October 10, 2012

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.

Bank of Princeton Community Art Gallery, 10 Bridge Street, Lambertville, is showing works by Alyssa Rapp and Ilene Rubin through October 15. Visit www.thebankofprince
ton.com.

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

Bucks County Gallery, 77 West Bridge Street, New Hope, Pa., presents a solo exhibit by Christine Graefe Drewyer through October 28. Visit www.buckscounty
galleryart.com.

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

D&R Greenway, Johnson Education Center, 1 Preservation Place, presents “Sustainable Harvest: Creating Community Through the Land,” a mixed-media show about farmland, iconic farm structures, and new perspectives on crops and creatures, through November 9. Winners of the “Species on the Edge” art and essay contest, devoted to New Jersey’s endangered and threatened species, is in the 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. A gallery walk with Francois Guillemin is October 14 at 2 p.m. 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.

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 October 12-November 11. The opening reception is October 12, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Meet the Photographers October 14, 1-3 p.m. 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.gardenstatewatercolor
society.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.cran
bury.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. The opening is October 13, 6-9 p.m. Visit www.slbakerpaintings.com.

The James A. Michener Art Museum at 138 South Pine Street in Doylestown, Pa., has “To Stir, Inform, and Inflame: The Art of Tony Auth” is on view through October 21. “I Look, I Listen: Works on Paper by Marlene Miller” is exhibited through October 14. “Creative Hand, Discerning Heart: Story, Symbol, Self,” runs through December 30. On October 14 at 3 p.m., cartoonists Jules Feiffer, Tony Auth and Joel Pett will discuss the state of the art form, led by David Leopold, curator of the Auth exhibit. 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.

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 begin October 10 with Sarah Charlesworth, photographer. Sculptor Pam Lins speaks 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, October 12-November 12. An opening reception and talk by the artist is October 12 from 6:30-8 p.m. Visit www.peddie.org/mariboe
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.

Parsonage Barn, 3 Cranbury Neck Road, Cranbury, is showing work by Watercolorists Unlimited October 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Paintings are of local scenes and landscapes.

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.

Rider University Art Gallery presents “Photographic Psychology: Forces That Shape the Psyche” through October 14. Visit www.rider.edu/artgallery.

Sweet Edge Sculpture Tour, in six studios and sculpture gardens throughout New Hope, is October 13 and 14, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., rain or shine. Works in wood, stone, steel, and bronze are included, by artists George Anthonisen, Constance Bassett, David Cann, Raymond Mathis, John McDevitt, and Steven Snyder, who will be on hand to discuss their work. Admission is free. Visit www.sweetedgesculpture.com for
information.

October 3, 2012

“LIFTING A SECRET”: Fertile Crescent artist Nezaket Ekici will be performing this piece on Thursday, October 4 at Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, Matthews Acting Studio, 185 Nassau Street. Audiences are invited to visit the installation in progress from 2 to 8 p.m. and to return at 8 p.m. for the culminating performance.

Miss Butterfly is going to meet the sun; as she is looking for a way out and reaching for the light, she becomes caught in a spider’s web. —Shadi Ghadirian

The piece of impromptu performance art recounted here happened in Turkey long ago at a crossroads clearing near Eregli, 243 kilometers south of Kirsehir, the birthplace of Nezaket Ekici. I’d begun the previous day’s journey in Izmir, where Ebru Özseçen was born. Ekici and Özseçen are among the 24 artists represented in the Rutgers Institute for Women and Art’s “The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art, and Society,” a complex, many-faceted show of unparalleled scope that is currently spreading the wealth over multiple venues through the enlightened leadership of curators Ferris Olin and Judith K. Brodsky.

I’ve been scanning the faces of the women on the Fertile Crescent website (fertile-crescent.org), with its “signature images” of the artists and their art. The faces are remarkable. Strong and delicate, sultry and refined, some sly, some shy, some witheringly stern. For reasons that will soon become apparent, I’m trying to imagine what these women looked like when they were children. Since the impending scene takes place once upon a time in Turkey, I’ve been paying special attention to the photos of Nezaket Ekici, who has a bold, no-nonsense air, and Ebru Özseçen, who appears demure and unassuming, although her video “Jawbreaker” is edgy and erotic.

The closest I’ve come to finding the features of the child I’m searching for is in the smile of the Iranian artist Shiva Ahmadi whose work is described in the online commentary as “at once meticulous and loose, playful and somber, mythical yet very much dealing with the real.” These are qualities similar to those of the performance-artist-in-the-making I shared the roadside stage with late one hot August afternoon. Since Ahmadi’s contribution to the Fertile Crescent won’t be on view until Thursday, October 4, at the Arts Council, I have yet to see her work in person, but the samples displayed online in Google images are stunning and the equal of anything in the exhibit, even including the Iranian photographic artist Shadi Ghadirian’s darkly impressive “Butterfly Series” at the Bernstein Gallery.

In the Clearing

It’s the hour before sunset and I’ve been dropped off at a spot that appears to be the province of children. Earlier in the day at a Turkish version of a truck stop cafe where men sat talking and sipping tea while women in heavy robes worked in an adjacent field, I’d seen, not for the first time, an example of what women were up against, at least in the provinces.

After the long hot hours in the open back of the truck from Konya, I head for the nearest shady spot, stow my pack, and prepare to relax. Not for long. I have company in the person of a sunny, forthright little blonde of around ten, whose name I later learn is Atalette; she’s accompanied by a tawny-haired barefoot sprite of maybe six (possibly her little sister) who is hopping and peek-a-booing and dancing in place behind her. The name this mercurial being goes by is Gül (pronounced “Jewel”), according to Atalette. They want me to join them out in the clearing where the other kids are waiting, as if a show with a guest appearance by a skinny, unshaven, 20-something American had been advertised in advance of my arrival.

What can I do? Hot and tired as I am, I obey the call. It soon becomes clear that I’m to be merely the go-between, the prop, the sorceror’s apprentice. The sprite is focused on my shabby, shapeless straw hat. Lurching forward, dancing backward, spinning sideways, she sees something outlandishly, overwhelmingly desirable in the ludicrous object that I’d been wearing ever since a friend abandoned it on Mykonos. She has plans for that hat; designs on it, you might say. Too shy and too short to put her plan into action (she’d need wings or a ladder), she turns to Atalette, who mimes the message: Gül wants not merely to hold the hat but to put it on. And perhaps something more, something unlikely and unimaginable that is still only beginning to take shape for her. So I hold it out, here, take it, try it on, but that would have been too easy, too prosaic, too adult. Instead, after circling me, coming at me and backing off, she performs an impish pirouette and charges across the road, splashing happily in and out of a stream before disappearing briefly behind some trees; then back she comes in a zestful zig-zag, one dirty hand outstretched, only to retreat again, giggling, as if she were teasing me and herself and the boys who have been stolidly watching us the whole time.

Finally the moment arrives when the artist artfully and artlessly commands me to put the misshapen yellow blob on her head, a slapstick coronation, as she all but disappears under it. Then off she goes, a sudden gust of wind forcing her to hold the hat with one hand while wildly paddling with the other as she dances down the road followed by one of the older boys, who retrieves the hat, and solemnly returns it to me, like a diplomatic enforcer dealing with a potentially punishable indiscretion.

Meanwhile the sun has begun to set, giving the moment an aura of melancholy glory. So dazzled and disarmed am I by this time that I want her to have the hat, for good, forever, it’s hers, she’s given it a new life. I want to see her go dancing off with it again, and so she does, only to surrender it once more, tearlessly, bravely, wisely, to the relentless boy, who grimly brings it back to me. At this point Atalette has had enough: she tears into the enforcer, punching and kicking him in a kind of ecstasy until he slinks off. A beautiful moment, and it’s only the beginning now that both girls have the hat, and off they go, shouting and laughing down the road, passing the enchanted entity between them, until it seems to take flight on its own, glowing golden in the sunset light.

 

A truck is coming, it’s a ride clear to Adana. I grab my pack, ready to leave the hat with them, but Gül hands it back with a wise old look that seems to say, “It’s not for us, it won’t ever be ours, that’s how it is, that’s life.”

All the children are waving as the truck pulls off. I’m standing in the open back. Gül has stopped moving, it seems, for the first time since I got there. She’s giving me a strong, steady look I can’t help reading something into, perhaps some dawning awareness in her of the wider world at the other end of that road. Most children at her age still have a spark of genius in them but she’s aglow with it, burning with it, and I’m thinking of the lounging men and laboring women I’d seen earlier and what it suggests about “gender and society,” and I know, with a heavy, sinking certainty, that one day not that far in the future both these brilliant girls will be working in the fields while the grown-up boys sit drinking tea and talking politics and watching the women work.

Dream On

I’d like to think that the artists of the Fertile Crescent, Nezaket and Ebru, Negar and Sigalit, Shazia and Shirin, Farah and Parastou, are grown-up, productive, liberated versions of Atalette and Gül. I thought as much four years ago when I met Arzu Komili, a Princeton senior from Turkey whose exhibit at the Lewis Center I visited at Communiversity 2008. Ed Greenblat’s photograph of her has been cheering up my work space, smiling out at me, ever since. Arzu may have been born and raised in Istanbul, in a well-to-do household, but there’s a hint of the roadside sprite in her smile.

The two Turkish artists in “The Fertile Crescent” website may be half a generation younger than Atalette and Gül would be now, but the boldness of their themes and concepts suggests that they have fought the good fight against similar odds. Born in 1970 a half day’s drive from the crossroads near Eregli, Nezaket Ekici lives in Germany now and will be at the Lewis Center tomorrow, Thursday, October 4, in a performance piece she calls “Lifting a Secret,” in which she’s drinking coffee and reading passages from an adolescent diary she kept about a forced marriage arranged by her father. As her anger mounts, she spatters the wall with coffee, which, as it drips down, reveals the passage from the journal she’s been reading and that she’d written on the wall with petroleum jelly before beginning the performance. She refills her cup over and over again, slopping the coffee on the passage until all her words have emerged. Coffee makes the case nicely; it’s a darker and more dramatic developing fluid than the tea the men in the cafe were drinking while watching the women work.

For 41-year-old Ebru Özseçen, who also lives in Germany, indulge me for a moment and imagine the sort of art Gül would produce if by some miracle she’d run off to Europe to become a dancer or singer or sculptor or filmmaker, lured by the glow of that moment when the hat became her creation. In her artistic statement, Ebru plans to explore mundane reality in order to discover “its magical and unseen aspects, in the process, revealing a space where fantasy and memory hide in plain sight.”

You can see Ebru Özseçen’s brief video Jawbreaker on YouTube, as well as a four-part conversation apparently taking place in the proximity of the White Cliffs of Dover. In her proposal for a competition on “New Forms of Remembering and Remembrance,” she writes of a “memorial kindergarten” that “will be visible in the evening after the children go home …. The other phase will be seen in the morning, when the walls are lowered, and the children enter the kindergarten. When the children sleep, the work … stands guard”

Princeton Venues

Nezaket Ekici will also take part in the Arts Council of Princeton’s portion of The Fertile Crescent, from October 4 to November 21, along with seven other Fertile Crescent artists, including, as mentioned, Shiva Ahmadi, whose work can be seen on page 15. For full details about other venues, including the Princeton Public Library and the Princeton University Art Museum, visit http://fertile-crescent.org/signatureartists.html.

Note: In the unlikely event that readers of this column have read or may read my book Indian Action: A Journey to the Great Fair of the East, they will find an expanded version of the scene in the clearing with additional players and a different focus.

MISMATCH OR MADE FOR EACH OTHER?: Doug (Brad Wilson) and Kayleen (Katherine ­Ortmeyer) find themselves drawn together through many calamities over the course of 30 years, in Theatre Intime’s production of Rajiv Joseph’s “Gruesome Playground Injuries” at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through October 6.

Never thought of vomiting together as a bonding experience? Never fancied a romantic date that consisted of touching each other’s wounds? Never thought of “gruesome” and “entertaining” together to describe a play you’d want to see? Well, there’s a first time for everything, and Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries (2009), in a captivating production opening Theatre Intime’s 2012-13 season, delivers many surprises.

Eight-year-old Doug and Kayleen meet for the first time in the school nurse’s office. In this scene titled “Age 8: Face Split Open,” Kayleen describes her stomach ache and Doug describes how he injured his face by riding his bike, Evel Knievel-style off the school roof. Kayleen, fascinated, wants to touch his wound, then picks pieces of gravel out of his hands.

The first of eight scenes centered on various injuries sustained by both characters over a thirty-year period, this childhood encounter sets the tone for the rest of the evening and the future relationship between Doug and Kathleen.

Accident-prone and self-destructive, both continue to hurt themselves in an astonishing variety of ways. Doug, seemingly driven by his unrequited love for Kayleen, blows out an eye with fireworks, gets his teeth knocked out in a fight, steps on a nail then breaks his leg while inspecting a damaged building, gets struck by lightning while on his roof, and falls off a telephone pole (“Maybe if I could climb to the top of this telephone pole in the rain at night, like the mast of a ship lost at sea, maybe I’ll see the shine of you, bringing me home again.”) Kayleen, who realizes her pain-based connection and at times even holds a healing power over Doug, is unable to requite his love. She suffers less dramatically but no less devastatingly by cutting herself — legs and stomach — and undergoing “about 25 medications” and psychiatric treatments.

Whether Kayleen and Doug are mismatched or made for each other never becomes clear, but their relationship remains loving, sensual, and unconsummated, full of mental and physical anguish on both sides, much more about pain than happiness or anything approaching conventional romance.

Yes, the play definitely lives up to its title, emphasis on “gruesome.” But this 90-minute, two-character show, skillfully and creatively directed by Princeton University junior Laura Gates and performed with style, focus, and commitment by senior Bradley Wilson and junior Katherine Ortmeyer makes for an entertaining evening.

Mr. Joseph’s dialogue is sharp, realistic, often funny and touching. Though Mr. Joseph, whose Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, provides little background beyond Kayleen’s broken home with a harsh father and absent mother, the characters here are richly engaging, intriguing, and surprisingly appealing and sympathetic.

Mr. Wilson’s Doug is charming in his recklessness, honesty, and boyish bravado. His love for Kathleen, manifested in such dramatic fashion, is never in doubt and never diminished as the scenes jump forwards and backwards in time through three decades. Ms. Ortmeyer’s Kathleen is more complex, also increasingly broken physically and mentally as the play progresses, but perhaps even more troubling than her counterpart in her inwardness, her inability to commit, her quiet self-destructiveness.

Despite occasional lines that are difficult to hear, Ms. Ortmeyer creates a rich three-dimensional character, and the relationship established here is fascinating, at times even heartwarming and amusing. The fact that even the vomit scene — the protagonists again in the nurse’s office at school, this time at age thirteen as a school dance is going on in the background (“Our throw up is all mixed together. You wanna see? So awesome.”) — is more sweetly comical than grotesque surely attests to the creative powers of playwright and performers.

Ms. Gates has staged the play with clarity and focus. The eight short scenes, titles for each written on an easel on stage left, move along smoothly, with original music by Mark Watter and Matt Seely helping to set the mood and bridge the gaps. The simple, flexible, functional set by Amy Gopinathan, lighting by Marissa Applegate, and realistic costuming by Annika Bennett are appropriate and on target. As the drama between Doug and Kayleen progresses, between scenes the actors remain on stage, Ms. Ortmeyer stage right, Mr. Wilson stage left, changing costumes and putting on make-up.

The actors’ preparations, sometimes elaborate as they “create” various wounds and transition from age eight through five-year increments to age thirty-eight, add a significant element to the production. The breaks between scenes, the titles and the non-chronological sequence of events, the appearance of the actors “behind the scenes,” all have a certain distancing effect for the audience. Rather than being invited to lose ourselves in the lives of Doug and Kayleen, we are constantly reminded that we are watching actors as they present these characters. Curiously though, watching the actors’ preparations between scenes also adds a certain intimacy, distancing us perhaps from the lives of Doug and Kayleen, but at the same time inviting us into the theatrical process as Mr. Wilson and Ms. Ortmeyer take on these personas, get into character to struggle with the lives and passions of these troubled souls.

Ms. Ortmeyer, Mr. Wilson, Ms. Gates, and the Theatre Intime company team up with the 38-year-old Mr. Joseph here to provide an eccentrically interesting evening, and the promise of worthy future theatrical adventures.


WE DID IT, WE DID IT: Nona Alberts (Viola Davis, left), Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal, center) and Jamie’s daughter Malia (Emily Alyn Lynd) are overwhelmed with joy when they learn that their attempt to change Malia’s school from a public to a charter school has succeeded under the new, so-called Parent Trigger Law.

In 2010 California passed the nation’s first “Parent Trigger Law,” a bill which enables a district with an under-performing public school to fire the principal, replace the staff, and convert it to a charter school, if a majority of the parents with students attending it sign a petition. The legislation has proved very controversial thus far, with opponents alleging that the measure is merely anti-union, whereas the sponsors call it an overdue reform intended to give children who are stuck in so-called “dropout factories” a fair chance.

Consequently, Won’t Back Down is opening under a cloud of controversy, which is unfortunate since the film is otherwise a quite engaging and entertaining tale of female empowerment. The reason why the picture has generated so much interest is because it was produced by Walden Media, the same studio that just a couple of years ago released Waiting for Superman, a documentary that came under attack for blaming teachers’ unions for the dysfunctional education system.

Although based on actual events that transpired in Los Angeles, Won’t Back Down is set in Pittsburgh, where we find Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) struggling to make ends meet. Between selling used cars by day and bartending at night, the single mother barely has any energy left to attend to the academic needs of her dyslexic daughter, Malia (Emily Alyn Lind).

Convinced that the lagging 8-year-old hasn’t learned to read out of neglect by her teachers at school, she enters the little girl in a lottery for one of the few spots opening up at Rosa Parks, a nearby, highly-regarded, charter school. But when Malia’s name isn’t chosen, the frustrated mother decides to do something about the school the child’s in.

Inspired by the state’s new “Fail Safe Law,” Jamie becomes a tireless child advocate hell-bent on wresting the reins of control from an administration and staff that have low expectations for their students. Along the way, she enlists the assistance of Nona Alberts (Viola Davis), a jaded teacher who had almost given up trying to fight the system.

Initially, Nona is reluctant to get involved, because she could very easily get blacklisted for trying to bust the union. Furthermore, she’s an emotional wreck because she is overwhelmed at the prospect of having to raise her son (Dante Brown) on her own after her husband (Lance Reddick) recently left them.

However, Jamie and Nona bond and, over the objections of bureaucrats, not only garner the requisite number of parental votes but even talk the teachers into surrendering job security in favor of performance-based salaries. The movie is an uplifting Hollywood story that suggests that the solution to public education’s woes might be as simple as a couple of women picking up picket signs.

Very Good (***). Rated PG for mature themes and mild epithets. Running time: 121 minutes. Distributor: 20th Century Fox/Walden Media.


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, from October 4-November 21. The opening reception is October 4 from 5-8 p.m. Visit www.artscouncilof
princeton.org.

Bank of Princeton Community Art Gallery, 10 Bridge Street, Lambertville, is showing works by Alyssa Rapp and Ilene Rubin through October 15. A wine and cheese reception is October 5, 5-7 p.m. Visit www.thebankofprinceton.com.

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

Bucks County Gallery, 77 West Bridge Street, New Hope, Pa., presents a solo exhibit by Christine Graefe Drewyer October 5-28. The opening reception is October 6 from 2-5 p.m. Visit www.buckscountygalleryart.com.

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

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

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. A gallery walk with Francois Guillemin is October 14 at 2 p.m. 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 scheduled for October 15-February 28.

Gallery at Chapin, 4101 Princeton Pike, has drawings and paintings by Dot Bunn through October 26. The reception is October 3 from 5-7 p.m. 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 “Sanctuary II” by Edward Greenblat, “A View of South Beach” by Martin Schwartz, and “Spiritual Places,” a group show by AgOra, through October 7. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Garden State Watercolor Society presents its 43rd Annual Juried Exhibition October 8-28 at Prallsville Mills in Stockton. For times and details on special events, visit www.garden
statewatercolorsociety.net.

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” October 7-28. The opening is October 7 from 1-3 p.m. Visit www.cranbury.org.

Hopewell Tour Des Arts is an open studio tour, self-guided, that starts at the Hopewell Train Station on Railroad Place or The Brothers Moon restaurant at 7 West Broad Street, Hopewell. The fifth annual event is October 6 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and October 7 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

JB Kline Gallery, 25 Bridge Street, Lambertville, is showing “At the Same Place at the Same Time,” paintings by S.L. Baker, through October. The opening is October 13, 6-9 p.m. Visit www.slbaker
paintings.com.

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

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

Lawrenceville School’s Marguerite & James Hutchins Gallery, Gruss Center of Visual Arts, Lawrenceville, has a Faculty Exhibition 2012 through October 27. The opening reception is October 5 from 6-7 p.m. Visit www.lawrenceville.org.

Lewis Center for the Arts’ Lucas Gallery, 185 Nassau Street, opens its season with a drawing show by more than 40 students, October 9-26. The opening reception is October 9, 4-5 p.m. 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 begin October 10 with Sarah Charlesworth, photographer. Sculptor Pam Lins speaks October 24, painter Josephine Halverson on November 7, and filmmaker Su Friedrich on December 5. Visit www.princeton.edu/arts.

September 26, 2012

Written in the aftermath of Joseph Conrad’s death in 1924, Ernest Hemingway’s tribute in the Transatlantic Review’s Conrad Supplement included this sentence: “If I knew that by grinding Mr. [T.S.] Eliot into a fine dry powder and sprinkling that powder over Mr. Conrad’s grave Mr. Conrad would shortly appear, looking very annoyed at the forced return and commence writing, I would leave for London early tomorrow morning with a sausage grinder.”

Hemingway was 25. Two years earlier, in a November 8, 1922 letter to Ezra Pound in response to Pound’s touting of Eliot’s groundbreaking work, The Wasteland, Hemingway suggested that if Eliot “would strangle his sick wife,” sexually assault “the brain specialist” treating her, and “rob the bank” (Eliot was a clerk at Lloyd’s Bank at the time), “he might write an even better poem.” Below this broadside Hemingway added a brisk, cynical disclaimer (“The above is facetious”) that leaves the toxic mixture on simmer.

“A damned good poet and a fair critic,” Hemingway says of Eliot decades later in a July 9, 1950 letter to columnist Harvey Breit. In case you think he’s mellowed, Hemingway is only warming up. In fact he’s in one of his favorite metaphorical modes, pitching “high and inside,” to see if he can “turn a hitter’s cap around.” Next paragraph he’s saying “some of us write and some of us pitch but so far there isn’t any law a man has to go and see the Cocktail Party by T.S. Eliot from St. Louis where Yogi Berra comes from.” The free-association reference to the New York Yankees’ catcher is what prompts the reference to Eliot the poet and critic, and then this: “but he can kiss my ass as a man and he never hit a ball out of the infield in his life.”

Today being T.S. Eliot’s 124th birthday, it’s hardly the occasion to be documenting his fellow midwesterner’s epistolary boorishness. But there’s another, more local occasion. Next month Hemingway and his novel, The Sun Also Rises, will be the subject of several events at the Prince
ton Public Library capped by an October 25 talk by Sandra Spanier, co-editor of Volume One of the Cambridge University Press edition of Hemingway’s letters (see story this issue for details).

Play Ball

If Hemingway can use tropes from the National Pastime as a means of measuring character, manhood, and literary ability, why not follow his example? Baseball may also help me demonstrate why my fondness for Hemingway and his work endures, undiminished, in spite of his personal flaws and phobias, and may even explain why I’ve never warmed to Eliot, whose essays and poetry have been among the most rewarding reading experiences of my life.

Okay, let’s look at Eliot the player. As a pitcher, he would specialize in offspeed stuff, with a killer curve and a knuckleball so devious and outré that hitters tie themselves in knots trying to follow it. Better yet, let’s make him a position player. Forget that ill-natured crack about his abilities with the bat, I see the deceptively fragile St. Louis Kid as a solid .300 hitter with sneaky power and a Mr. October reputation for performing in the post-season clutch, like the game-tying grand slam he hit in the last of the ninth inning of the 1922 World Series; you knew The Wasteland was out of the park the instant Tom Terrific connected. The Kid’s one big drawback was very big indeed, however; he lacked color. The sports writers did what they could, with their catchy nicknames, but it made no difference. Before, after and during the game, Eliot kept to himself. In the locker room, he was a one-man monastery.

This is where the big guy from Oak Park wins your heart. Injury-prone, yes, but with an eye that was the envy of Joe DiMaggio. A master bunter and a lifetime .330 hitter (as he once described himself), he could hit to all fields and his line-drive home runs cleared the wall straight and true. Best of all, he loved the game, ready to talk about the ins and outs
of it forever, recollecting key plays with such fondness that he made kids all over America want to grab their mitts (or pens, pencils, typewriters) and head for the nearest diamond. Granted, he drank between innings, delighted in high slides (he kept his spikes razor sharp), fought with umpires, opponents and teammates, roared when he won and raged when he lost. Sure, he said hideously offensive things about other players, but you knew that stuff ate him up, made him crazy, until the July morning in 1961 when he could no longer play through his injuries.

Let Us Go Then

T.S. Eliot’s poetry simply turned up one day in the room my parents called the study. Nobody, no parent, no teacher presented Eliot to me and said, “You must read this.” I was a sophomore in high school, where literature was confined to a textbook created by “educators.” It’s possible that my Medievalist father, who had no interest in Eliot beyond his High Church leanings, left the Collected Poems in plain sight for me, the way he used to do when pretending to make Classic Comics appear by magic.

Easily the coziest room in the house, the study had a roll-top desk, a day-bed by the window, and a wall of books. My departure for the new world took place on a grey midwinter afternoon, mist in the air, snow on the ground. Settling back on the daybed’s heaped-up pillows, I started reading. The first two lines instantly took me in, the poet’s spectral hand beckoning me aboard, and so began the reading journey that still continues:

“Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky….”

In popular music, specifically rock and roll, that’s called a hook, and it’s a great hook, as irresistible as John Lennon’s, “Let me take you down,” from “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Was Lennon echoing Eliot? Probably, though he might not have known it, just as the Beatles might not have known that Sgt. Pepper would be compared to The Wasteland.

Getting back to the idea of Eliot the player, if he was on the mound and you were at the plate, the next pitch, where the evening is compared to “a patient etherised upon a table,” is unhittable. You just watch it go by with your mouth hanging open. What was that? Where did he get it? Is it even legal? A literary spitball? And a few lines later, after the “muttering retreats,” “cheap hotels” and “sawdust restaurants,” he reads your mind about the  impossible line he just pitched you, saying, “do not ask ‘What is it?’ Let us go and make our visit.”

That second “Let us go” leads you to the stanza that seals your fate. Never mind baseball, it’s witchcraft when the poet waves his wand and turns “the yellow smoke” into a cat rubbing its back and its muzzle “upon the window-panes” and licking “its tongue into the corners of the evening.” The first time you read what the “yellow smoke” does is as close as you ever come to loving Eliot, as it makes “a sudden leap, / And seeing that it was a soft October  night, / Curled once about the houses, and fell asleep.”

Then everything changes and the Harvard scholar looms at the ghostly lectern, no more to be loved than a distant voice serving “visions and revisions” with “toast and tea.” By now the poet is miles away, but still in possession of this normal, baseball-playing, girl-crazy, red-blooded American 15-year-old’s unworthy attention, with lines never to be forgotten (“When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall”) and smooth, sensuous imagery (“Arms that are braceleted and white and bare” and “in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair”) as J. Alfred “Do I dare disturb the universe?” Prufrock approaches his fate. At this point the original excitement has faded, and the last lines about growing old and the mermaids singing and the “chambers of the sea” where “human voices wake us, and we drown” make the schoolboy reader edgy and uneasy. Outside the window it’s gone from dusk to night, and he’s thinking of the pretty young mother across the street who’s dying of cancer.

When Less Is More

I just finished reading the last 15 pages of The Sun Also Rises, where Hemingway’s impotent protagonist Jake Barnes (“I got hurt in the war” he tells the prostitute when she puts her hand between his legs) encounters a fate not unlike Prufrock’s. After the drunken fireworks of the fiesta at Pamploma, Jake is very much alone. By all rights, he should be glad to be on his own. He decides to go to San Sebastian because “it would be quiet there.” He takes the train, stops at a hotel he knows, unpacks, has lunch, goes for a swim, all his movements crisply documented in Hemingway’s less-is-more prose. He sees a boy and a girl out on a raft, she’s laughing at the things the boy says, she’s undone the top strap of her bathing suit and is “browning her back.” Jake says nothing about what seeing this does to him but Hemingway makes you feel it, making you care about Jake in his aloneness far more intensely than you ever did for Prufrock, so that when Jake dives deep, “swimming down to the bottom,” it’s as if you’ve followed him into the undercurrent of Hemingway’s art: “I swam with my eyes open and it was green and dark. The raft made a dark shadow.”

Summoned to Madrid by Brett, the woman he loves and who loves him, hopelessly, Jake once again goes about the business of living, relating the incidental details that make you hurt for him, and all without a single nudging word from the author, who vicariously enjoys the big meal and the three bottles of wine at Botin’s while never letting you forget that it’s all death and denial and we know Jake is doomed as he reports how he got from the train to the hotel and how he consoled Brett, who is recovering from a failed romance. The conversation that ends the novel mirrors the one the thwarted lovers had at the book’s beginning, both times in a cab, sitting close to one another, she saying, “We could have such a damned good time together,” he saying, as the car slows suddenly, pressing her against him, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Hemingway’s love song comes to an end more desperate than Eliot’s. But it’s the pitcher poet who provides the perfect epitaph, closing out the game, a scoreless tie.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing
to me.


HOMECOMING: Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison will return to Princeton to read from her new novel, “Home,” October 2 at 5:30 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium. “It is an honor to welcome back Toni Morrison,” said Chair of the Council of the Humanities Gideon Rosen.

The Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Beloved Toni Morrison, will read from her new novel, Home, at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 2, in Richardson Auditorium, Alexander Hall, at Princeton University. Ms. Morrison is the University’s Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus.

Sponsored jointly by the Center for African American Studies and the Council of the Humanities, the reading is free and open to the public. Tickets are required for admission and can be picked up from the University Ticketing Office at the Frist Campus Center beginning Thursday, Sept. 13, for Princeton University I.D. holders, and Thursday, Sept. 20, for the public. The University Ticketing Office is open from noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. There is a limit of two tickets per person.

“The Center for African American Studies is delighted to have Professor Morrison return to Princeton to read from her new novel. Her work is so important to 20th- and 21st-century literature, and to be able to hear it from the author herself is truly an amazing thing,” said Wallace Best, professor of religion and acting chair of the Center for African American Studies.

Morrison is also the first 2012-13 Belknap Visitor in the Humanities, through the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University. Professor Gideon Rosen, the Stuart Professor of Philosophy and the Chair of the Council of the Humanities, is also excited by Morrison’s return to Princeton. “It is an honor to welcome back Toni Morrison. We celebrate her homecoming as well as her new book, aptly titled Home. The Belknap Visitor is our highest honor, and no one is more deserving than Toni Morrison,” he said.

Morrison’s nine major novels, The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Jazz, Paradise, Love, and A Mercy have received extensive critical acclaim. She received the National Book Critics Award in 1978 for Song of Solomon and the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Beloved. In 1993, Morrison became the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature. In 2006, the New York Times Book Review chose Beloved as the best work of American fiction published in the last quarter-century. On May 29 this year, Morrison was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, which is the highest civilian award in the United States.

Published in May by Knopf, Home is the story of a young African American soldier, returning home from the Korean War to the pre-civil rights South.

Labyrinth Books, of 122 Nassau St. in Princeton, will be on location selling signed copies of Home before and after the reading.

———

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

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

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

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

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

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. A gallery walk with Francois Guillemin is October 14 at 2 p.m. Showing through January 13 is “James Rhodes, Trenton Stoneware Potter, 1773-1784” and “Contemporary Art from the TMS Collection.” Richard Hunter will lecture on September 30 at 2 p.m. about the Rhodes exhibit. 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. In Cotsen Children’s Library through September 30 is “Noah’s Art: Designing Arks for Children.” “First X, Then Y, Now Z: Thematic Maps” runs through February 10 in the main exhibition gallery. “Your True Friend and Enemy: Princeton and the Civil War” shows in the Mudd Manuscript Library Cotsen Children’s Library through July 31. “Into the Woods: A Bicentennial Celebration of the Brothers Grimm” is scheduled for October 15-February 28.

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

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

Gourgaud Gallery, Cranbury Town Hall, 23-A Main Street, Cranbury, hosts the “Winter Workshop Series Exhibit” by workshop artists including Linda Gilbert, Colleen Cahill, and Hannah Ellis through September 30. From October 7-28, Colleen Cahill will show her pastels, watercolors and mixed media pieces in a show called “Transitions.” The opening is October 7 from 1-3 p.m. Visit www.cranbury.org.

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

Hopewell Tour des Arts is an open studio tour, self-guided, that starts at the Hopewell Train Station on Railroad Place or The Brothers Moon restaurant at 7 West Broad Street, Hopewell. The fifth annual event is October 6 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and October 7 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

JB Kline Gallery, 25 Bridge Street, Lambertville, is showing “At the Same Place at the Same Time,” paintings by S.L. Baker, through October. The opening is October 13, 6-9 p.m. Visit www.slbakerpaintings.com.

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

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

MCCC Gallery, Mercer County Community College, West Windsor, is showing “Roger Hane and The Big Idea,” works by the illustrator Roger Hane, through October 4. Visit www.mccc.edu/gallery.

Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, presents “Portrait of Place: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints of New Jersey, 1761-1898” September 28-January 13. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

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.

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

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

Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street, is showing photography by Mary Cross (“Egyptland”) and painter Ifat Shatzky 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.princ
etonlibrary.org.

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

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

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

Trisha Vergis Gallery, 287 South Main Street (Laceworks Complex), Suite 11, Lambertville, is presenting a Gallery Sneak Preview on Saturday, September 29 from 4 to 9 p.m. The preview will feature five local artists and a champagne toast to a new adventure.  Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 1 to 6 p.m.  Call (609) 460-4710 or visit www.trishavergisgal
lery.com.

BUT DADDY, I LOVE HIM!: Count Dracula (left, voiced by Adam Sandler) desperately tries to convince his daughter that a vampire is not a compatible companion for a mortal person. However, Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez) has fallen hopelessly in love with Jonathan (not shown) who managed to crash the lavish birthday party that Dracula was giving for Mavis and refuses to listen to her father.

I know it’s a little early in the season, but if you’re ready for a Halloween film that’s a lot of fun for the whole family, have I got a cartoon for you. More romantic and funny than spooky and spine-tingling, Hotel Transylvania is a tenderhearted tale that gets most of its laughs by turning the basic scary movie convention on its head.

The picture unfolds from the point of view of Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) and a beleaguered brotherhood of peace-loving creatures who have not only been unfairly demonized as monsters but are actually more afraid of humans than humans are of monsters. Who knew? As victims of bad press and paranoia, they naturally shy away from making any contact with humans.

After his wife’s untimely demise at the hands of an angry mob, an understandably overprotective Dracula restricts his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), to the safe confines of the family’s hilltop mansion, which is far removed from any prejudiced townsfolk who might be armed with torches and pitchforks. Inside that protective bubble, “Daddy’s Little Ghoul” was raised on nursery rhymes in which all the villains were people.

Figuring that his fellow social outcasts might also enjoy a sanctuary of tranquility safe from humanity, Dracula transforms his sprawling estate into the Hotel Transylvania, a swanky, 5-stake (read “5-star”) resort that caters strictly to fellow monsters. The plot thickens when he lowers the drawbridge over the moat to the castle to welcome his friends to celebrate Mavis’s birthday.

A passing hiker, who stumbled upon the place, manages to slip in alongside Frankenstein (Kevin James), The Mummy (CeeLo Green), The Werewolf (Steve Buscemi), Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz), The Invisible Man (David Spade), and other invited guests. Jonathan (Andy Samberg) may be a mere mortal, but the party crasher is just the right age to appreciate the blossoming beauty of a rebellious teen-age vampire.

It’s cross-species love at first sight, much to the chagrin of Count Dracula whose desperate efforts to discourage his defiant daughter prove futile. His cries of “You’re barely out of your training fangs!” and “There are so many eligible monsters!” fall on deaf ears, as Mavis opts instead to heed her late-mother’s sage advice that “A zing comes along only once in a life.”

A child-friendly Halloween adventure that sends a universal message of tolerance through the oft-repeated maxim in the movie that monsters are people too.

Very Good (***). Rated PG for action, rude humor, and scary images. Running time: 91 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures.


September 19, 2012

I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes, there are secrets in ‘em that I can’t disguise…

—Bob Dylan, from Tempest

It was an image for the ages, post-millennium Americana in all its glory at the White House May 29 as President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Freedom to Bob Dylan. Masked behind dark glasses, the 71-year-old with the shadow mustache and air of tenuously contained vehemence (“You’re like a time-bomb in my heart,” he sings in “Duquesne Whistle”) might have stepped from the pages of a story by Flannery O’Connor. When he was called forth to receive his medal, a cheer went up from the overflow East Room crowd. Dylan did not look happy. Not once did he come near to a smile. He was fidgeting like a prize fighter at the ringing of the bell, the president standing by while a disembodied female voice read the inane citation, something about “a voice in the national conversation.”

Tending to the other honorees, including astronaut-senator John Glenn and Nobel-prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison, President Obama had been his usual unflappable self. With Dylan, it was as if he were putting a collar on a pit bull or decorating a land mine. Maybe he’d had a sneak preview of the new album, Tempest, where Dylan growls, “I got dogs could tear you limb from limb,” “I could stone you to death” (“Paid in Blood”); “Ever since the British burned the White House down/There’s a bleeding wound in the heart of town” (“The Narrow Way”); “Then she pierced him to the heart and the blood did flow” (“Tin Angel”); or “I can strip you of life/strip you of breath/ship you down/to the house of death” (“The Early Roman Kings”). In “Long and Wasted Years,” where the singer “can’t disguise” the secrets in his eyes, he warns that “the sun can burn your brains right out.”

As he and Obama shook hands, Dylan gave the president’s arm several little pats, as if to say, no harm done, hang in there, you’re all we got.

His Darkest Work?

No doubt it was Dylan’s idea that Columbia Records release Tempest on September 11, 2012, 50 years to the day that his debut LP Bob Dylan came out. A more curious coincidence is that his highly-acclaimed album, Love and Theft, appeared on September 11, 2001. Paranoid bloggers who suspect Dylan has the devil’s unlisted phone number and may even be his emissary contemplate a satanic conspiracy of wonderful dimensions (throw together the operative words and you’ll find at least one blog debating the issue).

There’s no denying, now more than ever, that Dylan trades in ominous nuances and edgy stalemates, the play of shadows and century-spanning vignettes of gutter romance and violence, of which there are, as I’ve already hinted, a remarkable abundance in the new album. Numerous reviewers think Tempest may be his darkest work ever. In the last chapter of  his memoir, Chronicles Volume One, where Dylan’s “little shack in the universe was about to expand into some glorious cathedral, at least in songwriting terms,” he discusses the origins of the tear-your-heart-out dynamic that’s still in force in Tempest. One of the key transformative influences was seeing Brecht on Brecht (with music by Kurt Weill, Brecht’s lyrics translated by Marc Blitzstein) at the Theatre de Lys in the Village in early 1962. Dylan was “aroused right away by the raw intensity of the songs,” “songs with tough language… herky jerky — weird visions” sung by “thieves, scavengers or scallywags” who “roared and snarled.” He mentions “grim surroundings, creepy sensations,” and how “every song seemed to have a pistol in its hip pocket, a club or a brickbat.”

The number that hit him the hardest was “The Black Freighter” or “Pirate Jenny.” After calling it “a wild song. Big medicine in the lyrics. Heavy action spread out,” he writes, “Each phrase comes at you from a ten-foot drop, scuttles across the road and then another one comes like a punch on the chin.” He can’t let it go, still fascinated by what it did to him: “It’s a nasty song, sung by an evil fiend, and when she’s done singing, there’s not a word to say. It leaves you breathless.”

Knowing he’s on to something, Dylan tries to find out “what made the song tick, why it was so effective.” What excites him as a songwriter is that “you couldn’t see what the sum total of all the parts were, not unless you stood way back and waited ‘til the end. It was like Picasso painting Guernica.” Inspired by “Pirate Jenny,” he “began fooling around with things,” taking a lurid story out of the Police Gazette and using Brecht’s song “as a prototype…piled lines on, short bursts of lines.” He liked the idea “but the song didn’t come off.” He was “missing something.” He wastes no time revealing what it was.

When Dylan signed his first contract with Columbia, producer John Hammond gave him an acetate of King of the Delta Blues by Robert Johnson. “From the first note the vibrations from the loudspeaker made my hair stand up,” Dylan writes. “The stabbing sounds from the guitar could almost break a window.” So writes the composer of lines like “Blades are everywhere and they’re breaking my skin” in “The Narrow Way.” When Johnson started singing, he “seemed like a guy who could have sprung from the head of Zeus in full armor.” Six pages later Dylan brings Rimbaud into the mix (“That was a big deal, too…the bells went off”), which “went right along with Johnson’s dark night of the soul” and “the Pirate Jenny framework.” Woody Guthrie’s “hopped up union meeting sermons” are also mentioned, but Dylan’s debt to his mentor is so intimate and respectful that it seems dispassionate by comparison. At this point, five pages from the end of Chronicles, Dylan sets the stage: “I was standing in the gateway. Soon I’d step in heavy loaded, fully alive and revved up.”

The Course of a Lyric

So here he is at 71, with a new album that is undeniably “heavy loaded,” with an event at its center he knew he wanted to write a song about back when he was 20, before he ever made a record. “The madly complicated modern world was something I took little interest in,” he writes in the first chapter of Chronicles. “What was swinging, topical, and up to date for me was stuff like the Titanic sinking.”

In the 45 verses of the title song on Tempest, with its Shakespearean resonance, Dylan is still channeling his early allies, Picasso and Guernica, Rimbaud (“The Drunken Boat”), Robert Johnson (“short punchy verses that resulted in some panoramic story”), and Brecht’s “Black Freighter” while using the Carter Family’s “The Titanic” as his prototype. “I was just fooling with that one night,” he says in an interview with Mikhail Gilmore in the latest Rolling Stone. “I liked that melody — I liked it a lot. ‘Maybe I’m gonna appropriate this melody.’ But where would I go with it?” While he borrows most of the first verse of the Carters’ version and makes good use of the dreaming watchman from the second verse, Dylan’s moon rises not on the ocean but “Out on the Western town.”

Time to set aside the road map and the rule book. If Bob Dylan wants to put the town where it has no business being, like in the middle of the North Atlantic, or vice-versa, that’s his prerogative. “A songwriter doesn’t care about what’s truthful,” he says in the Rolling Stone interview. “What he cares about is what should’ve happened, what could’ve happened. That’s its own kind of truth.” The next 16 verses of “Tempest” are generally true to the historical reality, chandeliers swaying, orchestra playing, smokestack leaning sideways, ship going under, but (with one exception) you won’t find the passengers Dylan mentions on the actual Titanic, although “Leo” and “his sketchbook” (the actor Leonardo diCaprio) were in the James Cameron film. But what about this character Wellington, who was sleeping when “his bed began to slide”? Now he’s strapping on “both his pistols” (“How long could he hold out?”), so it’s that Wellington, and Dylan has cut from April 14, 1912 to the War of 1812. No sooner do you encounter someone who was actually on board (“The rich man Mr. Astor/kissed his darling wife”), then you hear that “Calvin, Blake and Wilson gambled in the dark,” and the Titanic is becoming Desolation Row, with (it seems) John Calvin, William Blake, and (could it be?) Woodrow Wilson joining Wellington and “Davey the brothel keeper” who “came out and dismissed his girls.” Typical of the violence flaring throughout the album, you have brothers on board fighting and slaughtering each other “in a deadly dance.”

Wherever and however Dylan chooses to take it, the ballad’s 45 verses offer the main course in Tempest’s feast of imagery, and 14 minutes on his Titanic is better than 194 on James Cameron’s recently re-released billion-dollar 3-D blockbuster.

“It’s All Good”

Dylan’s band is, as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie used to say of one another, “the other half of his heartbeat”: Donnie Herron (steel guitar, banjo, mandolin, violin); David Hidalgo (guitar, accordion, violin); guitarists Charlie Sexton and Stu Kimball, drummer George G. Receli,  and Tony Garnier’s bass, which at times suggests a lovelorn ghost. The 45 seconds of sunshine leading into “Duquesne Whistle” (co-written with Robert Hunter and released as the album’s single with an accompanying music video) is some of the most sweetly seductive music in all Dylan, and when the drum and bass come pounding in bigtime after the light, melodic spell created by the opening, you feel like the guy in Nash Edgerton’s rough and tumble Chaplin-meets-Tarantino video who can’t help dancing as he playfully stalks the beautiful girl. Look for John Lennon’s face 13 seconds into the video, a subtle acknowledgment of the way he and the Beatles haunt the album, which ends with “Roll On John,” a strong, unsparing elegy for Lennon, who also haunts “Soon After Midnight,” with its subtle echo of the Beatles song “This Boy.”

As for the rest, as Dylan sings on Together Through Life, “It’s all good,” especially “Long and Wasted Years,” the circular motion of life’s wheel of fortune in its gyring guitar; “Scarlet Town” with its sinister “Ain’t Talkin’” ambience; and “Narrow Way,” which swings fiendishly under a killer lyric.

In the Rolling Stone interview, Dylan rightly expresses righteous indignation on the issue of his unacknowledged borrowings. In Desolation Row, there’s room for Wellington and Whittier, Blake and Bo Diddley, and even the city of Vienna, which provided the cover art. The detail shown is from  “The Moldau,” one of the four statues in the “Pallas Athena” fountain in front of the Austrian parliament. As I’ve indicated, Dylan has vividly expressed his debt to Brecht, who wrote “The Song of Moldau,” which has a line, claims a blogger from Vienna, that can be translated, “the times they are a changin.”

Last time I checked, the Princeton Record Exchange had restocked discounted copies of Tempest, both regular and deluxe editions.


For the past several years, the Brentano String Quartet, Resident String Quartet at Princeton University, has kicked off the fall music season in Princeton with a free concert in Richardson Auditorium. Mid-September can be a time when families are getting adjusted to the school year or getting children organized at college, but enough people took a break from early fall activities last Friday night to almost fill Richardson as violinists Mark Steinberg and Serena Canon, violist Misha Amory and cellist Nina Lee  presented their annual concert. This Quartet could easily get away with just playing the classics, but Friday night’s concert proved that these musicians have been thinking imaginatively. The concert was part of a multi-venue commissioning project to assign an unfinished fragment or work of music to a contemporary composer to write a companion piece.

The fragments themselves are works of art. Behind many great masterpieces are the composer’s sketchbooks and unfinished thoughts, and in these days of computerized composition programs, these fragments are gems as one can hear a composer’s thought processes until something interrupted the work or pulled the composer in another direction. Particularly in the case of the Franz Schubert and J.S. Bach fragments, one wondered what was going on in the life and mind of the composer that these pieces ended in the middle of a solo phrase. This was the challenge to the contemporary composer — to pick up where the 18th or 19th-century master had left off and forge a new path for the music.

Charles Wuorinen drew his inspiration for his Marian Tropes from the 15th century sacred music of Josquin and Dufay. Staying true to the early Renaissance contrapuntal and harmonic styles, Mr. Wuorinen interwove open interval sonorities and tapered Josquin cadences into a tonal work with echoing phrases and a drone which might have been heard at the time from a sackbut or low stringed instrument. The occasional jarring glissando or discord reminded the audience that this is the 21st century, and the four members of the Brentano Quartet smoothly passed what would have been vocal lines among their instruments.

Franz Schubert lived such a short time and composed so much seemingly flawless music that an unfinished work of his is like a diamond just needing a bit of polish. It is unclear why Schubert never finished what is now called a Quartettsatz in C Minor, and American composer Bruce Adolphe maintained the lyrical thought of Schubert’s complete “Allegro assai”and fragmented “Andante.” The great Schubertian tune of the first movement was conveyed by Mr. Steinberg as first violinist, and picked up by cellist Ms. Lee in Adolphe’s Fra(nz)g-mentation.  Adolphe incorporated a jagged rhythmic drive into the quick tempo borrowed from Schubert’s first movement, and the musicians easily found the lyricism and musical gentility of Schubert’s style.

The fragment treatment which contrasted most dramatically with its original material was Sofia Gubaidulina’s Reflections on the Theme B-A-C-H, based on Bach’s unfinished “Contrapunctus XVIII” from The Art of the Fugue. Whereas Bach’s peaceful “Contrapunctus” was nicely blended in the Brentano Quartet, with an especially elegant melodic line from second violinist Ms. Canin, Ms. Gubaidulina’s arrangement provided a great deal of variety in dynamics with sharp instrumental lines and driving rhythms, conveying the composer’s well-known unconventional approach to sound.

All of the composers commissioned by the Brentano String Quartet for this “Fragments” project found great challenge in examining unfinished musical art from previous centuries and bringing them into the 21st century. John Harbison, who composes in almost every genre, found humor and sauciness in his “Finale” to Haydn’s unfinished Quartet in D Minor. Amidst the rhythmic drive of the Harbison piece, the members of the Brentano Quartet showed that they were independent players, yet cognizant of one another and always working together. The final Mozart fragment and its follow-up Mozart Effects by jazz composer Vijay Iyer flowed right into each other, with an almost indiscernible end of the old and beginning of the new. It was fitting that the Brentano Quartet ended this inventive musical concert with a work of Mozart, whose final unfinished Requiem has spawned some of the most significant musical mystery discussions of the past two centuries.


Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce in the world premiere of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang at McCarter Theatre Center. Directed by Nicholas Martin, the production, which is produced in association with Lincoln Center Theater, runs through October 14. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

When “Chekhovian”—sadness, regrets, introspection, frustration—meets “Durangian”—wild absurdities, astonishing eccentricities, anarchic comedy—the results turn out to be both moving and hilarious. Christopher Durang’s new play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which opened at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre last weekend, populates its contemporary Bucks County setting with a collection of characters loosely based on figures from the turn-of-the-century (1900) Russian playwright’s somber masterpieces.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is full of contemporary references, to its present-day setting and the world of pop culture, and at the same time imbued with Chekhovian nostalgia and memories of a kinder, gentler past, in this case the 1950s and ‘60s, of these characters’ and Mr. Durang’s youth.

The updating and geographical shift work well. Certain artists’ names become adjectives for a reason, something to do with timelessness and universality, as Emily Mann obviously realized four years ago in her creation of A Seagull in the Hamptons, a contemporary adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull (1896). Mr. Durang, now 63, describes in an interview how “a few years ago I was at a place in my life where a lot of Chekhov’s characters are, where they’re looking back and asking ‘did I take the right road?’, ‘oh, I didn’t do that and I should have,’ and ‘I didn’t go to Moscow, should I have?’” Mr. Durang had moved to a farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which further brought to mind the world of Chekhov’s plays and his characters, who “are living in the country and their more glamorous relatives are off doing things out in the world while the people who are living at home feel like they haven’t had lives.”

The distinguished cast here, under the direction of Nicholas Martin, Durang veteran and former director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Boston’s Huntington Theatre, delivers with style and poignancy this hybrid of outrageous comedy and sad, moving family drama—“Chekhov in a blender,” as Mr. Durang describes it.

Mr. Durang has written several of the funniest plays of the past 40 years, from The Marriage of Bette and Boo (1973), Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You (1979) and Beyond Therapy (1981) to Betty’s Summer Vacation (1999) and Miss Witherspoon (another McCarter premiere in 2005). Mr. Durang, less acerbic, a bit gentler in his satire and characterizations but no less hilarious than he was in his earlier work, is in excellent form here and this top-flight McCarter production serves the play brilliantly.

Three of the finest, and most celebrated, veteran comedic actors anywhere portray the protagonists here, three middle-aged siblings, given names out of Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters — Vanya (David Hyde Pierce), Sonia (Kristine Nielsen) and Masha (Sigourney Weaver) — because their professor parents were enthusiasts of community theater and Chekhov in particular.

Vanya and Sonia, brother and (adopted) sister, live in the old family farmhouse, beautifully rendered in David Korins’ meticulously detailed set. The action of the play takes place in the sunroom with stairs leading up to the second floor and upstage exit leading to the front door and other parts of the house. From the sunroom, characters can look out on a pond, as they eagerly await — still waiting hopefully at the end of the play — the appearance of an auspicious blue heron.

Their dull, often contentious, lives are interrupted by the arrival of their self-absorbed, movie star sister Masha (Sigourney Weaver), who has been gallivanting around the world being a celebrity. She arrives with her much younger stud boyfriend Spike (Billy Magnussen), a wannabe actor with a penchant for taking off his clothes and parading around in his underpants. She summarily announces — shades of Chekhov — “I’ve decided to sell the house.” Masha is not particularly sensitive to the needs of her siblings or of anyone but herself, but she is the only one making a living and paying the bills.

The histrionic cleaning lady Cassandra (Shalita Grant) appears with a colorful array of moderately reliable psychic powers, blood-curdling prophecies and deft voodoo techniques; and Nina (Genevieve Angelson), a young star-struck neighbor, drops in, to Masha’s chagrin, on invitation from Spike.

The principals go out to a local costume party — Masha is determined to commandeer all attention as Walt Disney’s Snow White and to assign all other roles for her siblings and friends, and the action continues through one evening and into the next day.

The six-member ensemble is wisely, shrewdly cast and brilliantly focused, individually and as an interrelated group, in the creation of these eccentric and diverse individuals.

Mr. Pierce, who made his Broadway debut right out of college in the original production of Beyond Therapy in 1982, creates a character like his namesake in Chekhov, but less anguished, more peaceful, hopeful and happy in his consignment to a quiet life of regrets and only the most modest pleasures. Mr. Pierce’s deadpan style and searingly funny comic gift (renown on Broadway, Off-Broadway, on film, and perhaps most memorably as Niles in Frasier on TV) serve him well here, as he helps to ground his more exuberant sisters and captures both the Chekhovian nostalgia and the Durangian hilarity. He explodes into a show-stopping final-act diatribe on the value of “shared memories” — all lost to younger generations of the twenty-first century. Remember those postage stamps you had to lick? Typewriters? Howdy Doody, The Ed Sullivan Show, Davy Crockett and coonskin caps, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Annette Funicello and The Mickey Mouse Show and Old Yeller, all now replaced by “video games, in some virtual reality, where we would kill policemen and prostitutes as if that was some sort of entertainment “?

As Spike, whose texting during the reading of Vanya’s play set off the declamatory monologue, observes, “Wow, what’s up with him? That was a major flip out.”

Ms. Nielsen’s Sonia provides another unforgettable characterization in her over-the-top, bi-polar miseries and rages and her comical body language and vocal histrionics, as she laments her spinsterhood and her doomed rivalry with her glamorous sister. Even Sonia gets her moment, however, in the second act, as her Maggie Smith-as-Evil Queen at the costume party wins her the modicum of attention and accompanying self-confidence she has so sadly missed in the previous fifty years of her life. Her next-day telephone conversation with a man she met at the costume party is a tour-de-force of Durangian humor combined with Chekhovian poignancy, as we laugh loudly then empathize fondly from moment to tense moment. Durang aficionados will happily recall Ms. Nielsen’s brilliant star turns in Betty’s Summer Vacation and Miss Witherspoon, along with a host of other distinguished stage and screen credits.

Ms. Weaver, in this part created especially for her by Mr. Durang, who has been a friend and often a collaborator since Yale School of Drama in the early 1970s, embodies the role of Masha with flair, obviously delighting in taking on this extravagantly caricatured version of herself. Ms. Weaver (star in, among many other stage and screen appearances, Alien, Ghostbusters, Working Girl, Gorillas in the Mist, Avatar and the upcoming Vamps, in which she plays a vampire) delivers all the right moves to create this ultimate aging prima donna who has been gallivanting around the world. The character does appear as a one-dimensional stereotype, all surface, difficult to identify with, until late in the play when her misfortune — and the fact that she is contemplating a grandmother role in her next movie — brings her down to earth with a certain heartwarming humanity.

The three supporting characters are far from minor. Ms. Grant’s Cassandra, not Chekhovian but straight out of Greek mythology, injects a significant dose of adrenalin into the proceedings with her ominous predictions and her mystical, sassy, high-energy interactions with the main characters. Mr. Magnussen’s sexually charged, narcissistic Spike is another extreme stereotype and one from yet another dimension — certainly out of place in rural Bucks County or Chekhov’s world or amongst any adults, Masha excepted, over the age of 30. Mr. Magnussen makes the most of Spike’s incongruity in this setting to deliver a number of rich comedic moments.

As Nina — more Chekhovian echoes — the youthful Ms. Angelson presents an appealing, sincere and idealistic presence, and more thought-provoking contrast to illuminate the other extravagant figures in this play.

Because of the extensive allusions to Chekhov and also to popular culture of the past sixty years, the best audience for this play, which will move on from McCarter to Lincoln Center at the end of October, would undoubtedly be in Mr. Durang’s late middle-aged age group and preferably familiar with Chekhov’s Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and Cherry Orchard. But the good news is, even if you don’t qualify on one or both of these scores and even though you might miss some of the jokes, there is still plenty going on in Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Chekhov and Durang, along with Mr. Martin and his wonderful cast, provide a hilarious, lively, entertaining evening for all.

Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike will run through October 14 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre, 91 University Place in Princeton. For tickets, show times and further information, call 609-258-2787 or visit www.mccarter.org.


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

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

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

Bucks County Gallery, 77 West Bridge Street, New Hope, Pa., presents a solo exhibit by Christine Graefe Drewyer October 5-28. The opening reception is October 6 from 2-5 p.m. Visit www.buckscountygalleryart.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garden State Watercolor Society presents its 43rd Annual Juried Exhibition October 8-28 at Prallsville Mills in Stockton. For times and details on special events, visit www.garden
statewatercolorsociety.net.

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

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

Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, is showing “Einstein at Home” through February 8. For more information visit www.princetonhistory.org.

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

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

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

MCCC Gallery, Mercer County Community College, West Windsor, is showing “Roger Hane and The Big Idea,” works by the illustrator Roger Hane, through October 4. A slide lecture will be presented September 24, 7 p.m. Visit www.mccc.edu/gallery.

Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, presents “Portrait of Place: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints of New Jersey, 1761-1898” September 28-January 13. Museum hours are Wednesdays-Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. on. Group tours of 10 or more can be arranged any day by advance reservation. There is free on site parking.

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.

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

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

Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street, is showing photography by Mary Cross (“Egyptland”) and painter Ifat Shatzky 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 “Encounters: Conflict, Dialogue, Discovery” through September 30. The show includes more than 60 works from the museum and private collections and mixes media, historical period and place of origin. “Root and Branch,” which explores the form of a tree in art and includes several art forms, runs through November 25. The Museum has installed 12 sculptures by Ai Weiwei at Scudder Plaza, in front of Robertson Hall, through July 2013. Works by Parastou Forouhar, Mona Hatoum, Sigalit Landau, Shirin Neshat and Laila Shawa are on view through January 13 as part of “The Fertile Crescent” project. “Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vase Painting of the Ik’ Kingdom” is October 6-February 17. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Call (609) 258-3788.

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

Rider University Art Gallery presents “Photographic Psychology: Forces That Shape the Psyche” through October 14. An artist’s talk will be September 20, 7 p.m. Visit www.rider.edu/artgallery.

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

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

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

Trisha Vergis Gallery, 287 South Main Street (Laceworks Complex), Suite 11, Lambertville, is presenting a Gallery Sneak Preview on Saturday, September 29 from 4 to 9 p.m. The preview will feature five local artists and a champagne toast to a new adventure.  Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 1 to 6 p.m.  Call (609) 460-4710 or visit www.trishavergisgal
lery.com.

Triumph Brewery, 138 Nassau Street, presents a solo exhibit of portraits and abstracts by Jannick Wildberg, September 25-November 25. The opening reception is September 25 from 7-9 p.m.

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

MOWING DOWN THE MUTANTS: Writer director Paul W.S. Anderson’s real-life wife Milla Jovovich returns yet again as Alice in Mutant Land in “Resident Evil: Retribution,” the fifth in the Resident Evil series.

The Resident Evil film franchise is proving to be every bit as enduring as the hordes of flesh-eating zombies featured in its every episode. The movies are based on the popular series of high body-count computer games which has also spawned some comic books, graphic novels, cartoons, and a line of merchandise with action figures and more.

This fifth screen adaptation marks yet another collaboration between writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson and his wife, cover girl-turned-actress Milla Jovovich. She, of course, reprises her lead role as Alice, the pistol-packing protector of a planet once again threatened with extinction.

As usual, Anderson does his best to exploit his supermodel spouse’s good looks, between keeping her clad in form-fitting latex for the duration of the adventure and seizing on any excuse to take a pause in the action for a lingering, extreme close-up of her flawless facial features. Otherwise, RE 5 offers formulaic zombie fighting fare, with Alice and an intrepid team of defenders (Michelle Rodriguez, Boris Kodjoe, Bingbing Li, et al) representing the last hope of humanity.

At the point of departure, our heroine, by way of voiceover, quickly recounts the back story of what’s transpired in the prior installments. We learn that the trouble all started when an industrial accident triggered a viral outbreak which in turn led to the rise of the undead.

Today, the diabolical Umbrella Corporation is apparently again up to no good, and on the verge of unleashing an army of mind-controlled minions, including clones of our pretty protagonist. Over-plotted to the point of absurdity, there’s no reason to try to follow RE 5’s storyline.

For while Milla might be up to the challenge of executing the script, the same can’t be said about her supporting cast’s wooden delivery of every last line of dialogue. The worst in this regard is Hong Kong star Bingbing Li who is crippled by the English language making a disastrous Hollywood debut here. A visually-captivating fantasy for teenage males with raging hormones, the demo most apt to appreciate enjoy watching an invincible vixen in spandex waste wave after wave of mindless mutants.

Fair (*). Rated R for partial nudity and pervasive graphic violence. Running time: 95 minutes Distributor: Screen Gems

To see a trailer for Resident Evil: Retribution, visit: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fetL5JuKGv4 


September 12, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Free as a Bird” 

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

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

“Yesterday”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


September 5, 2012

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

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

The N-Word

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

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

Missing the Point

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

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

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

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

Beginning at the End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Stuart Mitchner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


August 29, 2012

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

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

—Charlie Parker (1920-1955)

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

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

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

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

The Petersen Connection

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

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

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

The Vinyl Connection

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

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

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

The Kern Connection

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

The Connection Connection

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

———

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


August 22, 2012

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

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

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

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

“Mystery in Art”

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

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

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

Joy in Jersey

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

Something Amusingly Else

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

The Anglophile

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

“Ever Higher”

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

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

The Last Word

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

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

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