November 28, 2012

Art for Healing Gallery, University Medical Center of Princeton, Route 1, Plainsboro, is showing watercolors by Joel Popadics through January.

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, presents “Patterns & Meaning: Alan J. Klawans and Andrew Werth,” through December 2. Both artists use the computer as a tool in creating their work. Visit www.lambertvillearts.com.

Arts Council of Princeton, Paul Robeson Center, 102 Witherspoon Street, has outdoor sculpture by Mike Gyampo on view through March 30 on the Michael Graves Terrace. Visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

Bernstein Gallery at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, has paintings by Hanna von Goeler through December 6.

Bray Gallery, 202 North Union Street, Lambertville, shows recent paintings by Joseph Bottari and Malcolm Bray, and photography by Andrew Wilkinson, December 8-January 6. The opening reception is December 8, 6-9 p.m. Call (609) 397-1858 for information.

Cafe 44, 44 Leigh Avenue, shows “PLAYBACK! Paintings by James
Bongartz” through December 16. Call (609) 924-3900.

D&R Greenway Land Trust, 1 Preservation Place (off Rosedale Road), presents a Decoy Exhibit Lecture by Bob White, Dean of Delaware River Carvers, Jay Vawter Collection, November 29 from 7-8:30 p.m. Call (609) 924-4646 to register. On December 6 at 7:30 p.m., the Princeton Photography Club presents a slide lecture by Ricardo Barros, “Tone, Voice, Message and Photographic Visions.” Visit www.ricardobarros.com.

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

Gallery and Academy of Robert Beck, 204 North Union Street, Lambertville, presents paintings by Alex Cohen, December 8-December 28. “Small Captivations” is the title. Opening receptions are December 7, 6-9 p.m. and December 9, 1-4 p.m. Call (215) 603-6573.

Gallery at Chapin, 4101 Princeton Pike, has “Abstract Drawings and Paintings” by Pat Martin through December 14. Call (609) 924-7206.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows photography by Rhoda Kassof-Isaac and Barbara Osterman through December 16. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, is showing “Einstein at Home” and “From Princeton to the White House,” which celebrates the 100th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson, through January 13. At the Updike Farmhouse on Quaker Road, “Call to Action: How a President Used Art to Sway a Nation,” World War I posters from the collection, and “A Morning at Updike Farmstead: Photographs by the Princeton Photography Club” are open through December 15, 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has “Creative Hand, Discerning Heart: Story, Symbol, Self,” through December 30. “Parting Gifts: Artists Honor Bruce Katsiff” is on view through December 9. Visit www.michener
artmuseum.org.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, has “Lynd Ward Draws Stories: Inspired by Mexico’s History, Mark Twain, and Adventures in the Woods” through June 23, 2013. Through January 6, “Art=Text=Art: Works by Contemporary Artists” will be on view, from the collection of drawing collectors Wynn and Sally Kramarsky. “In the Company of Women: Prints by Mary Cassatt” runs through March 3. “Le Mur’ at the Cabaret des Quat’z Arts is on view through February 24.

Lawrence Art & Frame Gallery, 2495 US1, Lawrenceville, presents new paintings by Bill Plank through December 9.

Lewis Center for the Arts’ Lucas Gallery, 185 Nassau Street, will feature work by those studying video, graphic design, and photography December 4-14. An opening reception is December 4, 4-6 p.m. Free public lectures by faculty members continue with filmmaker Su Friedrich on December 5. Visit www.princeton.edu/arts.

Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, presents “Portrait of Place: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints of New Jersey, 1761-1898” through January 13. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. Visit www.morven.org.

Prallsville Mill, Route 29 in Stockton, holds a holiday exhibition and sale by Princeton Artists Alliance, to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy, December 8-22. Artists include Jim Perry, Richard Sanders, Margaret Johnson, Harry Naar, Lucy Graves McVicker, and others. Naar will give a gallery tour December 8 at 1 p.m. Charles McVicker will give a tour December 15 at 1 p.m. Call (609) 924-2660 for information.

Present Day Club, 72 Stockton Street, presents “From Oysters to Artichokes: a new look at still life paintings,” through December 20. Artists Heather Barros, Betty Curtiss, Meg Brinster Michael, Stephen S. Kennedy, and Mary Waltham are in this show. Call (609) 430-0897.

Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery will present “Secret Lives,” featuring art by faculty and staff, through December 19. Paintings, drawings, photography, video, ceramics, and sculpture are included. Visit www.pds.org for times.

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

The Princeton University Art Museum has works by Parastou Forouhar, Mona Hatoum, Sigalit Landau,
Shirin Neshat and Laila Shawa on view through January 13 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. “Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vase Painting of the Ik’ Kingdom” is on exhibit through February 17. “City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus” is on view through January 20. 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.

Rago Arts and Auction Center, 333 North Main Street, Lambertville, presents Newark Museum curator Ulysses Grant Dietz speaking on “The Lower End of Splendor: Middle Class Jewelry in Context,” December 4 at 6 p.m. A reception begins at 5 p.m. Call (609) 397-9374 to RSVP.

Rider University Art Gallery, Bart Luedeke Center, Rider campus, Lawrenceville, presents “Alterations: A Retrospective,” sculptures by Joan B. Needham, through December 2. Visit www.rider.edu/arts.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, is showing photographs by Henry Vega, “Floral Still Lifes,” through December 3. Paintings by Maxine Shore are on view December 5-21. The opening reception is December 7, 5-8:30 p.m.

West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road in West Windsor, has “Off the Wall” affordable art available at its one-day sale on December 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jewelry, ceramics, fiber art, and more are included in this juried market. Visit www.westwindsorarts.org.

November 21, 2012

I have the uncomfortable feeling that I am carrying a volcano around with me. My salvation is in being loved.

—Woodrow Wilson, from a letter to Ellen Axson

When I saw the floodlit, misty, gloriously chaotic fountain facing the Woodrow Wilson School one night not long after we moved to Princeton, I didn’t know its name, but I had a notion of the story it was telling. I’d been learning about Wilson’s triumphs and tribulations while working on Alexander Leitch’s A Princeton Companion. I thought of it simply as Wilson’s fountain even after learning that its official name was the Fountain of Freedom and that its stated message was “to symbolize Woodrow Wilson’s vision of lasting world peace” or, according to another source, “to symbolize man’s quest for peace and freedom.”

While it’s possible to connect the quest for freedom with the force field of water splashing, jetting, gushing up and down and in and out of the craggy contours of the 20-foot-high bronze sculpture, it’s a real stretch to imagine a “vision of lasting peace” in all that tumult. Everything’s at cross purposes, like a massive celebration of disorder and conflict, with the jets coming and going every which way, some at angles, spilling mist and spray in all directions. There’s joy, poetry, and music in the play of light and the sound made by the water, but the total effect is best reflected in the title “Woodrow Wilson: A Complicated Man,” the election-of-1912-centennial site honoring the Princetonian who on the eve of his election as governor of New Jersey in 1910 said “men are not put in this world to go the path of ease; they are put in this world to go the path of pain and struggle.”

Speaking of pain and struggle, consider how Caligariesque the sculpture becomes when the water’s shut off. This bleak, twisted mass sculpted by James Fitzgerald (1910-1973) could just as easily serve to mark a battle scene where great losses were sustained.

Achievement and Adversity

It’s a short walk from Wilson’s fountain to Wilson’s top hat, which can be seen in Firestone Library’s Milberg Gallery exhibit, “The Election for Woodrow Wilson’s America.” Too bad the display can’t be on the main floor where more people could view that lustrous black topper. It’s also worth a trip to the second floor to see a photo of a handsome 20-something Wilson sporting a mustache or maybe to read the letter from 1884 when he was courting Ellen Axson, in which he writes, “I’m making a fright of myself for your sake. I am letting my hair grow long for the sake of the look you want.” Jump ahead 31 years and there’s a more familiar President Wilson beaming, in his element, at the 1915 World Series between the Red Sox and the Phillies.

I keep coming back to the top hat. What a sheen it has, so dark, so deep, so rich. But it looks too somber, too grounded somehow. Too much J.P. Morgan, not enough Fred Astaire. It needs to be blown about or perhaps tossed into the fountain’s stormy vortex and set bouncing and bobbing until the topper’s dancing on the top. Though the exhibit commentary informs us that Wilson wore this hat when campaigning for the presidency, most photographs online show him wearing it or its mate in Europe, at Paris and Versailles with Lloyd George and Clemenceau. Wilson is glowing, the Great War is over, he’s signed, sealed, and delivered it, and put the U.S.A. on the center stage and now he’s got big plans for world peace.

(Dream on, says the fountain. Stay the course, says another spray. Keep fighting, says a jet shooting in from the side.)

James Chace’s book, 1912:Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs — The Election that Changed the Country (2004), begins with Wilson in his glory, enjoying a hero’s welcome in France, flowers raining down on him, the streets of Paris thronged with “the largest number of Parisians ever to welcome a foreign leader,” banners reading “Honor to Wilson the Just,” reporters writing “No one had ever heard such cheers …. Oh, the immovably shining smiling man!” All through December 1918 it was more of the same, cheered in England, treated like a king in Rome, where he was “met with near-hysterical demonstrations,” and “blew kisses to the crowd.”

Not so fast, says the fountain, don’t forget that back home the Republicans have won both houses of Congress and are denouncing the “shining smiling man” — “Mr. Wilson has no authority whatever to speak for the American people.” Same old, same old, achievement blown to a mist by adversity. Think of what Senate leader Cabot Lodge and the Republicans did to Wilson’s dream of the League of Nations. The chapter, “Woodrow Wilson: The Conservative as Liberal,” in Richard Hofstadter’s American Political Tradition (1948) is full of references to Wilson’s combative character, his volcanic intensity and need to be loved (as in the quoted admission from another letter to Ellen Axson). The chapter also features phrases from Wilson’s 1912 campaign that could be taken from media coverage of the campaign of 2012: “the middle class is being more and more squeezed,” “the interests that have squeezed out the middle class are the same that control politics,” “the laws do not prevent the strong from crushing the weak,” and “the business of government is to organize the common interests against the special interests” [Wilson’s emphasis].

In his way, Wilson seems nearly as unlikely a president in 1912 as Obama was in 2008. Even now, consider how improbable it would be for someone like Wilson to be elected and sworn in on Inauguration Day: a scholar, an intellectual, historian, author of numerous academic texts, a visionary who, in Hofstadter’s words, “learned to look upon life as the progressive fulfillment of God’s will and to see man as ‘a distinct moral agent’ in a universe of moral imperatives.” If anything, such a person seems as far out of the mainstream as an African American with a Harvard degree, two books under his belt, and a more practical, flexible concept of priorities and imperatives.

The Movie

My sense of Wilson, the flawed hero striving for the greater good (that star-crossed quest for peace played out in criss-crossing streams of his fountain), has little in common with the depiction of the 28th president in Darryl F. Zanuck’s wartime biopic Wilson (1944). As James Agee put it in his long, typically brilliant August 19, 1944 review in The Nation: “With the best intentions in the world, Hollywood took a character and a theme of almost Shakespearean complexity and grandeur, and reduced the character to an astutely played liberal assistant professor of economics.” What follows is a litany of similarly fatal reductions of themes and events: “the millennial, piteous surge of hope and faith which bore Wilson to Paris,” “the colossal struggles between Wilson and Clemenceau and Senator Lodge,” “Wilson’s terrifying, possessed trip around the United States,” all reduced to “a high-grade sort of magazine illustration.”

Wilson was the most expensive film ever made in Hollywood up to that point, costing even more than Gone With the Wind. In fact, Zanuck was so devastated by the resulting box office disaster (it lost millions) that he decreed that Wilson never be mentioned again in his presence. The film does include numerous Princeton touches (students serenading Wilson with “Old Nassau” after he’s been elected) that may move all but the most jaded alums. The rub is that a true Princetonian named Jimmy Stewart might have saved the day if he hadn’t been serving in the U.S. Air Force at the time. Instead of Alexander Knox, a little-known actor with minimal presence, you’d have had a major star who would have brought his tensely suppressed fire-in-the-belly ferocity to the part.

The Fountain Rules

The last image you see in the Milberg exhibit is an extraordinary piece of pointillist photography from 1918 by Arthur S. Mole in which 21,000 officers and men at Camp Sherman in Chillicothe Ohio have been assembled to form a “living portrait” of Wilson. The photographer climbed a 70-foot-high tower to shoot the picture of the human tide he’d shaped to the president’s approximate likeness. It’s a magnificent image, but it doesn’t really do Wilson or his story justice. For that, go to the fountain — or to the various Princeton exhibits and events marking the 1912 election centennial (http://wilsoncentennial.org/). On December 8 (2 p.m. and 4 p.m.), The Historical Society of Princeton is hosting a walking tour of places in the community that were a part of Wilson’s life as a student, faculty member, and president of the University. $7 adults; $4 children. To register, call (609) 921-6748 x102, or email eve@princetonhistory.org.

The Harper’s Weekly cover is on view in the Milberg exhibit, which runs through December 28. The man in the rear is Wilson’s vice-president, Thomas R. Marshall of Indiana, who during a Senate debate once famously announced, “What this country really needs is a good five-cent cigar.”

 

DO NOT FORSAKE ME IN MY HOUR OF NEED: Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) prays in desperation to his three religions to ask for help in surviving this terrible natural catastrophe which leaves him stranded in the middle of the Pacific ocean with a Bengal tiger. Pi and his parents were en-route to Canada with their family’s zoo, when their cargo ship capsized in the terrible storm which hit them.

Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) was raised in the Hindu faith before converting to Catholicism and Islamism all on his own. The 16-year-old’s parents reacted differently to the changes in the boy’s unorthodox behavior which included going to church and praying facing east five times a day.

His frustrated father (Adil Hussain) warned, “You cannot follow three religions at the same time,” while his more tolerant mother (Tabu) told him that “Science cannot teach what is in here,” touching her heart. Both shrugged it off as probably just a passing phase, since they were busy planning the big move of the family household and zoo from India to Canada.

However, tragedy strikes en route, when their cargo ship capsizes and sinks in the middle of the Pacific, leaving Pi, the sole human survivor, in a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Will the religious believer remain true to his lofty ideals while playing out the faith-testing hand he’s suddenly been dealt?

That’s the pressing question posed in Life of Pi, a visually captivating tale of spirituality and survival. Directed by Oscar winner Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain), the movie was shot against a series of exquisite seascapes that look like glorious, hand-painted, pastel panoramas.

After the occurrence of the shipwreck, the picture is a one-man show, similar to Tom Hanks in Cast Away (2000). However, in this film the protagonist has to figure out how to coexist peacefully in very close quarters with a tiger who’d probably prefer to make him its next meal.

The burden of carrying the film falls on the shoulders of first-time actor Suraj Sharma, who does a magnificent job of conveying the existential angst of the beleaguered, ever-exasperated title character.

This richly textured adaptation will undoubtedly be a hit with fans of the Yann Martel best-seller upon which it’s based, as well as with audience members of any age who are looking for an entertaining movie. Of interest is that during an opening sequence of this flashback film, the audience is told that what is about to unfold is a story that will make you believe in God.

For all its religious overtones, however, the thrust of the production is less about an attempt to convert disbelievers than around Ang Lee’s brilliant use of the screen as a cinematic canvas to narrate a compelling story. The film is a critic and crowd pleaser that will be impossible to forget when Academy Award season comes around.

Excellent (****). Rated PG for mature themes and scary action sequences. In English, French, and Japanese with subtitles. Running time: 127 minutes. Distributor: 20th Century Fox

November 14, 2012

I believe in Walter White, his family and his friends. They aren’t just objects of interest and curiosity and occasional sympathy …. I actually care deeply about whether they live and die.

—Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat’s June 15, 2010, New York Times piece turned up during an online fishing expedition baited with the tag, “Breaking Bad/Dostoevsky.” It’s not that I’m looking to put a Dostoevskian spin on Vince Gilligan’s AMC series about a cancer-stricken high school science teacher turned methamphetamine overlord; it’s just that Breaking Bad has elements and characters that the author of Crime and Punishment would find fascinating. Same for Balzac and Poe and Hawthorne, and don’t forget Robert Louis Stevenson, since anyone watching Walter White cooking up batches of crystal blue meth is sure to visualize Dr. Jekyll in his lab and the macabre fate he meets when the chemically induced Mr. Hyde takes complete possession of the good doctor’s soul.

I came late to Breaking Bad. No one tugged at my sleeve and said, “Don’t miss it.” I was unaware until recently that Bryan Cranston had won the “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series” Emmy three years in a row. One thing for sure, if I’d read somewhere of Vince Gilligan’s concept for the show — to turn his central character from protagonist to antagonist, from Mr Chips to Scarface — I’d have jumped on board a year or two sooner. The concept, not to mention the acting, writing, and cinematography used to explore it, is what makes Breaking Bad superior to any series since HBO’s Big Three, The Wire, Deadwood, and The Sopranos. HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, which recently launched its third season, is an impressive production but not in the same league as Breaking Bad, which will end its five season run next summer.

Breaking Through

My online search took me to a short essay by Corey Pung quoting Dostoevsky (“Without God, anything is possible”) on Walt’s reaction to the death sentence he receives in Breaking Bad’s opening episode. While his primary motive is to provide for his family (wife pregnant, baby’s arrival imminent, teenage son with cerebral palsy), as soon as he’s told he may have only months to live, he begins to challenge the reasonable, responsible limits that have ruled his life, struggling to make ends meet teaching high school science while moonlighting in a car wash. Most good providers (and Walt becomes a good provider with a vengeance) would still observe the limits, pursuing medical treatment (as Walt does), setting their house in order (this too), or looking for moral support in religion. Religion? Not Walt. He takes the anything-is-possible route. The spectre of death releases the genius seething inside him.

More Than Adrenaline

Writing on Good Reads, a blogger from India wants to know if there is any novel “as adrenaline pumping as the Breaking Bad TV series?” So far the only book that comes close, he says, is Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. He finds the thriller writers like Patterson, Grisham, and Ludlum wanting because “they seldom really make the scenes absolutely memorable along with keeping me on the edge of my seat.” He wants an experience that “stays with” him “long after” he reads it: “Just like Breaking Bad is doing to me.”

That says it: you don’t just watch Breaking Bad; it does things to you, it stays with you, stirs you, moves you, haunts you, and makes you care about the characters as life-and-death intensely as Ross Douthat suggests when comparing the show to AMC’s other hit series, Mad Men.

The Moment of Truth

At this point it’s necessary to announce a modified spoiler alert, since the scene I’m about to focus on concerns the death of a character, a sad, ugly, needless death that occurs late in the second season and could have been prevented. The sequence, in its subtle but stunning way, is one of the defining moments in this savage series where violence explodes, bloodily, outrageously, gruesomely, sometimes with gory black comedy overtones (like the notorious raspberry slushie sequence in the first season). Not to worry, nothing’s going to blow up in your face in this small, hushed room where a young couple lies cuddled together, spoon style, deep in a heroin stupor on a mattress at Walt’s feet. He intends them no harm. There’s even a sense that as he looks down on these two kids, he’s touched, briefly bemused, and a bit embarrassed to have invaded their privacy, for they really are like two children, innocent, helpless, vulnerable (“Shades of Romeo and Juliet,” was Gilligan’s comment in an interview about the scene).

Then the female, the Juliet, turns over on her back and begins softly coughing. She’s choking, and he knows that if he doesn’t do the right thing, the simple obvious human thing anyone else would do, she might die. Yet he’s hesitating, holding back, you can see the pressure of the thought closing in on him as he realizes that a solution to the problem that brought him to this place is at hand: a threat to his enterprise is about to be nullified. If he allows it. This death will be to his advantage. So he thinks, he hesitates, allows it, and watches, in pained amazement, as death happens. It takes less than 30 seconds. As he watches, he has to press his hand over his mouth to keep from crying out, tears spring to his eyes, he’s torn, hurting, because what’s left of the father, the teacher, the good provider is appalled and ashamed and sick with sympathy, as if he’s been standing by and watching, allowing, the death of his own child.

Why You Care

I found the loss of this character, this Juliet, truly hard to accept even after I’d moved on to the third season. This is the “caring deeply” that Douthat’s talking about. The loss hurts not just because you liked her, cared about her, and even valued her as a rare glimmer of sweetness and light in her lover’s life, but because you know her death is going to devastate if not destroy a character you care about a great deal more — Walt’s partner in meth cooking, Jesse Pinkman, who is played with an intensity second only to Bryan Cranston’s by Aaron Paul (winner of two Supporting Actor Emmys). By this point in the second season you can’t help but share some of Walt’s quasi paternal/fraternal feelings for this seemingly hapless loser, the F student forever even though he’s earned his half of a fortune, survived brutal beatings and unthinkably dire near-death dilemmas with the science teacher who flunked him years ago. One of the most lovable things about this series, which may be the most bizarre buddy movie ever made, is that after all they’ve been through together, Jesse still calls Walt “Mr. White.”

The repercussions from this same scene are immense, and it’s here that Breaking Bad does what great shows do, it transcends probability, defies reason, takes an already shameless coincidence (a meeting in a nearby bar between Walt and his victim’s father) one giant step forward. With the wound of that silent death scene still smarting, the consequences of Walt’s moment of deadly hesitation explode like an action-movie version of God’s wrath writ large on the bright blue sky as a passenger plane collides with a private plane, hundreds die, and all of it, the bodies and body parts and personal odds and ends in effect descend on the man who stood by while someone’s child died, and in case you doubt that he’s culpable, you’re taken up to the sky, to the point of impact, and sent down down down with the debris of the explosion, the target below a small blue rectangle: the swimming pool in the Whites’ back yard where the man responsible is standing, staring upward, once again watching death happen.

Investments

By the time a dead child’s stuffed dog falls from the fiery collision into Walter’s swimming pool — the charred toy, one eye out, an image that has been flashed ominously forward from the first episode — you’ve been hammered by explosions, shootings, stranglings; you’ve been dazzled by the cinematographer Michael Slovis’s artistry; you’ve enjoyed the sleazy ingenuity of one of the most charming shyster lawyers you’ll ever see, Saul “Just Call Saul” Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). You’re half in love with Skyler, Walt’s beautiful resourceful wife (Anna Gunn) and handsome disabled son (RJ Mitte); you have an insider’s knowledge of his extended family, including his blustery Drug Enforcement Administration brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) and Skyler’s ditzy kleptomaniac sister Marie (Betsy Brandt). For four seasons, you’ve been horrified, shocked, touched, and amused by these people and the things they do. To quote Douthat again, from his column explaining why he thinks Vince Gilligan’s creation outranks Mad Men as the best show on television (and why I think it ranks with the best shows ever), “what’s struck me watching Breaking Bad is how much more invested I am in its characters as human beings.”


DEADLY DECEPTIONS: Terrorized by three con men in her Greenwich Village apartment, Susy (Sarah Cuneo, right) uses her blindness to advantage and teams up with her young neighbor Gloria (Anna Aaronson) to foil the villains’ plans, in Frederick Knott’s 1966 thriller “Wait Until Dark,” currently playing at Theatre Intime on the Princeton University campus.

If, after Halloween and Hurricane Sandy, you still have an appetite for breathtaking moments and frightening drama, for tense periods of waiting and surprisingly long stretches of darkness, then Frederick Knott’s classic 1966 thriller, Wait Until Dark, currently playing at Theatre Intime on the Princeton University campus, might be just the show for you.

There is something reassuring about dealing with such matters in a fictional setting, in the confines of a theater, and murder mystery enthusiasts will especially enjoy this intricate, high-suspense thriller. Wait Until Dark starred Lee Remick and Robert Duvall in its original 374-performance Broadway run, then Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin in the acclaimed movie adaptation a year later (1967).

An ingenious set-up, some interesting character development, and no fewer than three formidable, contrasting and complementary villains here enrich the proceedings. The build-up to the central clash between a blind woman, aided by a young girl neighbor, and the ruthless con men looking for a mysterious doll filled with heroin is at times overly complex and confusing, at times lacking in verisimilitude. But the wild finale, when utter darkness levels the playing field for a duel between this blind woman and her adversary, provides abundant suspense and entertainment. The audience response of shocked terror was audible last Saturday night during the climactic scene, which, at least in the screen version, has been ranked tenth on Bravo’s list of 100 Scariest Movie Moments.

Under the thoughtful, capable direction of Princeton University sophomore Michael Pinsky, Intime’s production of Wait Until Dark delivers an interesting, engaging evening with what Mr. Pinsky describes in his director’s note as a challenging, “technically adventurous piece of theater.” The undergraduate cast is generally strong, especially so in the villain department.

Misha Semenov’s sturdy, functional, detailed set — complete with period refrigerator and telephone, photography equipment for the protagonist Susy’s husband Sam, a safe, Venetian blinds — along with Collin Stedman’s lighting design, sound by Ben Schaffer and props by Jack Moore, successfully creates the 1960s Greenwich Village basement apartment and brings all the requisite details together for fulfillment of the complex plot.

Sarah Cuneo, in the central role as Susy, projects both beauty and strength, vulnerability, and an intrepid spirit, as she gradually realizes she is being conned, then struggles to concoct and carry out her plan to outwit her ruthless adversaries. Believable throughout as the blind woman trapped and terrorized, Ms. Cuneo displays a wide range of emotions and readily wins the audience’s sympathies, despite occasional lack of clarity in action and word, especially during her most panicked moments.

Mark Walter as the icy cool Roat leads the criminal trio. In black leather jacket, with a chillingly sing-song voice and a smooth, detached, sinister demeanor, this psychopath commands the stage, and his two henchmen, with authority. From start to finish the character leaves no doubt of his deadly determination to get what he wants.

Cody O’Neil as a smooth-talking, charming Mike, and David Drew as the physically imposing, slow-witted Carlino are both convincing in joining the team of crooks looking to get rich by finding the heroin-stuffed doll, which is supposedly in the possession of Susy and her husband Sam. As Sam, absent during most of the terrifying proceedings, Mike Freyberger is adequate, though there is little development or three-dimensionality to the Susy-Sam marital relationship.

Anna Aaronson’s Gloria, the young girl neighbor from upstairs, contributes some humor and proves crucial to thwarting the villains’ plot, though the age stretch — Gloria was written to be nine years old, and Ms. Aaronson must be at least twice that — is problematic and confusing in distorting both tone and characterization here. Blake Edwards and Mitch Shellman provide effective support as patrolmen, arriving at Susy’s apartment in the final moments of the play.

Wait Until Dark and Dial M for Murder (1952) are Frederick Knott’s two masterpieces in the thriller genre. For carefully calculated plot twists and roller coaster rides of fear and intrigue, they are hard to beat.


AT THE BATTLE MONUMENT: Artist Jean Lareuse’s 1998 ceramic with portraits of Generals George Washington and Jean Baptiste Rochambeau, is at the foot of Princeton’s Battle Monument.

Artist Jean Lareuse was born in 1926 to Catalan parents in French Guiana, Africa, and while his career has been international in scope, he has left his particular stamp on one of Princeton’s favorite historic sites: the Princeton Battle Monument adjacent to Morven and Borough Hall.

A ceramic frieze created by Mr. Lareuse in 1998 and located at the foot of the Monument, commemorates the August 31, 1781 meeting in Princeton of the army of King Louis XVI, commanded by General Rochambeau, and the army of General Washington, during their march to victory in Yorktown. The work was commissioned by the American Society of Le Souvenir Français, and French officials were present at its dedication. Mr. Lareuse’s wife, Caroline, was included in the day’s celebration, having been invited to join the Honorary Committee of the French Consulate in New York City.

Longtime residents of Princeton, the Lareuses live in an art-filled house on Shadybrook Lane. Chagall, Mr. Lareuse’s favorite painter, is well-represented along with Miró and Picasso, who was friends with Mr. Lareuse’s father. Other shelves are lined with sets of books handed down by Ms. Lareuse’s family, which included several Princeton alumni.

Mr. Lareuse continues to paint — at an admittedly slower pace — in a well-lit, back room of the house. An area of the garage has been designated for packing and mailing paintings, as well as copies of Mr. Lareuse’s books. These include a heavily illustrated catalog, Jean Lareuse: Le Plus Catalan des Peintres Américains (The Most Catalan of all American Painters); a tribute to his adopted country called L’Amérique, la magnifique (in French); and a children’s book, Devils in the Castle (in English). The artist is looking forward to a new show of his paintings in Toulouse, France, this spring.

Mr. Lareuse’s subjects cast a wide net. His early youth was spent near the Longchamp Racecourse in France, and scenes of jockeys tensely poised above their competing horses is a favorite theme, along with depictions of well-dressed men and women watching in the stands. A later childhood experience, growing up among priests to whom he was sent after his mother’s death, is reflected in a variety of religious images, and include work in stained glass. Still later, the colors used by Impressionists appealed to Mr. Lareuse’s Catalan sensibility. A recent cataract procedure has restored his passion for bright color after an interval of painting darker pictures.

Mr. Lareuse reported that he actually began painting at the age of 13, and studied in the south of France. He eventually attended the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. His first one-man show, in 1948, was in Paris at the Galerie Ariel, and his second, also in Paris, at the Galerie Drouant-David in 1952. Since then, he has taken part in many group shows, including the Biennale de Menton and the salon d’Automne. His paintings hang in galleries in London, Caracas, New York, Montreal, and Washington, D.C., among others.

There’s sadness when Mr. Lareuse talks about his mother’s early death (he was six), and when he talks about publishing his children’s book — which is actually related to his mother’s death. While he was sent to a school run by priests, Mr. Lareuse’s sister was sent to a convent school, and Devils in the Castle was inspired by her experiences there. Unfortunately, he said, when it was published in 1979, critics suggested that his images of uniformed girls were based on Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeleine stories. Since the stories that inspired it took place long before Madeleine, perhaps, Mr. Lareuse suggests, Bemelemans copied him.

Mr. Lareuse will be appearing at Labyrinth Books next spring at a time to be announced. In the meantime, signed copies of Jean Lareuse: Le Plus Catalan des Peintres Américains are available by calling Labyrinth at (609) 497-1600.


The Westminster Choir spends much of its time on the road, and Princeton concerts of the select chamber ensemble from Westminster Choir College are rare treats. Conductor Joe Miller and the 40-voice chorus presented a diverse concert this past Sunday afternoon in their home base of Bristol Chapel on the Choir College campus. This year’s roster of the Westminster Choir showed that the ensemble is as precise and well-balanced as ever and showcased some talented soloists, but also showed that the vocal power of the chorus may be outgrowing the acoustics of Bristol Chapel.

November 22 is the feast day of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, and Dr. Miller chose as a tribute one of the best settings of Cecilian texts in Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia. As Dr. Miller explained in his introductory remarks, the tripartite piece reflects Britten as organist, choral composer, and orchestrator, and the Westminster Choir conveyed all three of these musical personalities well. The women’s sections were well-tuned from the start, with pure octaves between sopranos and tenor on the “Blessed Cecilia” refrain which divides the sections.

This piece includes five solos, the most extensive of which was sung by soprano Madeline Apple Healey with a clear sound floating above the soprano and alto parts. Soprano Anna Lenti had the honor of singing the highest solo, lightly reaching up toward high “Cs” with ease. Bass Brandon Waddles and alto Mary Hewlett sang with confidence and assurance, and tenor Jeffrey Cutts displayed an impressive body of sound. Throughout Britten’s Hymn, the chorus showed precision in text and nice dynamic touches, although the bass sectional sound was just a bit unrefined in the lower registers compared to the other sections (this sound smoothed out in later selections on the program).

The Westminster Choir warmed up for the Britten on pieces well within the ensemble’s choral wheelhouse. An emphasis on consonants and well-matched soprano sections marked Tomas Luis de Victoria’s “Kyrie” from Missa Alma Redemptoris, which flowed seamlessly into Gustav Holst’s Nunc Dimittis. The highest notes of the Holst piece were sung with such vocal force that one got the impression that maybe the choir could use a venue with more spacious acoustics (certainly one with more seating, based on Sunday’s turnout). The choir’s performance of Bach’s motet Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf sustained a nice flow, aided by John Hudson playing the continuo part on the piano.

Despite all the professional engagements of the Westminster Choir, these are college students, and students like to have fun. Dr. Miller gave the singers a chance to let their hair down in a set of French pieces which provided opportunity for a bit of acting. In the set of six French songs by four diverse composers from different ages, the choir created a storyline, dividing themselves into three different groups and interpreting the text with humorous characterization. Sung from memory, all of these pieces were performed with well-tapered phrases and crisp diction, with the Lauridsen “En Une Seule Fleur” and familiar Renaissance “Mon Coeur se recommande à vous” smoothly performed. In the closing Jean Rivier piece (arranged by Dr. Miller), Myles Glancy provided a suave baritone to convey the 16th-century text. The choir closed the set with a lively arrangement of a 1920s cabaret tune.

Westminster Choir programs tend to close with very upbeat selections, geared toward leaving tour audiences something high-spirited with which to go home. The most unique of the closing selections on Sunday was Haitian composer Sydney Guillaume’s “Kalinda,” a rousing song designed to incite the crowds to dance. Haitian choral arrangements tend to include a great deal of text and instrumental effects and the choir demonstrated both effectively. Most impressive about the last number on the program was its composition by a Westminster student; Brandon Waddles’ Ride in the Chariot was an uplifting and spiritual arrangement sung with great enthusiasm to audience response akin to a football game. Tenors Kyle von Schoonhoven and Justin Su’esu’e led the chorus with full and rich voices to close the concert in a more than upbeat mood.


HI, MY NAME IS CHERYL AND I’M HERE TO HELP YOU: Professional sex surrogate Cheryl (Helen Hunt) has agreed to help Mark O’Brien (not shown) explore his sexuality and become able to develop a full relationship with a woman. As a child he was paralyzed by polio and has had to spend most of his time in an iron lung in order to breathe, with only brief periods outside of it when he can use a portable respirator.

Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) was left paralyzed from the neck down by the polio he’d contracted as a child. Consequently, he can only breathe with the assistance of an iron lung, although he can use a portable respirator for a few hours at a time.

Nonetheless, the condition has never stopped him from having sexual fantasies, such as about his attractive attendant Amanda (Annika Marks), who quit when he expressed his desire for her. The sexually frustrated 38-year-old decides that the only way he’ll probably ever lose his virginity is by paying a woman to sleep with him.

However, there are the physical challenges presented by quadriplegia and, as a devout Catholic, he has to resolve a major moral issue because Catholicism forbids fornication outside the sanctity of marriage. So Mark decides to consult his parish priest for a special dispensation.

Armed with the surprisingly sympathetic Father Brendan’s (William H. Macy) blessing, Mark retains the services of Cheryl (Helen Hunt), a professional sex surrogate. Over the course of a half-dozen, romantic rendezvous, the sensitive therapist gradually helps her patient conquer his problems.

The Sessions’ subject matter might strike some as salacious, given the film’s frequent nude scenes. But the movie actually is a compassionate tale that explores a variety of themes, including faith, friendship, relationships, and the indomitability of the human spirit.

Written and directed by Ben Lewin, himself a polio victim, the movie is based on Mark O’Brien’s (1950-1999) life story as chronicled in his autobiography How I Became a Human Being: A Disabled Man’s Quest for Independence. The late author was also the subject of Breathing Lessons, a biopic which won an Academy Award in 1997 in the Best Documentary category.

The movie resists the temptation to follow a Hollywood style formula in favor of a realistic plot that Mark undoubtedly would have appreciated. As a journalist and longtime civil rights advocate, he never looked for pity but lobbied for legislation and equality on behalf of the handicapped.

Co-stars John Hawkes and Helen Hunt generate an endearing chemistry and turn in virtuoso performances that deserve serious Oscar consideration.

Excellent (****). Rated R for graphic sexuality, nudity, and frank dialogue. Running time: 95 minutes. Distributor: Fox Searchlight.


November 7, 2012

“The season [June 1816] was cold and rainy, and in the evenings we crowded around a blazing wood fire and occasionally amused ourselves with some German stories of ghosts,” writes Mary Shelley in a preface describing the genesis of Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus (1818, 1831). The tales inspired a story-telling competition among a group that included 18-year-old Mary’s husband, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron, in whose Lake Geneva villa they were staying. According to her introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, she struggled for an idea that when it came, “broke in upon” her “swift as light.” Thinking to herself, “What terrified me will terrify others,” she began her story that same day with the words, “It was on a dreary night of November.”

In The Annotated Frankenstein (Belknap Press, Harvard University Press $29.95), editors Susan J. Wolfson and Ronald Levao point out that the “extraordinarily rainy summer” of 1816 was the result of “a global climate trauma produced by the eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia. In Europe the relentless weather with attendant floods and much human misery was felt to be an apocalyptic portent.”

If it sounds as though prophets of climate change were already on the job in the summer of 1816, it’s also tempting to read the stormy present into references to “relentless weather,” floods, and human misery in that “Year Without a Summer.” Before the “Frankenstorm” called Sandy began bearing down on us, Wolfson and Devao’s hefty, handsome new edition of Mary Shelley’s triumph of the imagination seemed a natural subject for a Halloween column. In any case, it made for timely company by candle light with Monday night’s gale pounding the house.

When the power went off, we’d just managed to get dinner on the table. After Irene and last year’s freak Halloween snowstorm, we were ready for Sandy, with plenty of bottled water and batteries, a Red Cross radio, lanterns in place, candles of various sizes lit, the small glass-enclosed votive candles strategically positioned. With nothing else for diversion (no more internet, no more election news, no more TV, no more Breaking Bad), we thought about games. But our Scrabble hasn’t been seen since the flood of 2005, nor has the Shakespeare board game we used to play. We still have a not quite complete deck of Authors along with the same battered pack of Woodland Happy Families that kept us occupied during the strictly rationed miner strike black-outs in Bristol, England in the early 1970s. The damp, chilly, cozy English springs, autumns, and winters came pleasantly back again during the days without electricity — if you can imagine feeling nostalgia for huddling under blankets, shopping in candlelit markets, and venturing into the dark night, lantern in hand, to visit friends when our neighborhood was in darkness and theirs had power.

Shelter in Shakespeare

We never got around to playing Authors last week, not with books to read and a fire in the fireplace. On Monday night, while the storm engulfed and wracked the house, the wind attacking full force, the rest of the family in bed, I started reading Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale in Volume III of an 1836 edition of the Works celebrated by Herman Melville for its “glorious great type, every letter whereof is a soldier & the top of every “t” like a musket barrel.” It was this seven volume set published by Hilliard, Gray, and Company in Boston that made Shakespeare available to Melville (“If another Messiah ever comes t’will be in Shakespeare’s person”) in time for the most Shakespearean of American novels, Moby Dick.

The question is can Shakespeare provide shelter from the storm? What comfort is there in great writing when a juggernaut’s outside the window? Maybe I should be reading King Lear or Macbeth. Maybe Winter’s Tale is too light and fantastical for the occasion. Not so, not in the second scene of Act One when Leontes, the King of Sicilia, goes ballistic after jumping to the fatal conclusion that his pregnant wife Hermione has been dallying with his childhood pal Polixenes, the King of Bohemia. After one of his attendant lords tries to sort things out, Leontes abuses him so passionately that I couldn’t resist reading the speeches aloud, revelling in all the earthy invective, “My wife’s a hobby-horse …. As rank as any flax-wench that puts to before her troth-plight.” And when Shakespeare has Leontes expanding on “nothing” I’m tempted to outshout Sandy:

Is whispering nothing?

Is leaning cheek to cheek? Is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? Stopping the career

Of laughter with a sigh? —a note infallible
Of breaking honesty: Horsing foot on foot?
Skulking in corners? Wishing clocks more swift?
Hours, minutes? Noon, midnight? And all eyes

Blind with the pin and web but theirs, theirs only,

That would unseen be wicked? Is this nothing?

Why, then, the world, and all that’s in’t, is nothing;

The covering sky is nothing; Bohemia nothing;
My wife is nothing; nor nothing have these nothings, 

If this be nothing.

Yes, and the storm outside nothing! The fear of a flood in the basement nothing! The loss of light and heat nothing! It was consoling to speak that speech against the raging wind, drunk on all those sweet nothings, any louder and I’ll wake the house, though it’s true I have the cover of all that tumult booming outside as I give it to Camillo, “You lie, you lie: I say thou liest, Camillo, and I hate thee, pronounce thee a gross lout, a mindless slave!”

You can’t beat the force of nature we call Shakespeare. If Jane Austen can kill zombies, why shouldn’t Shakespeare tame hurricanes?

Electricity

Throughout the siege I’ve had the newly published Annotated Frankenstein, with its dramatic cover image, in sight nearby. At least Sandy has spared us thunder and lightning, for which we’re grateful. But the message of that brilliant jagged cover photograph from Getty Images is electricity, which of course is the very force we’re hoping, wishing, praying for as the power-bereft hours drag on. Without it, we’re cut adrift. Cheat how we may with our battery-run lanterns and radios and such, we’re foundering in 19th-century darkness. Electricity is central to Frankenstein, for only the Romantic period equivalent of Promethean fire can animate the Creature. Among the illustrations included in Wolfson and Levao’s lavish edition is Benjamin West’s Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky (circa 1816). In their introduction, the editors point out that Immanuel Kant dubbed Franklin the “Prometheus of Modern Times … who stole the spark immediately from heaven.”

The editors also point out a seemingly obvious but rarely recognized “surname-link” between the two inventors, Victor Frankenstein and Benjamin Franklin. I wonder how many scholars of American history could get their heads around the idea that good old Ben, Poor Richard, patron saint of Philadelphia, may have inspired the naming of the creature who would rank Number One among the Top Ten Monsters of All Time. But then scholars and critics and followers of American literature would be even less prepared to accept the link between Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Walt Whitman mentioned in a previous column (“Some Post-Halloween Thoughts on Dracula, Other Vampires, and Walt Whitman,” Nov. 4 2009).

It’s Still Dickens’s Year

It seems only right in this bicentenary year that Wolfson and Levao’s introduction would reveal a Dickens-Frankenstein connection that not only shows how pervasive was the spell cast by Mary Shelley’s book (the 1831 edition sold “into the thousands with many reprintings”) but how far-reaching and complex were its proliferating themes, associations, and implications. The editors point to the relationship, for example, between the protagonist Pip and convict Magwitch, whose terrorizing of young Pip in the opening scene of Great Expectations is among the greatest passages in all Dickens. As they suggest, Dickens invokes Frankenstein without naming it as well as exercising “some wry turns on the tale,” as in the scene where Magwitch reveals himself as Pip’s mysterious benefactor: “The imaginary student pursued by the misshapen creature he had impiously made, was not more wretched than I, pursued by the creature who had made me, and recoiling from him with a stronger repulsion, the more he admired me and the fonder he was of me.”

Once again the range and scope of Dickens is so broad as to suggest, as I’ve been doing this year, that he and his England are virtually one and the same, and when Christmas comes next month, Dickens’s most beloved monster, Ebenezer Scrooge, will come bah-humbugging back into our holiday lives.

Sandy vs. Sandy

And then there was light!

It was that dramatic, like the birth of electricity, accomplished in an instant, at some point in the dozy minutes between 10:30 and 10:45 p.m. Halloween night. We’d been without power since dinnertime Monday. My family having gone to bed to stay warm (the temperature was 56 and felt ten degrees colder), I was in the dark living room wrapped in a blanket listening to Sandy Denny sing a song called “Next Time Around.” Believe it or not, my choice of that particular CD (The North Star Grassman and the Ravens) had nothing to do with the Sandy-Sandy connection (nor did I recognize the coincidence at all until now); more likely, it was a natural expression of the connection between the power-loss of the present and the one so intimately bound up with a nostalgia for those years in England. The music is sad, stately, richly orchestrated, and as I drifted off I was vaguely aware that the lyrics were in line with what the other Sandy was doing, lyrics like “the rain was too high,” “the river did rise,” “the building fell down/may be the ocean next time around.”

When I dozed off the room had been fully dark except for the faintly burning fire in the fireplace. The remaining five songs on the album had finished playing, and the portable CD player I’d purchased at WalMart had turned itself off when I woke up. Every lamp and light fixture in the living room had been on when we’d lost power, so the impact of sheer illumination was tremendous. The light was so bright that I could almost hear it. The furnace had come on with the power and waves of warmth were filling the room.


No one can argue that Princeton has had a rough time this past week. Numerous events in the community were cancelled, with future concerts and lectures in doubt. Princeton Symphony Orchestra put on a Herculean effort this past week to gather its musicians together, and with the cooperation of Princeton University, presented its November concert as scheduled this past Sunday afternoon at Richardson Auditorium. Where the orchestra rehearsed this program remains a mystery, with all the power outages in the area, but with a few adjustments to the repertoire and the tremendous commitment of the players, Princeton residents were offered a musical respite from sitting in dark unheated houses. Sunday afternoon’s concert was originally to include Aaron Jay Kernis’ cello concerto Colored Field, paired with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Because of the limited rehearsal time, Music Director Rossen Milanov replaced the Kernis work with two smaller pieces reflecting the lush, Romantic, yet high-spirited mood of Scheherazade.

Scheherazade tells the story of a brave Persian queen and in keeping with music about women who can stand on their own, Mr. Milanov began the concert with a one-movement “Bacchanale” about one of the greatest women of the Bible. Camille Saint-Saëns “Bacchanale” from his 1877 opera Samson and Delilah suggests debauchery and sensuality and oboist Rita Mitsel opened the piece with a slinky exotic instrumental solo. Ms. Mitsel, English horn player Nathan Mills, clarinetist Alexander Bedenko, and flutist Jayn Rosenfeld provided a transformed opening theme full of such exotic flavor that one expected a snake charmer to appear. Especially light strings came into their own with the full and rich second theme, contrasted by harp. Mr. Milanov led the players through clean transitions among sections, building the complexity of the piece to a closing frenzy.

Refocusing the concert on 19th-century European music with Eastern influence, Mr. Milanov included a work with which he is thoroughly comfortable and which was probably relaxing for the musicians to play in a week full of stress. Alexander Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” from the opera Prince Igor began with gentler winds than the previous work, and the familiar “Stranger in Paradise” tune elegantly played by oboist Ms. Mitsel. This tune recurred in several solo instruments, including clarinet and English horn, with the orchestra moving smoothly from one dance to the next. Throughout this piece, and certainly in the subsequent Rimsky-Korsakov work, clarinetist Alexander Bedenko showed himself to be an understated yet very intent player, providing very quick phrases in the “Dances.” Percussion plays a large role in both this work and Scheherazade, and the six-member percussion and timpani section was precise with rhythms and exact in punctuating other instrumental playing.

Scheherazade is also full of great tunes, but scored in a much more forceful manner. The brass sections of the Princeton Symphony immediately set the tone of “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship,” while the character of Scheherazade recurred as a violin solo, played by concertmistress Basia Danilow. Ms. Danilow’s mournful opening solo emerged elegantly out of the orchestral texture, accompanied by Andre Tarantiles on the harp. Throughout the piece, Ms. Danilow took all the time she needed for rubato and ends of phrases, becoming saucier as Scheherazade manipulated the Sultan to spare her own life. Mr. Tarantiles’s delicate harp accompaniment played a large role throughout the piece, and a number of instrumental soloists stepped up with very clean playing. One does not often hear bassoon solos, which Seth Baer provided in the second movement, and Ms. Mitsel and Mr. Bedenko continued their effective playing. An elegant second trombone solo (also unusual orchestration) was heard from Tom Hutchinson, and cellist Alistair MacRae provided very clean solo passages.

In the four movements of this work, Ms. Danilow played with character and style, including numerous double stops in the fourth movement around swirling winds. Mr. Milanov conducted this piece from memory, showing his comfort zone with the work. Getting this performance to the actual stage may have been a challenge, but once performers and audience were in place, everyone seemed to be very glad to be there.


THE BUCK STOPS HERE: The head of MI6 (Judi Dench) accepts full responsibility for the apparent death of Agent 007, aka James Bond (Daniel Craig, not shown), but refuses to step down from her post. Of course, her stubbornness is vindicated when Bond resurfaces alive and well and proceeds to track down the maniacal madman (played by Javier Bardem, not shown) and put an end to his attempts at world domination.

Each new James Bond film is destined to be compared to all the prior movies in the enduring series. Directed by Academy Award-winner Sam Mendes (for American Beauty), Skyfall earns high grades because it pales in the eyes of this critic only in relation to the standard-setting classic films that starred Sean Connery as 007.

Daniel Craig returns for a third episode of savoir faire and derring-do as the legendary British secret agent with “a license to kill” and matches wits with a maniacal madman played by Oscar-winner Javier Bardem (for No Country for Old Men). Besides the obligatory villain bent on world domination, this 007 adventure arrives complete with trademarks such as witty repartee, a bevy of Bond girls (most notably Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe), exotic locales, and a memorable title song (by Adele) that oozes the required combination of danger and sensuality.

The movie wastes little time launching into high gear, opening with a daredevil motorcycle chase across roofs high above Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, that leads to an even more eye-popping stunt atop a careening freight train approaching the proverbial mountain tunnel. The incident ends with a breathtaking plunge into a river that apparently claims Bond’s life.

Back at MI6 headquarters, responsibility for the tragedy is ultimately placed squarely on the shoulders of M (Dame Judi Dench). However, she refuses to turn in her resignation when called to account by her boss (Ralph Fiennes).

Of course, 007 isn’t really dead, and he soon resurfaces to embark, with M’s blessing, on a revenge-fueled, name-clearing, international manhunt with ports-of-call in Macau and Shanghai that ends in a spectacular showdown on an ancestral family estate in Scotland. What makes the roller coaster ride so much fun is a plethora of surprising plot twists.

Brace yourself for the best Bond picture in ages, thanks to Daniel Craig’s coming of age to make the role his own.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, smoking, violence, and intense action sequences. Running time: 143 minutes. Studio: Columbia Pictures.


Arts Council of Princeton, Paul Robeson Center, 102 Witherspoon Street is showing works by Shiva Ahmadi, Monira Al Quadari, Nezaket Ekici, Hayv Kahraman, and Efret Kedem as part of “The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art and Society” series, through November 21. Outdoor sculpture by Mike Gyampo is on view through March 30 on the Michael Graves Terrace. On November 8 at 7 p.m., Ifat Shatzky, Samira Abbassy and Milcah Bassel will speak about their work in the Fertile Crescent show. Visit www.artscouncil
ofprinceton.org.

Cafe 44, 44 Leigh Avenue, shows “PLAYBACK! Paintings by James Bongartz” November 17-December 16. Call (609) 924-3900.

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

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows “Nantucket” by India Blake, “Cityscapes” by Charles Miller and Richard Trenner, and “Recent Work” by Kenneth Kaplowitz through November 11. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, is showing “Einstein at Home” and “From Princeton to the White House,” which celebrates the 100th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson, through January 13. At the Updike Farmhouse on Quaker Road, “Call to Action: How a President Used Art to Sway a Nation,” World War I posters from the collection, and “A Morning at Updike Farmstead: Photographs by the Princeton Photography Club” are open November 17 and December 15, 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, presents “Portrait of Place: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints of New Jersey, 1761-1898” through January 13. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. Visit www.morven.org.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Root and Branch,” which explores the form of a tree in art and includes several art forms, through November 25. Works by Parastou Forouhar, Mona Hatoum, Sigalit Landau, Shirin Neshat and Laila Shawa are on view through January 13 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. “Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vase Painting of the Ik’ Kingdom” is on exhibit through February 17. “City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus” is on view through January 20. 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.

November 6, 2012

A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence ….

—John Keats in letter, Oct 27, 1818

Finally I’ve found an occasion worthy of a column on The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (PEPP) the monumental volume (1639 pages, 700 contributors) just published in the new, greatly expanded fourth edition by Princeton University Press. Halloween may seem an unlikely holiday context for a volume that devotes over a million words and a thousand entries to the unscary subject of poetry, except that October 31 is also the 227th birthday of John Keats (1795-1821), of all poets surely the one most likely to dominate the electoral college of verse should there ever be an election for the standard bearer of English poetry.

Keats the Key

To explore a book this immense it helps to have a key and Keats will be mine. He makes his first appearance in the African American Poetry entry in reference to the conflict between Countee Cullen, who was “extravagantly admiring of Keats” and Langston Hughes, whose major influence was the blues. If you have the genies of the net at your disposal, and if Storming Sandy has not stolen your power, a click of the mouse will give you Cullen’s “To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time” (“‘John Keats is dead,’ they say, but I/Who hear your full insistent cry/In bud and blossom, leaf and tree,/Know John Keats still writes poetry”). No need to stop there. Every page, every entry in the encyclopedia is freighted with leads to follow online, where Cullen’s bio tells you that no one knows for sure when or where he was born (May 30, 1903, is the best bet), though it could be either New York, Baltimore, or Lexington, Kentucky, the state Keats’s brother George and sister-in-law Georgiana, the recipients of his best and longest letters, emigrated to in 1818. Another virtual side trip and you can learn something of George’s life in Louisville as a civic leader and patron of the arts.

Finding Kunin

The site of Keats’s next appearance further indicates how the encyclopedia extends its reach into the wider world. Located under “A,” the “Poetry as Artifact” is the contribution of one A. Kunin. What to make of that “A”? Not only are the first names of contributors abbreviated in the PEPP, so are oft-used terms like classical (cl.) and modern (mod.) and centuries (cs.). This big book couldn’t breathe without abbreviations. But who and where is Kunin? Male or female, Andy or Ann?

Back in 1993, when PEPP’s third edition was published, the “information superhighway” was still a work in progress, and you’d have worn yourself out tracking down Aaron Kunin, who turns out to be “a rising star in the poetry world.” That’s according to the Holloway Series in Poetry website, where you can see a video of Kunin (thin, glasses, Afro) reading from his work. He teaches 18th century literature at Pomona College and gets good marks on Rate Your Professor (“I love him,” “the sweetest guy,” “oh what a dreamboat!”) except for the complaint that Mr. Kunin “tends to talk too long about small details.” A student in his Milton class (the “oh what a dreamboat” person, in fact) says he “can relate biblical characters to a fashion photograph of a mini skirt without the slightest hesitance.” Clearly this is someone who was born to contribute to a 21st century encyclopedia on poetry and poetics.

Keats’s connection to “Poetry as Artifact” is his sonnet, “On first looking into Chapman’s Homer.” After bringing in Heidegger, “a mod. exponent of humanist trad.,” and “15th and 16th cs. processed knowledge through cl. poetic models,” Kunin comes to the conclusion (hardly a great perceptual leap) that when Keats writes about Chapman’s translation of Homer, Chapman’s text brings him “closer to Homer than to Chapman.” Meanwhile no mention is made of Keats’s “Ode On a Grecian Urn,” arguably the most famous poem ever written about an artifact.

E. Rohrbach’s Capability

The only entry in PEPP that Keats himself generated is, not surprisingly, “Negative Capability,” a term coined in one of those extraordinarily rich letters sent to George and Georgiana in America. Google images of E. Rohrbach, the article’s author, and you find that “E” is for Emily, who is instantly appealing with her long dark hair, intense, intelligent gaze and potent, mysterious smile. It’s refreshing that rather than going off on tangents, Ms. Rohrbach, an assistant professor at Northwestern University, wisely uses much of her modest portion of PEPP to quote from the poet’s letters, including, most effectively, the Oct. 27 1818 one to Richard Woodhouse on the “poetical Character” that contains the line claiming that the poet is the “most unpoetical of any thing in existence.”

All unpoetical bets are off when Ms. Rohrbach merges the man “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts” with the one who “has no self … is everything and nothing … lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated.” Once you accept the notion of the chameleon poet, the poetical spirit that has “no self” but freely inhabits “everything and nothing,” what’s to keep the poet from an intimate encounter with his interpreter, who as a visiting professor at Rutgers in 2008 lectured on “the Romantic sense of time as a teeming present that produces an excess of what can potentially be known, due in part to the way that knowledge of that present rests on an imagined, dark futurity.” Imagine fair Emily murmuring of “dark futurity” in Keats’s ear at some dinner party in eternal London, she the “soft-spoken professor … a bit quirky but genuinely nice,” as described in Rate Your Teacher.

Understood

I’ll admit that last rendezvous was a bit over the top, but flights of fancy are going to happen when a sane, sensible, well-meaning reviewer confronts a tome of such dauntingly formal proportions with an agenda that “covers the history, theories, techniques, and criticism of poetry from its earliest days,” including comprehensive and in-depth coverage of international poetry, with articles on the poetries of more than 110 nations, regions, and languages, particularly in non-Western and developing areas, as well as an entry on postcolonial poetics. Of the more than 250 new articles, there are essays and descriptions on recent terms, movements and related topics that are either “new or previously under-studied.”

While it can’t be called blatantly unpoetical, PEPP appears to be the forthright opposite of the poetical stereotype, no fancy design elements, no embellishments, no flowery friezes or “leaf-fringed legends.” The cover design seems solid and sensible, at least until you take a closer look at the cluster of miniature uniform spheres reminiscent of the Pac Man video game played obsessively by fathers and sons alike in the early 1980s. Look inside those tiny spheres and there are fingers, toes, noses, eyes, ears, mouths, some with lipstick, smiling, some with teeth bared; there’s even what appears to be a navel. Open the book to the copyright page and you learn that you’ve been looking at a piece of visual or “evident” verse in the form of a collage called “Love Poem” (1964), by the Czech poet and artist Ji í Kolá  (1914-2002).

The truth is, when you look through The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, you find interspersed with categories like “Catalepsis” and “Catachresis,” “Ictus,” and “Prosimetrum,” entries on “Emotion” and “Empathy and Sympathy” (Keats makes appearances in both). Terms suggestive of the deepest expressions of human nature seem at first appealingly foreign to the informative function associated with and expected of encyclopedias, which of course is what poetry is all about. I can’t imagine what Keats would have done if faced with this mountainous prospect, but my guess is that another October poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (born ten days and 23 years before Keats) would treat it with the most eager attention, as if it were a ten-day hike through the Lake Country whereon he would plant as he walked whole fields and gardens of marginalia.


The editor in chief of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, which is also available online, is Roland Greene, a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Stanford University. The general editor, Stephen Cushman, is a professor of English at the University of Virginia. Associate editors include Clare Cavanagh, a professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature at Northwestern University; Jahan Ramazani, an English professor at the University of Virginia; and Paul F. Rouzer, who is associate professor of Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Minnesota.

 

Thirty-three years is a long time for a chorus to be under the leadership of one person, and when the reins change hands, there are surely adjustments all the way around. Ryan James Brandau, the new artistic director of Princeton Pro Musica, wisely chose for his first concert with the ensemble pieces which were right in the chorus’s wheelhouse. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem is a work well in the comfort zone of Pro Musica, as is the music of J.S. Bach, and both composers are a good vehicle for the chorus and conductor to become acquainted. Dr. Brandau and the 100-voice Pro Musica presented the first fruits of this collaboration on Sunday afternoon at Richardson Auditorium with a concert of Mozart and Bach which showed that this new relationship is clearly working out.

A work originally composed for a funeral might not seem a good piece to celebrate Brandau’s beginning tenure with Pro Musica, but the one-movement O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht is vintage Bach, especially in the composer’s own second “arrangement” including trumpets. Conducting without a baton, Brandau presented a smooth and peaceful interpretation of this piece, blending strings and trumpets well. He kept the sopranos of Pro Musica restrained with the chorale tune, with the tenor section sounding particularly unstressed. Brandau brought out the lower voices of the chorus, effectively eliciting relaxed phrase cadences from the ensemble, aided by the small and precise orchestral ensemble. Especially subtle trumpet parts were provided by Rodney Mack and Thomas Cook.

As a nod to his predecessor, Brandau programmed an instrumental work to give the chorus a rest and show the more virtuostic side of Bach. Solo violinist Elizabeth Field, well-versed in 18th-century performance practice, joined the orchestra for Bach’s three-movement Violin Concerto in E Major, which could easily have been a seventh “Brandenburg” concerto, containing the same chipper spirit in a bright key. As with concerti of the time, soloist Ms. Field played with the ensemble for much of the time, coming out of the instrumental fabric with clean sequences, rhythms, and melodies. Phrases had elegant direction from all players, and Ms. Field added color to the solo line on cadenzas. In the second movement, Ms. Field played the countermelody with more richness and a bit of Romanticism, showing that Bach was not all about virtuoso playing. Ensemble and soloist maintained a graceful lilt to the third movement rondo, showing especially delicate endings to the instrumental refrains.

Pro Musica had its chance to shine in Mozart’s Requiem, performed from an edition which may not have been familiar to all chorus members and which added new fugal passages to the score. As Mozart aficionados know, the composer died in mid-composition of the piece, and “how would Mozart have finished this” has been one of the great musicological mysteries for the past two hundred years. In the 1990s, scholar Robert Levin presented his version, which gave the chorus additional challenging music, but which may have taken some drama out of the orchestral writing, particularly in the “Benedictus.” This was the version performed by Pro Musica on Sunday afternoon, challenging the audience to pay a bit more attention to a piece they may have thought they knew backwards and forwards.

Throughout the piece, Brandau maintained a well-balanced sound from the chorus, with cleanly articulated fugal lines in the “Kyrie,” “Amen,” the “Lacrymosa,” and “Cum Sanctis Tuis” which closed the work. He is clearly a stickler for detail, and there were very few false entrances or final consonants spilling over. His approach to the piece, with attention to word accents and gradual dynamic builds within the movements would make the work easy to sing for the chorus, with a great deal of musical variety within a well-contained scope of sound. The orchestra continued its precise approach to the music, with especially clean playing from cellists Jodi Beder and Elizabeth Thompson and clarinetists Daniel Spitzer and Rie Suzuki in the Recordare quartet. A trio of trombones, played by Brian Mahany, Richard Harris, and Pat Herb, subtly balanced the lower registers of the orchestra and reminded the audience that Mozart was on his way to the 19th century when he wrote this piece.

The chorus was joined by a quartet of vocal soloists, several of whom have local connections. Soprano Justine Aronson possessed a youthful and clear voice which matched the clarinet color perfectly in some of the quartet passages. Ms. Aronson also showed particular sensitivity to the text, especially on the words “supplicanti parce” (“spare the supplicant”). Mezzo-soprano Amanda Quist blended well with Ms. Aronson, showing the strength of her sound in the “Benedictus” quartet, as did tenor Christopher Hodson. The most unique singer to appear on the Richardson stage recently by far was bass-baritone Dashon Burton, who easily is headed for a great career. With a terrific set of waist-length dreadlocks which breaks the traditional “classical singer” visual mode, Mr. Burton combined self-assuredness, a commanding voice, and precision gained from singing in top-notch choral ensembles to provide a solid foundation to the vocal quartet. One definitely wants to hear more from this singer.

Ryan James Brandau and Princeton Pro Musica performed this concert on the eve of the “frankenstorm” threatening New Jersey. Brandau did not announce his arrival like a hurricane, but rather with a solid performance which foretells great things to come with the chorus.


THANK GOODNESS HE WAS FLYING THE PLANE: Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) confidently boards his airplane even though he is legally drunk and has stayed up all night drinking and snorting coke together with a stewardess (Nadine Velazquez, not shown). In spite of these grave infractions of the rules, Whip is able to land the plane after a disastrous failure of its hydraulic system. The subsequent investigation reveals Whip’s shortcomings and the question is, will he be able to cover up his criminally liable actions.

Co-pilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty) is at the helm of SouthJet Flight 227 from Orlando to Atlanta because the plane’s captain, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), has passed out after a night of debauchery in which he drank booze and snorted coke while carousing with a stewardess (Nadine Velazquez). However, when the plane unexpectedly encounters severe turbulence and starts losing altitude the concerned rookie immediately rouses the senior officer out of a deep sleep.

Despite a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit, the veteran aviator assumes control and quickly ascertains that the plane’s plunge is due to a complete failure of the hydraulic system. He further surmises that the only hope of pulling out of the precipitous nosedive requires that he lower the landing gear prematurely, dump fuel, and fly the aircraft upside-down.

Against all odds, he executes each step flawlessly, unless you count clipping the top off a church steeple moments before making an emergency landing in an open field. 96 of the 102 passengers survive, and Whip’s astonishing feat is soon the subject of the national media.

However, during its routine investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) uncovers evidence that the pilot had a blood alcohol level of .24 at the time of the accident. Since six people perished in the crash, Captain Whitaker could be held criminally liable for their deaths.

Will the hero’s image be tarnished by scandal? Not if his defense attorney (Don Cheadle) and the union representative (Bruce Greenwood) have anything to say about it. The two hatch a plan to suppress the toxicology report and to sober Whip up by the time of the NTSB hearing.

Directed by Academy Award-winner Bob Zemeckis (for Forest Gump), Flight is a riveting thriller with spellbinding special effects and an unparalleled performance by two-time Oscar-winner Denzel Washington (for Glory and Training Day). After the spectacular opening scene plane crash, the picture shifts in tone to a portrait of a self-destructive addict who is in denial and plagued by demons.

The supporting cast features Kelly Reilly as Whip’s love interest, John Goodman as his drug dealer, Melissa Leo as a snoopy NTSB bureaucrat, as well as Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood. This movie is as much a star vehicle as Zemeckis’s Cast Away, where Tom Hanks was the only actor on screen for over an hour.

Excellent (****). Rated R for drug and alcohol abuse, nudity, sexuality, and an intense action sequence. Running time: 139 minutes. Distributor: Paramount Pictures.


October 24, 2012

“No one is beyond the reach of Bruce!”

—Governor Chris Christie

The day after the second debate I’m at the library to return the DVD of Season 3 of Breaking Bad when I spot Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball on display among the CDs. While I don’t lie in wait for the new Springsteen the way I do for the new Dylan, the Boss’s recent decision to endorse President Obama makes me curious to hear what he has to say in his latest album. It turns out that the people in Bruce’s songs, “trudging through the dark in a world gone wrong,” have some recession-driven issues in common with Breaking Bad’s Walt White, the cash-strapped, cancer-stricken high school science teacher who moonlights at a car wash and finds a way to provide for his family and cover over-the-top medical expenses by cooking to-die-for crystal blue methamphetamine.

In spite of his recent appearances in Ohio and Iowa on behalf of Obama, Springsteen’s appeal cuts across party lines and what better or bigger embodiment of the fact than Governor Chris Christie, who has been to 129-plus of the Boss’s concerts. As Jeffrey Goldberg puts it in the July Atlantic, containing Christie at a Springsteen event is “an exercise in volcano management” for his communications director. After dancing around “in front of many thousands of people without giving a damn what they think” and shouting the words to “Badlands” along with Springsteen (“Poor man wanna be rich/Rich man wanna be king”), Christie is fed a “trick question” from Goldberg. Asked if Mitt Romney “could relate to this,” Christie “screams over the noise of the crowd,” twice: “No one is beyond the reach of Bruce!”

The Big Chill 

Rolling Stone gave “We Take Care Of Our Own,” the lead track on Wrecking Ball, four stars when it was released as a single January 19. Driving down Witherspoon with the song playing at top volume on Moby, my four-wheeled CRV stereo unit, I’m thinking it’s way better than four stars. For Springsteen, I have my own rating system, call it the Chill Chart. Five degrees of chill means an instantaneous tingle on the back of the neck, radiating out to the extremities, accompanied in this case by a surge in acceleration from the mobile stereo, which longs to hit the highway, even though the song says “The road of good intentions/has gone dry as a bone.” Moby doesn’t care. A road is a road to this 12-year-old totally apolitical Honda. Moby doesn’t need to know who the “We” is or whether it’s actually truly taking care of its own or if it’s a good or an evil “We” or a conflicted, hopelessly compromised, and ultimately inadequate “We.”

But Bruce is singing his heart out, and in the now and forever of the moment the message is “We Can Do It” because everything in the music is UP and straight ahead. It’s got the blast-off-for-the-territory excitement of “Born to Run” — it’s that exhilarating.

If a song hits five on the Chill Chart at the outset, what do you do when it rises to an even higher level, as the great Springsteen anthems do? When Bruce asks “where’s the promise from sea to shining sea,” and answers, loud and clear, “wherever this flag is flown,” the music is driving, pounding, soaring as it redeems and redefines words long since drained of their original force. The stirring poetry of “sea to shining sea” is fresh again when Springsteen sings it, and the flag isn’t the tiny item politicians dutifully pin to their lapels; it’s another breed of flag, the real thing. This flag is the one you want to believe in, as the music tells you to in spite of the words. It’s the tattered flag of the American Dream, the same flag waved by Emerson and Whitman and Ginsberg and now Obama.

Think back to Charlotte, N.C., September 6, the president’s going strong, steaming down the finish line to the closing crescendo of his acceptance speech, the convention faithful roaring. “We don’t turn back!” the preacher’s telling the congregation. “We leave no one behind! We pull each other up!” On the verge of actually singing Springsteen’s line, Obama God Blesses the nation, the balloons soar, and the music explodes from the DNC amps, Springsteen coming on like thunder, saying it for him, “We Take Care Of Our Own!” Was it mere happenstance that the rhetoric of the speech segued so neatly into the rhetoric of the song? And did the president sneak a listen to Springsteen during his prep time for the second debate, channeling the words and the music and the energy in the hours before the CNN clock struck nine on October 16?

According to the Huffington Post, Springsteen’s anthem got a huge post-convention bounce online, jumping 400-plus percent with 2000 downloads. If Springsteen had not yet officially endorsed Obama, he’d at least provided him with a rousing fight song.

But the big bounce, the inspirational jumpstart, came the Saturday before the second debate when, as if to put to rest the fight song’s complaint, “There ain’t no help, the cavalry stayed home,” the Obama campaign announced that the Boss was on board and here he comes, galloping into view with bugles blowing as Obama comes out swinging for the third debate.

“If I Had Me a Gun”

As inspirational as it is musically (it’s produced by Ron Aniello), Wrecking Ball is not something the Democrats would want to fold into the campaign of a candidate determined to avoid being tagged with the “angry black man” label. Most of the album’s strongest songs pulse with passion and outrage, despair and desperation leading to criminal acts, theft, murder, and mayhem. Even the opening anthem, with its devious, at best ambiguous “We,” has no hope in it but the music: “good hearts turned to stone …. From the shotgun shack to the Super Dome.” When good intentions and good hearts are no more, you get the next song, “Easy Money.” Sung with savage gusto, it picks up and acts on the kinetic force of the “shotgun shack” line: “And all them fat cats they just think it’s funny,” so the singer’s “going on the town now looking for easy money” and he’s packing “a Smith & Wesson .38.” And inside him, he’s “got a hellfire burning.” Yet he sings like his belly is full, his energy is high, his spirit bold and unbowed.

“Shackled and Drawn” carries the narrative further, as if the character who went to town with a gun got himself caught and is serving time: “Gambling man rolls the dice,/working man pays the bill/It’s still fat and easy up on banker’s hill,” where “the party’s going strong” while “Down here below we’re shackled and drawn.” Once again Springsteen balances the vehemence of the singing and the lyrics with music that makes you want to run around waving your arms when you should be shooting your way out of prison. No need when the Irish-jig-infectious melodic riff has already set you free.

The next five-star hit on the Chill Chart is “Jack Of All Trades.” Your first thought is that this is one man’s voice from the jobless multitude victimized by the recession. This guy’s out of work, his wife needs consoling (“Honey we’ll be all right”), so he’ll mow your lawn, clean your drains, mend your roof, fix your engine until it’s running good. So far it’s tough but tender, spare but musically grandiose, even at times symphonic, with soulful trumpets and Tom Morello’s equally soulful guitar coda at the end. But then, like the songs before it, “Jack Of All Trades” takes a dark turn as “the banker man grows fat/working man grows thin/It’s all happened before and it’ll happen again.” And “If I had me a gun/I’d find the bastards and shoot ‘em on sight.”

Springsteen sings “Death to My Home Town” like a no-nonsense Irish sergeant -major briskly commanding his troops while a marching band backs this call-to-arms revision of Bruce’s signature lament, “My Home Town.” Where the town in the early song had “fights between the black and white,” shotgun blasts and vacant stores, in the later one the devastation is total: “They destroyed our families, factories/and they took our homes/They left our bodies on the plains/The vultures picked our bones.” So there’s nothing for it but to march into battle against the monied enemy with a rousing chorus: “Sing it hard and sing it well/Send the robber barons straight to hell.”

In the Springsteen repertoire since 1999, “Land of Hope and Dreams,” is the most purely inspirational song on the album, with the late Clarence Clemons powering “this train” of “saints and sinners.” While a special feature of the Wrecking Ball liner notes is Springsteen’s elegiac appreciation of the Big Man “and the force of nature that was his sound,” the finest tribute is the closing song, “We Are Alive,” where Bruce sings, “Sleep well my friend/It’s only our bodies that betray us in the end,” “the dead come to life/well above the stars” and “Our spirits rise/to carry the fire and light the spark/To stand shoulder to shoulder and/heart to heart” (the liner notes contain a for-the-ages photo of Springsteen and Clemons doing just that). Here the performance, the music, and the lyrics enter a realm of art beyond rankings, politics, and events of the moment. When the dust of the 2012 campaign has cleared, whatever happens, this song and this album will be played and played and played, doing for listeners what Bruce says music did for him, providing “a community, filled with people … who I didn’t know but who I knew were out there.”

The quote is from an in-depth conversation with Will Percy that ran in the spring 1998 issue of Double Take magazine and can be found in Racing In the Street: The Bruce Springsteen Reader (Penguin 2004). A decade later the election to New Jersey’s highest office of one of the Springsteen community’s most devoted members has forced the Boss to confront what his power hath wrought, given Goldberg’s claim that “the people whose lives Springsteen explores in his songs” were among the 63 percent “of white voters with only high school diplomas” who went for Christie in 2009.

———

Soon after checking out the library copy of Wrecking Ball, which lacks the liner notes, I went to the Record Exchange and bought the deluxe edition that also includes two exceptional bonus tracks, “Swallowed Up (in the Belly of the Whale)” and “American Land.”


Alfa Art Gallery at George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, presents “The Message,” a solo exhibition by Vesselin Kourtev, through November 20. Visit www.AlfaArt.org.

Art for Healing Gallery, University Medical Center of Princeton, Route 1, Plainsboro, is showing watercolors by Joel Popadics from October 26 through January. The opening reception is October 26, 5:30-8 p.m.

Art Times Two Gallery, Princeton Brain and Spine Care, 731 Alexander Road, presents “Energy in Mind: Picturing Consciousness,” works by Jennifer Cadoff, Debra Weier and Andrew Werth, November-April. The opening reception is November 8, 5-7 p.m. After that date, view by appointment. Call (609) 203-4622.

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, presents “Patterns & Meaning: Alan J. Klawans and Andrew Werth,” November 9-December 2. Both artists use the computer as a tool in creating their work. The opening reception is November 10, 3-6 p.m. Visit www.lambertvillearts.com.

Arts Council of Princeton, Paul Robeson Center, 102 Witherspoon Street is showing works by Shiva Ahmadi, Monira Al Quadari, Nezaket Ekici, Hayv Kahraman, and Efret Kedem as part of “The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art and Society” series, through November 21. Outdoor sculpture by Mike Gyampo is on view through March 30 on the Michael Graves Terrace. Visit www.artscouncilof
princeton.org.

Bernstein Gallery at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, has paintings by Hanna von Goeler October 29-December 6. The reception is November 2 from 7-9 p.m.

Bucks County Gallery, 77 West Bridge Street, New Hope, Pa., presents a solo exhibit by Christine Graefe Drewyer through October 28. From November 2-30, five artists including Dot Bunn and John Murdoch will show their paintings. Visit www.buckscountygal
leryart.com.

D&R Greenway, Johnson Education Center, 1 Preservation Place, presents “Sustainable Harvest: Creating Community Through the Land,” a mixed-media show about farmland, iconic farm structures, and new perspectives on crops and creatures, through November 9. Winners of the “Species on the Edge” art and essay contest, devoted to New Jersey’s endangered and threatened species, is in the Olivia Rainbow Gallery, also through November 9.

Ellarslie, Trenton City Museum in Cadwalader Park, Parkside Avenue, Trenton, is showing “Naturally, Man-Made, in Full View: The Art of le Corbeau” through November 4. Showing through January 13 is “James Rhodes, Trenton Stoneware Potter, 1773-1784” and “Contemporary Art from the TMS Collection.” Call (609) 989-3632 or visit www.ellarslie.org.

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

Gallery and Academy of Robert Beck, 204 North Union Street, Lambertville, shows paintings by Mr. Beck and hand-wrought clocks by Raymond Mathis through November 18. Visit www.robertbeck.net.

Gallery at Chapin, 4101 Princeton Pike, has drawings and paintings by Dot Bunn through October 26. From November 1-December 14, “Abstract Drawings and Paintings” by Pat Martin will be shown. The opening reception is November 7, 5-7 p.m. Call (609) 924-7206.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows “Nantucket” by India Blake, “Cityscapes” by Charles Miller and Richard Trenner, and “Recent Work” by Kenneth Kaplowitz through November 11. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Garden State Watercolor Society presents its 43rd Annual Juried Exhibition through October 28 at Prallsville Mills in Stockton. For times and details on special events, visit www.garden
statewatercolorsociety.net.

Gelavino Gelato Shop at Princeton Shopping Center, North Harrison Street, is showing 12 prints by Princeton High School junior Jane Robertson through October 31.

Gourgaud Gallery, Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A Main Street, Cranbury, hosts Colleen Cahill, who will show her pastels, watercolors and mixed media pieces in a show called “Transitions” through October 28. “Quiet Dignity,” the art of Cyndi Girardet,” is on view November 4-25. The opening reception is November 4, 1-3 p.m. Visit www.cranbury.org.

Grounds for Sculpture, Fairgrounds Road in Hamilton, presents Ming Fay’s “Canutopia” installed in the new East Gallery through February 15. Sculptor Mark Parsons will speak about the inspiration for his work and the process of creating sculpture as a community undertaking on October 27 at 1 p.m. Admission to the talk is $5. Visit www.grounds
forsculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, is showing “Einstein at Home” and “From Princeton to the White House,” which celebrates the 100th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson, through January 13. At the Updike Farmhouse on Quaker Road, “Call to Action: How a President Used Art to Sway a Nation,” World War I posters from the collection, and “A Morning at Updike Farmstead: Photographs by the Princeton Photography Club” are open November 17 and December 15, 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

JB Kline Gallery, 25 Bridge Street, Lambertville, is showing “At the Same Place at the Same Time,” paintings by S.L. Baker, through October. Visit www.slbakerpaintings.com.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has “Creative Hand, Discerning Heart: Story, Symbol, Self,” through December 30. “Parting Gifts: Artists Honor Bruce Katsiff” is on view through December 9. Visit www.michener
artmuseum.org.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, has “Lynd Ward Draws Stories: Inspired by Mexico’s History, Mark Twain, and Adventures in the Woods” through June 23, 2013. Through January 6, “Art=Text=Art: Works by Contemporary Artists” will be on view, from the collection of drawing collectors Wynn and Sally Kramarsky. “In the Company of Women: Prints by Mary Cassatt” runs through March 3. “Le Mur’ at the Cabaret des Quat’z Arts” is on view through February 24.

Lawrence Art & Frame Gallery, 2495 US1, Lawrenceville, presents new paintings by Bill Plank November 9-December 9. The artist will work on a new landscape painting in the store window November 9 and 10 from 12-4 p.m.

Lawrenceville School’s Marguerite & James Hutchins Gallery, Gruss Center of Visual Arts, Lawrenceville, has a Faculty Exhibition 2012 through October 27. Visit www.law
renceville.org.

Lewis Center for the Arts’ Lucas Gallery, 185 Nassau Street, opens its season with a drawing show by more than 40 students, through October 26. The gallery is newly renovated and will feature work by ceramics students November 13-21, and by those studying sculpture, graphic design, and photography December 4-14. Free public lectures by faculty members continue with painter Josephine Halverson on November 7, and filmmaker Su Friedrich on December 5. Visit www.princeton.edu/arts.

Mariboe Gallery at Peddie School, Swig Arts Center, Hightstown, presents “Nuits Blanches,” recent paintings by Frank Rivera, through November 12. Visit www.ped
die.org/mariboegallery.

MCCC Gallery, Mercer County Community College, 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor, presents “MCCC Faculty Exhibit 2012” through November 8. Call (609) 570-3589 or visit www.mccc.edu/gallery.

Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, presents “Portrait of Place: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints of New Jersey, 1761-1898” through January 13. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

New Hope Sidetracks Art Gallery, 2A Stockton Avenue, New Hope, presents its Sixth Annual Naked in New Hope exhibition, a group show about the human body, through November 3.

Outsider Art Gallery, 10 Bridge Street, Suite 4, Frenchtown, has a show of work by artists from the Canary Islands and England through November 1. Additional venues are the first floor of New Hope Arts, next door, and The Raven, New Hope Lodge, 400 West Bridge Street. Call (215) 862-4586.

Plainsboro Library Gallery, 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro, presents portraits by artist/architect Pablo Riestra, through October 31. For the month of November, an exhibit of ArtSpace, a program of HomeFront, will be on view. Client artists will be on hand November 11 from 2-4 p.m. to discuss their work at a reception. Call (609) 275-2897 for more information.

Present Day Club, 72 Stockton Street, presents “From Oysters to Artichokes: a new look at still life paintings,” October 29-December 20. Artists Heather Barros, Betty Curtiss, Meg Brinster Michael, Stephen S. Kennedy, and Mary Waltham are in this show. The opening reception is November 2, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Call (609) 430-0897.

Princeton Art Gallery, 20 Nassau Street, will hold a reception for painter Xinle Ma on October 27 from 3-5 p.m. Call (609) 937-5089 for information.

Princeton Day School’s Anne Reid Art Gallery is showing a photography exhibit by Dan Mead and Sally Eagle, “Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon,” through November 11. The school is at 650 Great Road. Visit www.pds.org.

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

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Root and Branch,” which explores the form of a tree in art and includes several art forms, through November 25. Works by Parastou Forouhar, Mona Hatoum, Sigalit Landau, Shirin Neshat and Laila Shawa are on view through January 13 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. “Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vase Painting of the Ik’ Kingdom” is on exhibit through February 17. “City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus” is on view through January 20. 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.

Princeton University League Art Gallery, 171 Broadmead, second floor, shows “Lifeline,” acrylics by Jeanne Calo, November 17 and 18, 1-5 p.m. The opening reception is November 16, 5-8 p.m.

Rider University Art Gallery, Bart Luedeke Center, Rider campus, Lawrenceville, presents “Alterations: A Retrospective,” sculptures by Joan B. Needham, October 25-December 2. The opening reception is October 25 5-7 p.m. Visit www.rider.edu/arts.

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

Triumph Brewery, 138 Nassau Street, presents a solo exhibit of portraits and abstracts by Jannick Wildberg, through November 25.

West Windsor Library, 333 North Post Road, Princeton Junction, shows a solo exhibit of watercolors and acrylics by Elizabeth Peck during the month of October.

THE FILM MAKERS’ VIEW OF THE FUTURE: Shown here is a scene from “Cloud Atlas” which depicts the directors’ (Tom Twyker, and Andy and Lana Wachowski) interpretation of the author David Miller’s vision of what Korea will be like in the year 2140 as described in his bestselling book of the same name.

Based on David Mitchell’s novel of the same name, Cloud Atlas offers an intriguing and visually captivating cinematic experience that’s well worth seeing, if only for its unorthodox narrative. However, you would be well advised to familiarize yourself with the bestseller’s cryptic plot structure, if you want to have an idea about what’s going on.

Since I hadn’t read the British Book Award winning novel, I initially found myself quite baffled by the surrealistic elliptical storyline. Still, I was able to enjoy it immensely after gradually discerning the underlying method to the time-shifting madness.

The story consists of a half-dozen insular adventures which ultimately interlock despite unfolding over the course of past, present, and future eras. They transpire in locales as far afield as a Pacific atoll in the 1840s, Cambridge, England in the 1930s, San Francisco in the 1970s, present day London, Korea in the 2140s, and a post apocalyptic Hawaii in the 2340s. Meanwhile, the adventures’ themes range from slavery and gay love, to corporate mind control.

It took a collaboration by a trio of noted directors, Tom Twyker (Run Lola Run) and Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix), to create this ambitious $100 million screen adaptation. In addition, the principal cast members, including Oscar-winners Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, and Jim Broadbent, each play multiple versions of reincarnated characters.

Cloud Atlas is a morality play about human fears, frailties, and failings as well as a mind-bending science fiction mystery. While you’re busy deciphering complicated clues, the picture intermittently indulges in fortune cookie type philosophy about the deeper meaning of life.

The dialogue is diminished by preachy poster speak such as “separation is an illusion,” “to know yourself is only possible through the eyes of another,” and “from womb to tomb we are bound to others” that is designed to deliver a simplistic New Age message. Another minor flaw is the film’s almost three-hour running time, which can easily be explained by the directors’ desire to remain as faithful to the 544-page source material as possible, rather than conflate characters, condense chapters, and make other concessions for the sake of a Hollywood formula.

Very Good (***). Rated R for violence, profanity, sexuality, ethnic slurs, nudity, and drug use. In English and Spanish with subtitles. Running time: 172 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.


October 17, 2012

Game 4 of the 2011 National League Division Series was do or die for St. Louis Cardinal manager Tony La Russa. None of his players knew it, but La Russa had made up his mind to retire at the end of the 2011 season. All the Phillies needed was a win and they would take the series 3 games to 1 and La Russa’s Hall-of-Fame-worthy career would be over. The facts say that the Cardinals won that game because of timely hitting and strong relief pitching: “our bullpen came through for us,” as La Russa makes clear in his new book One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season (Morrow $27.99). The Cards went on to beat the Phils in the NLDS, the Brewers in the National League Championship Series, and the Texas Rangers in the World Series, after turning it around with a crushing three-time come-from-behind win in Game 6.

Facts are facts and myths are myths, however, and the mythic version says the Cardinals’ fortunes changed in that key game 4 when a squirrel romped across home plate, so distracting pitcher Roy Oswalt that the Phils manager Charlie Manuel protested to the umpire. When questioned about the incident after the game, La Russa suggested an amorous relationship between the Rally Squirrel, as it was by then already known to Cardinal fans, and Torty, slugger Alan Craig’s pet tortoise (whenever Craig came up to hit, his teammates would shout, “Do it for Torty!”). After Phillie fans threw a stuffed squirrel into the Cardinals’ bull pen, the relief corps made a good luck mascot of it, and were all but unhittable as the Cards proceeded to take the NLCS against the Brewers. During the celebration, the stuffed squirrel was sprayed with beer and champagne.

To say that the Rally Squirrel impacted the Cardinals’ 2011 championship run might sound a bit fanciful, but in the realm of the Net, strange things were happening. A Twitter account was started for the Rally Squirrel on the day it raced across home plate and within two days it had 11,000 followers. By late October the number had more than doubled. Soon the squirrel had its own theme song, its own Topps baseball card, and t-shirts were being sold in the thousands. Three days after the Cardinals won the World Series, St. Louis kids were trick or treating in Rally Squirrel costumes. And if you look closely you can see the Rally Squirrel in mid-romp engraved onto the Cardinals’ World Championship rings.

Can squirrels romp? Google Rally Squirrel on YouTube and see for yourself. This squirrel is an athlete, romping, jumping, as close to flying as grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) can get.

There’s no mention of the Rally Squirrel in La Russa’s book, but don’t let that fool you. What other baseball luminary would attract such a creature but the one who started the Animal Rescue Foundation with his wife, Elaine, in 1991 after a stray cat wandered onto the field. “The cat was threatened with being put down,” La Russa says in One Last Strike, so “Elaine and I found a home for her.”

La Russa is also seriously into music. Among his friends are Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Hornsby, jazz bassist Christian McBride, and Carlos Santana, who gave the Cardinal skipper a medallion necklace he’d worn during a September 2011 concert La Russa attended. “It had two dragons etched into the surface,” La Russa writes, “and Carlos told me that it would give me good spirit. I wore that thing every day from that point on, through the end of the World Series.”

So here’s this guy, he’s won two World Series titles in five years, he’s conversant with rock and roll, and loves animals (he travels, he admits, with a menagerie), he’s a voracious reader, has a law degree, and manages to keep all those player egos in a fine balance through unthinkably high-pressure situations — why is he so hard to like? Why does he radiate uptightness? Why do his expressions perennially hover somewhere between dour and dire?

It took me, a lifelong Cardinal fan, 15 years to begin to warm to Tony La Russa, and it wasn’t until reading One Last Strike that I really began liking him.

In Hemingway’s Time

In Ernest Hemingway’s story, “The Three Day Blow,” Nick Adams and his pal Bill are drinking Scotch and talking of books, baseball, and thwarted love. When Nick wonders if the Cards will ever win a pennant,” Bill says, “Not in our lifetime,” and Nick says, “Gee, they’d go crazy.”

In 1926, two years after the story appeared in the small press edition of In Our Time, the Cards won not only their first National League pennant but the first of eleven World Championships. You know St. Louis went crazy in 1926, but in 1985 for baseball fans everywhere and especially St. Louis Cardinals fans, Nick’s words were echoed by Cardinal-play-by-play announcer Jack Buck’s cry of “Go crazy, folks! Go crazy!” when the most unlikely of sluggers, Ozzie Smith, hit the walk-off home run that deflated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1985 playoffs.

Stunning Washington

Though the title, One Last Strike, refers to last year’s dramatics, it works as well for what happened in the elimination game of the 2012 NLDS around 12:30 a.m. October 12, when the Cardinals were down to their last strike twice. The Washington fans were on their feet, ready to explode in a perfect storm of joy; ready to, yes, go crazy. The stadium was roaring, their team a mere strike or pop up or ground out or fly ball away from surviving to play in the League Championship Series.

Cardinal fans meanwhile are about to experience what Nick Adams and Jack Buck were talking about; but they don’t know it yet; they’re waiting for the axe to fall, hopes dashed, elimination looming. If you want to truly experience going crazy, it helps if your team is down to the last strike, your heart’s in the basement, one level above the abyss. As high as the home crowd is, you’re way low, way way down, hanging on to a feather-faint thread of faith. At the same time, the memory of last October’s miracle has you feeling an irrepressible surge of it-could-happen-again-ness.

And then it does. Happen. Again!

In the top of the ninth, two runs behind, post-season miracle worker Carlos Beltran leads off with a double, and here it comes: two quick outs, two masterfully drawn walks, a pair of two-run singles, and it’s all over, and so suddenly that your joy more than overwhelms you, it runs past you, you can’t keep up with it, all you have breath to say is “I don’t believe it!” Because the very thing you’ve been wishing for, urging, willing, aching for with everything you have, has been given to you and to thousands of friends you’ll never know, those multitudes of Cardinal fans in and out of St. Louis you’ve bonded with in this moment, all sharing the same ecstasy, just as you did last October 27 and 28.

La Russa Smiles

I doubt that even Hemingway could have done justice to the sixth game of the 2011 Series, already being touted as one of the most, if not the most, exciting ever played. How then does the manager deal with what’s happening on the field in the late innings of an historic game? Aware of what he’s up against, La Russa titles the chapter, “You Had to See It for Yourself” and prefaces it by describing how he dealt with the disaster-divided World Series of 1989 when he was manager of the Oakland Athletics. In fact he’s making the Loma Prieta earthquake the opening act for David Freese’s two big moments, the first a game saver, the second a game and Series winner, given its impact on the opposition’s morale.

So, welcome to brink of elimination, “potentially the last hope for Cardinals Nation,” Texas having just taken a two-run lead, it’s the existential moment: “One strike left in the season.” At this point, with the game on the line, La Russa inserts a prosaic managerial observation: “I hoped that David would get his front foot set sooner. On the swinging strike he hadn’t.” If you could see his face as he thinks this thought, you would witness Grimness and Glowering writ large, which is why fans familiar with La Russa’s perennially thorny demeanor will appreciate the way he prefaces Freese’s game-saving hit: “David Freese then did what many people don’t think is possible. He made me smile.”

Freese made La Russa smile! Whee! Be still, my heart! The man has just saved the season by lining a triple off the wall. For that he gets a smile? How about a Thomas Wolfian goat cry? Walt Whitman’s barbaric yawp? How about “an outburst of profane joy” like Stephen Dedalus in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man? How about going crazy?

But La Russa maintains his managerial cool. “When Freese extended his hands and stepped slightly toward the outside corner, setting that front foot,” he continues, letting us know that Freese has done exactly what his manager hoped he would, “he hits a fastball,” the “sound of the contact … so pure” that La Russa first thinks it might be a walk-off home run instead of a game-tying triple.

Finally, after the Cards come unbelieavably back from another two-run deficit, it’s the 11th inning, with Freese leading off. La Russa writes: “I sensed in the ninth inning when we’d tied it that people were going to talk about this game for a long time. When we did it again in the tenth, I knew that people were going to talk about this game forever.” Now comes the coup de grace. As La Russa describes it, Freese “hit a fastball on the inner half and crushed it to straightaway center field onto the grass of the hitters’ backdrop. In situations like that, it’s almost as if the ball has some gravitational pull on you. As it climbs, it lifts you up, body and spirit. The guys at the rail rose up on their feet, craned their necks, and raised their arms above their heads.”

What we see, what we feel, is pure baseball euphoria. Like La Russa and everyone in the dugout, we jump to our feet when Freese connects, knowing it’s gone, it’s over, once again joy outruns us, flying, soaring beyond us, we can’t keep up with it, but when the small white object hits the brilliant greensward of the “hitter’s backdrop” above the center field wall and four or five kids or grown-up kids come tumbling out of the stands after it, we’re out there rolling around with them, kids again, like David, the big kid who grew up in St. Louis, rounding the bases and then charging, dancing a modified horn pipe down the third base line, flinging his cap at his feet as he runs the happy gauntlet of his teammates.

La Russa admits wanting to join the mob jumping and dancing. Instead he hugs Dave Duncan, his longtime pitching coach and confidant, “marveling at the wonder of it all.” And then he smiles. A big smile, a smile to remember.

———

One Last Strike features an introduction by third-generation Cardinal fan John Grisham, whose first baseball novel, Calico Joe, has just been published. You can see Hemingway in his Nick Adams up-in-Michigan days in “Picturing Hemingway: A Writer in His Time,” which is on the second floor of the Princeton Public Library through October 31.


Music aficionados in this area tend to think of New York City when venturing out of home range for high-quality performances, however, equally high level (and often less expensive) ensembles can be found an hour south in Philadelphia. One of the most venerable of these organizations decided that if Princeton would not come to them, they would come to Princeton. The Curtis Institute of Music presented its symphony orchestra in Richardson Auditorium last Friday night in a concert which filled the downstairs of the hall but could easily fill the entire space once the community realizes how extraordinary this orchestra is.

Most colleges and universities have orchestral ensembles to provide training and performing opportunities to their students, some of whom go on to careers in music, and then there is Curtis. It is understood at Curtis that every student in the orchestra will go on to play professionally (many as first chairs nationally and internationally) and the collective discipline, dedication, and commitment to music was clear from the stage, through to the last chairs of the more than thirty violins who played Friday night. Friday night was the Curtis Symphony Orchestra’s first foray into the Princeton area, made stronger by the choice of guest conductor — Carlos Miguel Prieto, who graduated in the class of ’87 and was clearly pleased to share his feelings about being back on the Richardson stage.

Curtis’s first mission is to train “extraordinary gifted young musicians,” and the symphony orchestra wasted no time introducing a young conducting student to the musical community. Kensho Watanabe holds two degrees from Yale and has already several premiere performances under his belt as a conductor. It was clear even from the “Star-Spangled Banner” arrangement which opened the program that Mr. Watanabe is a thoughtful and meticulous conductor, leading the orchestra with easy flowing strokes. It was also clear from the outset that the Curtis Orchestra has a young fresh sound, especially from the brass.

This concert was a collaborative effort with the Curtis Opera Theatre, and Mr. Watanabe led the orchestra in a Tchaikovsky duet based on his orchestral fantasy Romeo and Juliet featuring soprano Sarah Shafer and tenor Christopher Tiesi. Ms. Shafer possessed a lovely presence onstage, conveying a certain frailty as she bid her lover farewell. She communicated well with Mr. Tiesi, who showed intense command of his role and moved through the vocal registers well. The two singers blended particularly well, especially in the unison passages toward the close of the piece, with vibratos that were well matched. Mr. Watanabe varied conducting styles with the different moods of the music, building intensity slowly and bringing out the lighter side of Tchaikovsky when appropriate.

This concert appeared to reflect three of the best assets of Curtis: its singers, instrumentalists, and musical education. Singing was well represented by Ms. Shafer and Mr. Tiesi, the instrumental playing by the orchestra musicians themselves, and music education by the orchestra’s presentation of one of the great pedagogical pieces of the 20th century. Conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto joined the orchestra for a spirited performance of Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, narrated by Philadelphia actor John de Lancie. The son of a former Curtis director, Mr. de Lancie has strong ties to Philadelphia music organizations to go with his impressive acting credits, and provided a lively narration to a piece which might be geared toward children but still must be played accurately.

Mr. Prieto led the orchestra in a quick and decisive presentation of the Henry Purcell theme on which the works is based, and each family of instruments stepped up to demonstrate clarity and precision. The winds played with direction and transparency to the melodic line, with the clarinet theme particularly clean and saucy. A solo bassoon played a sultry melody, followed by a rich viola solo. With the number of strings onstage, it was easy for the orchestra to present the final theme with power, setting up the compelling Richard Strauss work which closed the program.

Strauss’s tone poem Ein Heldenleben was in part the composer’s answer to Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, and was designed for lush orchestral playing. Under Mr. Prieto’s direction, the piece started off with rich celli and double bass sound, joined by clean brass. Mr. Prieto kept the music churning with a full and lavish sound, contrasted by elegant solos from a number of players, including solo clarinet and English horn. Concertmaster Nigel Armstrong played several solos throughout the piece, providing intense double stops and taperings to phrases often ending at the height of the melodic line. Key to Mr. Armstrong’s solo success in this piece was his duet playing with a solo French horn, superbly played by Levi Varga. A clean offstage trio of trumpets added to the flow of a battlefield scene, punctuated by snare drums effectively placed in the corners of the back of the stage.

The Curtis Symphony Orchestra may have been new to the Princeton audience, but they are certainly well-known in the orchestral field. Hopefully, the ensemble will be back again soon, to continue introducing the Princeton community to some of the future in great orchestral playing.

Alfa Art Gallery at George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, presents “The Message,” a solo exhibition by Vesselin Kourtev, through November 20. Visit www.Alfa
Art.org.

Art Times Two Gallery, Princeton Brain and Spine Care, 731 Alexander Road, presents “Energy in Mind: Picturing Consciousness,” works by Jennifer Cadoff, Debra Weier, and Andrew Werth, November-April. The opening reception is November 8, 5-7 p.m. After that date, view by appointment. Call (609) 203-4622.

Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, presents “Patterns & Meaning: Alan J. Klawans and Andrew Werth,” November 9-December 2. Both artists use the computer as a tool in creating their work. The opening reception is November 10, 3-6 p.m. Visit www.lambertvillearts.com.

Arts Council of Princeton, Paul Robeson Center, 102 Witherspoon Street is showing works by Shiva Ahmadi, Monira Al Quadari, Nezaket Ekici, Hayv Kahraman, and Efret Kedem as part of “The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art and Society” series, through November 21. Visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

Ellarslie, Trenton City Museum in Cadwalader Park, Parkside Avenue, Trenton, is showing “Naturally, Man-Made, in Full View: The Art of le Corbeau” through November 4. Showing through January 13 is “James Rhodes, Trenton Stoneware Potter, 1773-1784” and “Contemporary Art from the TMS Collection.” Call (609) 989-3632 or visit www.ellarslie.org.

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

Gallery and Academy of Robert Beck, 204 North Union Street, Lambertville, shows paintings by Mr. Beck and hand-wrought clocks by Raymond Mathis October 20-November 18. Public receptions are October 20, 5-8 p.m., and October 21, 1-4 p.m. Visit www.robert
beck.net.

Gallery at Chapin, 4101 Princeton Pike, has drawings and paintings by Dot Bunn through October 26. From November 1-December 14, “Abstract Drawings and Paintings” by Pat Martin will be shown. The opening reception is November 7, 5-7 p.m. Call (609) 924-7206.

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows “Nantucket” by India Blake, “Cityscapes” by Charles Miller and Richard Trenner, and “Recent Work” by Kenneth Kaplowitz through November 11. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Garden State Watercolor Society presents its 43rd Annual Juried Exhibition through October 28 at Prallsville Mills in Stockton. For times and details on special events, visit www.garden
statewatercolorsociety.net.

Gelavino Gelato Shop at Princeton Shopping Center, North Harrison Street, is showing 12 prints by Princeton High School junior Jane Robertson through October 31.

Gourgaud Gallery, Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A Main Street, Cranbury, hosts Colleen Cahill, who will show her pastels, watercolors and mixed media pieces in a show called “Transitions” through October 28. Visit www.cranbury.org.

Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, is showing “Einstein at Home” and “From Princeton to the White House,” which celebrates the 100th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson, through January 13. At the Updike Farmhouse on Quaker Road, “Call to Action: How a President Used Art to Sway a Nation,” World War I posters from the collection, and “A Morning at Updike Farmstead: Photographs by the Princeton Photography Club” are open October 20, November 17 and December 15, 12-4 p.m. For more information visit www.princeton
history.org.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has “To Stir, Inform, and Inflame: The Art of Tony Auth” through October 21. “Creative Hand, Discerning Heart: Story, Symbol, Self,” runs through December 30. On October 23 at 1 p.m. Rachel Bliss, Syd Carpenter, Celia Reisman, Peter Rose, Robert Winokur and Kate Javens, whose works are in the “Creative Hand” exhibit, will discuss their art. Visit www.michenerartmuseum.org.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, has “Lynd Ward Draws Stories: Inspired by Mexico’s History, Mark Twain, and Adventures in the Woods” through June 23, 2013. Through January 6, “Art=Text=Art: Works by Contemporary Artists” will be on view, from the collection of drawing collectors Wynn and Sally Kramarsky. “In the Company of Women: Prints by Mary Cassatt” runs through March 3. “Le Mur’ at the Cabaret des Quat’z Arts is on view through February 24.

Lawrenceville School’s Marguerite & James Hutchins Gallery, Gruss Center of Visual Arts, Lawrenceville, has a Faculty Exhibition 2012 through October 27. Visit www.law
renceville.org.

Lewis Center for the Arts’ Lucas Gallery, 185 Nassau Street, opens its season with a drawing show by more than 40 students, through October 26. The gallery is newly renovated and will feature work by ceramics students November 13-21, and by those studying sculpture, graphic design, and photography December 4-14. Free public lectures by faculty members continue with sculptor Pam Lins October 24, painter Josephine Halverson on November 7, and filmmaker Su Friedrich on December 5. Visit www.princeton.edu/arts.

Mariboe Gallery at Peddie School, Swig Arts Center, Hightstown, presents “Nuits Blanches,” recent paintings by Frank Rivera, through November 12. Visit www.ped
die.org/mariboegallery.

MCCC Gallery, Mercer County Community College, 1200 Old Trenton Road, West Windsor, presents “MCCC Faculty Exhibit 2012” through November 8. Call (609) 570-3589 or visit www.mccc.edu/gallery.

Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, presents “Portrait of Place: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints of New Jersey, 1761-1898” through January 13. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

Outsider Art Gallery, 10 Bridge Street, Suite 4, Frenchtown, has a show of work by artists from the Canary Islands and England through November 1. Additional venues are the first floor of New Hope Arts, next door, and The Raven, New Hope Lodge, 400 West Bridge Street. Call (215) 862-4586.

Plainsboro Library Gallery, 9 Van Doren Street, Plainsboro, presents portraits by artist/architect Pablo Riestra, through October 31. A reception is October 21 from 2-4 p.m. Call (609) 275-2897 for more information.

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

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Root and Branch,” which explores the form of a tree in art and includes several art forms, through November 25. Works by Parastou Forouhar, Mona Hatoum, Sigalit Landau, Shirin Neshat, and Laila Shawa are on view through January 13 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. “Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vase Painting of the Ik’ Kingdom” is on exhibit through February 17. “City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus” is on view October 20-January 20. 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.

Rider University Art Gallery, Bart Luedeke Center, Rider campus, Lawrenceville, presents “Alterations: A Retrospective,” sculptures by Joan B. Needham, October 25-December 2. The opening reception is October 25 5-7 p.m. Visit www.rider.edu/arts.

HERE I COME TO SAVE THE DAY: CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) strides into the CIA building for a meeting with the director to receive his next assignment. He is charged with the task of getting six American diplomats, who are hiding in the Canadian Ambassador’s home, after they escaped from the takeover of the American embassy in Teheran by the Iranians. Mendez devises an elaborate scheme in which the diplomats become members of a film crew that is supposedly shooting a movie in Teheran.

On November 4, 1979, Iranian militants stormed the United States embassy in Teheran, taking 52 Americans hostage with the intent to exchange them for the recently deposed Shah. What ensued was a 444-day ordeal which would last long after the despised despot died in exile without standing trial.

While that standoff occupied the world’s attention as front-page news, almost no one knew that a half-dozen Americans had managed to escape unnoticed during the assault and take refuge in the home of the Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber). Of course the discovery of their whereabouts by the rabidly anti-Western Khomeini regime would have undoubtedly triggered another international incident.

So, they surreptitiously contacted the CIA which assigned their rescue to Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a specialist with a perfect record of freeing captives from similar perilous predicaments.

Agent Mendez proceeded to hatch an attention grabbing scheme that was the antithesis of the sort of clandestine operation one might expect from the CIA.

His plan involved creating a cover for the stranded diplomats by making a movie that was actually a CIA front. First, he enlisted the assistance of a veteran Hollywood executive (Alan Arkin) and an Oscar-winner (John Goodman) and swore them to secrecy. They lent an air of authenticity to the ruse by posing as the picture’s producer and makeup artist, respectively.

Figuring that “If you want to spread a lie, get the press to sell it for you,“ they launched the project at an elaborate press conference that had actors who appeared in gaudy costumes. The media fell for it hook, line, and sinker, and soon Hollywood was abuzz about Argo, an upcoming science fiction movie set to be shot on location in Iran.

In truth, Mendez would be the only person venturing on the dangerous mission to Teheran and when he arrived there the film’s tone shifted from flip and lighthearted to stone cold sober. Upon arriving at the Canadian ambassador’s house, he hands the six Americans newly-prepared passports that identitify them as members of a Canadian film crew.

The tension rapidly ratchets-up as the Iranian authorities close in just as the diplomats are making their escape to the airport, where the slightest slip during an interrogation could mean the difference between life and death. An edge-of-your-seat thriller not to be forgotten at Oscar time!

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity and violent images. Running time: 120 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.


October 10, 2012

in 1946 in the Village, our feelings about books … went beyond love. It was as if we didn’t know where we ended and books began. Books were our weather, our environment, our clothing. We didn’t simply read books, we became them, we took them into ourselves and made them into our histories …. Books were to us what drugs were to young men in the sixties.

—Anatole Broyard, from Kafka Was the Rage

My copy of Volume 2 of the Norton Anthology of English Literature looks its age. The spine is so faded you have to get close to read the title. The corners are frayed and there’s a tear in the front hinge. Still, it’s held together nicely all these years, even more supple now than it was when it was given to me by the College Department at Norton, my working copy. The genius of The Norton Anthology was its compatibility. Unlike most college texts, you could, as the introduction boasted, read it under a tree. This is the same copy I curled up with, studied, loved, warmed my hands by, in various motels from Mississippi to North Dakota when I was on the road as a college representative talking up a text that was by then already in demand in English departments across the country.

When the Norton Anthology’s general editor M.H. Abrams, who turned 100 on July 23, was recently asked by the New York Times (“Built to Last,” August 23) “Why study literature?” his response was “Ha! Why live? Life without literature is a life reduced to penury.” He went on to say that literature “illuminates what you’re doing,” “enables you to live the lives of other people,” “makes you more human,” and “makes life more enjoyable” (not to mention, he might add, contributing to your longevity). Abrams’s younger co-editor Stephen Greenblatt (b. 1943) chimed in to the effect that literature enables him to “enter into the life worlds of others … other times, other places, other inner lives.”

Life and Love on the Page

That phrase, life worlds brings to mind two of literature’s most complex and enduring “inner lives,” Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), the 17th-century physician philosopher who wrote Religio Medici, and the inimitable Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), who once observed of Browne, “A library was a world to him, every book a living man, absolute flesh and blood.”

Among the many things to love in Coleridge is his penchant for writing thoughts like that one in the margins of books that often did not even belong to him. It’s a thought I quote whenever I get a chance and it serves as the epigraph for my novel, Rosamund’s Vision. Coleridge’s scribblings fill six fat, masterfully documented volumes of Marginalia in the Collected Works of S.T.C. published in the Bollingen Series by Princeton University Press, wherein Coleridge, the so-called “damaged archangel” of Norman Fruman’s biography, gives us an intimate blow by blow account as he makes his way through the works of the “crack’d Archangel” Browne (as he’s named in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick).

When Browne writes “I never yet cast a true affection on a woman,” Coleridge can’t resist declaring — all but breathing the words in your ear — that he has loved and still does love “truly, i.e. not in a fanciful attributing of certain ideal perfections … one Woman.” Ten pages later, when Browne wishes that humans “might procreate like trees without conjunction, or that there were any way to perpetuate the world without this trivial and vulgar way of coition,” Coleridge comes right back at him: “Are there not thoughts, & affections, & Hopes, & a Religion of the Heart, — that lift & sanctify all our bodily Actions where the union of the Bodies is but a language & conversation of united Souls?”

There’s a hint of the thought process behind today’s preferred modes of communication when Coleridge, after, in effect, blogging Browne, presents the intimately annotated volume to his “one Woman,” Sara Hutchinson, the lost love of his life, along with a letter that takes up three pages preceding the title page. It’s after midnight, March 10, 1804, Saturday night, Barnard’s Inn, Holborn, London, when Coleridge begins the letter (“But it is time for me to be in bed”) in a state of playful wonderment after quoting Browne at length (“what Life! what Fancy! — Does the whimsical Knight give us thus a dish of strong green Tea, & call it an opiate?”). With that, he signs off: “I trust, that you are quietly asleep,

And all the Stars hang bright above your Dwelling

Silent as tho’ they watch’d the sleeping Earth!”

Leave it to Coleridge to say good night with two lines from his own poem “Dejection: An Ode,” which he first worked out in a letter to Sara said to be the only other surviving piece of their correspondence.

When you think about it, it’s an outrageous violation of textual dignity, to scribble at length on the pages of a book you’re presenting as a gift to someone you love, using Sir Thomas Browne as a sort of go-between, a messenger bearing a lecture and a love note. Today Coleridge could have done it all online without marring the original. And there’s the rub. What better example of the qualities and capacities and organic essence of actual documents and tangible volumes vs. the web and high tech devices like Kindle? At the same time, aside from my key source, Volume I of Princeton’s Marginalia, I could never have assembled this column, or any others, without the mysterious Archangels of cyberspace.

Book Sale Life

“A living world” — that’s my “fanciful attributing of certain ideal perfections” to the Friends of the Library book sale I’ve been helping with for more than 20 years now. The books on display October 12-14 have passed through and been held by many hands. Regardless of genre, books with a past are more than an assortment of bound pages, especially when they have spanned several lifetimes in the hurly burly of the world. A Kindle can give you the message, it’s handy, it can house a world of literature, but qualities such as atmosphere, touch and texture, author signatures and inscriptions, and the glorious illusion of being “in touch” with the author, are simply not available.

In Jackie’s Hands

It happens that we have a pretty good crop of signed/inscribed books at this year’s sale, not counting the one auctioned off at the annual meeting for a sum that shows how much a mere signature can add to the monetary value of a book. Hundreds of first editions of Roger Kahn’s popular profile of the Brooklyn Dodgers, The Boys of Summer, are available online for as low as $10. But if you are fortunate enough to have the copy (first edition or no) that Jackie Robinson actually held in his hands and inscribed to a friend, the value soars. Thus this year’s first transaction occurred before the event when a copy of Kahn’s book inscribed by Robinson fetched $950 at the Friends auction.

So Long, D.H. and W.B.

I once owned and cherished a book of William Butler Yeats’s later poems signed by Yeats, bought from Logan Fox at Micawber. Another book that I treasured and also eventually sold was a book of poems signed by D.H. Lawrence. The truth is, there’s only so much you can derive from being able to read and fondle your signed Yeats or your signed Lawrence, thinking “the man who wrote Lapis Lazuli” held this, or the man who wrote Women in Love held this.” When the water heater conks out, or you need a new roof, or the basement floods, it’s so long Yeats and see ya later Lawrence.

Sgt. Randall Jarrell

Unless you’re a big Norman Rockwell or Paul Theroux fan, the most desirable signed book that we have this year is a first edition of poet Randall Jarrell’s third collection, Losses (1948), which is being offered for as much as $780-800 online; the only catch is our copy lacks the dust jacket. Otherwise ours outclasses the competition. Probably dating from 1951-52 when Jarrell (1914-1965) was teaching in the Creative Writing program here and living in T.S. Eliot’s house on 16 Alexander Street, the book is inscribed to a student “from her teacher (Sgt.) Randall Jarrell.” Since most of the poems in the collection (viz. “The Dead Wingman,” “A Camp in the Prussian Forest,” “A Field Hospital”) relate to Jarrell’s years in the Army Air Force as a celestial navigation tower operator, a job title he considered “the most poetic in the Air Force,” he includes his serial number, a unique touch (it seems unlikely that Norman Mailer or James Jones cared to add their dogtag numbers when inscribing copies of The Naked and the Dead and From Here to Eternity). Another, more mysterious number is 7 above 7, in the form of an equation, which is explained in a note posted under the inscription, from a mother to the son she was presenting it to: “Mr. Jarrell was trying to enliven a book signing so he put in his army serial number. He added the 7/7 because I got all seven right on his modern poetry exam identifying poets given a sample of their poetry.”

Besides being known for his war-related poems (“the best poetry in English about the Second World War,” said Robert Lowell), the most famous being the frequently anthologized “Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” Jarrell was also one of the premier critics of his time. His main work at Princeton includes six lectures on W.H. Auden, the revising of his novel, Pictures from an Institution (based on his adventures as a teacher at Sarah Lawrence), and a number of poems, among them “The Lonely Man” and “Windows,” where a woman is darning and a man is “nodding into the pages of the paper” — “What I have never heard/He will read me; what I have never seen/She will show me.”

Jarrell’s untimely death at 50 (he was hit by a car while walking along a road in North Carolina; suicide was suspected but never confirmed) occasioned a memorial service where his friend from Princeton days John Berryman read “Dream Song 121” (“His wives loved him./He saw in the forest something coming, grim,/but did not change his purpose”). Robert Lowell called him “the most heartbreaking poet of our time.”

Literature-oriented browsers at the upcoming Friends book sale, particularly those trooping through the door at Friday’s 10 a.m. $10 preview, might keep an eye out for D.H. Lawrence’s rarely seen small volume, The Ship of Death and Other Poems; the first American edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses; and a first of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned, in remarkably fine condition, the gilt title on the spine glittering clear and bright. Too bad we don’t have the dust jacket; copies so clothed are going for $10,000-$18,500 online.


Organ recitals are not known for drawing crowds of fans leaping to their feet after a number played by an unseen artist on an instrument often a mystery to all but those who play it, but Pennsylvania native Cameron Carpenter is no ordinary organist and his recital on Saturday night at the Princeton University Chapel was far from a staid series of 18th and 19th-century pieces. Organ audiences often have no idea what is going on back there with the keyboards and pedals, but Mr. Carpenter has addressed this problem by making his performances multi-media. For Saturday night’s performance, this included a “picture in a picture” large screen, with cameras trained on his hands and feet. The four keyboard manuals of the University Chapel’s 1928 Aeolian-Skinner organ took up most of the screen, with a smaller view of the pedals, and even the most novice audience member could marvel at Mr. Carpenter’s technical agility and feathery touch on the keys. Many times during the performance, audience members could be seen shaking their heads in amazement at what would have been much less appreciated without the screens. Mr. Carpenter’s concert included only eight pieces (one of which was twenty-five minutes long), but the program included variety between classical and popular music and repertoire which showed Mr. Carpenter’s growth in confidence as an artist since he last played in the chapel.

Mr. Carpenter’s technical strengths include the incredible power of his hands, with the ability to stretch an interval of a 6th between two fingers; and the speed of his feet, requiring great balance on the bench. The success of his career as an organist is also due to his imagination, shown in the first few pieces he played. Beginning with his own arrangements of popular tunes, it was not until the fourth piece that Mr. Carpenter played a complete piece as it was actually written. His impressionistic fantasias on a theme from The Summer of ’42 and “Hey Jude” capitalized on the dynamic capabilities and stop combinations of the chapel’s organ, with his uncanny ability to extend his hands among manuals. His arrangement of J.S. Bach’s Suite #1 for Unaccompanied Cello (with his own interpolated passages) was played largely on the pedals, and his interpretations of Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor found great drama in the work and quick tempi for the fugue.

Mr. Carpenter’s evolution as a performer was seen in his choice of works by Richard Wagner, Charles Ives, and in particular Franz Liszt. Liszt would have liked Cameron Carpenter. A musical renegade himself, Liszt took the polite early 18th-century piano and turned it into a monster virtuoso instrument through performance technique many at the time thought must have come from demonic possession. With similar spell-binding technique (although rooted in his own self-discipline and talent), Mr. Carpenter is presenting the organ as a concert instrument capable of much more than what churches and funeral parlors can provide. Through his registration choices, Mr. Carpenter found humor in the excerpt from Ives’ Piano Sonata Number 2, and his quick and light touch on the Choir Manual depicted the “murmuring forest” of Wagner’s Siegfried excerpt.

Mr. Carpenter saved the most powerful and complex piece for last: Liszt’s Fantasie und Fuge über den Choral “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam” from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera Le Prophéte. Liszt originally composed this massive work for organ, but Mr. Carpenter no doubt took the piece to new heights, emphasizing the importance of opera in 19th-century keyboard music and taking full advantage of the organ’s 137 ranks and more than 7,000 pipes. Mr. Carpenter’s performance held the audience through the entire twenty-five minutes, but this was not a piece he necessarily would have done several years ago when he first played recitals at the University Chapel and Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center. Including a work such as this on the program showed that Mr. Carpenter’s reputation as a brilliant and original performer is secure, and audiences are hungry to hear not only complex organ works not often heard but what Mr. Carpenter will do next.


BOY AM I EVER OUT OF SHAPE: Scott Voss (Kevin James, facing the camera), a biology teacher, is being coached and trained by a retired kick boxing champion (Mark DellaGrotte, back to the camera). Scott is training to fight in a mixed martial arts prize match in order to win enough money to donate to his school so that his best friend Marty Streb (Henry Winkler) won’t lose his job as music teacher, which the principal wants to cut in order to balance the school’s budget.

Scott Voss (Kevin James) is a bored biology teacher at mythical Wilkinson High in Massachusetts, a cash strapped school suffering from low morale. Scott is part of the problem, because he sets a horrible example for his students, such as stealing candy from vending machines and always arrives late for class.

During recess, the bored 42-year-old bachelor always flirts with the beautiful school nurse, Bella (Salma Hayek). However, she routinely rebuffs his advances with gentle reminders of how often she’s rejected each of his requests for a date.

The plot thickens when Principal Betcher (Gregg German) assembles the faculty in the auditorium to announce the latest budget cuts. The measures include plans to eliminate after school activities such as the debate club and field trips, and also the entire music program.

That means Scott’s colleague and friend, Marty Streb (Henry Winkler), will be callously laid-off right before earning tenure. And to add insult to injury, the dedicated music teacher’s firing comes at a time when his wife (Nikki Tyler-Flynn) is pregnant.

This dire state of affairs inspires Scott to prevail upon the principal to preserve his pal’s position. But Betcher says the school simply doesn’t have the $48,000 to pay Marty.

Therefore, Scott, who hasn’t wrestled competitively since college, decides to raise the cash by moonlighting in the ring as a mixed martial arts fighter. With the help of Marty and a retired kickboxing champ (Bas Rutten), he proceeds to whip himself, a middle-aged couch potato, into shape.

Here Comes the Boom is a sweet-natured sports story that combines familiar elements from Rocky (1976) and Nacho Libre (2006). Directed by Frank Coraci (The Waterboy), the movie showcases Kevin James’s comic genius at his best, such as pratfalls in a mask while wearing ill-fitting stretchy pants, or futilely wooing the woman of his dreams.

The plot inexorably builds to a showdown between Scott and an intimidating adversary (Krzysztof Soszynski) for a purse that conveniently matches Marty’s salary. Wouldn’t it be nice if Wilkinson’s student body and school band were on hand in the Vegas arena to cheer for their altruistic teacher, and better yet if Bella had a change of heart and also arrived ringside for a kiss at the moment of truth?

Here Comes the Boom is a pat Hollywood tale of redemption where a perennial loser transforms himself into a beloved hero who wins the match, saves his best friend’s job, and gets the girl!

Very Good (***) Rated PG for sports violence, crude humor, and mild epithets. Running time: 105 minutes. Distributor: Columbia Pictures.