greenhouse, and fish ponds.

The free event takes place at Paxson Hill Farm, 3265 Comfort Road, Solebury Township. For more information, call (215) 297-1010, or visit: www.paxsonhill
farm.com.

 

STAND BY YOUR MAN: Gloria (Oprah Winfrey, left) staunchly supports her husband Eugene (Forest Whitaker), who is at odds with their elder son Louis (David Oyelowo, not shown) about their views on Civil Rights issues. Louis wants his father to take advantage of his position in the White House to express opinions about the aims of the Civil Rights movement to his superiors at work, which would contravene Eugene’s terms of employment.

STAND BY YOUR MAN: Gloria (Oprah Winfrey, left) staunchly supports her husband Eugene (Forest Whitaker), who is at odds with their elder son Louis (David Oyelowo, not shown) about their views on Civil Rights issues. Louis wants his father to take advantage of his position in the White House to express opinions about the aims of the Civil Rights movement to his superiors at work, which would contravene Eugene’s terms of employment.

Eugene Allen (1919-2010) served eight presidents during his career in the White House where he rose from the position of Pantry Man to Head Butler by the time he retired in 1986. In that capacity, the African American son of a sharecropper was privileged to be an eyewitness to history, since his tenure coincided with the implementation of most of the landmark legislation that dismantled the Jim Crow system of racial segregation.

Directed by two time Oscar nominee Lee Daniels, The Butler is a father-son biopic relating events in Allen’s life as they unfolded against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement. This fictionalized account features Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker in the title role as Cecil Gaines, and a supporting cast of Oscar winners Cuba Gooding, Jr., Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Robin Williams, and Melissa Leo, as well as Oscar nominees Terrence Howard and Oprah Winfrey.

The movie begins in a plantation in the deep south, where Cecil witnesses his father’s (David Banner) murder in a cotton field for protesting his mother’s (Mariah Carey) rape by an overseer. Because the perpetrator was never brought to justice, the youngster gets the message at an early age that “Any white man could kill us at any time and not be punished for it.”

Therefore, to avoid the same fate as his father, in his teens, he skips town and settles in Washington, D.C. where he lands steady work as a bartender in a hotel that caters to an upscale clientele. There he also meets Gloria (Winfrey), the maid whom he marries, and starts a family.

Cecil’s reputation as a polite and deferential black man leads to a position in the White House, where he is hired on the express understanding that “You hear nothing. You see nothing. You only serve.” Although he maintains an apolitical façade on the job, the same can’t be said for his home life, where current events are freely debated.

As a result, Cecil finds himself increasingly at odds with his elder son, Louis (David Oyelowo), a civil rights activist who participates in voter registration marches, sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, and freedom bus rides. The simmering tension between the two builds over the years to the boiling point when Louis derisively refers to his father an Uncle Tom.

At that point, Cecil’s wife slaps her son and then delivers the moving line that is likely to earn Oprah Winfrey another Academy Award nomination: “Everything you have, and everything you are, is because of that butler.” However, Forest Whitaker is even more deserving of accolades, thanks to his nonpareil performance as a humble provider who is understandably reluctant to rock the boat.

Kudos to Lee Daniels for crafting a gut-wrenching tour de force that never hits a false note and chronicles critical moments in the African American fight for equality.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality, smoking, profanity, ethnic slurs, disturbing images, and mature themes. Running time: 132 minutes. Distributor: The Weinstein Company.

 

August 7, 2013

book revIf you want to know India, study Vivekananda. 

—Rabindranath Tagore to Romain Rolland

The song really came from Swami Vivekananda, who said, ‘If there is a God, we must see him. And if there is a soul, we must perceive it.’

—George Harrison on the origins of “My Sweet Lord”

T he first chapter of Phillip Goldberg’s American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation; How Indian Spirtuality Changed the West (Doubleday 2010) opens by suggesting that the Beatles’ “extended stay” with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in February 1968 “may have been the most momentous spiritual retreat since Jesus spent those forty days in the wilderness.” Goldberg goes on to say that the resulting “media frenzy over the Fab Four made known to the sleek, sophisticated West that meek mysterious India had something of value. Our understanding and practice of spirituality would never be the same.”

While there’s no doubt that the Beatles played a major role in alerting American culture to the manifold riches of the subcontinent, I have a problem with Goldberg’s choice of words. “Something of value” doesn’t begin to say it, “mysterious India” is for travel brochures, and, above all, what does a word like “meek” have to do with the land associated with riots, juggernauts, and sadhus who can decapitate you with a look? Probably the best thing anyone said about the Beatles’ Indian venture was Ringo Starr’s comparison of the “momentous spiritual retreat” to “a Butlin’s holiday camp.” George Harrison, the one Beatle who found something  of lasting value in India, went beyond the Maharishi to the teachings of Vivekananda (1863-1902), the man who truly did bring India to the west.

Born Narendra Nath Datta in Calcutta 150 years ago, January 12, 1863, Vivekananda is the subject of A.L Bardach’s Wall Street Journal Magazine piece “What Did J.D. Salinger, Leo Tolstoy, and Sarah Bernhardt Have in Common?” wherein she takes the Beatles analogy full-circle. When Vivekananda greeted the audience at the 1893 Parliament of World Religions at the Chicago World’s Fair as “Sisters and brothers of America,” the response presaged “the phenomenon decades later that greeted the Beatles” as the “previously sedate crowd of 4,000-plus attendees rose to their feet and wildly cheered the visiting monk.”

“No doubt the vast majority of those present hardly knew why they had been so powerfully moved,” Christopher Isherwood writes some 50 years later. “A large gathering has its own strange kind of subconscious telepathy and this one must have been somehow aware that it was in the presence of that most unusual of beings, a man whose words express exactly what he is.”

Unknown

While the Beatles came to America in February 1964 atop a tidal wave of music and media, Vivekananda arrived in Chicago in July 1893 wholly unknown, with no credentials and very little money. Only after finally finding the entry bureau did he learn that the Parliament of Religions wouldn’t open until September, that it was too late to register, and worse yet, that he was not qualified to take part because he belonged to no known group. Using the last of his money, he took a train to Boston, where, being an imposing presence in his red turban and yellow robes belted with a scarlet sash, he caught the eye of a retired literature professor at Smith who invited him to her home; there, she introduced him to a professor at Harvard who wrote to the president of the Committee that Vivekananda should represent Hinduism at the Parliament. He then gave the 29-year-old pilgrim a ticket back to Chicago, where he landed dazed and disoriented, having lost the address of the Committee. When he asked for directions, he was rebuffed because of the color of his skin. Doors all over Chicago were slammed in the face of this bizarrely-attired “negro.” He was sitting in the street when he was noticed by a woman who gave him refuge, took him to the Parliament, where, as 1915 Nobel laureate Romain Rolland writes in Prophets of the New India (Boni 1930), “The unknown of yesterday, the beggar, the man despised for his color by a Mob” imposed “his sovereign genius.”

There he stood, “the young man who represented nothing—and everything—the man belonging to no sect but rather to India as a whole.” The newspapers swooned over his “fascinating face, his noble stature and gorgeous apparel,” and “the raven black of his hair, his olive complexion, his dark eyes, his red lips.” The New York Herald called him “undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament” and  the Boston Evening Post said he was “the great favorite” who “received acclamations every time he crossed the platform.” During the two week duration of the Parliament, he spoke 10 or 11 times and “the only way of keeping the public at the meetings … was to announce that Vivekananda would speak at the end.”

The simple power of his message sent a charge into the event, burning through all the scripted rhetoric, “his thesis of a universal Religion without limit of time or space uniting the whole Credo of the human spirit … into a magnificent synthesis, which … helped all hopes to grow and flourish according to their own proper nature.”

No internet was needed to spread the word. He was famous, if not overnight, within a matter of weeks. “Having nearly succumbed to poverty,” Rolland writes, “he was now in danger of being overwhelmed by riches. American snobbery threw itself upon him, and, in its first flush, threatened to smother him with its luxury and vanities.”

Again, it’s almost too easy to find a parallel to the experience of the Beatles when they toured America (and the world), where only the rich and famous could get near them. In order to free himself from his privvileged protectors, Vivekananda went on a speaking tour of the East and Middle West, but the more he saw of the country, and the disparity between rich and poor, the more outspoken he became about “the brutality, the inhumanity, the littleness of spirit, the narrow fanaticism, the monumental ignorance, the crushing incomprehension” of a people who thought themselves “the paragon nation of the human race.” In Boston he inveighed against a civilization of monied “foxes and wolves” whereupon hundreds of people “noisily left the hall, and the Press was furious.”

Even as Vivekananda was attacking the country at large, false Christianity and religious hypocrisy among his favorite targets, he  found pleasure and amusement in the company of American followers, many of the most devoted of whom were weathly, well-born women of a certain age. Since the inadvertenty absurd juxtaposition of such a personage with ordinary people is all but made for mockery, it’s important to keep in mind that in addition to George Harrison, Vivekananda’s admirers included Tolstoy, William James, Sarah Bernhardt, Christopher Isherwood, Aldous Huxley, Nicolas Tesla, Gandhi, Jung, Santayana, Stravinsky, and, not least, J.D. Salinger, whose long relationship with the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center in New York extended from the early 1950s until his death in January 2010.

An up close and gushingly personal view of Vivekananda can be found on www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info, provided by a Detroit woman who spent time with him in 1894 at the compound on Thousand Island Park that Salinger would visit some six decades later. Among the profusion of adoring quotes: “We take long walks and the Swami literally, and so simply, finds ‘books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good (God) in every thing.  And this same Swami is so merry and fun-loving. We just go mad at times.”

When the woman from Detroit asked Vivekananda how some of the “beautiful society queens of the West would appear to him — especially those versed in the art of allurement,” he looked at her “calmly with his big, serious eyes and gravely replied, ‘If the most beautiful woman in the world were to look at me in an immodest or unwomanly way she would immediately turn into a hideous, green frog, and one does not, of course, admire frogs!’ “

“Meek, Mysterious India!”

That word meek is still crawling around like an ant in my brain. It’s hard to imagine a more grossly misguided association than “meek” and “India.” One of the most off-putting things about the spiritual stereotype implicit in the Maharishi is the travesty of humility skewered in John Lennon’s song “Sexy Sadie” (“We gave her everything we owned just to sit at her table”), which he told Playboy he wrote “when we had our bags packed and were leaving.”

My negative reaction to “meek” is due to the intensity of my own experience during the six months I spent in India, undoubtedly the most significant, exciting six months of my life. What happened to me there on more than one occasion can be compared to a dumbed down version of the early moment with Ramakrishna described by Vivekananda. On one of his first visits, “Ramakrishna had placed his right foot on my body. The contact was terrible. With my eyes open I saw the walls and everything in the room whirling and vanishing into nothingness….The whole universe and my own individuality were at the same time lost in a nameless void.” When that happened to Narendra he wasn’t aware of anything cosmic or spiritual. He was terrified and repelled, thinking himself “face to face with death,” crying out like a frightened child, “What are you doing? I have parents at home.” Which comes close to describing what went through my mind whenever India lowered the boom. It would be nice to think that the heavy things that happened to me there were spiritually valid, but the charge was almost purely sensory: like being turned upside down by a roller coaster. Sharing sunrise on the Ganges at the Kumbha Mehla in Allahabad with seven million Hindus is a magnificent memory, but in the actual roar of the moment I was stunned, embattled, and disoriented. It was the ultimate manifestation of being “out of my depth.”

September 11, 1893/2001

The conclusion of Vivekananda’s opening address at the Parliament of Religions is worth repeating, if only in view of the date:

“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism.”

 

—Stuart Mitchner

 

Ann Louise Bardach is working on a biography of Vivekananda. Philip Goldberg’s book, which was helpful as a back-up to Rolland’s Prophets of the New India, is available at the Princeton Public Library and should not be dismissed out of hand because of his unfortunate use of the word “meek.”

ART PHOTOGRAPHY AT ELLARSLIE: Peter Cook’s silver gelatin print portrait of Cowboy Larry will be on display as part of the “Camera Work 2013” exhibiton at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie in Cadwalader Park, Trenton. The show features a dozen local photographers whose exceptional art work was part of the Ellarslie Open earlier this spring. The show opens this Friday and will run through September 22.

ART PHOTOGRAPHY AT ELLARSLIE: Peter Cook’s silver gelatin print portrait of Cowboy Larry will be on display as part of the “Camera Work 2013” exhibiton at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie in Cadwalader Park, Trenton. The show features a dozen local photographers whose exceptional art work was part of the Ellarslie Open earlier this spring. The show opens this Friday and will run through September 22.

For six weeks, beginning on Friday, August 9, the entire first floor of the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie in Cadwalader Park will play host to twelve talented area photographers who have been invited back to the museum after they had taken part in the recent Ellarslie Open exhibition. According to a recent press release, a survey of photographs included in the Ellarslie Open revealed an immense diversity of styles, technique and printing.

The twelve photographers will display their work in an entirely new exhibition titled, “Camera Work 2013,” which will run through September 22. There will be an opening reception this Friday from 7 p.m to 9 p.m. following a members and artists only reception from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The show takes its name from the publication, Camera Work, that was edited by Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) from 1902 to 1917. It features contemporary photographers Bill Hoo, Peter Cook, Richard DeFalco, Joseph Gilchrist, Dwight Harris, Mary Leck, Ed Nyul, Martin Schwartz, John Slavin, Igor Svibilsky, Kristina Tregnan and Kevin Hogan and pays tribute to Stieglitz and other early 20th century photographers who took photography into the realm of art.

The American born Stieglitz championed the idea that photography was on par with accepted mediums of painting and sculpture in its ability to convey artistic expression. He promoted the idea in Camera Work, the publication of the Camera Club of New York.

The cross-section of works on display in “Camera Work 2013” represents how Stieglitz’s original concept of a photograph being able to convey mood and evoke emotion has been passed down, re-interpreted, and refined over the last century. The installation includes several selections on subjects ranging from people to places, including Classical Italy, Europe, Route 66, and the natural world.

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

COMFORTABLE LIFE OR COMMITTED LIFE?—Convalescing photojournalist Sarah Goodwin (Maeve Brady) contemplates her choices in life as she prepares to head back to the war zone, in Princeton Summer Theater’s production of Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still (2009) at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus for one more weekend.

COMFORTABLE LIFE OR COMMITTED LIFE?—Convalescing photojournalist Sarah Goodwin (Maeve Brady) contemplates her choices in life as she prepares to head back to the war zone, in Princeton Summer Theater’s production of Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still (2009) at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus for one more weekend.

In the midst of an increasingly heated argument over the question of the individual’s responsibility to reject the comfortable life and to try to make a difference for those who are less fortunate, Mandy confronts photojournalist Sarah and foreign correspondent James. “I wish you’d just let yourselves feel the joy. Y’know? Otherwise…what’s the point?”

The questions hang in the air and remain the central concern of Time Stands Still (2009), Donald Margulies’ engrossing examination of two contemporary couples struggling with the personal, marital and moral choices that will define their lives and relationships. Nominated for a 2010 Tony Award for Best Play, Time Stands Still is a serious, intelligent, fascinating drama, and this extraordinary Princeton Summer Theater company provides an engaging, thought-provoking evening — a theater experience that audiences want to talk about afterwards.

In the past two months the abundantly talented PST troupe has taken its audiences on an adventurous, brilliantly successful journey with four strikingly different shows, each posing its own significant intellectual and theatrical challenges.

From its opening with an exquisite production of the much loved, intimate musical She Loves Me (1963), to a heart-warming presentation of Beth Henley’s hilarious, southern gothic masterpiece Crimes of the Heart (1978), to the wildly farcical, Monty Python-esque murder mystery spoof The 39 Steps (2005) and now the disquieting, contemporary drama Time Stands Still — this youthful, impressively professional contingent of college undergraduates and recent graduates from Princeton University and elsewhere has offered one of the finest seasons in the 45-year history of Princeton Summer Theater.

With only four characters and just one setting, in the Brooklyn apartment of the two protagonists, Time Stands Still is deceptively simple — in some ways the most challenging production of the summer for PST. Though it seems like a small world here, Mr. Margulies, with seven scenes in two acts spanning a period of almost a year, draws his characters in rich, three-dimensional detail. The dialogue is realistic, intellectual, engaging and entertaining.  With the two main characters, James and Sarah, in their late 30s or early 40s, approaching the most difficult stage of their relationship and the unresolvable existential questions of middle age, and the two supporting characters, 25-year-old Mandy and 55-year-old Richard, with no less thorny character dilemmas and relationship issues to grapple with, the requisite stretches here are huge for these actors in their early 20s.

The play begins as James (Brad Wilson) is bringing Sarah (Maeve Brady) home to their New York apartment from the overseas hospital where she has been recuperating from injuries sustained in the war zone on a photography assignment in Iraq. Sarah, strong and determined, though visibly suffering with scars, leg brace and crutches, and James, energetically solicitous and concerned, are obviously together (married by act two) and in love, though frequently in conflict.

Their future, individually and together, hangs in the balance, as the issues proliferate. James is still suffering from the traumas of reporting the Iraq war. He feels guilty because he came home early, leaving Sarah in Iraq. James is eager for a more conventional, less public life—marriage, family, stability. He is working on an article, not about devastating current events, but about horror movies. “I just want to be comfortable,” he tells Sarah later in the play. “Does that make me a bad person?”

Sarah, however, remains unwilling to give up her career. She is committed to her larger sense of purpose. Determined and uncompromising, she is eager to return to work, to the front lines, despite her severe injuries.  Does she need James and the security, comfort and “normalcy” of life in Brooklyn more than she needs the excitement and the moral commitment of her life on the barricades?

These issues and others are brought to the fore and further developed with a visit from their friend Richard (Evan Thompson), a 55-year-old photo editor, and his 25-year-old girl friend Mandy (Sarah Paton). Mandy, from a different generation and seemingly from a different world, exposes the conflict most starkly. Though she admires and remains in awe of Sarah, and they even bond in their mutual respect and understanding, Mandy provides a completely antithetical perspective, as she is ready to give up her job to pursue a conventional marriage, family and life style with her much older spouse.

Ms. Brady in the central role is strong, focused and convincing in her physical fragility, as she contends with her injuries, and in her mental steadfastness. This character is clearly set apart, heroic in her life choices and her ability to stay true to those choices, and Ms. Brady communicates that commitment with powerful presence and delivery. Mr. Wilson’s James effectively displays a wider range of thoughts and feelings as he deals with his trauma, his desire for a more conventional life, his love for Sarah and her adamant dedication to her career.

As Richard, Mr. Thompson plays with assurance the role of authoritative photo editor, older friend and partner to his much younger girlfriend/fiancée. Ms. Paton’s Mandy, though the most accessible role for this quartet in terms of age (25), is the most demanding characterization in terms of dialogue and tone.  Mandy’s youth, inexperience, provincialism and orthodox attitudes clash sharply with the mindset of Sarah in particular and at times of the other characters too. Her girlish attire, the balloons she brings to the ailing Sarah and her patterns of speech and her demeanor all bespeak another generation with more traditional priorities than those of the other three characters.  And yet — and here is where Mr. Margulies’ dialogue may have created an impossibly inconsistent tone and character — Mandy’s character demands to be taken seriously. Sarah may be the praiseworthy heroine of the play, but Mandy’s assertion of the values of marriage, family, children and conventionality resonates strongly and clearly, in a manner that none of the others, not even the stalwart Sarah can ignore or deny.

These four skillful, experienced performers have all distinguished themselves in two or more major roles in previous productions this summer, and here, under the wise, capable direction of Emma Watt, they explore these complex characters and the troubling terrain of this play with energy and focused seriousness of purpose.  These characters have proven their abilities to effect dazzling theatrical magic and convincing character stretches, but here some credibility and chemistry are missing at times as these 20-something actors grapple with their characters’ big questions of middle age or when actors of the same age are working out an age gap of 30 years in their characters’ relationship. Mr. Margulies’ occasionally elusive tone and the plethora of issues here — political, moral, marital, personal, career — further complicates the challenge.

But my quibbles arise partly from the fact that PST’s extraordinary season may have raised unrealistic expectations. Mr. Margulies’ play is rich, intellectually stimulating and entertaining — among his best, dealing with some of the same issues as the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner with Friends (2000) and the Pulitzer finalists Collected Stories (1996) and Sight Unseen (1991). And Ms. Watt’s production features four superb performers and first-rate production values manifested in Jeffrey Van Velsor’s detailed, thoroughly realistic Brooklyn apartment set, Alex Mannix’s adroit lighting and Annika Bennett’s spot-on costumes.

In discussing his aims in Time Stands Still, Mr. Margulies described his desire “to capture a sense of the way we live now, to dramatize the things that thinking, feeling, moral people are thinking about and struggle with.” He accomplished that ambitious goal and more, and Princeton Summer Theater brings it all to life in this dynamic culmination to their exciting 2013 season.

WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLF?: The wolf in Rawson Marshall Thurber’s “We’re the Millers” is drug kingpin Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), who needs $44,000 from small-time dealer David Burke (Jason Sudeikis, on right). Members of Burke’s emergency “family” are a stripper named Rose (Jennifer Aniston) and a teenage runaway named Casey (Emma Roberts).

WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLF?: The wolf in Rawson Marshall Thurber’s “We’re the Millers” is drug kingpin Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), who needs $44,000 from small-time dealer David Burke (Jason Sudeikis, on right). Members of Burke’s emergency “family” are a stripper named Rose (Jennifer Aniston) and a teenage runaway named Casey (Emma Roberts).

David Burke (Jason Sudeikis) is a small-time pot dealer with a big problem. He’s just been robbed of all of his cash and stash, leaving him indebted to Brad Gurdlinger, an impatient drug kingpin (Ed Helms) to the tune of $44,000.

Now, David’s only hope of wiping the slate clean rests with accepting a proverbial “offer you can’t refuse” from skeptical Brad, namely, to smuggle a couple of tons of marijuana across the Mexican border. Figuring a family in an RV would look a lot less suspicious trying to get through customs than a single guy with a panel truck, he starts looking for folks down on their luck willing to pose for a few bucks as his wife and kids.

All he can find on such short notice are Kenny (Will Poulter), a naïve, home alone kid who lives down the hall; Rose (Jennifer Aniston), a struggling stripper at the local gentlemen’s club; and Casey (Emma Roberts), a streetwise teen runaway. But will the faking foursome be able to pass themselves off as a typical suburban family over the course of their 4th of July weekend jaunt?

That is the intriguing premise of We’re the Millers, a raunchy road comedy directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball). Of course, the faux family has a really hard time maintaining their cover, such as when supposed mother and daughter are spotted making out by a DEA Agent (Nick Offerman) they unwittingly befriend en route.

While certifiably funny in spots, consider this a fair warning: much of the movie relies on a coarse brand of humor apt to shock fans of co-stars Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis, given the relatively-tame, TV fare they’re known for. For instance, there’s the hilarious, if graphic, sight gag featuring a swollen testicle that’s been bitten by a tarantula.

The dialogue can be crude, too, especially when characters discuss their sexuality and bodily functions. But betwixt and between the bottom-feeding jokes, director Thurber continues to ratchet up the tension as we watch the Millers do their best to deliver the weed despite alarming the authorities and being trailed by a vicious mobster (Tomer Sisley) with a claim on the contraband.

Picture Cheech & Chong on a National Lampoon Vacation!

Very Good (***). Rated R for pervasive profanity, crude sexuality, drug use and full-frontal male nudity

 

July 31, 2013

BookReview1Everything good about Detroit is available on iTunes.

—post on New York Times blog

“When the nation catches a cold, Detroit gets pneumonia,” people would say during the Depression, with auto sales dropping so drastically that by 1933 almost half the city’s autoworkers were unemployed. That infectious epigram, from Lars Bjorn’s Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit 1920-1960 (Univ. of Michigan Press 2001), has been in my thoughts the past week, or ever since I read the story in the July 18 New York Times (“Billions in Debt, Detroit Tumbles Into Insolvency”).

Being the worst sort of cockeyed optimist, I responded to the news by immediately flashing on positive personal associations with Detroit, at one time my favorite city outside New York and home of the most glorious skyscraper this side of the Chrysler Building. The iTunes remark posted on the Times blog contains a large grain of truth, however. The first singer I turn to when I’m feeling Melville’s “damp drizzly November in my soul” is Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops belting out “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” or “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” which Detroit’s emergency manager should put on PA systems all over the city every day at dawn and dusk, a Motown muezzin calling the faithful and unfaithful to aim high, not low. Stubbs was born in Detroit in 1936 and died there in 2008. He’s buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, as is Rosa Parks — and as are Edsel Ford and his son, although there have been reports that some of the monied dead have been transplanted to cemeteries in the suburbs. The tombstone for Levi Stubbs is shaped like a shiny black valentine with the legend Two Hearts Beat As One, waiting for the day his wife joins him.

BookReview2Another soul-saver buried at Woodlawn is the legendary jazz tenor Wardell Gray, who grew up in the Detroit area and attended one of the great American schools, Cass Tech, among a multitude of others including Donald Byrd, Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, Lucky Thompson, Alice Coltrane, Ellen Burstyn, Lily Tomlin, Kenny Burrell, and Diana Ross. Now that I think of it, they should put that Motown mantra, ”Where Did Our Love Go,” on the city-wide PA, let it play and play and play, it’s a song that never ends, the beat says so, it just goes and goes past death and time and taxes, you can’t stop it by turning it off. It’s the beat that never gives up and riding it is a voice you hear once in a lifetime, somewhere between Billie Holiday and Lata Mangeshkar. I’ll never forget the first time I heard that sound on the car radio driving into the depths of Brooklyn, thinking “Detroit!”

While the Supremes were seducing the world in the late 1960s, another Detroit-born singer whose father had come to the city in the 1920s from Mexico wasn’t faring so well. His two albums had gone nowhere, so he went to college, got a degree from Wayne State, worked in demolition, and one day Sixto Rodriquez woke up to find himself famous and beloved in another land, the fairy tale told in the Academy-Award-winning documentary, Searching for Sugar Man. Detroit needs another fairy tale. It was looking for one in May, not long after the emergency manager took over, when Rodriguez played to a capacity crowd at the Masonic Temple theatre. Tickets for the event had sold out within minutes and were fetching $200 on Craig’s List.

The Anti-Hero

A key figure in my boyhood vision of Detroit was Ty Cobb, the ultimate anti-hero, a racist scoundrel who carved out his career in the Motor City, tearing up the base paths, spiking infielders and pitchers covering first, and making himself a pariah while building a reputation as the greatest hitter and most exciting player ever. Though Cobb had long since retired when I was a 12-year-old St. Louis Cardinals fan, it was because of the Georgia Peach that I favored the Tigers over the other teams in the American League. Since I tended to identify cities with players, it was Good Guy St. Louis (Stan Musial) and Bad Guy Detroit (Ty Cobb). The bad guy ended his career in 1928, the same year a 47-story-high Art Deco skyscraper branded with the name of an Indian tribe in Maine was erected in the financial heart of downtown Detroit.

Detroit Noir

In a postcard of the Detroit skyline at night that I’ve had ever since a summer visit with my father when I was in seventh grade, the Penobscot Building looms in the center dominating everything, like some fantastic hall-of-the-mountain-king eminence with a red beacon blazing on top. For the past 85 years, with a headdressed Deco-style caricature of a stoic Indian chief carved above the arched entry, the mighty Penobscot has been looking down on the city. The year it went up it was the tallest building in the U.S. outside New York and the eighth tallest in the world. The Penobscot was also the star attraction of our trip to Detroit. At night we went for a walk, took in a Penny Arcade, and saw a sinister B movie that left me feeling uneasy and vulnerable as we walked around afterward. There was a hint of menace in the shadows between the street lamps on “the Main Street of Detroit,” Woodward Avenue.

What was there to fear from a street with a name as dull and ordinary as Woodward? All these years later I’ve figured it out. One day when I was maybe 10 looking through bound volumes of back issues of Life in the school library, I was startled by photos of the 1943 race riot, images of blacks being beaten and of a black kid my age being chased across Woodward Avenue by a mob of whites; another picture showed a streetcar on Woodward burning. Thirty-four people were killed in the three days of violence, 25 of them African Americans. During the riots, according to Before Motown, “whites claimed Woodward Avenue as theirs by attacking black moviegoers at the all-night Roxy and Colonial theaters, just a few blocks from the Near East Side ghetto.” Also on Woodward was the Paradise, Detroit’s “most important venue for black musical entertainment” through the 1940s. A number of jazz and rhythm and blues clubs were nearby in a neighborhood known as Paradise Valley, where buildings and shops were burned and looted during the riot.

Levi Stubbs would have been seven at the time. Less than a year later Diana Ross was born. Rodriguez was a year old. At 22, Wardell Gray had his first break in June 1943 and was touring with the Earl Hines big band, which played at the Paradise.

Crazy Numbers

The 1943 riots happened when Detroit was booming. Attracted by the humming defense industries, as many as 50,000 blacks and 300,000 whites, most from the south, converged on the city. Earlier that same month, when Packard promoted three blacks to work with whites on the assembly line, 25,000 whites walked off the job.

In 2013 the payroll for the Detroit Tigers — who play before an average crowd of 37,000 fans in a bankrupt city — is the fourth highest in the major leagues at $148,414,000. The highest paid member of the team, Prince Fielder (an African American), is making $23 million a year. Meanwhile, the city is planning to spend more than $400 million on a new hockey rena for the Red Wings.

Pequot and Penobscot

Tomorrow, August 1, is Herman Melville’s 194th birthday, and while it would be a stretch to find a Detroit connection for the author of Moby Dick, readers will remember that Melville named Ahab’s doomed ship the Pequod, which, with its craggy masthead, shared certain obvious generic Indian design elements with the Penobscot Building.

But who named it the Penobscot and why? According to historicdetroit.org, the lumber baron Simon J. Murphy, who made his fortune before settling in Detroit, spent his youth working the logging camps along the Penobscot River in Maine. So it was nostalgia for the river that gave the great tower its name. Penobscot, which means “the place where the rocks open out,” was Murphy’s version of Citizen Kane’s Rosebud. Another odd twist worth pointing out is that Melville chose to name Ahab’s ship after the Pequot because, as was thought in 1850, the tribe had been annihilated during the Pequot War and, writes Melville, “now are as extinct as the ancient Medes.” Truth once again outdoes fiction and the shapings of history as the Pequots reappear in the tribal casino culture of New England where online sources report that the Penobscot tribe in Maine taught the Pequots in Connecticut how to make big money from high-stakes bingo.

Then and now, ever and again, that’s what the deal comes down to.

The Right To Be

Detroit has no homegrown Melville, nor even a Saul Bellow or Philip Roth. Louis Ferdinand Celine worked in the Ford plant and wrote about it in Journey to the End of the Night (1932). In The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), Henry Miller called Detroit “the capital of the new planet — the one, I mean, which will kill itself off.”

Detroit does have a homegrown poet, Phillip Levine, who was born in 1928, the year Ty Cobb hung up his spikes and the Penobscot Building made its debut. Levine’s father sold used auto parts, his mother sold books. By age 14 he was working in automobile plants. After earning his BA at Wayne State (then Wayne University), he worked nights in the forge room at Chevrolet gear and axle before going to the University of Iowa, where he studied with Robert Lowell and John Berryman. In 2011, he became America’s poet laureate. In a Paris Review interview, he talks about going back to Detroit in 1987: “Much of what’s in the city was absent; there were no stores around, very few houses, no large buildings. Lots of empty spaces, vacant lots, almost like the Detroit I knew during the war …. [The poem, “A Walk With Tom Jefferson”] came out of the hope that the city might be reborn inside itself, out of its own ruins, phoenix-like, rising out of its own ashes. Except I don’t see it in heroic terms. The triumphs are small, personal, daily. Nothing grandly heroic is taking place; just animals and men and flowers and plants asserting their right to be, even in this most devastated of American cities.”

WASH DAY ON THE SUB-CONTINENT: Susan Winter’s painting, titled “The Washing” is one of several works inspired by scenes of India on view at the Plainsboro Library, 9 Van Doren Street, from August 3 to August 28 with a reception on Sunday, August 11, from 2 to 4 p.m., at which time the artist will be on hand to answer questions about her work. “Connecting Impressions,” features oils, oil/collages, and pastels and focuses on landscapes with figures.

WASH DAY ON THE SUB-CONTINENT: Susan Winter’s painting, titled “The Washing” is one of several works inspired by scenes of India on view at the Plainsboro Library, 9 Van Doren Street, from August 3 to August 28 with a reception on Sunday, August 11, from 2 to 4 p.m., at which time the artist will be on hand to answer questions about her work. “Connecting Impressions,” features oils, oil/collages, and pastels and focuses on landscapes with figures.

Susan I. Winter was born on a large farm in rural Monmouth County where she had few playmates outside of her family. And yet her paintings, even her landscapes, invariably include human figures. “I suppose it is this lonely background that lends itself to the themes of most of my work; I enjoy painting people either interacting with others or in quiet reflection” she says.

Now living in Hightstown, where, since 1983, she’s part of the Art Station Studio, which she describes as “a wonderful studio setting where other artists are available for both critique and support.” A certified teacher, she has taught art at the Peddie School, at Artworks in Trenton, and elsewhere throughout central New Jersey for over 35 years.

Her influences derive from Master Classes with Nelson Shanks and studies with Daniel Greene, Robert Sakson, Rhoda Yanow, Richard Pionk, Christina DeBarry, and Stephen Kennedy. One of her paintings was chosen to be included as part of the White House Collection and her painting “Ole Freehold” is owned by Bruce Springsteen

Inspired also by Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent, and, she says, awed by “their genius and value to the art community,” she is a charter member of the New Jersey Pastel Painters Society and a member of numerous galleries and arts councils including the West Windsor Arts Council.

Her recent exhibitions include works on paper at the Philadelphia Sketch Club, and one-woman shows at Bordentown’s Farnsworth Gallery, Trenton’s Gallery on Lafayette, and Princeton’s Triumph Brewery.

Interviewed by phone, the artist shared her excitement at this new exhibition, titled “Connecting Impressions.” “The Plainsboro show is a perfect opportunity for me to express my love of people, and let my viewers see how important my personal connections with humanity are to me,” she says.

The artist’s rural upbringing figures heavily in her art, and although she works predominantly with landscapes, people play a critical role in the theme of each piece. But it wasn’t always so. From 1985 to 1996, she worked as a freelance artist with Greater Media Newspapers. “For 10 years I did nothing but paint portraits of houses; after that I did landscapes because that’s what galleries were interested in, but now I include people in my paintings and that’s what excites me about this show,” she says.

“Connecting Impressions” will feature oils, oil/collages, and pastels, paintings of seemingly ordinary scenes that are awash with light and color. Look for her lively park scene, Girl with the Yellow Balloon and The Washing, her rendering of women washing clothes in the Ganges.

In a statement of her artistic philosophy, Ms. Winter says: “I try to capture the beauty of my life: impossible; to try to capture the beauty in each extraordinary moment is only possible through the artist’s eye and imagination. This is my goal with each new painting.”

Ms. Winter’s exhibit will be at the Plainsboro Library from August 3 to August 28 with a reception on Sunday, August 11, from 2 to 4 p.m., at which time the artist will be on hand to answer questions about her work.

The Plainsboro Library is located at 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. For more on the artist and her work, visit: www.paintings
bysusanwinter.com.

For more information, call (609) 275-2897.

 

Art Times Two Gallery, Princeton Brain and Spine Care, 731 Alexander Road, presents photos by Eileen Hohmuth-Lemonick and Kris Giacobbe, titled “REPORT: Providing Health Care Where Basic Needs are Unmet” through November. View by appointment. Call (609) 203-4622.

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, has works by painters Alla Podolsky and Charlie Katzenbach through August 4. Visit lambertvillearts.com.

Artworks, Everett Alley, Trenton, presents “nOgWorks,” a group exhibit from the AbOminOg Arts Collective, August 6-September 21. The opening reception is August 10, 6-8 p.m. www.ArtworksTrenton.org.

Bernstein Gallery, Robertson Hall, Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University has “Passages: Mixed Media Artwork by Ela Shah” through September 11. (609) 497-2441.

D&R Greenway Land Trust, 1 Preservation Place, Olivia Rainbow Gallery, has the Ennis Beley Project/Young Audiences “Arts for Living” Photography Exhibit: The Cartography of Self,” through August 2. Visit www.drgreenway.org.

Ellarslie, Trenton’s City Museum in Cadwalader Park, Parkside Avenue, Trenton, presents “Trenton Entourage Motors ‘Round the World in 1909” through September 22. (609) 989-1191.

Firestone Library at Princeton University, has “A Republic in the Wilderness: Treasures of American History from Jamestown to Appomattox” on view through August 4.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, has a juried show through August 11. Visit photogallery14.com.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, Cranbury, has paintings by Arthur Anderson August 4-25. The opening is August 4, 1-3 p.m.

Grounds for Sculpture, Fairgrounds Road in Hamilton, has Pepon Osorio’s “Where the Me Becomes We” and Jonathan Shahn’s “Heads in Wood and Plaster” in the Domestic Arts Building through September 22. Visit www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, has photographs from its collection in the Princeton Pride Gallery. “We Love Princeton: Stories from the Street” and “Einstein at Home” are also on view. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has “Creative Hand, Discerning Heart: Form, Rhythm, Song” through September 29. “Nelson Shanks: A Brush with Reality” is exhibited through September 8. “Harry Bertoia: Structure and Sound” is on view through October 13. Visit www.michenerart
museum.org.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, has “Henri-Gabriel Ibels” through September 8. “Stars: Contemporary Prints by Derriere L’Etoile Studio” is on view through September 29. “Leningrad’s Perestroika: Crosscurrents in Photography, Video, and Music” is on view through September 13.

Lawrence Library, 2751 Brunswick Pike, Lawrenceville, has cartoons and illustrations by Ralph Schlegel, retired editorial cartoonist, August 1-30. Cartoons, greeting cards, and children’s books are part of the display. Visit www.mcl.org.

Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, shows “Coastal Impression, Painters of the Jersey Shore, 1880-1940” through September 29. Visit www.morven.org.

Plainsboro Library Gallery, 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro, has “Connecting Impressions” by Susan Winter August 3-28. The reception is August 11, 2-4 p.m.

The Princeton University Art Museum has “Shared Vision: The Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla Collection of Photography” through September 15. “Faces and Facets: Recent Acquisitions” is on view through August 18. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Silverman Gallery, 4920 York Route (Route 202), Buckingham Green, Buckingham, Pa., shows “Side by Side,” with more than 175 works by the gallery’s four artists, August 3-September 28. Visit www.silvermangal
lery.com.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has works by Aaron Epstein through August 6.

The “A” Space Gallery, 37 West Bridge Street, New Hope, has a photography show by Scott Riether and a glass work display by Alexander Bjorn Papageorge Fridays-Sundays August 3-25. The opening is August 2, 7-10 p.m.

Veridian Gallery, 43 South Main Street, Pennington, has recent oil paintings and studies by Thom Montanari through September 13.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, West Windsor, has works by faculty members on view through September 6. Artists are Priscilla Snow Algava, Hong Lu, Donna Payton, Aparajita Pooja Sen, Adam Reck, and Zakia Ahmed.

 

HEY, OFFICER, I’M JUST ON MY WAY HOME FROM A PARTY: Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) refuses to obey the Oakland police officer’s order to lie on his stomach so he could be handcuffed. The subsequent scuffle with two police officers results in Grant being Tasered and then mortally wounded by a bullet fired into his back.

HEY, OFFICER, I’M JUST ON MY WAY HOME FROM A PARTY: Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) refuses to obey the Oakland police officer’s order to lie on his stomach so he could be handcuffed. The subsequent scuffle with two police officers results in Grant being Tasered and then mortally wounded by a bullet fired into his back.

Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) and his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz), were returning to Oakland in the wee hours of the morning after attending a New Year’s Eve 2009 celebration. Their crowded train was stopped by police in response to a report of a disturbance on the train. Oscar was among a number of male passengers ordered onto the platform at Fruitvale Station, where he was initially told to sit quietly with his back against the wall.

However, he was subsequently ordered to lie on his stomach so that he could be handcuffed and placed under arrest. When he resisted, a struggle ensued during which Oscar could be heard begging not to be Tasered as a cop yelling “bitch-ass [N-word]” forced him to the ground.

Another officer pulled out a pistol and shot Oscar, who was unarmed, in the back, prompting the mortally-wounded young father to exclaim, “I got a 4 year-old daughter!” The incident was captured on a cell phone by a passenger who posted the video on Youtube, which turned the controversial slaying into an international event.

Was Oscar callously executed or accidentally killed by a cop who may have mistaken his .40 caliber weapon for his stun gun? The officer’s guilt or innocence, a matter that is left for a jury to decide, is not the primary focus of Fruitvale Station.

Instead, this bittersweet biopic humanizes the colorful Oscar Grant by chronicling the series of events that led up to his untimely death. The film depicts the last day in the 22-year-old’s abbreviated life, as he interacts affectionately with Sophina, their daughter (Ariana Neal), his mother (Octavia Spencer), pals, strangers, and relatives.

For instance, we see Oscar inform his girlfriend that he’s lost his job as a clerk at the local supermarket. Later, he tucks tiny Tatiana into bed and promises to take her to Chuck E. Cheese the next day. And he ominously takes his mother’s erroneous advice that riding the train would be a lot safer than driving to San Francisco that fateful night.

Already winning awards at both the Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals, Fruitvale Station marks the writing and directorial debut of Ryan Coogler. A recent graduate of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, the 27 year-old Coogler exhibits the talents of a seasoned veteran here, crafting a character driven tale that’s touching and emotionally engaging without resorting to sentimentality or melodrama.

Some of the credit must also go to Michael B. Jordan for his compelling warts-and-all portrayal of Oscar, a complicated soul with perhaps as many positive attributes as faults. The support cast deserves a share of the accolades, too, for ensuring that the production, well grounded in a sobering, inner-city reality, never hits a false note.

Whether Oscar Grant deserves to be remembered as a martyr or a provocateur, this poignant portrait of him as a flawed free-spirit is moving enough to be remembered at Academy Awards time.

Excellent (****). Unrated. Running time: 85 minutes. Distributor: The Weinstein Company.

 

July 24, 2013

dvd revI knew, the first time I saw Before Sunrise, that here was a film for which I felt not only interest or admiration but love; a film I would want to revisit repeatedly over the years; one that would join the short list of films that remain constant favourites.

Robin Wood in Cine-Action (1996)

I have a low tolerance for uninformed superlatives like the one casually inflicted on readers by David Brooks in a recent column to wit, “As every discerning person knows, The Searchers is the greatest movie ever made.” I still ask myself, “Is he kidding?” It’s not even the greatest western, let alone John Ford’s greatest western. So just please stop it with the greatest this and the greatest that, okay?

But here I am writing about something truly great. What to do? I decided to let the late Robin Wood (1931-2009), one of the few film critics I respect, say it for me, though I’m not sure that I agree with him that Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise belongs all by itself with “the dozen or so films that exemplify ‘cinema’ at its finest.” But put it together with Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight, which was all too briefly at the Garden not long ago, and I’m on board. I’ll even go him one better and say that the saga of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is a historic accomplishment, a classic that will still be shown and loved long after the blockbusters and Academy faves of today and yesterday and tomorrow are forgotten.

Sadly, Robin Wood died without seeing Before Midnight. Writing in 2005, he could only wonder, as did everyone, whether the story of Celine and Jesse would continue: “Linklater’s artistic integrity as a filmmaker is really on the line.” What will he do next? Maybe the story was “too fragile to pursue any further into the wilds of time and history.”

In fact, Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy pursued the story all the way to the sunny wilds of Greece and have brought back Before Midnight, a triumphant affirmation of “artistic integrity” on all fronts. When the new film comes out on DVD, viewers will be able to watch the whole epic romance from sunrise to sunset to midnight, and wonder “How did they do it?”

Chemistry 

Any film worth seeing benefits from the chemistry between the actors or between actors and director, actors and screenplay. But Linklater’s films are about chemistry, which is what Ethan Hawke seems to be getting at in a 2007 Guardian interview when he says that Chekhov would like Before Sunset “because it’s all about nuance … it’s completely fluid, just chasing the nuance of life, and kind of believing whatever God is lives in this kind of energy that flows between all of us.”

Hawke is close to echoing what Delpy’s Celine says to his Jesse in Before Sunrise: “I believe if there’s any kind of God it wouldn’t be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between.”

If you read enough interviews with Delpy, Hawke, and Linklater, you’ll notice a definite overlap between things said in “real life” and things said in character. What Celine says next speaks to the interface between imagination and reality that these three films live in so productively: “If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something.”

Which could also mean the filmic magic of connecting and sharing, character to character, actor to character, actor to actor, actor to director.

Connecting

When Hawke and Delpy were making Before Sunrise, they were concerned about all the dialogue, asking Linklater “Shouldn’t it at least be funny? Is this boring?” In a recent conversation on reddit.com, Hawke remembers Linklater telling them that “he’d never been in a helicopter crash, he’d never been involved in any espionage, he’d never been to Outer Space, and yet his life felt full of drama. And the most dramatic thing that ever happened to him was the experience of truly connecting with another person. And he really wanted to try to make a movie about that, about that connection, about that exchange of energy, ideas.”

Before Sunrise opens on a train between Budapest and Vienna as the noise made by a squabbling married couple (definitely some negative chemistry) drives Celine to move to a seat where she can read in peace. Jesse is sitting reading across the aisle. Given the battle coming 18 years later between the 40-something Jesse and Celine in Before Midnight, there’s an ironic resonance in knowing that the first thing these two strangers talk about is a fighting middle-aged couple. After a conversation in the dining car that moves like music (the more they play, the more they connect), they get off together in Vienna and fall in love during a night walking around the city, where they encounter a couple of actors, a palm reader, a trusting bartender, and a panhandler who composes poems to order. Before going their separate ways, they agree to meet in Vienna in six month’s time; he shows up, she doesn’t. In the nine years that follow, Jesse gets married, has a child, and writes a novel based on that night in Vienna, and as Before Sunset begins, he’s answering questions after a reading at a bookshop in Paris (Shakespeare and Company, itself an enduring symbol of the literary connection between the U.S. and France). When he’s asked what made him write the novel, he repeats almost verbatim what Linklater said about the genesis of the film (another example of real-life/film-life overlap), the helicopter crash, Outer Space, “connecting with another person.” A minute later he looks to the side and there’s Celine.

A Night in Philadelphia

The connection Linklater had in mind when he was explaining the dynamic of Before Sunrise to his actors happened by chance in October 1989. Jesse and Celine’s night in Vienna is based on a night in Philadelphia. Although Linklater has spoken about his American Celine in interviews after the release of Before Midnight, he first mentioned her in 1997 to a freelance reporter for the Allentown Pa. Morning Call: “The whole plot for Before Sunrise was inspired by a woman I met in Philadelphia. I was just hanging out with my sister, who used to live near Rittenhouse Square, and I met this woman at a toy store. I just got to talking to her and then we went out later and hung out the whole night.” Linklater recently described her to The Times of London as “crazy, cute, wonderful energy.” According to a Q&A podcast with Jeff Goldsmith, Linklater admitted that “even as that experience was going on … I was like, ‘I’m gonna make a film about this.’ And she was like, ‘What ‘this’? What’re you talking about?’ And I was like, ‘Just this. This feeling. This thing that’s going on between us.’”

Just as Jesse wrote a novel about their night together, hoping that it might bring Celine back into his life, Linklater thought Before Sunrise might bring Celine’s inspiration back into his. But there was no sequel to Linklater’s story. Around the time Before Sunrise opened, the woman, Amy Lehrhaupt, was killed in a motorcycle accident; she was 24. Linklater found out about it only three years ago. Before Midnight is dedicated to her memory.

Another woman key to the realization of Linklater’s vision is Kim Krizan, with whom he collaborated on the screenplay. Once Hawke and Delpy were cast, they began contributing to the dialogue, though they were not credited until Before Sunset, for which they shared a Best Screenplay Academy Award nomination with Linklater and Krizan. In recent interviews, Delpy and Hawke stress the fact that a key factor in Linklater’s decision to cast them was that both were also writers. (Hawke, who grew up in Princeton, will have a new novel out, his third, within a year.)

Making Music

I’ll say it again: as blockbusters come and go, Celine and Jesse will be remembered and revered, for there’s really nothing in cinema quite like the inspired counterpoint played out between Delpy and Hawke. One of the greatest movies ever made about a couple, F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise, was subtitled A Song of Two Humans, which would not be a bad fit for the word-music of Celine and Jessie, as they riff, spar, solo, and jam, two players so intricately attuned, their timing so uncanny, never stiff, forced, stylized or confined: even when one speaks over the other, they’re in tune, harmonics and dissonance in a deceptively effortless interplay that feels improvised and truly lived even though every line is scripted, thought out, debated, and thoroughly rehearsed.

You could compare these three films to any number of brilliantly played and directed conversation-centered projects, like Ma Nuit Chez Maud and other works by Erich Rohmer, or, most obviously, Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, but Hawke and Delphy perform on another level, possessed of an identification with their characters that is downright eerie. Acting is acting in Rohmer and Bergman: people playing parts. Delpy and Hawke are so deeply invested in Celine and Jesse that even as they’re acting their hearts out it doesn’t show. Though they work closely with Linklater, almost as if he were an invisible third actor, their alter egos Celine and Julie have transcended them; as both have observed, the characters inhabit a parallel universe spanning two decades, waiting to be inhabited and brought back to life on film by their writer actors.

When Jesse and Celine finally begin to say what needs to be said in the back of the chauffeur-driven car toward the end of Before Sunset you can already hear the music of the last movement. As Celine puts her arms around Jesse before they go up to her flat, saying “I want to see if you stay together or if you dissolve into molecules,” she’s picking up on something he said minutes before (“I feel like if someone touched me I’d dissolve into molecules”). This is how it works. Maybe Delpy came up with that line or maybe the actress knew, with the character, that the hug had to happen, if only to reprise and resolve, like a motif in music, the moment in the car when her feeling for Jesse as he lamented his lot was so strong that she kept reaching to touch him and drawing back.

The scene in the hotel room in Before Midnight explodes like a climactic demonstration of the positive/negative energy of connection flowing between them. While these two no-longer-young lovers may be struggling and despairing in middle age, it’s clear that Hawke and Delpy are enjoying each other in the fire of the moment as much as they did when they were talking about reincarnation in Vienna or astrology and fate or Nina Simone in Paris. Even when they’re fighting they’re making music.

Let’s end it in Greece, as Celine and Jesse watch the sun disappear below the horizon. “Still there,” says Celine. “Still there. Still there. Gone.”

Multiple copies of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are available at the Princeton Public Library.

 

THE SOUND OF AIR AND STEEL: Harry Bertoia (1915-1978), Untitled, c. 1970s, Ink on paper, 22 x 27 inches from the collection of Celia Bertoia is part of the exhibition “Harry Bertoia: Structure and Sound,” through October 13 at the Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine St., Doylestown, Pa. For admission and hours, call (215) 340-9800 or visit: www.michenerartmuseum.org.

THE SOUND OF AIR AND STEEL: Harry Bertoia (1915-1978), Untitled, c. 1970s, Ink on paper, 22 x 27 inches from the collection of Celia Bertoia is part of the exhibition “Harry Bertoia: Structure and Sound,” through October 13 at the Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine St., Doylestown, Pa. For admission and hours, call (215) 340-9800 or visit: www.michenerartmuseum.org.

“Structure and Sound,” an exhibition of sculpture, furniture, monoprints, and jewelry by the Italian-born artist Harry Bertoia, opened Saturday, July 20 in the Beans Gallery at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown.

Described as a man ahead of his time, Bertoia (1915-1978) experimented with space and sound. A longtime resident of Bally, Pennsylvania, he created his well-known sonambient or tonal sounding sculptures and designed furniture for Knoll, Inc. there.

Born in 1915 in San Lorenzo, Italy, Bertoia came to the United States at the age of 15 to visit his older brother. He learned art, design, and jewelry making in high school and at the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, now the College for Creative Studies.

In 1937 he received a scholarship to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art where he encountered the work of Walter Gropius, Edmund N. Bacon, and Ray and Charles Eames whose wedding rings he designed and made.

In 1943, when he married Brigitta Valentiner, the couple moved to California to work for Charles and Ray Eames.

His early studies in printmaking and metalwork at the Cranbrook Academy of Art informed the work of his later career. Drawing was an important part of the artist’s creative process, and many of his compositions articulate his planning and experimentation for sculpture.

In 1950, at the invitation of the Knoll furniture design company, he moved to eastern Pennsylvania and designed, among other pieces, the Bertoia Diamond Chair series, a series of wireframe chairs that became an iconic part of the modern furniture movement. His famous “Diamond Chair’ is a fluid, sculptural form made from a molded lattice work of welded steel. He described the chairs as being “mainly made of air, like sculpture. Space passes right through them.”

Made by hand and produced with varying amounts of upholstery over their light grid-work, the chairs were an immediate commercial success and are still sold by Knoll today. Bertoia’s earnings from them allowed him to devote himself exclusively to sculpture and to explore the ways in which metal could be manipulated to produce sound. By stretching and bending the metal, he made it respond to wind or to touch, creating different tones.

The Tonal

The sculpture most associated with Bertoia is “The Tonal.” Varying in size from a few inches up to 19 feet and made of steel, copper, and brass rods capped with cylinders or drops of metal, Bertoia’s sculptures swayed, emitting sounds according to the weight and materials of their composition.

He performed with his pieces, manipulating his artwork manually, in a number of concerts and produced a series of ten albums, all entitled Sonambient.

The artist’s Pennsylvania home and studio included a barn space installation of 75 tonals of varying heights and is maintained today by his son, Val Bertoia, who is also an artist. Occasional symphonic musical performances are held there. Album recordings made by Harry Bertoia are included in the Michener installation.

Besides tonal and static sculptures by Bertoia, the exhibition also features work from his explorations into jewelry making, crafting organic forms of silver and copper, as well as monoprints and furniture. It is made up of selections from private collections, as well as from the Reading Public Museum, Knoll, Inc., the Woodmere Art Museum, and the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College.

Bertoia is known not only for his signature 1952 Diamond Chair but also for his work with a number of major 20th century architects: Eero Saarinen, Henry Dreyfuss, Roche & Dinkeloo, Minoru Yamasaki, Edward Durell Stone, I. M. Pei and others. In 1956, he received the AIA Craftsmanship Award, followed by the Critic’s Award in 1968.

His work is held in numerous public collections including the Brooklyn Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and museums in Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, and Washington, D.C.

To coincide with the exhibition, independent scholar Mary Thorp, who has been cataloguing Bertoia’s sculptures, organizing exhibitions, and lecturing on his work at auction houses, museums and universities since 1998, will give an overview of the artist’s work on Tuesday, September 17, from 1 to 3 p.m. The artist’s daughter, Celia Bertoia, who is currently at work on a biography of her father, will discuss his techniques and share behind-the-scenes stories on Friday, October 4, from 2 to 3 p.m.

“Harry Bertoia: Structure and Sound,” continues through October 13 at the Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine St., Doylestown, Pa. For admission and hours, call (215) 340-9800 or visit: www.michenerartmuseum.org.

ROMANCE, INTRIGUE AND ABSURDITY: Evan Thompson as the dashing Richard Hannay and Holly Linneman, who plays all three of Hannay’s love interests, strike a pose in rehearsal for Princeton Summer Theater’s production of “The 39 Steps,” playing at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through July 28.

ROMANCE, INTRIGUE AND ABSURDITY: Evan Thompson as the dashing Richard Hannay and Holly Linneman, who plays all three of Hannay’s love interests, strike a pose in rehearsal for Princeton Summer Theater’s production of “The 39 Steps,” playing at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through July 28.

In the opening moments of Princeton Summer Theater’s ceaselessly entertaining The 39 Steps, Richard Hannay, the dashing hero, sits alone in his London apartment. It’s 1935, between the Wars. He is sipping his scotch and soda and suffering the pangs of ennui.

“Picked up an evening paper, put it back. Full of elections and wars and rumors of wars. And I thought — who the bloody hell cares frankly? What does it all matter? What happens to anyone? What happens to me? No-one’d miss me ….” He then decides, “Find something to do, you bloody fool! Something mindless and trivial. Something utterly pointless. Something — I know! A visit to the theater! That should do the trick!” And his action-packed adventures commence.

True to its iconic source material, which it both spoofs and celebrates, The 39 Steps, adapted by Patrick Barlow from a 1915 detective novel by John Buchan, a 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie, and an original concept by Simon Corbel and Nobby Dimon, is a murder mystery thriller. There’s the suave protagonist; exotic, beautiful, and mysterious heroines; unremitting intrigue; a desperate struggle, with the fate of England at stake; narrow escapes; train chases; airplane crashes; treacherous bridges; a dastardly Nazi villain with a missing little finger; and much more.

But this 2005 British hit, still running in the West End, brought to the U.S. in 2008 for a Roundabout Theater production then two years on Broadway, goes far beyond its source material. With minimal set and only four actors playing all — I lost count at 130 — parts here, The 39 Steps becomes a tour de force that revels in the magic of theater and the amazing, inventive, ridiculously implausible act of creating something out of only the performers’ creative imagination and the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief.

“Mindless and trivial”? “Utterly pointless,” as Hannay says before heading off to the theater? Yes, indeed, particularly in this rambunctious, outrageous, and whimsical mode — but hard to beat for sheer fun and theatrical virtuosity.

This parody of Hitchcock’s famous movie, with additional allusions to Stranger on a Train, Rear Window, Psycho, Vertigo, and North by Northwest, will resonate with film buffs, but no prior film knowledge is necessary to enjoy this show, which is much more about theatricality than film. In its rapturous embracing of the challenges of staging the unstageable, in its wildly energetic and ridiculously serious commitment to creating the plentiful characters and the murder mystery/spy thriller world of the play, the four actors and their top-flight production team deliver a delightfully engaging and thoroughly entertaining evening.

Jeff Kuperman, busily involved in New York theater, dance, and film over the past year since his Princeton University graduation, has directed and choreographed The 39 Steps with fabulous timing and an unerring comic sense. The melodrama, the high camp, the breakneck pace, the coordination of props, actors, sound, lights, costume changes, and the unremitting physical and verbal humor could easily misfire in the hands of less skilled, committed and talented performers, and production crew. The professional Princeton Summer Theater team is highly focused and carefully, skillfully rehearsed — even more impressive here than in their two fine productions (the intimate musical comedy She Loves Me and the comedic southern gothic Crimes of the Heart) earlier this summer.

After Hannay’s brief opening scene, the plot wastes no time in picking up speed. At the theater Hannay (Evan Thompson) meets a beautiful, mysterious woman (Holly Linneman), who turns out to be a foreign spy. When, in the middle of the night, she lands in his lap with a knife in her back and a map of Scotland in her hand, Hannay quickly realizes he must find the ruthless perpetrators, a clandestine organization called “the 39 Steps.” He also must escape both the authorities who suspect him for murder and the villains who want him dead, and solve this international espionage mystery before vital security information leaves England. The chase is on!

As the debonair hero, Mr. Thompson adopts the perfect balance of camp and commitment, of ironic detachment, and deadly serious involvement in his heroic and romantic quest. He plays almost every spy thriller cliché you can imagine with appropriate panache that is larger than life but never overdone. The age stretch is daunting — Mr. Thompson is a couple of decades away from the age 40ish world weariness of the character as originally conceived, but he blends the Hitchcock and Monty Python styles brilliantly to provide a solid core to the production.

Ms. Linneman, with an eccentric array of wigs and accents, plays all three leading ladies — all stunningly beautiful, all intricately involved in the fate of Hannay, and all straight out of the conventions of the film noir spy thriller tradition. As ill-fated foreign spy, then innocent, amorous, doe-eyed country lass, then savvy woman of the world, she is a worthy counterpart to Hannay. She keeps up her defenses, sparring verbally and physically with Hannay until the end. Ms. Linneman is on target, thoroughly in character — all three characters — while playing the high drama and romance just broadly enough to suit the prevailing tone of spoof and hijinks.

And the other 130 plus roles fall into the capable hands — and legs and faces and every other conceivable body part and vocal distortion and costume piece — of Brad Wilson and Pat Rounds, listed in the program as simply Clowns 1 and 2. These astonishingly versatile performers, who act, sing, dance, and perform all sorts of physical and vocal acrobatics throughout the evening, do not need named-in-the-program leading-character roles in order to steal the show.

Perhaps the greatest delight of watching The 39 Steps comes in observing the imagination and virtuosity of these zany, chameleon-like actors as they instantaneously transform themselves and their settings into whatever this plot-laden script demands. My favorite hilarious transformations include Mr. Wilson’s jealous old crofter husband; all of his outrageous, bewigged, heavily accented gender crosses — the shocked maid, the domineering wife of the villain and the Scottish innkeeper’s wife; Mr. Rounds’ dastardly, pinky-less spy master and heavy-handed Scottish innkeeper; the two clowns’ dazzling simultaneous depictions of train passengers, porter, paperboy, conductor, and policeman; and, of course — quite a character stretch even for these theater magicians, the roles of puddles in the road on the dangerous journey through the Scottish moors. Individually, in tandem and in interactions with the two protagonists, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Rounds provide the audience with an abundance of laughs and surprises.

The production elements here are almost as remarkable as the fine performances. Jeffrey Van Velsor’s minimal set — ladders, chairs, wheeling doors and windows — affords unlimited possibilities and opportunities for this company to display its ingenuity and boundless imagination. (What they do with windows must be seen to be believed.) Laura Hildebrand’s technical direction and Alex Mannix’s lighting design, along with sound design by Mr. Kuperman, all cohere to create this wild romp through a caricatured world of murder mystery and romance. The comic timing—actors’ delivery of lines, gesture, interactions, and physical humor, sound, lighting, props and set movements — is consistently on point.

In the same Monty Python-esque, larger-than-life mode, Annika Bennett and Maeve Brady’s richly inventive, colorful costuming — featuring a wild collection of wigs, hats, and numerous other accessories, and Gordon Jacoby’s dialect coaching skillfully both create and mock the world of The 39 Steps.

Don’t look for interesting character psychology, depth, or development here. Despite the distinguished source material, don’t look for a plausible or even consistently comprehensible plot to keep you on the edge of your seat. But “a visit to the theater” certainly helped Richard Hannay to overcome his ennui, and for sheer entertainment, hilarity, and a joyful tribute to the wonders of theatricality, PST’s production of The 39 Steps is bound to please.

 

William and Judith Scheide clearly have deep roots in Princeton, but until this past week, no one in the community knew about their strong connection to the Philadelphia Orchestra. From his earliest days at Princeton University, Mr. Scheide was a Friday afternoon concert-goer to Philadelphia’s Academy of Music, where he no doubt reveled in the orchestra’s rendition of Leopold Stokowski’s lush arrangements of Bach. Judith Scheide also attended Philadelphia Orchestra concerts, perhaps unknowingly at the same performances as Mr. Scheide. The stars converged last Wednesday night as the Scheides, conductor Mark Laycock (no stranger to the orchestra himself) and “Those Fabulous Philadelphians” came together at Richardson Auditorium for the annual Scheide Midsummer Celebration. The Philadelphia Orchestra has not performed in Princeton since 1964, and although many Princetonians likely make the journey to the Orchestra’s new home at the Kimmel Center, there is nothing like the ensemble’s clean, precise and rich playing in Princeton’s own backyard.

The legendary Philadelphia Orchestra “sound” has changed since the days of Eugene Ormandy’s performance at McCarter Theatre in 1964. Once heavy on string sonorities and legato playing, principal conductors since Ormandy, most notably Wolfgang Sawallisch and Christoph Eschenbach, crafted a leaner and more supple string sound and introduced a number of young players into the ensemble, adding to the Orchestra’s musical vibrancy. Wednesday night’s concert of refreshing and energetic works showed a wide range of dynamic and stylistic nuance, and it was clear that conductor Mark Laycock was having a great time painting on the Philadelphia Orchestra palette.

Sergei Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony No. 1 in D Major is one of the composer’s most popular works, but not many ensembles can execute it at the speed at which Mr. Laycock began the opening Allegro movement. Ultimate precision marked this performance, whether it was a pair of bassoons against pizzicato violins, the internal winds of the third movement Gavotta or timpanist Don Liuzzi finding an incredible range of dynamics — always on the front edge of the rhythm. Conducting from memory, Mr. Laycock was thoroughly comfortable with all the works on the program, and the Prokofiev was an effective way to reintroduce the Philadelphia Orchestra to the Princeton community.

Carl Maria von Weber’s opera overtures have survived almost more successfully than the operas themselves, and his Overture to Oberon well captured the early 19th-century German musical preoccupation with magic and the supernatural. Particularly marked by Jeffrey Lang’s clear and resonant horn solo, rich sectional playing from the violas and celli, and a languorous clarinet solo from Samuel Caviezel, the orchestra’s performance of this Overture emphasized the same dynamic rises in intensity as can be heard in Weber’s more familiar Overture to Der Freischütz.

The Philadelphia Orchestra demonstrated its ability to deftly shift musical gears as Mr. Laycock led the instrumentalists through the seven-part set of Variations on a Theme Of Haydn by Johannes Brahms. Remarkably light and airy in orchestration (especially the combination of winds and lower strings, and clarinets and horns), the Brahms work was led by Mr. Laycock with effective changes in tempo and character as the ensemble reached its fullest sound half-way through. The seventh variation in particular showed a nice lilt and smooth blend of sound within the Baroque Siciliano form.

The orchestra reached its height of majestic power in Robert Schumann’s Spring Symphony, full of characteristic youthful energy and rich chorale textures. A programmatic work in its connection to poetry, Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major was full of difficult stops and starts which the orchestra handled well, and smooth transitions between sections, especially in the third movement alternation of Scherzos and Trios. The fourth movement Allegro Animato was played with a strong emphasis on animato, evoking the playfulness of summer. A spirited encore of the Overture to Glinka’s opera Russlan and Ludmilla brought a grand and glorious finish to a summer concert which has become equally as grand a tradition in the community.

 

Art Times Two Gallery, Princeton Brain and Spine Care, 731 Alexander Road, presents photos by Eileen Hohmuth-Lemonick and Kris Giacobbe, titled “REPORT: Providing Health Care Where Basic Needs are Unmet” through November. View by appointment. Call (609) 203-4622.

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, has works by painters Alla Podolsky and Charlie Katzenbach through August 4. Visit lambertvillearts.com.

Arts Council of Princeton, Paul Robeson Center, 102 Witherspoon Street, has a Terrace Project by Chris Maher and Instructor/Student Work on view through July. www.artscouncilof
princeton.org.

Artworks, Everett Alley, Trenton, presents “nOgWorks,” a group exhibit from the AbOminOg Arts Collective, August 6-September 21. The opening reception is August 10, 6-8 p.m. www.ArtworksTrenton.org.

Bernstein Gallery, Robertson Hall, Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University has “Passages: Mixed Media Artwork by Ela Shah” through September 11. (609) 497-2441.

D&R Greenway Land Trust, 1 Preservation Place, Olivia Rainbow Gallery, has the Ennis Beley Project/Young Audiences “Arts for Living” Photography Exhibit: “The Cartography of Self,” through August 2. Visit www.drgreenway.org.

Ellarslie, Trenton’s City Museum in Cadwalader Park, Parkside Avenue, Trenton, presents the Delaware Valley Fine Crafts Invitational and “Memories of Warsaw,” paintings and drawings by Kyle Hamilton, through July 28. “Trenton Entourage Motors ‘Round the World in 1909” is on view through September 22. (609) 989-1191.

Firestone Library at Princeton University, has “Your True Friend and Enemy: Princeton and the Civil War” in the Mudd Manuscript Library through July 31. “A Republic in the Wilderness: Treasures of American History from Jamestown to Appomattox” is on view through August.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, has a juried show through August 11. Visit photogallery14.com.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, Cranbury, has “Caithness and Sutherland Landscapes,” photos by Kelli Lynn Abdoney, through July 28. From August 4-25, paintings by Arthur Anderson are on exhibit. The opening is August 4, 1-3 p.m.

Grounds for Sculpture, Fairgrounds Road in Hamilton, has Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” in the East Gallery through July. In the Meadow, “THRE3” and “MYTHOS” are on view. Visit www.groundsforsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, has photographs from its collection in the Princeton Pride Gallery. “We Love Princeton: Stories from the Street” and “Einstein at Home” are also on view. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has “Creative Hand, Discerning Heart: Form, Rhythm, Song” through September 29. “Nelson Shanks: A Brush with Reality” is exhibited through September 8. “Harry Bertoia: Structure and Sound” is on view through October 13. Visit www.michenerart
museum.org.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, has “Henri-Gabriel Ibels” through September 8. “Stars: Contemporary Prints by Derriere L’Etoile Studio” is on view through September 29. “Leningrad’s Perestroika: Crosscurrents in Photography, Video, and Music” is on view through September 13.

Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, shows “Coastal Impression, Painters of the Jersey Shore, 1880-1940” through September 29. Visit www.morven.org.

New Hope Arts Center, 37 West Bridge Street, New Hope, has “Cut and Paste: The Art of Ruth Marcus” in its A Space Gallery through July 28.

Plainsboro Library Gallery, 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro, has “Trash Menagerie,” featuring art made from found objects and recycled materials by the library’s Artist Group through July 30.

The Princeton University Art Museum has “Shared Vision: The Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla Collection of Photography” through September 15. “Faces and Facets: Recent Acquisitions” is on view through August 18. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

Silverman Gallery, 4920 York Route (Route 202), Buckingham Green, Buckingham, Pa., shows “Side by Side,” with more than 175 works by the gallery’s four artists, August 3-September 28. Visit www.silvermangal
lery.com.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has works by Aaron Epstein through August 6.

Veridian Gallery, 43 South Main Street, Pennington, has recent oil paintings and studies by Thom Montanari through September 13.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, West Windsor, has works by faculty members on view through September 6. Artists are Priscilla Snow Algava, Hong Lu, Donna Payton, Aparajita Pooja Sen, Adam Reck, and Zakia Ahmed.

NOW TELL US IN DETAIL WHAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING IN YOUR HOUSE: Ron and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, seated at the right side of the table) in desperation have turned to Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, seated at the left side of the table), recognized psychic researchers, to help exorcise the evil spirit which resides in the Perron’s house.

NOW TELL US IN DETAIL WHAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING IN YOUR HOUSE: Ron and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, seated at the right side of the table) in desperation have turned to Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, seated at the left side of the table), recognized psychic researchers, to help exorcise the evil spirit which resides in the Perron’s house.

In 1952, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) founded the New England Society for Psychic Research. The couple also turned a wing of their house into a museum of occult artifacts which they collected during their career as psychic researchers.

Lorraine was a celebrated clairvoyant and medium and her World War II veteran husband was the only non-ordained demonologist who was recognized by the Catholic Church. As a team, they investigated thousands of reports of haunted houses over the years, most notably, the Amityville house.

The Conjuring, directed by James Wan (Saw), recounts one of the Warrens’ lesser-known cases. Set in 1971, the film unfolds in Harrisville, Rhode Island when Ed and Lorraine were summoned to the secluded lakefront home of Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn Perron (Lily Taylor).

The Perrons had recently moved into the old farmhouse with their five young daughters (Mackenzie Foy, Joey King, Hayley McFarland, Shanley Caswell, and Kyla Deaver), despite several signs that the place had bad energy. For example, their pet dog refused to enter the house, the smell of rotting meat would periodically permeate the air, and they would awaken every morning to discover that their clocks had stopped running at precisely 3:07 a.m.

Nevertheless, as optimistic new owners, the Perrons did their best to adjust to the disconcerting occurrences, only to have the supernatural spirit gradually increase its disturbances. Before long, it was shaking paintings off the wall, toying with an antique music box, and knocking loudly three times in the middle of the night, presumably as an insult to the Holy Trinity.

Mr. Perron was particularly frustrated by these developments, because, as a truck driver, he often had to be away from his family for as long as a week at a time. The straw that broke the camel’s back occurred when the evil doings escalated from annoyances to the demonic possession of a loved one.

When the Vatican dragged its feet about sending an exorcist to the scene, out of desperation the Perrons enlisted the assistance of the Warrens. What ensued was a classic battle between God and the devil heavily laden with Christian symbolism.

If you aren’t offended by an obvious faith-based agenda suggested by exchanges like: “Are you baptized?” “No.” “You might want to rethink that,” this film is a frightening horror film which does a masterful job of ever so slowly ratcheting up the terror. It is the most spine-tingling exorcist flick since — well — since The Exorcist.

Excellent (****). Rated R for disturbing violence and scenes of terror. Running time: 112 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers