August 8, 2012

As I now move, graciously, I hope, toward the door marked Exit, it occurs to me that the only thing I ever really liked to do was go to the movies.

—Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

The first sentence of Gore Vidal’s Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir 1964-2006 (Doubleday 2006) appears disarmingly contrary to the obituaries presenting him as an elegant elitist who made his mark less as a novelist (he wrote 25) and essayist (some 20 collections) than as a caustic, combative public intellectual. The New York Times suggests he was “at the end of his life, an Augustan figure who believed himself to be the last of a breed.” In England, the Guardian obituary, written by Vidal’s executor Jay Parini, describes “a controversialist and politician manqué … celebrated both for his caustic wit and his mandarin’s poise.”

While there’s no denying Gore Vidal was thought of — and thought of himself — in those terms, the fact is that he chose to begin what, at this writing, has proven to be his swan song by declaring that the only thing he “really liked to do was go to the movies.” On July 31 — where else but in Hollywood? — he reached the door marked Exit.

As anyone who has read Vidal or seen him on television over the years surely knows, “the only thing” claim is disingenuous. He obviously “really liked” being in the limelight among the luminaries he’s sharing photos with in Point to Point Navigation, in a previous volume of memoirs, Palimpsest (1995), and in Snapshots in History’s Glare (2009), a book of 360 photographs. He also “really liked,” at least intermittently, reading, writing, politics, travel, and feeling at home in the world, whether living longterm in the Hollywood Hills, in his villa La Rondinaia in Ravello, or Edgewater on the Hudson in Barrytown, or in, among other locales, Rome, Paris, Bangkok, London, or Washington, D.C., which is where he grew up, bonding with the cinema in the various theaters fondly remembered in Chapter Four of Point to Point Navigation.

The use of a commonplace crutch word like “really” underscores Vidal’s primal enthusiasm for movies. As he’s quick to add, “Sex and Art took precedence over cinema but neither ever proved to be as dependable as the filtering of present light through that moving strip of celluloid which projects past images and voices onto a screen.” While he admits to being “a compulsive reader from the age of six,” he goes on to say that he was “so besotted with movies” that one Saturday he saw five “in a day.” Several pages farther on in Point to Point Navigation, the patrician intellectual of the obituaries confesses, “what I really wanted to be was a movie star: specifically, I wanted to be Mickey Rooney, and to play Puck, as he had done in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

A Letter from Edgewater

The Gore Vidal I knew best, in a manner of speaking, is the author of the early novels. Not yet famous, not yet a television presence or sophisticated media player, this is Vidal before the historical novels that began with Julian in 1964, Vidal before Myra Breckenridge in 1968, Vidal before he locked horns with Norman Mailer and William F. Buckley.

“I have started your book,” the handwritten four-page note with the Edgewater letterhead begins, “which looks remarkably — I might even say enviably — well-written considering its author’s age (a patronizing note I like to strike now that I am safely past that business).”

I was 20 and thought of Vidal as another, older “young writer” who had published his first novel at 21. He was a few weeks short of his 34th birthday when I sent him a copy of my aptly titled first novel, Let Me Be Awake. Until I discovered eight of his books in a bookstore rental library that was going out of business, I didn’t know anything about him beyond the fact that he’d written a hit play called Visit To a Small Planet. The unlikely discovery of these novels I’d never heard of, all in their original dustjackets, gave them a certain charisma. Since they were only 25 cents each, I bought all eight.

“I mean, of course,” the letter continues, referring to my still-wet-behind-the-ears novel of a midwestern innocent emotionally shipwrecked in the Evil East, “it is most well-written and, as far as I’ve got, has that flow, that sense of the thing held whole in a fine consciousness which is literature.”

I’ve added italics to indicate the impact that this elegant, Jamesian sentence had on someone who was only beginning to figure out the difference between a metaphor and a simile. I should have thought, “Is he kidding?” I should have been wondering just how far he’d actually “got” in a narrative that didn’t really lift off until the protagonist went to New York. “I have started … as far as I’ve got …” Like maybe as far as page two? But who was I to question such eloquence? Reading on, I found that, as I’d anticipated, he was pleased to hear my “kind words” about his early novels. “I can only marvel that you found them! There are times when I think I dreamed them all — since all are out of print except for occasional paperback reprints — I am now the subject of obscure master theses on the novel of the 40s, or what went wrong?” He then assured me, “I have not given up prose — I just went into the trade (i.e. drama) for a few years to make money.”

The letter ends with a facetious coda, a Gore Vidal moment true to the urbane wit described in the obituaries: “I hope you will order your life better; one way — perhaps the only honorable way — is to marry money.”

Sexual Orientation

Having read Vidal’s groundbreaking 1948 best-seller The City and the Pillar shortly before receiving his letter, I knew something of the author’s sexual orientation. I did not know, however, that at the time of the writing, he was already nine years into his 53-year relationship with Howard Auster, who, because he couldn’t land a job on Madison Avenue with a Jewish last name, took Vidal’s advice, changed Auster to Austen, and joined the Mad Men. I should also mention here that Vidal’s sensitive account of the illness and death of his longtime partner in Point to Point Navigation is another facet of his character at odds with the “cool and detached” obituary stereotype.

On the subject of The City and the Pillar, Vidal claims in his memoir that “the most powerful reviewer of the day,” the New York Times’s Orville Prescott, was so repelled by the mere idea of a novel portraying “a love affair between two ‘normal’ male athletes” that he not only refused to review it, but imposed a personal embargo: he would “never again read —  much less review” anything by Gore Vidal.

While The City and the Pillar reads like the work of a writer who had yet to find the voice he found four years later in his seventh novel, The Judgment of Paris, it remains the book of Vidal’s that made the strongest impression on me, if only because, in its unaffected, straightforward, sometimes plodding way, it opened my eyes to my own clueless perception of “gays” (a term Vidal despised).

It Got Ugly 

As much as I’ve enjoyed Gore Vidal’s essays and reviews over the years, I’ve read very little of his middle and late-period fiction. I found it hard to get into the spirit of literary tour de forces like Myra Breckenridge (1968), and his series of novels recreating American history never attracted me. The writer who had my attention was his arch rival (and at times mortal enemy) Norman Mailer, who was able impose his own style of novelistic excitement on real-life events such as the Democratic conventions of 1960 and 1968. While Vidal was on television going nastily one-on-one with William F. Buckley, Mailer was making literary history. The Gore Vidal I connected with was the young novelist of the 1950s, not the celebrity of the talk show feuds. Even though I was on his side most of the time, I found it hard to relate to the polished, sneering cynic trading insults with William F. Buckley. I never found those television skirmishes, including the ones with Mailer, amusing. I prefer writer-to-writer encounters like the famous one-night stand starring Vidal and Jack Kerouac, who presented a discreetly muddled version in his novel The Subterraneans, wherein Vidal becomes Arial Lavalina. A more graphic account of this literary tryst can be found in Fred Kaplan’s biography, Gore Vidal (1999).

On the Afterlife

One of the films in Point to Point Navigation that Vidal singles out for special mention during his “first and most vivid moviegoing phase” (from 1932 to 1939, age from 7 to 14) is The Mummy, with a lethally scary Boris Karloff in the title role. When Vidal saw the film again for the first time in 58 years, he “became, suddenly, seven years old again, mouth ajar,” as he inhabited, “simultaneously, both ancient Egypt and pre-imperial Washington, D.C.” Speculating on the movie’s appeal beyond “the charnel horror,” he observes that “any confirmation that life continues after death has an appeal to almost everyone except enlightened Buddhists.” In the next chapter, after meditating at length on The Prince and the Pauper, another Hollywood film that captured his imagination some four years later (“I wanted to be the identical twin boys … I wanted to be myself twice”), Vidal admits that “Like most children,” he used to “imagine what death must be like. But unlike most, I had no belief, or even interest in an afterlife.” Nevertheless, he sees fit to acknowledge “the notion of images impressed on celluloid” providing “a spurious sense of immortality, as does, indeed, the notion that those light rays which record our images will keep on bending about the universe forever.”

In the end, Vidal, the afterlife-denying novelist overrules Vidal, the moviegoer. “There are those who find comfort in such concepts,” he writes. “I don’t.”


Musical events in Princeton always draw a good crowd. Free musical evenings are guaranteed to draw an even better crowd, and such was the case last Tuesday night when a free concert of British string orchestral music was presented in Princeton University Chapel. Announced as a “gift to the Princeton community from Bill and Judith Scheide,” this concert featured late 19th and early 20th-century music suitable for the venue in which it was performed.

The University Chapel is not often used for orchestral music, and while lush choral passages often get lost in the vast Gothic arches, it was remarkable how clean the instrumental sound was. Conductor Mark Laycock, leading a chamber orchestra of local professionals, clearly had a sense of how to work the acoustics so that even the lightest pizzicato from the double basses could be heard in the back of the hall.

The repertoire selected by Mr. Laycock was among the more substantial from British orchestral composers, full of expansive lines and broad orchestral strokes. There was no raised platform in the chapel for the performers, so only those in the front or on the aisles could see well; for many in the audience this was music which would wash over them, however no details were lost in the process. Mr. Laycock conducted with sweeping gestures to bring out grandeur, especially in the two pieces of Sir Edward Elgar. The instrumentalists, led by concertmistress Kimberly Fisher, played decisively from the start, with the hall providing plenty of acoustical room for the sound. String rhythms could clearly be heard, with clean scales in the Allegro of Elgar’s Opus 47 Introduction and Allegro. The Introduction included a lyrical viola solo, gracefully played by Sarah Sutton. Throughout the long first selection of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, the orchestral sound was well-nuanced, with the pizzicatti especially well heard.

English music of this period is known for its tunefulness, heard in this performance in the music of Peter Warlock and Gustav Holst. In a concert of all string music, tunes can make a difference, and this ensemble was successful in finding the lilt and supple flow in Warlock’s Serenade. Holst’s music can be chipper as well as melodic, and the Air from his Brook Green Suite in particular captured the lute character of 16th-century English music. John Ireland’s Minuet from A Downland Suite moved the evening into a lighter mood, with the orchestra capturing an English countryside feel through graceful upbeats and accents and clean pizzicatti from the double basses. This piece ended with particular charm as the music delicately faded away. The orchestra found a different musical character in Gerald Finzi’s Romance, a piece full of suspensions and contrasts. Mr. Laycock worked to pull the sound through the melancholy yet peaceful ebb and flow of the piece, with Ms. Fisher’s violin solo blending well with the rest of the ensemble.

Mr. Laycock closed the concert with what may have been the most familiar piece — Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. By moving part of the orchestra back in the chancel, Mr. Laycock was able to create a fuller sound, with the especially rich tune in the lower strings. The second orchestra back by the altar was able to achieve an echo effect, contrasted by melodic solos from Ms. Fisher, Ms. Sutton, and cellist Adrian Daurov.

This concert was the Scheides’ gift to the Princeton community, and informality was the word for the evening. People came in a wide variety of summer dress, at times meditating on the music and at times browsing through electronic devices to read to a rich musical accompaniment. Despite this concert being the tail-end of a busy summer musical season in Princeton, the chapel was full, and the evening’s experience included some of the best orchestral playing heard all year in the area.


COURTSHIP AND CONFLICT: Lili (Sarah Paton) and Nick (Andrew Massey) meet and fall in love — it’s 1960, summertime, a lake in the Catskills — but that’s just the beginning of their problems in Princeton Summer Theater’s season finale, Richard Greenberg’s melancholy comedy “The American Plan,” playing at The Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through August 12.

In the closing moments of Princeton Summer Theater’s (PST) moving, captivating production of The American Plan, Lili and Nick look back on a romantic relationship that could have been and recall the words of a lullaby that Lili’s mother Eva used to sing: “Happiness exists, but it’s for other people.”

Those words capture the tone of this play and the worldview that it presents. Under the intelligent, inspired direction of Daniel Rattner, The American Plan (1990) by Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out, 2003) provides a multi-layered, beautifully designed finale to Princeton Summer Theater’s outstanding 2012 season.

Set in 1960 at a summer house in the Catskills, The American Plan takes place in a world delicately balanced between hopes and fears of past and future. Her transistor radio plays Bobby Darin’s “Somewhere Beyond the Sea,” as the troubled, 20-year-old Lili (Sarah Paton) dreams of a prince who will come to carry her away from her humdrum, privileged life and her domineering mother.

Right on schedule, as the lights rise on the opening scene, Nick (Andrew Massey), handsome WASP interloper in this Jewish enclave, looking “like nothing ever happened to you,” emerges from the lake where he has been swimming and greets Lili. She is reading on the patio of their house across the lake from the Catskills resort where Nick is staying. A writer and aspiring architect who dreams of creating a new city, Nick describes to Lili “the American Plan” (a hotel package deal that includes three meals a day, but in Nick’s mind and in the author’s title of the play, a metaphor for a disturbed, self-indulgent slice of mid-20th century American society): “What Americans live like that? What Americans eat like this? The breakfasts and the lunches and the dinners and the coffees and the teas and the snacks and the hardly-any-exercise in-between…”

All five characters in this play are outcasts, misfits in a world on the cusp of change. Lili’s mother Eva (Maeve Brady), a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, a wealthy widow with her Central Park West apartment and her summer house in the Catskills, looks down on the Jewish resort community and views life with pessimism and suspicion. “The world has a wish for you,” she warns her daughter, “and it’s never good.” Two supporting characters, Olivia (Miyuki Miyagi), Eva and Lili’s maid and caretaker, and Gil (Evan Thompson), who suddenly appears in the second of two acts, are also set apart from the mainstream of society.

As the plot advances, Nick and Lili’s relationship develops, and complications proliferate. Lili is deceitful, bitter and acerbic, edgy and unstable, subject to panic attacks, desperate to find romance and escape from her mother’s tyrannical control, yet inextricably attached and dependent. Nick also hides truths about his life, which Eva relentlessly proceeds to uncover. This prince is not exactly what he first appears to be.

The chemistry between Lili and Nick is strong, the love is apparent, the romance and the possibilities for happiness are rich and promising. But the vicissitudes of life, the workings of the human psyche and well-intentioned (or not) interventions by Eva and others ensure that this is not to be the fairy tale story that Lili and Nick envision.

PST’s polished, intelligent production brings out the nuances in these complex relationships. Mr. Rattner’s pacing moves the plot along effectively, and slows down, particularly as the lights linger at the end of each scene, to engage the audience in the troubled thoughts and yearnings of these struggling characters. Jeffrey Van Velsor’s set and Alex Mannix’s delicate, evocative lighting create the mood of this world with its pensive inhabitants and its mix of romance and melancholy.

The set — wicker patio furniture, a weathered Adirondack chair, greying boards (like a wharf, or the side of a beach house) for the backdrop — reinforces the wistful mood of the play. A clever, creative transformation for the final scene moves to Eva and Lili’s dark, well-appointed New York apartment ten years later, with political protests raging outside; on the back wall a large flag made of faded jeans stitched together signifies a new phase in the history of the country and in the lives of the play’s protagonists. Production values here and throughout the PST season have been thoroughly professional, first-rate.

As the romantic couple at the play’s core, Ms. Paton and Mr. Massey are appealing and strikingly credible. Both young actors are experienced members of the PST Company, have starred in previous shows this summer, and display significant versatility here in progressing through the many mood shifts of these two characters. From the mannerisms of the attitudinal, sharp-tongued girl of the opening scenes to the more serious and mature adult of the later scenes, Ms. Paton’s Lili grows increasingly convincing and sympathetic. Mr. Massey is charming and conflicted — in character and believable from start to finish. It is not hard to see why these two would quickly fall in love with each other, and why that passionate attachment would cause endless problems for each.

Ms. Brady’s domineering maternal presence as Eva is a strong characterization, unquestionably capable of commanding the stage and the other figures in the play — another credible portrayal despite what seems like a possibly excessive fifty-year age stretch. Ms. Brady’s German accent is effective, but occasionally needs to be clearer in order to communicate this character’s many clever and caustic observations.

Ms. Miyagi and Mr. Thompson provide intelligent, skillful support, detailed and on target in their three-dimensional character delineations.

As director of this production and artistic director of Princeton Summer Theater 2012, Daniel Rattner observes in his program note, “The American Plan is a fitting end to our season because it, somewhat literally, explores what happens at summer’s end — when we are forced to leave a time that feels idle and promising and return to the real world, with its … constant complications.” Fitting, indeed, with its elegiac, end-of-summer shadows and its thought-provoking studies in character and relationships — it’s a worthy conclusion to a rewarding, diverse, and impressively successful 2012 season.


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

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, August 20-October 19.

Dalet Gallery, 141 N. Second Street, Philadelphia, hosts “Made in Princeton,” with works from members of the Princeton Artist Alliance and the Princeton Photography Club, through August 13. Hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Visit www.dalealert.com.

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 the third annual Juried Photographic Exhibition through August 11. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street, Cranbury, exhibits “All About the Birds,” the art of Necati Itez, through August 26.

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 at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s 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. “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, is on view through August 10. “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.

Joan Perkes Fine Art Gallery, 202 North Union Street, Lambertville, has the First Annual Works on Paper Show through August 17. Call (609) 460-4708 for more information.

Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, has works by artists Jananne Al-Ani, Fatima Al Qadiri, Monira Al Qadiri, Ofri Cnaani, Diana El Jeiroudi, Ayana Friedman, Ariane Litman, Ebru Ozsecen, Nil Yalter and Laila Shawa from August 13-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. 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.

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton, is showing “Botanica Magnifica: Photographs by Jonathan Singer” through August 26.

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, is hosting an art reception for printmaker Ingrid Davis on Sunday, August 12 from 2-4 p.m. The artist will be on hand to discuss the special technique of white-line woodcuts. Her work is on view 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, MonaHatoum, Sigalit Landau, Shirin Neshat and Laila Shawa are on view August 18-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 August 11-September 30. Visit www.quietlife
gallery.com.

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

Spring Street Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, 4th floor, New York, shows “Trenton Makes,” the Trenton Artists Workshop Association’s Visual Art Exhibition, through August 18. Works by Mel Leipzig, Jon Naar, Aubrey Kauffman, Leon Rainbow, Linda Osborne, Elizabeth Aubrey, and others are included. On August 19 from 1-4 p.m., a talk with painters Harry Naar and Mel Leipzig and photographer Jon Naar, all of whom have works on display, will be held. Call (646) 230-0246 for information.

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.

I CAN’T STAND THIS GHOST STORY: Rowley ( Robert Capron, left) covers his ears because the ghost story being told by Fregley (Grayson Russell, right) is too scary. Rowley’s best friend Greg (Zachary Gordon, center), on the other hand, is eager to hear how the story turns out.

This episode of the Wimpy Kid film series is based on a combination of wacky misadventures culled from both the third (The Last Straw) and fourth (Dog Days) books in the best-selling series created by Jeff Kinney. The movie was directed by David Bowers (Wimpy Kid 2) who reassembled his principal cast, including Zach Gordon in the title role as the beleaguered Greg Heffley, and Robert Capron as his rotund BFF, Rowley Jefferson.

The picture’s point of departure is opening day at the overcrowded public pool which is where we find Greg unhappy at the prospect of sharing the water all summer with smelly adults and infants who aren’t potty-trained. He’d prefer to be frequenting the facilities at the Plainview Heights Country Club, especially after he learns that Holly Hills (Peyton List), the cute classmate he has a big crush on, will be teaching tennis to children.

After all, Greg’s only vacation plans involve playing video games at home and hanging out with Holly. However, when he asked her for her phone number on the final day of school, she was distracted in the middle of writing it down and never got around to finishing it for him.

As luck would have it, Rowley’s family happens to be members of the same country club, so Greg can gain access to the place as his pal’s personal guest. Anything would be better than the boring activities his mother (Rachael Harris) and father (Steve Zahn) already have planned for him like fishing, starting a reading club, and attending Civil War reenactments.

Therefore, in order to see the girl of his dreams every day, Greg tells his folks that he’s found a summer job at Plainview Heights. Of course, in accordance with the “One Big Lie” comedy formula, it’s just a matter of time before the truth comes out.

However, the boys’ futile attempts at a cover-up sets in motion a series of silly slapstick scenes. Between a steady diet of sight gags and bodily function fare, Wimpy Kid is entertaining enough to engage youngsters. Adults might not find the film’s unfocused style of sophomoric storytelling all that compelling, but they will nonetheless laugh a lot and appreciate the squeaky clean brand of humor so rarely found in films anymore.

A comfy, feel good comedy movie for the whole family.

Excellent (***½). Rated PG for rude humor. Running time: 94 minutes. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.


August 1, 2012

How significant was the first week of August for Herman Melville? He was born August 1, 1819, married August 4, 1847, first encountered Nathaniel Hawthorne, the most momentous meeting of his life, on August 5, l850. For Marilyn Monroe, the first week of August was the last week of her life, 50 years ago this Sunday, August 5, 1962.

Lost in Melville’s Gaze

“A man with a true, warm heart, and a soul and an intellect — with life to his finger-tips.” Sophia Hawthorne is describing her husband Nathaniel’s newfound friend Herman Melville. While observing the 31-year-old writer’s “very keen perceptive power,” and his “air free, brave and manly,” Sophia encounters his gaze and, in effect, gets lost in it. At first she sees his eyes as a defect (what “astonishes” her is that they are “not large and deep,” “not keen,” and “quite undistinguished in any way”), yet she can’t help wondering over what happens as he’s “conversing … full of gesture and force” and “his animation gives place to a singularly quiet expression, out of those eyes to which I have objected — an indrawn, dim look, but which at the same time makes you feel that he is at that instant taking deepest note of what is before him. It is a strange, lazy glance, but with a power in it quite unique. It does not seem to penetrate through you, but to take you into himself.”

Sophia communicated this revealing first impression of Melville in a September 4, 1850, letter to her mother, who may have found the last sentence mildly alarming. And what would Hawthorne have thought had he been permitted to read the letter? It’s a seductive formula, eyes that put her off only to take her in with their “lazy power” — the way she’s expressed it, the person he was taking deepest note of seems to have been Sophia, who thus feels compelled to add that the subject of the taking “into himself” was not her but the Hawthorne’s six-year-old daughter, Una.

Moved by Marilyn

Fast forward a hundred years to another first meeting, on a Hollywood film set in 1950. “When we shook hands,” Arthur Miller writes, describing his first moment with Marilyn Monroe in his 1987 memoir, Timebends, “the shock of her body’s motion sped through me, a sensation at odds with her sadness amid all this glamour and technology and the busy confusion of a new shot being set up.”

For a single time-and-space-defying moment, imagine that the contact is between two equally inspired beings, that the person taking Marilyn Monroe’s hand is not Arthur Miller but Herman Melville at 31, ablaze with the writing of Moby Dick as he was when he swept Sophia Hawthorne off her feet. Then imagine Marilyn at her zenith, having gone from bit player to living legend, as she was in 1961 when she stunned Out of Africa author Isak Dinesen with an “almost overpowering feeling of unconquerable strength and sweetness” as if “all the wild nature of Africa” were “amicably gazing” at her “with a mighty playfulness.”

And of course both leading players in the great American reality show were doomed to fall, Melville, his masterpiece all but ignored by the press when it wasn’t being scorned, telling Hawthorne in 1856 that he had “pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated” (only to die in obscurity almost four decades later); Marilyn in her own freefall of failed marriages, miscarriages, professional humiliation, dying world famous and alone at 36.

Writing in Timebends, Arthur Miller remarks on how “the press that gathered to chorus its lamentations” when Marilyn died was “the same press that had sneered at her for so long …. To have survived, she would have had to be either more cynical or even further from reality than she was. She was a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.”

A defining moment in Timebends comes when Miller and Monroe are living together in New York before their marriage, a “bond of shared silences, as mysterious as sexuality” having begun to form between them. It was after “one of those silences” that he told her she was “the saddest girl” he’d ever met, which she “first thought a defeat” and then took as the “compliment” he’d intended, telling him, “You’re the only one who ever said that to me.”

Imagining Marilyn

Though there may be no prototypical Marilyns in Melville’s work, there are definite intimations, beginning with Fayaway in his first book, Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (1846): “This gentle being had early attracted my regard, not only from her extraordinary beauty, but from the attractive cast of her
countenance, singularly expressive of intelligence and humanity,”
with “a tenderness in her manner which it was impossible to misunderstand or resist.” Strange but true, that the author now best known for Moby Dick and Billy Budd, with their all-male casts, created the literary equivalent of a Hollywood diva he delights in personally costuming: “Out of the calico brought from the ship I made a dress for this lovely girl” that “began at the waist, and terminated sufficiently far above the ground to reveal the most bewitching ankle in the universe.”

Fayaway’s “free pliant figure is the very perfection of female grace and beauty,” her face “a rounded oval, and each feature as perfectly formed as the heart or imagination of man could desire,” her “full lips, when parted with a smile, disclosed teeth of dazzling whiteness,” her hair “flowed in natural ringlets over her shoulders, and whenever she chanced to stoop, fell over and hid from view her lovely bosom.” Gazing into “the depths of her strange blue eyes, when she was in a contemplative mood, they seemed most placid yet unfathomable; but when illuminated by some lively emotion, they beamed upon the beholder like stars.” Her hands “were as soft and delicate as those of any countess,” her feet, “though wholly exposed, were as diminutive and fairly shaped as those which peep from beneath the skirts of a Lima lady’s dress. The skin of this young creature, from continual ablutions and the use of mollifying ointments, was inconceivably smooth and soft.”

If nothing else, the reference to Fayaway’s skin evokes the star of whom director Billy Wilder said, “The first day a photographer took a picture of her she was a genius.” One such photographer, Eve Arnold (1912-2012), observes in Marilyn Monroe: An Appreciation (1987), that “her flesh … was almost touchable on screen; she had what cinematographer’s call ‘flesh impact.’ Her skin was translucent, white, luminous.”

The wonder of Marilyn Monroe is that she seems in some ways more hauntingly alive and aglow and charming in Arnold’s pictures than she does on film.

Isabel and Marianna

There are also intimations in Melville’s work of the troubled, vulnerable, lonely being Miller perceived in “the saddest girl” he ever knew. In Pierre: or The Ambiguities, the prodigiously immoderate, mannered and tormented, at once dated and uncannily “modern” novel written in the aftermath of Moby Dick, the bipolar title character finds himself obsessed by a “mystical face,” a “shadow” that has “come forth to him” and that appears to take the form of his mysterious, illegitimate half-sister, Isabel. “The face haunted him as some imploring, and beauteous, impassioned, ideal Madonna’s haunts the morbidly longing and enthusiastic, but ever-baffled artist.” Evoking the beguiling ambiguity at the heart of Marilyn’s appeal, on the screen and in her imperishable afterlife, Melville’s Isabel “lifts her whole marvelous countenance into the radiant candlelight,” and when “for one swift instant, that face of supernaturalness unreservedly meets Pierre’s,” it’s with a “wonderful loveliness, and a still more wonderful loneliness.”

Written in 1856 after the double debacle of Moby Dick and Pierre, Melville’s short piece, “The Piazza,” is presented as “an inland voyage to fairy-land” taken on “a mad poet’s afternoon,” wherein the narrator sets out to discover the “one spot of radiance” in the distant range he sees from the piazza he had expressly constructed so that he could cast his imagination into the view. As he’s been reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he presumes the radiance must be emanating from a cottage in “fairy-land” where he will find “a fairy princess,” his own Titania. When he arrives after an epic, madly allusive, Melvillian voyage, what he finds is “a lonely girl, sewing at a lonely window.” Shyly startled by his appearance (“like some Tahiti girl …” surprised “by Captain Cook”) the “desolate maiden” whose name is Marianna invites him in, and as he sits with her thinking, “This, then, is the fairy-mountain house, and here, the fairy queen sitting at her fairy window,” he realizes that the “one spot of radiance” in the view sad Marianna sees every day is his piazza and his own house, which from her window once appeared to be “King Charming’s palace.” The tale ends with the narrator back on his piazza, “where every night, when the curtain falls, truth comes in with darkness. No light shows from the mountain. To and fro I walk the piazza deck, haunted by Marianna’s face, and many as real a story.”

On Film

Enchanted Island, an unlikely film version of Typee, was directed by the veteran Allan Dwan in 1952 with 50-year-old Dana Andrews in the Melville role and petite blonde Jane Powell, age 30, as Fayaway. The last picture made at RKO, it was released by Warners with the Four Lads singing the title song. (Feel free to roll your eyes.) More interesting and perhaps even more unlikely is Pola X, a sexually explicit French adapatation of Pierre directed by Leos Carax that turned up in 1999 with the late Guillaume Depardieu in the title role and Yekaterina Golubeva as Isabel. The film title is an acronym of the French title of the novel, Pierre ou les ambiguïtés, plus the Roman numeral “X” indicating the tenth draft version of the script that was used to make the film.

In the best, strangest, and most unlikely of all possible worlds, Marilyn Monroe would have been a heartbreaking Fayaway and a devastating Isabel. For now, we have to make do with the films being shown by the Princeton Public Library this week to mark the the 50th anniversary of Marilyn’s death: The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), The Misfits, (1961), and Some Like It Hot (1959), along with My Week with Marilyn, starring Michelle Williams as Marilyn. For details, visit princetonlibrary.org.


William and Judith Scheide could spend their summers in the cool environs of New England, as many Princetonians do, escaping the New Jersey heat. Instead the Scheides have not only chosen to remain in the humidity with the rest of us but also to make the summer months more musically enjoyable. For the past four years, the Scheides have sponsored a concert taking advantage of the singers and instrumentalists in town performing with other ensembles. This past Thursday night, members of Opera New Jersey’s summer roster were joined by the New Jersey Symphony and led by conductor Mark Laycock in a rousing performance of 19th-century powerhouse opera arias, all made possible by the Scheides.

Opera New Jersey strutted out some of its best soloists from this summer’s productions for the concert of operatic excerpts at Richardson Auditorium, with soprano Erica Strauss, tenor Rafael Dávila and bass Young-Bok Kim delving into the Golden Age of German and Italian Romantic opera. Focusing primarily on the works of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, this “Midsummer Celebration” easily achieved its goal of bringing the audience to its feet with brass, percussion, and rich orchestration, not to mention great singing.

Conductor Mark Laycock acknowledged the importance of the chorus in 19th-century opera by starting the concert with a Wagnerian bang in a chorus from Tannhäuser. Opera New Jersey compiled a choral ensemble of the company’s “emerging artists” and local professionals who easily captured the sweep and grandeur of “Freudig begrüssen wir die edle Halle,” Tannhäuser’s “Entrance of the Guests.” This being Wagner, brass played a large role, beginning with clean trumpets from an offstage balcony.

Mr. Laycock alternated Wagner with Verdi in programming the evening, but given the musical weight of both composers, there was little difference in the hefty orchestration and demanding vocal requirements among the operatic excerpts. The chorus reined in its sound a bit as the concert progressed, with the sectional basses and altos coming across as the most unified. In the opening Verdi selection from Otello, four character soloists sang from the chorus, most notably bass-baritone John Arnold, with all singers clearly feeling free to unleash a full magnitude of sound.

Mr. Dávila, heard with Opera New Jersey this past summer in Il Trovatore, showed his more lyrical side in his duet with Ms. Strauss — Verdi’s “Love Duet,” also from Otello. Although these two singers could have demonstrated more chemistry and sparks between each other, both brought out the sweetness of the duet, with Ms. Strauss especially floating her sound in the top register. The singers were well complemented by cellist Stephen Fang’s graceful solo.

Mr. Laycock also ventured into the very familiar repertoire, with Wagner’s “Prelude to Act III” of Lohengrin, a selection from Wagner’s Götterdammerung and Verdi’s “Triumphal March” from Aida. A dark and rich English horn, played by Andrew Adelson and subtly accompanied by timpani marked the start of the Wagner excerpt, combined with a lean extended sectional cello solo. Mr. Laycock drew out well the “sunrise” of the “Dawn,” aided by chipper wind solos. The familiar triumphal tune was played with nuance by the brass, and a bit of Verdian gypsy could easily be heard from the winds.

Arrigo Boito’s “Prologue in Heaven” from Mefistofele fit into the theme of the evening with Boito’s role as librettist for some of Verdi’s operas. Although the orchestral “Prelude” was a bit staid, Young-Bok Kim got things rolling as Mefistofele, exuding the confidence of the part and a menacing vocal swagger. Mr. Kim clearly has no trouble commanding a stage in ominous and intimidating roles, and brought the audience right into his world. Mr. Kim was joined in this extended scene by the adult chorus as well as a children’s chorus representing the “Cherubini.” Prepared by Fred Meads and singing from the balcony, the children’s chorus easily handled some very quick “patter” passages of words and held their own well in a section of cross-metered music with the orchestra and other chorus.

Thanks to the generosity of the Scheides, the Princeton musical summer season has been extended right to the edge of July, and the established organizations of Opera New Jersey and New Jersey Symphony, as well as the two choruses, were able to collaborate to create something entirely new and thoroughly enjoyable to the audience. The opportunity to provide more work to musicians in the summer also made this concert more relevant to the community and strengthened Princeton’s role in the New Jersey artistic scene.


Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, is showing “Water Light,” watercolors by Eric Rhinehart and Carol Sanzalone, through August 5. The artists will host a “Coffee and Conversation” August 5 from 2-5 p.m. Visit www.lambertvillearts.com.

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

Dalet Gallery, 141 N. Second Street, Philadelphia, hosts “Made in Princeton,” with works from members of the Princeton Artist Alliance and the Princeton Photography Club, through August 13. A reception is August 3, 5-9 p.m. Hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Visit www.dalealert.com.

Ellarslie, Trenton’s City Museum in Cadwalader Park, shows “Trenton Makes,” the local segment of the Trenton Artists Workshop Association’s Trenton/New York Visual Art Exhibition, through August 5. A partner show is at the Prince Street Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, 4th floor, New York, through August 18. Works by Mel Leipzig, Jon Naar, Aubrey Kauffman, Leon Rainbow, Linda Osborne, and others are included in these shows. On August 19 from 1-4 p.m., a talk with painters Harry Naar and Mel Leipzig and photographer Jon Naar, all of whom have works on display, will be held. Call (609) 989-3632 for Ellarslie information; (646) 230-0246 for Spring Street Gallery.

Firestone Library at Princeton University is showing “A Fine Addition: New & Notable Acquisitions in Princeton’s Special Collections” through August 5 in its Main Gallery. In the Milberg Gallery through December 28 is “Woodrow Wilson’s Journey to the White House.” In Cotsen Children’s Library through September 30 is “Noah’s Art: Designing Arks for Children.”

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows the third annual Juried Photographic Exhibition through August 11. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street, Cranbury, exhibits “All About the Birds,” the art of Necati Itez, from August 5-26. A reception is August 5 from 1-3 p.m.

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 at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s 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. “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, is on view through August 10. “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.

Joan Perkes Fine Art Gallery, 202 North Union Street, Lambertville, has the First Annual Works on Paper Show through August 17. Call (609) 460-4708 for more information.

Mercer County Senior Art Show is being held through August 3 at Meadow Lakes, 300 Meadow Lakes just off Etra Road, East Windsor. Categories are acrylic, craft, computer imagery, drawing, mixed media, oil, pastel, photography, print, sculpture, and watercolor. Call (800) 564-5705.

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.

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton, is showing “Botanica Magnifica: Photographs by Jonathan Singer” through August 26.

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, is hosting an art reception for printmaker Ingrid Davis on Sunday, August 12 from 2-4 p.m. The artist will be on hand to discuss the special technique of white-line woodcuts. The exhibit of her work is August 2-31. 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. 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 August 11-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.

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.

ALFRED, WHAT SHOULD WE DO ABOUT HER?: Trusty and crusty butler Alfred (Michael Caine, right) is being asked by his employer, wealthy philanthropist Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), who also becomes the Caped Crusader Batman when circumstances require it, what to do about the pesky cat burglar (Anne Hathaway, not shown) who is making a nuisance of herself in Wayne’s mansion in Gotham City.

The Dark Knight Rises brings an end to the brilliant Batman trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale as Batman. Each of the earlier episodes, Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), earned a spot on this critic’s annual Top Ten List, numbers 9 and 1, respectively.

Because the late Heath Ledger played the part of the Joker to perfection, and delivered an Oscar-winning performance in the previous movie, you knew it would be hard for Nolan to find as compelling a character for his finale. If The Dark Knight Rises does have a weakness, it’s because the primary villain pales in comparison. Otherwise, the movie measures up to the previous two films expectations, although its convoluted plot and 2¾ hours running time is likely to have younger kids squirming in their seats.

The picture opens eight years after the end of the last adventure, when Batman selflessly accepted the blame for the untimely demise of District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). The broken, embittered vigilante has kept a low profile over the intervening years, allowing the Gotham police department to fight crime on its own.

But, the situation changes with the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy), a member of the association of assassins known as The League of Shadows. Although Banes speech is somewhat muffled by a contraption affixed to his face, you don’t need to understand his unintelligible mumblings to know that he’s a maniacal menace. The masked terrorist is bent on blowing up the city with a nuclear device and it isn’t long before Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) needs help handling the situation.

Meanwhile, Batman’s alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, has his hands full with Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar he catches snooping around his mansion. Fortunately, Wayne still has his loyal assistants Alfred (Michael Caine), the butler, and weapons/vehicle/gadgetry specialist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). Plus, he develops a new friendship with John Blake (Joseph-Gordon-Levitt), a cop with excellent instincts who might become Batman’s sidekick Robin should the series be continued.

Outfitted with a state-of-the-art motorcycle and hovercraft, a revivified Batman enthusiastically engages his evil adversary. And between Nolan’s loyalty to 35 mm film and live action stunts, what’s served up on screen is spectacular.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for sensuality, profanity, and intense violence. Running time: 165 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.


July 25, 2012

AT HER PEAK: Ballerina Cynthia Gregory, shown here as Odile, the black swan in “Swan Lake,” during her career with American Ballet Theatre.

In a classroom at the Princeton Dance and Theatre Studio in Forrestal Village, six young men take their places and wait for music from the ballet Raymonda to begin. Sitting in front of them with her back to the mirror is a woman who was dancing “Raymonda” — and just about every other ballet in the classical repertory — before they were born.

Watching Cynthia Gregory demonstrate how to use a plié, or deep knee bend, to add spring to a jump, or how to open the arms into a more authoritative pose, it seems as if she might have performed these movements yesterday. Yet it has been two decades since this famous ballerina retired from dancing after a stellar, 26-year career with American Ballet Theatre (ABT).

These days, Ms. Gregory spends much of her time coaching younger generations of dancers. For the past several years, she has traveled to Princeton from her home in Las Vegas to Princeton Dance and Theatre Studio’s annual Summer Intensive. For one week, she works with the students on the finer points of performance. The 48 students in this year’s program come from several states and Guatemala. In addition to Ms. Gregory, they studied this summer with former ballerinas Susan Jaffe and Kyra Nichols; and with Roy Kaiser, who is artistic director of the Pennsylvania Ballet. The students will give an end-of-term performance Friday, July 27, at 1 p.m. at The Hun School Auditorium. Tickets are $10.

“I like to coach, rather than teach. There are so many better teachers than me,” Ms. Gregory says. “I like to work on the art of dance rather than the nuts and bolts. And they already know what they’re doing when I get here, so I can work on the finer points with them. The students here are very strong. There are no watered-down versions of anything. They’re learning the real thing.”

For Risa Kaplowitz, co-founder of the school, hosting Ms. Gregory each summer is a thrill for the students, and for her. “This is Cynthia’s fourth or fifth time at PDT, and I am still in awe of what she offers the students,” she says. “Her coaching is filled with positive energy and her simple explanations for difficult steps can make such a big difference in how a dancer executes them. Most of all, she gives the variations context and inspires the students to dance them with joy.”

A much younger-looking 66, Ms. Gregory has a warm smile and open manner that seem to put the dancers immediately at ease. She is quick to offer encouragement while pushing her charges to work harder and reach for a level that transcends technique and athleticism.

“The level of technique today is fabulous. It’s amazing,” she says, speaking of ABT, where she spent her career. “But the general feeling is more bravura than drama. Somehow, the heart is gone. We didn’t have that level of technique, but we had something else. I try to pass along what I learned from people like Agnes de Mille, whom I loved. She taught me how to be a real person on stage. I tell the dancers today to be real with their gestures, to be themselves. That translates to the audience.”

De Mille is only one of the renowned choreographers with whom Ms. Gregory worked during her long career. Born in Los Angeles, she began studying ballet as a small child. She managed to get herself into a class that George Balanchine was teaching when she was only 13. The great choreographer and co-founder of the New York City Ballet was impressed and invited her to come study in New York, but she was too young.

A year later, though, she was accepted into the San Francisco Ballet as an apprentice. Her parents sold their home and business and the family moved to San Francisco, where Ms. Gregory thrived. She stayed with the ballet company for four-and-a-half years before deciding to make the move to New York. Since Mr. Balanchine had encouraged her, she expected to join his company, where abstract ballets tend to dominate the repertory.

“But I saw a performance by ABT, and I set my heart on that,” she says. “It was drama. I like to tell a story, and that’s what they were doing. It’s not that I don’t love the Balanchine repertory; I do. But the story ballets suited me best.”

ABT had Giselle and La Sylphide in its repertory when Ms. Gregory joined. Over the years, more full-length classics and ballets by Agnes de Mille, Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins, and other choreographers were added. “I just fell in love with all of those ballets. They kept adding more, every year or two,” Ms. Gregory says. “I could really immerse myself in the roles.”

While drama was her forte, Ms. Gregory was also a formidable technician. She was known for her ability to balance en pointe longer than just about any other dancer, and her fans loved her for it.

She especially enjoyed working with Mr. Robbins, performing his ballet Other Dances with Alexander Godunov and Kevin McKenzie, now ABT’s artistic director. “He showed another side of me,” she says of the choreographer. “A lot of people never thought of me in that way.” Mr. Robbins was her favorite choreographer. But he was a tough taskmaster. “He made you do things over and over, and I get worse as I do things over and over,” she says. “Twyla [Tharp] was like that, too.”

Ms. Gregory exited ABT during the period that Mikhail Baryshnikov was artistic director. The Russian superstar favored younger dancers. Only in her mid-thirties, which is considered a dancer’s prime, Ms. Gregory chose to bow out. “I didn’t thrive under him, so I started doing guest performances,” she says, tactfully. “I did get to dance with him once, in Balanchine’s Prodigal Son, and that was great. But I needed to move on.”

When Ms. Gregory ended her dancing career a few years later, she was ready. “I don’t miss it,” she says. “I was really completely fulfilled.”

She has been divorced twice and widowed once. Ms. Gregory raised her son, now 24, in Greenwich, Connecticut. She moved a few years ago to Las Vegas, where she is an artistic advisor with the Nevada Ballet Theatre. She coaches for that company and elsewhere.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” she says, flashing her radiant smile. “I had no major injuries. I got to  work with the most amazing choreographers in the world. And now I get to pass it on.”


On my way across campus to the University Art Museum, I see a single leaf drifting toward the September 11 memorial garden at Chancellor Green. I’m in a don’t-take-anything-for-granted mood, my reporter’s notebook in my hand, my objective a show called “Encounters: Conflict, Dialogue, Discovery,” which opened July 14 and will be on view through September 23. At the time, I know nothing of the work of Gabriele Münter and the only Aurora I know of is the Aurora Borealis.

In art exhibits you go from one work to another, looking, attending, thinking, so it must be because I’m already in a museum state of mind that I’ve been paying attention to this one yellow leaf. How come it’s falling now, in the middle of summer? I’m waiting to see where it ends up so I can have a closer look.

As it’s about to come to earth by the 9/11 memorial bell, the leaf flutters to life and flies away. Though I’m not in the museum yet, I take out my pen and write, “Butterfly = leaf.” The real exhibit has begun.

The Shadow of Aurora

The carnage at a Colorado multiplex showing The Dark Knight Rises seems a long way from an art museum on the campus of an Ivy League university. Yet the same film opened across the street from the campus at the Garden Theater with a midnight screening a day before the midnight show in Aurora. Meanwhile, visitors to the exhibit are going to see it differently now than they would have if, like me, they had come to it the day before the shooting.

A large, attractively designed hand-out showing a plan of the museum is accompanied by a colorfully printed essay about the exhibit that refers, appropriately enough, to “commonality,” “cultural encounters,” “entangled interaction, mutual impact,” and “points of contact” that “occur across place as well as time …. Such encounters elicit curiosity, bemusement, or, sometimes ardent condemnation and rupture” (the last word is printed in big pink capital letters against a purple background). When you read the preceding statements after learning that a lone, heavily armed gunman shot and killed at least 12 people and wounded 58, “encounter” becomes the mother of all euphemisms. At the end of the essay, which was apparently co-written by the Curator of Asian Art Cary Y. Liu, Project Coordinator Francesca Williams, and Curatorial Fellow Juliana Ochs Dweck, “rupture” is among the five key words that are highlighted and defined (viz, “to burst open — treaty, nation, body, or belief”).

Because of the killings in Colorado, I’m more attuned to terms of “rupture” and “conflict” than “dialogue” and “discovery” as I look back over my exhibit notes. The words of a New York Times article about the shooting, “Fantasy became nightmare, and a place of escape became a trap,” have me asking the obvious: “Aren’t people going to an art show also looking for a place of escape?” More likely, the long view provided by a presentation that spans centuries offers something more enlightening than a vivid, violent, big-screen vacation from routine; speaking of “fantasy as nightmare,” for instance, there’s Goya’s image of the artist slumped over his desk, his head buried in his arms as a nightmare phantasmagoria of owls and bats hover over him in “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,” the etching from Los Caprichos that inspired the most spectacular encounter in “Encounters,” Yinka Shonibare’s massive four-part photographic adaptation of Goya’s original vision.

Encountering Carnage

If you don’t count the leaf that became a butterfly, Le Carnage is the first object mentioned in my notes, an oil on canvas painted by Georges Clairin (1843-1919), described as a “mock Equestrian battle” in the curator’s commentary. My scribbled comment is, “Why ‘mock’? Mock carnage?” You’ve got robed and turbaned warriors and horsemen firing rifles and pistols, the skies in the background blazing like hellfire; there’s a dead horse in the right foreground and on the other side, if you look closely, you can make out at least three corpses. Few museumgoers will be able to view this scene without thinking of the ongoing folk tale of carnage being told in the media and spreading like a virus online. There’s even a lone gunman in the painting, a Hell’s Angel lookalike, the only warrior with a pistol and there’s nothing fake looking about the flame spurting from the barrel.

Before your thoughts can turn to more benign matters, the next thing the museum shows you is a case containing a dagger with an ornamental handle in the shape of a Saracen with sword upraised, about to behead a crusader. And above the dagger is a pen and brown ink sketch by Tiepolo of a Saracen Cavalryman. After that come a legion of Amazons followed by two terra cotta Amazons from 300-280 B.C. in blue leather boots and lavender-colored skirts. As the exhibit brochure suggests, conflict and rupture are everywhere.

The Sleep of Reason

I first saw one of Yinka Shonibare’s massive photographic revisitings of “The Sleep of Reason” at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Museum at Rutgers four years ago (“Goya’s Book of Dreams: Sharp as the Point of an Etching Needle, Sept. 10, 2008), but the four-fold impact here is considerably more impressive because of visual excitement created by the arrangement. It’s rare enough to speak of a “view” unfolding within the confines of a museum, but what the curators have created is very definitely a view, and a great view at that. You enter the exhibition gallery on your left as if coming to the summit of an old world city — imagine yourself, say, atop the Palatine Hill in Rome peering through a statuary-ornamented balustrade at a Nigerian Sound and Light spectacle fashioned with fabrics from London’s Brixton Market.

Or, to put it another way, less fancy and more fact, what you see is a matchless matching of the photographic clarity and richness of color and design with which Shonibare has clothed the four dreamers, each one representing a continent, Africa, Asia, America, and Australia. The genesis of the work — Goya’s vision remastered in living color — is implicit in Shonibare’s personal history. Born in London in 1962, he moved with his family to Lagos, Nigeria, when he was three years old. At 18, after returning to Britain, he contracted an inflammation across the spinal cord that left him disabled. Because of his disability, he depends on a team of assistants to help him manifest his visions, the essence being composed of the African and Indonesian fabrics he buys himself from the aforementioned London market.

Shonibare includes his MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) whenever he uses his name, to emphasize his hybrid identity. “I have always viewed art as a form of opera, or as being operatic,” he explained in 2004. “And opera is excessive; it is beyond the real, and therefore hyper-real.”

The opera in images arranged around Shonibare’s hybrid, hyper-real aesthetic is all about, according to the museum’s summer 2012 magazine, the pursuit of “the ideas of cross-cultural discovery — and its attendant dislocations — as a common human experience and of the visual arts as a crystallization and visualization of that experience.”

Cosmic Encounters

Instead of presenting the effect of a view across an earthly vista, the other half of the exhibit, which is located in the gallery opposite the one centered on the spectacle of Shonibare’s “Sleep of Reason,” offers views of the moon and the cosmos, with an emphasis on “encounters with the unknown,” including “other spiritual realms or celestial worlds” and “so-called encounters of the third kind.” The epigraph of moment is from Lewis Rutherford, the father of celestial photography, who observed on January 8, 1865: “Few things have inspired as many myths and mysteries as the moon.” The range is stunning. You go from photographer Ruth Bernhard’s shiny, smashed-flat teapot to Howard Russell Butler’s “early scientific visualizations of other planetary bodies” to Liu Guosong’s hanging scrolls, five full moons painted after the first lunar landing.

Having infinitely expanded the dimensions of the subject at hand, “Encounters” allows a larger view of what happened at the Century cineplex in a place called Aurora. For one thing, scientists at NASA have predicted that in 2012, the Aurora Borealis will be the brightest and most intense in 50 years. Last April 24, according to an article in Huffington Post Science, “The Aurora Borealis put on a dazzling show in more than a dozen states,” including Colorado and Illinois. A post from County Antrim in Northern Ireland described “vertical green pillars of light some 60 degrees high accompanied by amazing pulsating motions like the beating of a heart.”

Münter’s Moments 

When you leave “Encounters” make sure to stop by the gallery of 19th − early 20th century art to see the newly displayed paintings by Gabriele Münter (1877-1962), from the repository of works of the Berlin-born artist donated by Frank E. Taplin, Class of 1937, his wife Margaret (Peggy) Taplin, and their family. The paintings include a thoughtful self-portrait of Gabriele in her early thirties, peering at us, at once focused and wistful, from under an extraordinary lampshade of a hat, and an oil on board from 1910 of her fiance-for-a-decade, Wassily Kandinsky, age about 44, holding forth over coffee to a young woman named Erma Bossi.

In a 1958 interview with Edouard Roditi in Dialogues – conversations with European Artists at Mid-century, Münter said, “My main difficulty was that I could not paint fast enough. My pictures are all moments of my life – I mean instantaneous visual experiences, generally noted very rapidly and spontaneously. When I begin to paint, it’s like leaping suddenly into deep waters, and I never know beforehand whether I will be able to swim …. When I painted my ‘Blue Mountain,’ I had learned the trick. It came to me as easily and naturally as song to a bird.”

In the context of current events, murder and mayhem, art shows and butterflies, it’s hard not to think of another Gabrielle, the survivor of another shooting in the west, Gabrielle Giffords. Which brings us back to the present, July, 2012, where a carpenter who makes crosses for the victims of massacres travels from his home in Aurora, Illinois, to Aurora, Colorado, with 12 more.

———

The image of The Sleep of Reason (Africa), 2008, C print mounted on aluminum, is from the Collection of Nancy and Rodney Gould, courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York/Shanghai.


Throughout music history, the city of Vienna has been a hot spot for musical performance, with Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert among its masters. Two centuries later, Vienna is still exporting great music, and a sample came to Richardson Auditorium last Wednesday night as part of the Princeton University Summer Concert series. The Vienna Piano Trio performed three works for piano, violin, and cello, showing precision and a solid command of 18th and 19th century repertoire.

The other ensembles heard in the Summer Concert series this year have maintained blended repertoires of traditional and contemporary (event, avant-garde) music, but the Vienna Piano Trio is firmly rooted in the classics. Violinist Wolfgang Redik, cellist Matthias Gredler, and pianist Stefan Mendl have compiled a discography of the great masters of chamber music, including the piano trios of Franz Josef Haydn.

The Vienna Trio’s performance of Haydn’s Piano Trio in A Major was clean from the outset, beginning with exacting chords from the piano. Mr. Mendl showed a very light touch on the keyboard, with even fingering on running passages and a subtle left hand. Mr. Mendl demonstrated a great deal of character in his piano accompaniment, complementing a sweet violin sound from Mr. Redik. Haydn’s trio included stylistic musical teasing, which was well executed by the Vienna ensemble.

Throughout the three movements, the strength of Mr. Mendl remained the evenness of his hands, which enabled a concise and well-timed dialog between piano and violin. Mr. Gredler drew a rich sound from the lower register of the cello, especially in the darker second movement. The Vienna Trio also demonstrated their quick playing in the third movement as they brought the Haydn work to a fast and furious close.

The Viennese work paired with the Haydn Trio was Franz Schubert’s Piano Trio in B-flat Major, composed less than a year before the composer’s death. Despite Schubert’s physical suffering at the time, his late works, including this trio, were infused with expressive melodies and a bit of playfulness. The Vienna Trio brought out well the lyrical second subject of the first movement, allowing the silences between musical thoughts to become a bit longer each time. The second movement, Andante, resembled a typically Schubertian lieder for cello and piano, with Mr. Gredler deriving the most from the phrases, evenly accompanied by Mr. Mendl. The full ensemble sound and musical drama showed Beethoven’s presence in the same city (he died shortly before Schubert began work on this trio) and the Vienna ensemble illuminated the saucy refrain of the closing Rondo with its especially Beethoven-esque dash to the finish.

French musical impressionist Maurice Ravel is not a composer one normally associates with Vienna, but he did travel to the city many times, and had a great regard for Viennese musical heritage. From this tradition Ravel may have borrowed the piano trio form, but his Piano Trio in A Minor was colored by a far darker influence than light-hearted Viennese court life. From the time of this trio’s beginnings in 1913 to its premiere in 1915, France moved from the joie de vivre of the early 20th century to immersion in World War I. Ravel was forced to rush completion of this trio in order to enlist in the military, and the four movements of this work are almost a pastiche of world-wide musical influence.

In this work, Ravel took an old form and added a new harmonic twist, and the Vienna Trio brought out well all the nuances and impressionistic musical tricks. Mr. Mendl began the work with a very liquid piano character, soon joined by unison violin and cello. Mr. Gredler’s cello part showed more range than the other two works, with long melodic lines in both stringed instruments and more use of vibrato. An elegant dialog between the violin and cello smoothed out the Basque irregular meter of the movement.

The second movement, Pantoum, drew its structure from Malaysian poetry, with a great deal of rise and fall in the music and jagged rhythms. This movement was more demanding of the players, and the Vienna Trio moved smoothly into the third movement Passacaille. Mr. Mendl well intoned the funeral march theme in the lowest register of the piano, and the three instruments built intensity well as the movement arched and returned to its funereal roots from the keyboard.

In all three of these works (as well as the Schumann excerpt which served as an encore), the Vienna Piano Trio paid tribute to the precision of the Classical era, while stretching their range into Ravel’s muted instrumental colors. This was clearly an ensemble rooted in the great traditions of the history of music.


Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, is showing “Water Light,” watercolors by Eric Rhinehart and Carol Sanzalone, through August 5. The artists will host a “Coffee and Conversation” August 5 from 2-5 p.m. Visit www.lambertvillearts.com.

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center has “Poolscapes and Swimmers,” with drawings of the old Princeton Community Pool by Stephanie Magdziak and Ronald Berlin, through July 28. “Monday Gestures and Poses,” in which members of the ACP’s Monday night Life Drawing Workshop, is also on view. For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

D&R Greenway, 1 Preservation Place off Rosedale Road, presents “Crossing Cultures,” art celebrating the biodiversity of habitats, in the Marie L. Matthews Galleries. In the Olivia Rainbow Gallery, work from the Ennis Beley Photography Project, a summer student program, is on display. Both shows are through July 27.

Dalet Gallery, 141 North Second Street, Philadelphia, hosts “Made in Princeton,” with works from members of the Princeton Artist Alliance and the Princeton Photography Club, through August 13. A reception is August 3, 5-9 p.m. Hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Visit www.dalealert.com.

Ellarslie, Trenton’s City Museum in Cadwalader Park, shows “Trenton Makes,” the local segment of the Trenton Artists Workshop Association’s Trenton/New York Visual Art Exhibition, through August 5. A partner show is at the Prince Street Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, 4th floor, New York, July 31-August 18. Works by Mel Leipzig, Jon Naar, Aubrey Kauffman, Leon Rainbow, Linda Osborne, and others are included in these shows. Call (609) 989-3632 for Ellarslie information; (646) 230-0246 for Spring Street Gallery.

Firestone Library at Princeton University is showing “A Fine Addition: New & Notable Acquisitions in Princeton’s Special Collections” through August 5 in its Main Gallery. In the Milberg Gallery through December 28 is “Woodrow Wilson’s Journey to the White House.”

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows the third annual Juried Photographic Exhibition through August 11. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street, Cranbury, exhibits “Flora, Fauna and Mystical” through July 27. Paintings by Linda Gilbert are in the show. Next is “All About the Birds,” the art of Necati Itez, from August 5-26. A reception is August 5 from 1-3 p.m. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 1 to 3 p.m. Sundays July 15 and 22.

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. “Aerial Roots” by Steve Tobin is in the Meadow Gallery through July 31. See www.groundsforsculp
ture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s 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. “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, is on view through August 10. “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 hosting “Aspects of Architecture: The Prints of John Taylor Arms,” through July 31. The museum 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.

Joan Perkes Fine Art Gallery, 202 North Union Street, Lambertville, has the First Annual Works on Paper Show through August 17. Call (609) 460-4708 for more information.

Mercer County Senior Art Show is being held through August 3 at Meadow Lakes, 300 Meadow Lakes just off Etra Road, East Windsor. Categories are acrylic, craft, computer imagery, drawing, mixed media, oil, pastel, photography, print, sculpture, and watercolor. Call (800) 564-5705.

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.

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton, is showing “Botanica Magnifica: Photographs by Jonathan Singer” through August 26.

Princeton Art Gallery, 20 Nassau Street, is showing works by artists influenced by the late professor I-Hsiung Ju. A closing reception July 31 is from 6:30-8 p.m. Howard Ye will demonstrate Chinese brush painting. The gallery’s hours are 1-6 p.m.

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 Township Municipal Complex, 400 Witherspoon Street, is exhibiting a photo collection of the traditional costumes of the Molise region, on loan from the Cultural Ministry of the Region of Molise. The photos will be on display through the month of July. The exhibit was arranged by the Princeton/Pettoranello Sister City Foundation.

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, for one year starting August 1. 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.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has works by Johanna Furst through the end of July. “The Future is Female 2.0” runs the month of September.

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.

TOO BAD THIS HOLIDAY ONLY COMES ONCE A YEAR: Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) runs excitedly through the bayou holding a lit sparkler in each hand. She is clearly enjoying the holiday as only a six-year-old can.

Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) is growing up in “The Bathtub,” a backwoods bayou located on the swampy side of a Louisiana levee. The self-sufficient tomboy divides her days attending to her sickly father (Dwight Henry) and she lives in harmony with a handful of other hardy refugees from civilization.

Hushpuppy feels sorry for the children growing up in nearby New Orleans because they eat fish wrapped in plastic and have been taught to fear the water. While those city kids were confined to strollers and baby carriages during their formative years, she’s been free to explore her surroundings that are teeming with vegetation and wildlife.

Yet, her existence is far from idyllic, because she pines for the mother whom her widowed father explained simply “swam away” one day. The heartbroken little girl tries to fill the void via flights of fancy. Using her vivid imagination, she has imaginary conversations with her long-lost mother.

Hushpuppy is also concerned about her father’s failing health and by an ominous foreboding that climate change is ruining her surroundings. She’s been warned by Miss Bathsheeba (Gina Montana), a sage soothsayer, who is her surrogate mother, that “The trees are gonna die first, then the animals, then the fish.”

So unfolds Beasts of the Southern Wild, a compelling tale which is also the directorial debut of Benh Zeitlin. The movie, an early entry in the Academy Awards sweepstakes, is a surreal fairy tale about the prospects of the planet that richly deserves all the accolades it received at Sundance, Cannes, and other film festivals.

Considerable credit goes to Quvenzhané Wallis, a talented youngster who not only portrays protagonist Hushpuppy but narrates the film as well.

A clever mixture of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the movie repeatedly reminds us of a pre-pollution, pre-digital era when children were encouraged to plunge headlong into nature to experience the world firsthand rather than through electronic media.

The movie is a visually enchanting fantasy told from the perspective of a naïve waif untouched by the 21st century.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for profanity, mature themes, child imperilment, disturbing images, and brief sensuality. Running time: 91 minutes.Distributor: Fox Searchlight.


July 18, 2012

“I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world.”

—Woody Guthrie (1912-1967)

Hey, hey Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
‘Bout a funny ol’ world that’s a-comin’ along.
Seems sick an’ it’s hungry, it’s tired an’ it’s torn,
It looks like it’s a-dyin’ an’ it’s hardly been born.

—Bob Dylan, “Song to Woody”

When the folks next door gave us the new Neil Young record, Americana, I wasted no time sliding it in the CD player on Moby, my four-wheeled stereo CRV. As happened last month with the Beach Boys’ new one, That’s Why God Made the Radio, I let the thing keep playing, five times at last count, as I drove around town. To borrow an old term from MTV’s heavy metal youth, it was a high octane headbanger’s ball as Neil and Crazyhorse beat the joyful daylights out of old singalong favorites, including “Clementine,” “Oh Susanna,” “Travel On,” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”

Although I was unaware until a few days ago that Woody Guthrie’s centenary was upon us, what better prelude to the event than all this pounding, full-throated vintage Americana? It was Neil Young, after all, who inducted Guthrie into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. In his remarks, Young said that when he was in high school he thought “maybe I’d like to be one of those rockers that could bend the strings and get down on my knees, and kind of make everybody go crazy. Then I wanted to be that other guy, too, that had a little acoustic guitar, and sing a few songs — sing about things that I really felt inside myself, and things I saw going on around me.” He doesn’t come right out and say so (“I don’t know which one of those guys I tried to be”), but of course Neil Young is not only one of the most go-crazy-everybody guitar madmen in the universe, he is a passionately committed, devoted-to-the-message singer songwriter with one of the great rock and roll voices, full of hope and heartbreak, and as searing as a siren in the night.

“It all seems to go back and start with Woody Guthrie,” Neil said near the end of the Hall of Fame remarks. “His songs are gonna last forever, and some of the songs of his descendents are gonna last forever.”

While the first such descendents to come to mind are Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, there’s also Johnny Depp, who grew up in Kentucky “on bluegrass and country music,” has listened to Guthrie all his life, and is editing with Douglas Brinkley Guthrie’s only novel, House of Earth, which will make its publishing debut next year. In the back page essay in last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Depp and Brinkley locate “the roots” of the novel in Guthrie’s Dust Bowl experiences, his reading of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and the writing of “This Land Is Your Land,” which he “conceived of” while hitchhiking to New York and wrote in late February of 1940, “holed up in a low-rent Times Square hotel.”

Not surprisingly, the version in Americana sung by Neil Young restores the more contentious verses, such as:

 

By the relief office I saw my people.

As they stood hungry,

I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me.

And:

There was a high wall there

That tried to stop me

A sign was painted that said ‘Private Property’

But on the other side it didn’t say nothin’

That side was made for you and me.

 

With a few adjustments, those words still have some significance in the time of the 99 percent. Centenary Princeton coincidences abound here, given what Woody reveals in his wordslinging memoir, Bound for Glory (1943): “Born 1912. That was the year … my papa and mama got all worked up about good and bad politics and named me Woodrow Wilson.” Only ten days before Woody came into the world, the other Woodrow, Princeton graduate, professor, and president, then governor of New Jersey, had been nominated for president on the 46th ballot at one of the wildest Democratic conventions ever, which took place 12 days before Woody came into the world on July 14.

Woody in the Apple

At the end of Hal Ashby’s visually stunning film version of Bound for Glory (1976), Woody (played wisely and well by the late David Carradine) is headed for New York City. The Times Square hotel where “This Land Is Your Land” was written was the Hanover House, located on West 43rd and Sixth Avenue, “a long block from the New York Public Library,” according to Ed Cray’s 2004 biography, Ramblin’ Man. Guthrie’s American anthem, orginally titled “God Blessed America for Me,” was written as a corrective to Irving Berlin’s forthrightly patriotic, “God Bless America.” The tune came from the Carter Family’s “Little Darlin’, Pal of Mine,” which, typically, derived from a Baptist hymn, “Oh My Lovin’ Brother.”

Some of the most colorful prose in Bound for Glory is inspired by his response to the big city. Sixty-five stories up (“Quite a little elevator ride down to where the world was being run”), he riffs on the Rainbow Room “in the building called Rockefeller’s Center, where the shrimps are boiled in Standard Oil” (a line ready made for the song in which it became “they tossed their salad in Standard Oil”): “I was floating in high finances, sixty-five stories above the ground, leaning my elbow on a stiff-looking tablecloth as white as a runaway ghost, and tapping my finger on the side of a big fishbowl. The bowl was full of clear water with a bright red rose as wide as your hand sunk down in the water, which made the rose look bigger and redder and the leaves greener than they actually was.”

Subway

There’s a photo from 1943 of Woody playing and singing on the subway that belongs with the iconic New York images of an overcoated James Dean walking, hands in pockets, in the middle of a rainy night Times Square and a decade later, a tan-jacketed Bob Dylan walking down West 4th Street in the Village with Suze Rotolo on his arm. My first thought was of Walker Evans’s clandestinely snapped pictures of subway riders between 1938 and 1941, most of which show seated passengers, with the exception of a blind accordion player standing and playing in the middle of a crowded car. Evans’s slightly unfocused image pales next to Eric Schaal’s photograph of Woody, who is also standing in the middle of the car bundled in what appears to be a black pea coat with a dark cap pushed back on his head, his eyes closed or perhaps downcast in a singing trance that gives his face a naked, exposed, almost beatific quality. If you’re accustomed to the more common images of Woody as the craggy, raw-boned Dust Bowl wayfarer, you might not even recognize him. He looks exotic enough to pass for, say, Jean Louis Barrault’s street-singer brother, having climbed aboard the D train fresh from the Boulevard du Crime in Marcel Carné’s film, Les Enfants du Paradis, his face lit with the otherworldly radiance of the mime Baptiste’s in one of his dumbshow reveries.

Twenty-one of the pictures Schaal took as he followed Woody Guthrie around New York can be seen (and should not be missed) in Life.com’s 100th birthday tribute, “Woody Guthrie: Photos of an American Treasure” at http://life.time.com/culture/woody-guthrie-in-nyc-1943. Guthrie’s politically suspect wartime reputation presumably explains why these flattering, sympathetic photos of Woody as a folk hero never showed up in the pages of Henry Luce’s Life magazine.

Dylan Crosses the Swamp

In his memoir, Chronicles Volume One, Bob Dylan describes a visit to Guthrie at Greystone Hospital in Morristown New Jersey during which Woody mentioned some boxes of songs and poems stored in the basement of his house on Mermaid Boulevard in Coney Island. Having been told he’s “welcome to them” if he wanted them (Woody’s wife “would unpack them for me”), Dylan rides the subway all the way from the West 4th Street station to the last stop and finds himself walking across a swamp (“I sunk in the water, knee level, but kept going anyway — I could see the lights as I moved forward, didn’t really see any other way to go”). When he comes out on the other end, his pants are drenched, “frozen solid,” and his feet are “almost numb.” Guthrie’s wife isn’t there, just a nervous babysitter who wouldn’t let him in until Woody’s son Arlo tells her it’s okay. Nobody knows or can do anything about the box in the basement. Staying just long enough to “warm up,” Dylan turns around and trudges back across the swamp to the subway in his waterlogged boots. Like so much in Chronicles, this anecdote is a song in itself, waiting to be written, even though it would have been better yet had Dylan forged the swamp with his arms weighed down with boxes of Guthrie’s songs and poems.

As Dylan goes on to explain, Woody’s lyrics “fell into the hands” of Billy Bragg and Wilco, who “put melodies to them” and brought them “to full life” in the first of a series 40 years later. Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions was released this year on Record Store Day, April 21, in a 3-disc box set to commemorate Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday. Also in honor of the centenary, the Smithsonian has released Woody at 100, a 3-CD boxed set including 57 tracks and dozens of Guthrie’s drawings, paintings and handwritten lyrics.


The Princeton University Summer Concerts series continued its popular season last week with a performance by the Chiara String Quartet, which presented a concise and well-balanced program to a very appreciative audience. These free summer chamber concerts have become the thing to do on hot summer nights in Princeton, and the audience at Richardson Auditorium last Monday night was not disappointed by the Chiara Quartet’s level of play or choice of repertoire. The quartet, comprised of violinists Rebecca Fischer and Julie Hye-Yung Yoon, violist Jonah Sirota, and cellist Gregory Beaver, presented two chamber standards and a work by a composer with whom they have had a long association.

Franz Josef Haydn’s string quartets were the model for the genre during the 18th and a good part of the 19th centuries. His Opus 76 was a courtly set of quartets, and the fifth of this set was particularly joyful. Led by first violinist Ms. Fischer, the first movement was a refreshing start to the Chiara’s concert. Ms. Fischer drew out the phrase cadences especially well, with Mr. Beaver playing with a rich and mellow sound when the cello had long solo passages.

Throughout the four-movement work, the Chiara String Quartet demonstrated excellent communication with one another, building simultaneous dynamic swells and crescendi. Mr. Beaver was well in control in the third movement Menuetto, providing a solid foundation to the ensemble sound. The final Presto was high-spirited, with a quick melody traded between violin and cello, and precision among the players as the work came to a close.

Like the Chiara Quartet, Massachusetts-born composer Jefferson Friedman is young, and his String Quartet No. 2 had an energetic exuberance and contemporary intricacy about it. The Chiara Quartet has a long-standing partnership with Mr. Friedman (he has written three quartets for them) and clearly had his second String Quartet well in hand. From the outset the four instruments maintained simultaneous intensity through the very rhythmic and canonic movement. Mr. Friedman’s work had a great deal of motion, interspersed with haunting and expressive solos. The three movements had no descriptive subtitles, but were different in character, with the Chiara ensemble bringing out well the stylistic variety. In the hymn-like second movement, Mr. Friedman created a soothing texture with two violins and viola against a subtle cello accompaniment, and the ensemble showed its expertise in working together with collective silences and reaching points of rest together. The third movement contained an unusual texture, with the viola being the only instrument bowed against sharp pizzicatti from the other players. The Chiara Quartet maintained focus and intensity well as this difficult yet appealing work drew to a close.

The quartet showed its full strength in Brahms’s String Quartet in B-flat Major, the last of the composer’s three quartets. Brahms composed many of his violin works for a specific performer, as evidenced by the lyrical song played by first violinist Ms. Fischer in the second movement. The Chiara ensemble played this piece from memory, which enabled the players to fully communicate with one another unencumbered by music stands. The players seemed to lean in more, playing with ease and sensitivity, and the audience was definitely intrigued by how much more one can see in a performer when they are playing from memory.

The Chiara players could feel instinctively when to move from resting point into motion, especially in a second movement which could easily have come from Brahms’s sacred repertoire. The players brought out well the gypsy-like syncopation in the third movement Agitato, with the muted first violin matching the dark color of the viola. The charming Viennese fourth movement which closed the work reminded the audience of the chamber roots of the string quartet genre and sent the audience off into the summer night feeling as though they had been to a delightful and intimate soirée.


Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, is showing “Water Light,” watercolors by Eric Rhinehart and Carol Sanzalone, through August 5. The artists will host a “Coffee and Conversation” August 5 from 2-5 p.m. Visit www.lambertvillearts.com.

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center has “Poolscapes and Swimmers,” with drawings of the old Princeton Community Pool by Stephanie Magdziak and Ronald Berlin, through July 28. “Monday Gestures and Poses,” in which members of the ACP’s Monday night Life Drawing Workshop, is also on view. “Words with Friends,” through July 20, blends language and art. For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

D&R Greenway, 1 Preservation Place off Rosedale Road, presents “Crossing Cultures,” art celebrating the biodiversity of habitats, in the Marie L. Matthews Galleries. In the Olivia Rainbow Gallery, work from the Ennis Beley Photography Project, a summer student program, is on display. Both shows are through July 27.

Dalet Gallery, 141 N. Second Street, Philadelphia, hosts “Made in Princeton,” with works from members of the Princeton Artist Alliance and the Princeton Photography Club, through August 13. A reception is August 3, 5-9 p.m. Hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Visit www.dalealert.com.

Ellarslie, Trenton’s City Museum in Cadwalader Park, shows “Trenton Makes,” the local segment of the Trenton Artists Workshop Association’s Trenton/New York Visual Art Exhibition, which will also feature a show at the Prince Street Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, 4th floor, New York, July 31-August 18. Works by Mel Leipzig, Jon Naar, Aubrey Kauffman, Leon Rainbow, Linda Osborne, and others are included in these shows. Call (609) 989-3632 for Ellarslie information; (646) 230-0246 for Spring Street Gallery.

Firestone Library at Princeton University is showing “A Fine Addition: New & Notable Acquisitions in Princeton’s Special Collections” through August 5 in its Main Gallery. Opening in the Milberg Gallery July 23 and running through December 28 is “Woodrow Wilson’s Journey to the White House.”

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows the third annual Juried Photographic Exhibition through August 11. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street, Cranbury, will exhibit “Flora, Fauna and Mystical” through July 27. Paintings by Linda Gilbert are in the show. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 1 to 3 p.m. Sundays July 15 and 22.

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. “Aerial Roots” by Steve Tobin is in the Meadow Gallery through July 31. See www.groundsfor sculpture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display. 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. “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, is on view through August 10. “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 hosting “Aspects of Architecture: The Prints of John Taylor Arms,” through July 31. The museum 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.

Joan Perkes Fine Art Gallery, 202 North Union Street, Lambertville, has the First Annual Works on Paper Show July 21-August 17. An opening reception is July 21, 3-7 p.m. and July 22, 1-6 p.m. Call (609) 460-4708 for more information.

Mercer County Senior Art Show will be held July 18-August 3 at Meadow Lakes, 300 Meadow Lakes just off Etra Road, East Windsor. Categories are acrylic, craft, computer imagery, drawing, mixed media, oil, pastel, photography, print, sculpture, and watercolor. Call (800) 564-5705.

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.

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton, is showing “Botanica Magnifica: Photographs by Jonathan Singer” through August 26.

Princeton Art Gallery, 20 Nassau Street, is showing works by artists influenced by the late professor I-Hsiung Ju. A closing reception July 31 is from 6:30-8 p.m. Howard Ye will demonstrate Chinese brush painting. The gallery’s hours are 1-6 p.m.

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 Township Municipal Complex, 400 Witherspoon Street, is exhibiting a photo collection of the traditional costumes of the Molise region, on loan from the Cultural Ministry of the Region of Molise. The photos will be on display through the month of July. The exhibit was arranged by the Princeton/Pettoranello Sister City Foundation.

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, for one year starting August 1. 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.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has works by Johanna Furst through the end of July. “The Future is Female 2.0” runs the month of September.

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” July 22-August 31. An artists’ reception is July 22 from 4-6 p.m. 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.

SO NEAR AND YET SO FAR: The whimsical prehistoric animal Scrat (voiced by Chris Wedge), who is half squirrel and half rat, is obsessed with burying his acorn for future use when food is scarce. Unfortunately, Scrat tries to bury the acorn in the frozen tundra of the north. His efforts set off a series of cataclysmic events which results in the world’s land mass separating into separated continents.

Unfortunately, the people behind the latest installment of this animated series of movies abandoned the family-friendly formula which made the earlier films so popular with children of all ages. Instead, they decided to produce a comedy that is more concerned with generating cheap laughs by any means possible than with spinning a coherent tale that will also engage adults.

In addition to the unfocused, scatterbrained storyline, Ice Age 4 features a plethora of preposterous anachronisms which suggest that pirates, togas, and telephones existed in the age of prehistoric creatures. Plus, the picture makes a number of distracting allusions to everything from the movie Meet the Parents, to Trix cereal TV commercials (“Silly Rabbit!”), to Homer’s Odyssey (seductive sirens as characters), and to the Bible (Book of Jonah).

The result is an adventure designed to enthrall tykes at the expense of appealing to older audiences. In addition to the principals who are reprising their roles, newcomers to the voice cast include Jennifer Lopez, Drake, Wanda Sykes, Joy Behar, Peter Dinklage, Nicki Minaj, and Keke Palmer.

The fun starts when half-squirrel/half-rat Scrat (Chris Wedge) accidentally triggers the tectonic division of the planet’s continents when he tries to bury an acorn in the frozen tundra. Elsewhere, Woolly mammoths Manny (Ray Romano) and his wife, Ellie (Queen Latifah), exhibit concern about their daughter Peaches’s (Palmer) crush on Ethan (Drake). Predictably, the smitten teen rides roughshod over the feelings of a secret admirer (Josh Gad) whose existence she barely acknowledges becauses he’s just a molehog.

Additional subplots involve sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) who is caring for his sassy grandmother (Sykes), and saber-toothed tiger Diego’s (Denis Leary) pursuit of a love interest. However, the film’s primary concern is reuniting the families who were separated from each other and ended up on different land masses in the wake of Scrat’s cataclysmic hijinks.

Too bad the resolution of every piece of this cinematic jigsaw puzzle proves predictable.

Fair (*). Rated PG for rude humor, action, and scenes of peril. Running time: 94 minutes. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.


July 12, 2012

If I had not existed, someone else would have written me.

—William Faulkner (1897-1962)

This time last year, on the fiftieth anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s death, I described “the big this-is-what-it’s-all-about moment where a 14-year-old who has been reading Mickey Spillane suddenly recognizes ‘the real thing.’” (“Fifty Years Later: Hemingway’s Hymn to the Writer and His Craft”). The book providing that moment was The Old Man and the Sea. With Faulkner, who died on July 6, 1962, almost a year to the day after Hemingway, the first shock of recognition came around the same age in a mass-market paperback edition of Sanctuary. The first thing I saw was a publisher’s note that immediately put Sanctuary and Faulkner beyond my range by referring to the novelist as “the modern master of the Grand Guignol” (whatever that was) and comparing his work with the plays of Webster and Tourneur (whoever they were). Next came the shock of encountering a character called Popeye in the first sentence when the only Popeye I knew was the cartoon sailor man and this was someone whose face “had a queer, bloodless color, as though seen by electric light.” When I went on to read that he had “that vicious depthless quality of stamped tin” and that his eyes were “two knobs of soft black rubber,” I knew I was “not in Kansas any more.”

Five years later I found myself pondering the first page of The Sound and the Fury. I was reading it outside of school, on my own, and I was lost. I had no idea what was going on. “I could see them hitting.” Hitting what? Caddie? Oh, golf. They were playing golf? The first time through was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I couldn’t put the book down, but what kept me reading had nothing to do with plot or character or suspense in the usual sense of the word. Faulkner’s departure from the conventional guidelines added a new dimension to reading. As I began to pick up on what he seemed to be doing, it was like sneaking into his secret workshop to look over his shoulder as he wrote, feeling a small part of what he must have felt, to be building something so mysterious and unique. By the end, I thought I’d discovered a new world but only barely. I knew I was still missing a lot, I wanted more, I couldn’t put the book away. So I went back to the beginning and started reading it over again.

Faulkner in Princeton

Some months ago, thinking ahead to a column on the 50th anniversary of Faulkner’s death, I began reading A Fable, which he finished writing here in Princeton in November 1953 in his editor Saxe Commins’s Elm Road home. Years later when we were living around the corner from the Commins house, I used to picture Faulkner in his overcoat walking off a hangover under the Hodge Road sycamores. He acknowledged his relationship with Commins in the dedication accompanying his collection of hunting stories, Big Woods (Random House 1955); presented in the form of an author-to-editor memo, it reads, “We never always saw eye to eye but we were always looking at the same thing.”

It’s best to read A Fable the way Faulkner suggested that readers come to James Joyce’s Ulysses, as “the illiterate Baptist preacher approaches the Old Testament: with faith.” Even so, you soon get the impression that Faulkner approached the writing of the novel in the same spirit, in effect saying a prayer and betting everything he had on the power of his art while making himself available to that metaphorical “somebody else” who would write him if he “didn’t exist.” According to Dorothy Commins’s book, What Is An Editor: Saxe Commins at Work, Faulkner typed a two-page preface “as a favor to Saxe and to Random House,” to be used on the dust jacket of the finished book. The result was a rambling meditation on war and pacifism (“which does not work, cannot cope with the forces that produce the wars”), none of which was used in the eventual jacket copy, with its references to “mutiny in the trenches,” “the ageless tragedy and triumph of the crucifixion and the resurrection” and its promise to the reader of “a compelling story of violence and humility, of cruelty and compassion, of pathos and humor, of war and peace.”

Faulkner Plays 50 Choruses

At this point I should admit that I interrupted my reading of A Fable at page 215 in order to reread Light in August. Although I may never finish the book, I’m glad I read far enough to witness the feat Faulkner performs between pages 126 and 139, an Olympian run that begins inauspiciously with these two sentences:

“But when they reached the city they found no placid lake of grieving resignation. Rather, it was a cauldron of rage and consternation.”

I wonder if Commins had the nerve to point out that resignation-consternation trainwreck or the way the engine of Faulkner’s prose seems to come to a crashing halt when it hits a pair of labored, no-way-out, dead-end metaphors. “Seems” to come, I say, since what follows are 13 pages of Faulkner in full flight, all his jets and subsidiary igniters kicking in, propelling those “as if” and “not … but” clauses he’s addicted to. Give yourself up to it with a full measure of faith and the rhetorical onslaught sweeps you past bizarre liberties (“which was when the inspectors and inquisitors … realised the — not enormity, but monstrosity, incredibility; the monstrous incredibility, the incredible monstrosity, with which they were confronted”); when Faulkner’s locked in, it’s best to just sit back and let him play, the way you would if he were a jazz virtuoso standing on a storm-wracked promontory blowing 50 choruses against a gale-force wind. Like all great musicians, Faulkner has his own sound, as you’ll hear if you listen to the recordings of him reading from his work, his voice soft and swift and unstoppable, beyond mere accent and affect.

I’ve listened to recordings of Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Hemingway, Yeats, Pound, but no poet or writer I’ve ever heard is as insidiously seductive as Faulkner. It’s hard to imagine that a literate person of either sex could resist the way he makes love to the word “avatar.” The cassette I’ve been listening to includes passages from The Old Man, As I Lay Dying, and A Fable, as well as the Nobel Prize acceptance speech that no one at the ceremony could hear because he rushed the words and was standing too far from the microphone. It’s true, he seems happiest when he’s reading uptempo, feeding off the momentum, muting the rush of rhetoric; in terms of intonation, cadence, and melodics, the musician who comes to mind with his, in Nat Hentoff’s words, “pulsating ease,” is Faulkner’s fellow Mississippian, Lester Young.

Faulkner and Blackness

In 1959, his skin darkened with the help of a dermatologist and long sessions under an ultraviolet lamp, the novelist John Howard Griffin (The Devil Rides Outside) took his chances travelling through the Deep South as a Negro and published the results two years later in his book, Black Like Me. In 1931-32, after, incredibly, producing Sartoris, Sanctuary, The Sound and the Fury, and As I Lay Dying in the space of three years, William Faulkner wrote Light in August. You could say that Faulkner was safe within his fiction while Griffin put his life on the line passing as a black man in the reality of the South, but in Light in August, Faulkner dared to submerge himself and his art in the “black abyss” of race by creating and inhabiting and finally destroying Joe Christmas, who had passed as a white man until, obsessed by the enigma of his origins, he began fatally announcing that he had Negro blood.

Faulkner and Milch

According to a Dec. 1, 2011 New York Times article by David Itzkoff, when David Milch found that his daughter, Olivia, was studying Light in August at Yale, it “renewed [his] engagement with the material,” eventually leading to discussions between his company, Red Board Productions, and the William Faulkner Literary Estate for the purchase of the rights to 19 novels and 125 short stories by Faulkner that could be adapted for film or television. HBO said in a news release that it would have the first opportunity to finance and produce these projects. Admirers of the great HBO series Deadwood, with its rhetorical overtones of Shakespeare, Dickens, and, yes, Faulkner, may agree with me in thinking that if anyone can do cinematic justice to the author of A Fable and Light in August, it’s David Milch.

In a Nov. 30, 2011, interview with the L.A. Times, Milch says that his interest in Faulkner “deepened” when he was at Yale assisting Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, and R.W.B. Lewis “on a history of American literature.” What attracts him in Faulkner is that he “speaks to us on the questions of race, the challenges of modernity and modern man’s dilemma in all of its aspects.” Asked about the challenge of filming “an unfilmable writer,” Milch contends that Faulkner is “enormously cinematic,” his prose and dialogue “superb, and compelling, and absolutely authentic,” and “his ear … just impeccable.”

When he was asked which of Faulkner’s works would begin the series, Milch said the decision had not been made. My guess is he will choose Light in August. If he does, he might cast Ray McKinnon, who was so heart-breakingly brilliant as the Rev. Smith in Deadwood, as the fallen Rev. Gail Hightower, in whose kitchen Joe Christmas is gunned down and castrated by a National Guardsman with the “voice of a young priest” and a face that has the “serene, unearthly luminousness of angels in church windows.”

For an example of the challenges Milch will face if he means to put the essence of Faulkner on film, consider the language surrounding Hightower as he thinks he should never have let himself “get out of the habit of prayer.” When he turns to the book-lined wall of his study, what is he seeking? Something theological? No.

“It is Tennyson. It is dogeared. He has had it ever since the seminary. He sits beneath the lamp and opens it. It does not take long. Soon the fine galloping language, the gutless swooning full of sapless trees and dehydrated lusts begins to swim smooth and swift and peaceful. It is better than praying without having to bother to think aloud. It is like listening in a cathedral to a eunuch chanting in a language which he does not even need to not understand.”

Good luck, David. Keep the faith.


MARITAL MANIPULATIONS: Manningham (Evan Thompson) subtly deceives his wife (Sarah Paton) into thinking she is going insane, in Princeton Summer Theater’s production of Patrick Hamilton’s “Gaslight” (1938), playing at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus through July 15.

A creative work whose title becomes a part of the common cultural vocabulary must strike a resonant chord in our social and psychological worlds, and the indomitable Princeton Summer Theater’s (PST) polished, intelligent production of Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 Gaslight presents a vibrant case in point. Our society has recently been struggling to come to terms with the complex psychological ramifications and destructive effects of bullying. “Gaslighting” — a power play which involves manipulating the victim into doubting his or her memory and perceptions — is certainly one of the most insidious forms of that kind of psychological abuse. Unsurprisingly, despite a certain quaint predictability and Victorian-style domestic familiarity, this classic melodrama maintains its power to engage and intrigue audiences almost 75 years after its original production.

Most famous is its 1944 movie version directed by George Cukor and starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten and an 18-year-old Angela Lansbury in her screen debut, Gaslight, set in London in the 1880s, is the story of a villainous husband and his calculating emotional and psychological torture of his wife, as he drives her to the brink of insanity.

Under the guise of the most caring and kindly paternalism in this traditional Victorian upper-middle class household, he deceives her into believing that she is misplacing valuable objects, neglecting her responsibilities as dutiful wife, and gradually losing her mind in forgetfulness. One of his ruses that make his wife question her senses and sanity is his clandestine raising and lowering of the gas lamps that give the play its title and light the couple’s Victorian living room. The Victorian world and male-dominated marriages of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1879) and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) come to mind, as does the victimized wife consigned to a 1860s mental institution in Emily Mann’s Mrs. Packard (2007).

The PST cast of five principals, all undergraduates or recent college graduates, under the direction of Princeton English and theater professor R.N. Sandberg, is excellent — credible and engaging in making significant character stretches to portray this curious assemblage of characters from a distant world.

In the central Ingrid Bergman role of the beleaguered wife Bella, Sarah Paton is convincing and sympathetic. She portrays a fluctuating fragility that shifts rapidly and credibly from happiness in response to her husband’s feigned affections to desperation and manic hysteria in the face of her fears and desperation in confronting what she is led to believe is her declining mental state. This overly dependent, neurotic stereotype of a Victorian wife is certainly a ripe subject for feminist scrutiny, as is her misogynist husband, though suspense and melodrama are Mr. Hamilton’s priorities rather than social commentary here.

Evan Thompson as Jack Manningham takes on the villain’s role with spirit and poise. His proud posture, thinly veiled insincerity, roguish demeanor, sexist commentary, and inappropriately suggestive overtures to the maid (Ariel Sibert) lucidly reveal his duplicity to the audience, if not to his wife, early on in the play. The audience, realizing Jack’s machinations, then identifying with Bella as she first spirals into distress and fear, then gradually begins to realize her husband’s treachery, enjoy watching as husband and wife match wits in mortal combat.

Ms. Sibert’s impertinent Nancy exudes the brazen spirit and style of the saucy, lascivious maid, and Jack’s flirtations with her become part of his psychological abuse of his wife, as the two women compete for his attentions.

As the elderly house servant Elizabeth, Maeve Brady makes an impressive stretch in age and creates a memorable character, watching closely the suspicious actions of her master and the alarming behavior of her mistress and helping in the end to resolve the tangled plot. Andrew Massey’s avuncular, witty, and determined detective contributes irony and dark humor to the proceedings, eventually winning Bella’s trust and allegiance in opposing the treacherous husband and sorting out his complex schemes and actions. Mr. Massey creates a quirky, believable, and likeable three-dimensional character.

Jeffrey Van Velsor, professional local set designer, in collaboration with talented lighting designer Alex Mannix, has successfully created the Manningham’s living room and this ponderous world of Victorian domestic life. In sharp, welcome contrast to the multiple settings of the 1944 movie version, the audience here stays focused in the single, darkly paneled, increasingly claustrophobic room. As the plot develops throughout the evening, the single setting intensifies the suspense and fear that the audience shares with the panicked Bella. “Gaslight” sconces on the wall further enhance the atmosphere and admirably serve the plot.

Mr. Sandberg has directed with skill and careful attention to detail. The action, even the rather long first-act exposition and set-up, moves swiftly, drawing the audience into this eerie world of intrigue and drama. The performers are well rehearsed and communicate the complexities of this tale with clarity and conviction. Ben Schaffer’s expert technical direction and period costuming by Julia Bumke and Ms. Sibert are also on-target and effective.

In commenting on Gaslight, Mr. Hamilton, who wrote several popular psychological dramas and novels in the first half of the twentieth century, once remarked, “It has a sort of genuineness in its very bogusness — it is sincere good fun theater.” Princeton Summer Theater makes the most here of Mr. Hamilton’s fascination with a rich psychological struggle and his fine sensitivity to the playwright’s art of keeping audiences on the edges of their seats.


In the ten years since Opera New Jersey’s founding, the company has grown from a vehicle for student performance to a mentoring program incorporated into high quality operatic production. In these tough economic times, Opera New Jersey has managed to expand in quality if not quantity (this season sees a marked increase in number of productions and venues) while somehow keeping the wolves away from the door. Like its sister summer musical celebration The Princeton Festival, Opera New Jersey is branching out into educational initiatives, as well as venues in other parts of the state, but its core programming remains operatic production at McCarter Theatre — and nothing says opera more than Giuseppe Verdi.

Opera New Jersey opened its 10th anniversary season with Il Trovatore, one of Verdi’s most successful operas and one which can pack audiences in. Just about three hours long and cast for little more than a handful of principals, Il Trovatore is not for the faint-hearted opera company, but Opera New Jersey cast its net to the highest musical levels to find singers who could stand up to the demanding and dramatic score.

Refreshing to see onstage again was baritone Young-Bok Kim, who has performed with Opera New Jersey in past seasons. Mr. Kim remains a phenomenal singer and is spreading his wings a bit with other companies in the country. As the officer Ferrando, Mr. Kim sang solidly with a voice full of color, ringing out the lyricism of the narrative “Di due figli vivea padre beato” aria and singing cleanly against the orchestra’s gypsy rhythms.

Verdi incorporated many different styles of music into this opera to match the characters, and the heroine Leonora was well accompanied by strings in her opening scene. Joined onstage by her confidante Ines (sung by JoAna Rusche), soprano Erica Strauss brought a tremendous amount of vocal stamina to the role of Leonora, soaring with ease into the coloratura stratosphere for which Verdi is known. Ms. Rusche is a member of Opera New Jersey’s “Emerging Artists Program,” yet she impressively complemented the voice of Ms. Strauss, completing her phrasing and vocal color as the two singers carried on a musical dialogue. Ms. Strauss demonstrated great control in the cavatina and cabaletta of her opening scene (Verdi was experimenting with forms other than arias) handling the quick coloratura of the show-stopping cabaletta well. Particularly as the opera progressed into more dramatic and theatrical territory, Ms. Strauss proved that she is a soprano who can sing forever, never losing strength, even as Verdi saved the most difficult singing for the final scene.

Leonora’s beloved Manrico does appear, lightly accompanied by harp to replicate his lute (he is the trovatore, or troubadour of the title), and tenor Rafael Dávila brought passion and vocal strength to the role. Whatever vocal overpowering he may have started with quickly dissipated as the opera went along (it would be impossible to oversing for that amount of time) and Mr. Dávila found the “serenade” quality and innocent passion of his arias. Baritone Marco Nisticò provided a suave contrast in the Count di Luna, pouring his heart into “Per me ora fatale” as he also vies for the love of Leonora.

All of these vocal roles were demanding in stamina and energy, but the role of Azucena combined these requirements with the nastiness of a witch’s character. Mezzo-soprano Margaret Mezzacappa, fresh off of a performance of Beethoven’s equally demanding ninth symphony with The Philadelphia Orchestra, proved that McCarter’s Matthews Theatre was a great space for her — easily heard with just a shade of the demonic. Ms. Mezzacappa showed her lyrical and sensitive side with the trio with Leonora and Manrico in the final prison scene, singing expressively and with control while lying on the floor. Opera New Jersey cast some of its “Emerging Artists” in the smaller roles of this opera, and these young artists showed no difficulty keeping up with the very experienced principals.

Conductor Victor DeRenzi (artistic director of the Sarasota Opera) led the New Jersey Symphony in the orchestra pit, keeping a good balance between voices and instruments even as the opera went into its third hour (a tough haul for any orchestra). The orchestra opened the opera with clean brass and handled Verdi’s martial passages well. There were disconnects between singer and orchestra at times in rhythmic clarity, but when the two came together with precision the effect was very clean. The chorus of “Studio Artists of the Emerging Artists Program” provided solid singing in the well-known choruses from this opera.

Scenic Designer Boyd Ostroff (for the Syracuse Opera) made the most of simplicity, keeping a minimum of structure onstage with a backdrop of changing hues to depict the sky. There were many costume changes in this opera, and costume designer Howard Tsvi Kaplan emphasized the Spanish flavor of the storyline, incorporating a wide range of costumes for the principals and chorus members.

So where does Opera New Jersey go from here? With a wide array of musical offerings this summer (conducted and directed by a variety of people and accompanied by different ensembles) one wonders if the next decade will include an artistic director to pull these factions together with one resident artistic thread. Whatever the next decade brings, Opera New Jersey seems to be on solid footing going forward.


Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, is showing “Water Light,” watercolors by Eric Rhinehart and Carol Sanzalone, through August 5. The artists will host a “Coffee and Conversation” August 5 from 2-5 p.m. Visit www.lambertvillearts.com.

The Arts Council of Princeton at Paul Robeson Center has “Poolscapes and Swimmers,” with drawings of the old Princeton Community Pool by Stephanie Magdziak and Ronald Berlin, through July 28. “Monday Gestures and Poses,” in which members of the ACP’s Monday night Life Drawing Workshop, is also on view. “Words with Friends,” through July 20, blends language and art. For more information call (609) 924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

D&R Greenway, 1 Preservation Place off Rosedale Road, presents “Crossing Cultures,” art celebrating the biodiversity of habitats, in the Marie L. Matthews Galleries. In the Olivia Rainbow Gallery, work from the Ennis Beley Photography Project, a summer student program, is on display. Both shows are through July 27.

Dalet Gallery, 141 N. Second Street, Philadelphia, hosts “Made in Princeton,” with works from members of the Princeton Artist Alliance and the Princeton Photography Club, through August 13. A reception is August 3, 5-9 p.m. Hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Visit www.dalealert.com.

Ellarslie, Trenton’s City Museum in Cadwalader Park, shows “Trenton Makes,” the local segment of the Trenton Artists Workshop Association’s Trenton/New York Visual Art Exhibition, which will also feature a show at the Prince Street Gallery in Soho. Works by Mel Leipzig, Jon Naar, Aubrey Kauffman, Leon Rainbow, Linda Osborne, and others are included. The show runs through September 1. Call (609) 989-3632.

Firestone Library at Princeton University is showing “A Fine Addition: New & Notable Acquisitions in Princeton’s Special Collections” through August 5 in its Main Gallery. Opening in the Milberg Gallery July 23 and running through December 28 is “Woodrow Wilson’s Journey to the White House.”

Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, shows the third annual Juried Photographic Exhibition July 13-August 11. The opening is July 13 from 6-8 p.m. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, 12-5 p.m. or by appointment.

Gourgaud Gallery, Town Hall, 23-A North Main Street, Cranbury, will exhibit “Flora, Fauna and Mystical” through July 27. Paintings by Linda Gilbert are in the show. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 1 to 3 p.m. Sundays July 15 and 22.

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. “Aerial Roots” by Steve Tobin is in the Meadow Gallery through July 31. See www.groundsforsculp
ture.org.

Historical Society of Princeton at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton, is presenting “Einstein At Home,” an exhibit featuring home furnishings, personal memorabilia, and photographs of Albert Einstein with family, friends, colleagues, and national dignitaries, through August 19. Admission is $4 per person; free to HSP members. At the HSP’s Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road, “The Art of First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson: American Impressionist” is on display. 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. “Offering of the Angels,” a selection of 45 Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the Uffizi Gallery, is on view through August 10. “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 July 14-October 14.

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, is hosting “Aspects of Architecture: The Prints of John Taylor Arms,” through July 31. The museum is offering free admission this summer to all active military duty personnel and their families, through Labor Day. On July 11, Art After Hours includes an exhibition tour of “Aspects of Architecture” and a performance by the band Cotton at 7 and 8 p.m.

Mercer County Senior Art Show will be held July 18-August 3 at Meadow Lakes, 300 Meadow Lakes just off Etra Road, East Windsor. Categories are acrylic, craft, computer imagery, drawing, mixed media, oil, pastel, photography, print, sculpture, and watercolor. Call (800) 564-5705.

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 12-4 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.

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton, is showing “Botanica Magnifica: Photographs by Jonathan Singer” through August 26.

Princeton Art Gallery, 20 Nassau Street, is showing paintings by I-Hsiung Ju through July 15. A reception hosted by the MIT Club of Princeton and the gallery is July 12, 6-8 p.m., for area alumni. From July 17-31, a joint show of artists influenced by the late Mr. Ju will be on view, in a show called “A Tribute to a Teacher.” The opening reception is July 17, 6:30-8 p.m. Call (917) 520-8653.

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 Township Municipal Complex, 400 Witherspoon Street, is exhibiting a photo collection of the traditional costumes of the Molise region, on loan from the Cultural Ministry of the Region of Molise. The photos will be on display through the month of July. The exhibit was arranged by the Princeton/Pettoranello Sister City Foundation.

The Princeton University Art Museum presents “Encounters: Conflict, Dialogue, Discovery” from July 14-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, opens July 14 and runs through November 25. 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.

Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, has works by Johanna Furst through the end of July. “The Future is Female 2.0” runs the month of September.

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.

Tinicum Arts Festival, Tinicum Park, Erwinna, Pa. is July 14 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and July 15 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine. Ty Hodanish, Impressionist painter and founder of the Artists Colony at Prallsville Mills, will be the featured artist, creating an original painting starting at 11 a.m. Saturday. He will donate the painting, which will be up for bid at the Silent Auction tent. Visit www.tinicumarts
festival.org.

West Windsor Arts Center Gallery, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction, will show “Pantyhose, Wire, Brushstrokes & Lens” on view through August 31. An artists’ reception is July 22 from 4-6 p.m. 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.

WE SHOULD SAVE THESE OUTFITS FOR HALLOWEEN: Partners in the marijuana drug trade in southern California Ben (Aaron Johnson, left) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) prepare themselves for a dangerous mission in which they clearly don’t want to be recognized.

If you’ve seen the documentary Cash Crop, then you know that violent Mexican drug cartels have begun to force their way into the United States to claim a share of the lucrative marijuana market. That eye opening exposé suggested that it’s only be a matter of time before the same sort of violence occurring in Mexico also starts erupting in this country.

Although Savages is fictional — based on Don Winslow’s best-selling novel of the same name — its chilling account of a California turf war is so realistically depicted that you easily forget that what you’re watching isn’t a true story. The movie was directed by three time Oscar winner Oliver Stone (for Platoon, Midnight Express, and Born on the Fourth of July), who directs the film with a highly stylized flair akin to Miami Vice (the TV series) while grounding the grisly goings-on with a sobering gravitas reminiscent of Traffic (2000).

The picture pits a pair of home growing pot producers operating out of Laguna Beach against a ruthless Chicano gang that wants a piece of the action. At the point of departure, we find Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) living in an oceanfront mansion, with the help of a crooked DEA Agent (John Travolta), and a very potent strain of weed that has made the duo millionaires several times over.

The pair complement each other nicely, since Ben, as a Berkeley graduate who majored in business and botany, supplies the brains, while Chon, a former Navy SEAL who served a couple of tours in Afghanistan, provides the brawn. The partners share the same girlfriend, Ophelia (Blake Lively), a blonde who says that she loves both of her beaus.

The three share a hedonistic existence until they’re paid a visit by an emissary (Demian Bichir) sent to the states by a brutal Mexican crime boss (Salma Hayek), who make the threesome an offer they can’t refuse. They grudgingly enter into a partnership with the Mexicans in order to avoid the thinly veiled threat of being decapitated.

What ensues is a gruesome game of cat-and-mouse where it’s often difficult to discern who’s got the drop on whom. When the smoke finally clears, look for a mind bending twist that leads to a rabbit-out-of-the-hat resolution.

An unsettling vision of America degenerating into a lawless dystopia.

Excellent (****). Rated R for nudity, drug use, graphic sexuality, gruesome violence, ethnic slurs, and pervasive profanity. In English and Spanish with subtitles. Running time: 129 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.


July 3, 2012

Borough resident Marianne Farrin has worn many hats over the years: Stanford University alumna, wife, mother (raising her three children on several continents), psychotherapist, theologian. The list goes on, and has always, by the way, included sports like swimming, cycling (as in serious, days-long cycling commitments), and rowing. Her most recent role is translator; she has translated from German to English, Roosevelt: A Revolutionary with Common Sense, the book written in 1933 by her late father, Helmut Magers.

Magers’s book is a paean to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s swiftly-implemented accomplishments in the early 1930s. In 1930-1931, the German-born Magers spent a year as an Honorary Fellow at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Initial skepticism about Roosevelt’s plans to reinvigorate the country turned to admiration as Magers observed what he described as “’a top-down’ revolution that, in generosity and reasoning, surpasses any radical social change currently experienced elsewhere in the world.”

“Magers’s reflections on Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the daunting challenges to American society posed by the Great Depression provide a remarkably prescient, and hitherto overlooked contemporary German perspective on the relevance of the New Deal to a world in crisis,” said Rutgers University History Department Chair Michael Adas of the English edition prepared by Ms. Farrin.

Sadly, Magers’ dream that Germany and other strife-ridden countries would emulate some of the economic policies that were proving successful in the U.S. never happened. Instead, he was silenced for what was considered progressive writing and thinking by Hermann Göring, a high ranking Nazi official. Magers was ultimately sent to fight on the Russian front in 1944, a fate Ms. Farrin describes as “a death sentence.” An advice-filled letter to her written from her father, who was then stationed in the Crimea, suggests that he knew his fate.

It wasn’t until 1951 that the family received a letter from the Red Cross describing Magers as “missing in action.” In the interim, Ms. Farrin says, “The silence was devastating.” A soldier who remembered Magers later described how they were eventually taken to a camp called Mogilev in Belarus as prisoners of war by the Soviet Army. Mr. Magers died there of typhoid fever in the spring of 1945, at age 38. Magers apparently, never lost his admiration for this country; the former soldier described how Magers would entertain them at night with stories about America.

Ms. Farrin, who was born in 1938, escaped to Denmark with her mother and two siblings. Ten years later they immigrated to America, and eventually settled in California. Ms. Farrin reports that she was very self-conscious about being a German in this country, and that she grew up quickly as the eldest child and helpmate to her mother.

Ms. Farrin’s sense of purposefulness and determination were apparent early. Moved by the grandeur of the procession and ceremony she observed as a junior at Hollywood High School graduation, she determined that she would be next year’s valedictorian, and she was. She moved on to Stanford, where she met husband, Jim Farrin (Princeton University class of 1958), with a full scholarship.

Ms. Farrin says she has no idea how the German edition of the book was received in Germany when it was originally published. A copy of the first edition is in the Presidential Library at Hyde Park, and Mr. Magers’s inscription is reproduced in the new edition of the book: “To the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in profound admiration of his conception of a new economic order, and with devotion to his personality.” It is signed “The author, Berlin, Germany, November 9, 1933.”

Translating her father’s book was, Ms.Farrin says, nothing less than a labor of love. The translation is “absolutely literal,” she comments; “there was no other way to do it.” Reading aloud as she worked helped her soften some of the “very stilted German sentences.” A research trip to the Berlin Library, where she read newspaper accounts of Germany during the 1930s and 1940s, left her “very depressed.”  Although her memories of her father are “slight,” she says that she was very attached to him, and shares his “intellectual, introspective character.” She would like to visit the site of the Mogilev camp where he died.

Copies of Roosevelt: A Revolutionary with Common Sense are in both the Princeton Public Library and Princeton University’s Firestone Library. It is available for sale at Labyrinth Books, and online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


Season 2 of HBO’s Treme (pronounced Trem-ay) ends, movingly, with sometime DJ Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) back at the WWOZ microphone from which he was unceremoniously separated in Season 1. If you’ve watched both seasons of David Simon and Eric Overmyer’s extraordinary series about the agony and ecstasy of post-Katrina New Orleans, you will feel the moment with Davis, his face in the shadows as he prepares to put on a CD. What follows may be the calmest, most thoughtful utterance of his life as we know it. “Anyway, New Orleans,” he says, softly, as if the whole city were in the booth with him or bedded down for the night nearby, “we’re all still here, ain’t we? A few more home every day. And even if it isn’t as it should be, even if they make it hard, where else would we go? who else would have us? … Let Pops tell it.”

Pops is, of course, New Orleans’s most illustrious citizen ever, Louis Armstrong, born July 4, 1900, his birth date a glorious fabrication he maintained right up to the day he died. People inclined to scold me for claiming Independence Day as Satchmo’s true 112th birthday can point to Terry Teachout’s biography Pops (Houghton Mifflin 2009), which declares that, according to the baptismal register of New Orleans’s Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901. So, who do you trust, an old ledger, a drama critic for The Wall Street Journal, or the jazz god performing “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” for the city of his birth as Davis slides home the CD? The dream that began on July 4, 1900, didn’t end on July 6, 1971. Those who doubt Satchmo’s song of himself should listen to Walt Whitman’s: “I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash’d babe, and/am not contain’d between my hat and boots,” and “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Recorded when Louis and the 20th century were 31, “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” was in his band’s repertoire as he returned to New Orleans that same year for the first time since leaving his hometown in 1919. Eight marching bands met his train, the crowds closed down Canal Street, and that night when he played at the Suburban Gardens, WSMB was broadcasting live from the club. After the white announcer refused to announce him, Louis took over, later claiming it was “the first time a Negro spoke on the radio down there. For that night and the rest of the gig I did my own radio announcing.”

Though Davis McAlary most likely didn’t know that Louis Armstrong had once played the DJ on a New Orleans radio station, he couldn’t have picked a better song. While John Boutté’s lively theme music for Treme serves the purpose well, Armstrong’s performance of the Depression era hit captures the spirit of Season 2, all its ups and downs and “cloudy and gray … king for a day” moments. As the last note of Louis’s eloquent solo fades and with it the last of a series of New Orleans views (the cluttered makeshift memorial for a busker, a derelict house, a swamp with the skyline in the background), Davis sits speechless — a rare state for him. “Sorry for the dead air,” he says when he can find words. “But that one got me.”

Me, too.

As Louis Sings

During the four minutes the music’s riding the air waves, there are glimpses of some of the key characters in Treme doing what they do, Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce, the irrepressible trombonist, formerly of Simon’s The Wire); his ex-wife LaDonna (Khandi Alexander, formerly of Simon’s The Corner), back to her usual fine and foxy bartending self after a near catastrophic trauma; a couple of should-be could-be lovers, Terry the police lieutenant (David Morse) crossing paths with Toni the widowed lawyer (Melissa Leo, a.k.a. Kay Howard to fans of Simon’s Homicide), who snubs him due to a misunderstanding that Season 3 will have to clear up.

As Louis sings, “Whenever skies are cloudy and gray,” we see one of Treme’s stellar female characters, chef Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens, late of Deadwood) who is inspecting a kitchen she just might be commandeering if and when she returns to New Orleans from the Big Apple. The downside of the song seems especially fitting for Nelson Hidalgo (Jon Seda, another Homicide alum), the wheeling and dealing Dallas businessman who comes to town to make big money and cultivate the powers that be, including the politician whose downfall buries Hidalgo’s schemes and dreams. To real-life citizens of New Orleans, Seda’s character is a hateful reminder of the carpetbaggers who exploited the Katrina aftermath (“I don’t know anybody who doesn’t want to beat the living snot out of that guy,” says one blogger). But Treme’s many virtues preclude one-dimensional characters, certainly among the principals. Nelson’s cocksure ambience has a boyish charm (otherwise he wouldn’t be operating as effectively as he seems to be) and he’s enjoying himself right up to the moment he’s shown gazing unhappily at a vacant lot as Louis sings the chorus of “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams.”

John Goodman

It makes sense that a series about the character of a city would feature vivid characters, some with purely surface impact like the celebrity chefs and celebrity musicians who appear in cameos, while the ones who carry the weight have depths and dark places and rough edges, none more so than Creighton Bernette (John Goodman) as a Tulane professor harrowed and half-mad in the desolate aftermath of Katrina. Being one of the most celebrated character actors on the planet, Goodman gave the show instant media clout as he loomed, brooding and raging, above the music and mayhem of Season 1. In explaining Creighton’s fate to the Times-Picayune’s Dave Walker, David Simon points out that the suicide rate was quadruple the national average for a period after the storm: “What I found on The Wire was, if you’re not willing to kill your babies — to kill your beautiful babies, the characters you create and nurture — and be willing to say they serve the story in both life and death, any show becomes precious and you know that the story is not really speaking to the human condition.”

Davis McAlary’s Angel

You can tell something about the quality of Treme by following the ups and downs of the character granted the privilege of quietly closing out Season 2. Inspired by a real-life New Orleans “wiseass savant” named Davis Rogan, Davis McAlary has provoked as much online vitriol as the savvy opportunist Nelson Hidalgo. Davis is capital-E enthusiasm carried to an often intolerable extreme. Some may see him as a retro nightmare of an “off-the-pigs” hippie radical, others as a gag-me-with-a-spoon New Orleans version of Michael Moore. He’s loud, arrogant, and so in-your-face that whenever you begin to like him, he embarrasses you, the way certain one-track-minded motor mouths tend to do in “real life.” The very qualities that should redeem him — his passion for New Orleans, heart and soul, and its music (he more than any other character qualifies as the cheerleader for Treme) — lead him again and again off the deep end; thus the “Why I Hate Steve Zahn’s Davis” bloggers.

All that said, most reasonably understanding viewers will feel a nagging affection for the Davis character by the end of Season 2. Because of his unguarded effusiveness, his passionate devotion to his musical dreams, the whole world seems to be watching when his “castles … tumble,” so that when he loses his place in his own band or is outshone by a more compelling performer, you can’t help feeling for him as he swallows the disappointment (“that’s fate after all”). But what gives him definitive credibility is the affection of the street violinist Annie Talarico (Lucia Micarelli). Watch Annie’s face light up or go dreaming with eyes closed when she’s playing or smiling or simply being who she beautifully is, and you can’t help feeling that she’s Treme’s angel, the soul of the series, and one of its finest musicians. Not only does she move in with Davis, she enjoys him, roots for him, is on his side and in his bed, a combination sister, friend, and lover.

If Annie is Treme’s angel, Melissa Leo’s pro bono civil rights lawyer Toni might be called its conscience, if she weren’t so busy dealing with her grieving teen-age daughter, Sofia, probably the most wholly touching and vulnerable character in the series. Played by 18-year-old India Ennenga as if she were four years younger, Sofia doesn’t discover the truth about her father’s death (that he took his own life) until halfway through the second season, which further estranges her from Toni, who hadn’t had the heart to tell her. Sofia resembles one of Fellini’s angelic presences, like the girl smiling at Marcello near the end of La Dolce Vita. Her anger, confusion, and sad, wounded beauty haunt the second season. Though she gets drunk and high (and is arrested), the heartsick sadness abides. Not until her mother breaks down when despairingly attempting and failing to explain the inexplicable suicide (a hugely courageous, giving moment for Melissa Leo) does Sofia open up to her.

The Three Davids

In the post-millennium cable reign of the three Davids — Chase of The Sopranos, Milch of Deadwood, and Simon of The WireTreme puts Simon in a class by himself, at least until we see what David Milch does with, say, William Faulkner’s Light in August, now that he’s signed a contract with HBO and the Faulkner estate that will allow him to adapt whichever of the author’s stories or novels he chooses.

———

Both seasons of Treme are available on DVD at the Princeton Public Library and Netflix, where there is a long waiting list for Season 2. The most informative websites on Treme belong to Alan Sepinwall of the Newark Star-Ledger and Dave Walker of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.