Thursday, April 29, 2010

Monster Throwdown: Vampires, Werewolves, and Louisa May Alcott

In the beginning was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Quirk Books editor Jason Rekulak said that the title popped into his head one day and he couldn’t stop thinking about it. He brought the idea to Seth Graham-Smith, and what was going to be a novelty print run became a NY Times best seller that spawned a genre: Monster Lit. Other classics include Jane Slayre and Emma and the Vampires. I haven’t myself yet partaken, but I am tipping my toe into the water because a good friend, Lynn Messina, has written Little Vampire Women. A perfect karmic assignment for an ardent Buffy fan.

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any corpses,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

You may not have noticed, but Louisa May Alcott is back in the cultural spotlight. So much so that there is another LW Monster book coming out in May, Little Women and Werewolves, by Porter Grand. And the two authors are getting together May 6 at Symphony Space to discuss the classic and the updates, along with none other than John Matteson, who won the Pultizer last year for his biography, Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father. Tickets are available here.

Our own Lance Mannion will be there to cover it. I’ll be live tweeting it. Follow me on Twitter not to miss out. If you are going and tweeting yourself, use hashtag #LWMonsters

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mr. Monk and the Hilarious Hooey

I saw the revival of Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me a Tenor this weekend with Mater. The New York Times didn’t like it either in 1989 (Frank Rich) nor today (Charles Isherwood). I’m not usually a fan of farce (high or low) or slapstick, or endless double entendres or playing broad. But this show is a delight. I got excellent orchestra seats 9 rows from the stage thanks to a 50% discount code that appeared on the Monk Facebook page just as after the series ended. Thanks very much, Mr. Monk. It’s a thrill to sit close to a Broadway stage because you really feel the live energy. If you sit in the back, it’s like watching tv.

Isherwood and Rich quibble about the plot of Tenor. Kind of makes them look silly. They are SO missing the point. Let me explain it to them and you with a perfect, appropriated description from Gary Giddins (via James Wolcott): it’s “absolute hooey, but it is a hooey of master craftspeople, working together like apprentice in a Renaissance studio, each one a specialist in light or fabric or hands or eyes, held in balance by their master’s supervision. In this instance, the master was director Stanley Tucci.” (Okay, Giddins was actually talking about Joan Crawford’s film Sadie McKee directed by Clarence Brown.)

Sparkling hooey isn’t about plot. It’s about ridiculous set-ups that play out in inane ways, with just a soupcon of wit. It’s actually the ensemble of pros that make for the laughter. For me, Tony Shalhoub is the master of the subtle look within the over-the-top lunacy going on around him.

Shalhoub’s impresario is a man used to giving orders and getting what he wants. It’s the control of his performance that I loved. He is a very elegant man, and you can feel the intelligence below the reaction shots. I find that very rich and appealing.

Anthony LaPaglia had the harder role, Il Stupendo. He looked less at ease in his roll than Shalhoub, although his confusion in the second act was very, very funny.

The discovery for me was the young Justin Bartha who plays Max, the nerd factotum who blossoms before our eyes. He’s in The Hangover, which I now must see, and the National Treasure series with Nicolas Cage where he plays Riley Poole. Don’t think too many of his under 30 film friends have the chops for the stage that he has.

And so I found myself laughing and laughing at stupid lines and silly moments in my own willing suspension of disbelief.

The Memory of Those Who Make Us Laugh
It was a beautiful day in Gotham, and this hilarious hooey shared with Mater felt like such a gift. I don’t laugh enough (with a notable exception on my recent trip to China): I’m an Ox, and so I got a of cosmic dose seriousness (with a little artistry thrown in from the Libra side). Performing art of any kind that makes people laugh is extremely important to the human condition. It literally helps to lighten our load, to counterbalance the veil of tears that is so much of our human equation.

Preston Sturges knew this. That scene at the end of Sullivan’s Travels when the convicts and churchgoers start laughing while watching the 1934 Walt Disney cartoon Playful Pluto with Mickey Mouse and Pluto is one of the great moments in cinema.

The dedication at the film’s beginning:
"To the memory of those who made us laugh: the motley mountebanks, the clowns, the buffoons, in all times and in all nations, whose efforts have lightened our burden a little, this picture is affectionately dedicated."

The film’s last line, spoken by John L. Sullivan
"There's a lot to be said for making people laugh! Did you know that's all some people have? It isn't much but it's better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan! Boy!"

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Plasticless NYC

Before we leave Earth Day 2010, let me introduce you to the blog Plasticless NYC by a very talented classical signer named Juli (whom I have had the pleasure to sing with), who posts about her commitment to using little or no plastic and to reducing packaging and waste of all kinds. It’s a great place for practical tips plus information on the subject with a good blogroll of like-minded souls.

As I’m trying to incorporate some of these practices into my own life, it helps me to visit the blogs of people who really walk the walk. So yet again, blogs are helping to save the world.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Happy 40th, Earth Day!

The idea of Earth Day is more cogent to me this year because of my trip to China. I’m still mulling all the experiences, but one thing was very clear: the overwhelming pollution in Chongqing. A greyness hangs in the air, all the time. You wake up and it’s grey and it stays that way—you have no idea what time of day it is, because you can’t see the sky or the sun. Every day. For a New Yorker used to lovely blue days, it has an apocalyptic feel to it. The film Children of Men flashes in my mind.

This photo is outside of the convention center (with the wonderful Hi-Tech Fair blue mascots) and it could just look like an overcast day. The first few days I thought it was. But it became evident that this is pollution in the air that doesn’t change.

The current Green Movement’s roots are in Earth Day, a grass-roots movement that was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin and produced by a consortium of people, with Denis Hayes as the chief organizer.

Earth Day before Facebook and Twitter
My Paley Center colleague Ron Simon has written a very interesting post about the phenomenon of Earth Day and the shooting at Kent State being days apart in a world before the instant connections of social media.

Money quotes:
"Earth Day was the largest demonstration in American history, drawing more than twenty million people into the streets of every community to appreciate the planet we shared and were rapidly polluting. The response from schools and local groups was overwhelming with everyone in agreement that the environment was deteriorating, but could be saved with concerted awareness. Teach-ins (now such an antiquated term) abounded, and the country found a new sensibility of the natural. It was the genesis of the green movement, which has profoundly affected how we think about our resources.


But the optimistic feelings of Earth Day quickly dissipated with President Nixon's announcement of the Cambodian invasion on April 30. Protest marches ensued the next day, but the lingering confrontation on the Kent State campus resulted in the noon shooting of four students by National Guardsmen on May 4. The news of those killings reached almost every student, high school and college, by evening. During the next and succeeding days the educational system was paralyzed by a student strike; almost five hundred schools were closed. War had never been so real for the student population."

The Earth Day organizers got the word out in a number of ways, including mass mailings (not very green) and radio. I know they got the word out to the Girl Scouts of America because I was a new Brownie, and our troop ended up picking up trash in a local park during that first Earth Week. You should pop over to Ron’s blog and read the interesting comments from people about where they were. One commentor was in Philadelphia, a ground zero for the movement, which included then-activist before he became the Unicorn Killer Ira Einhorn!

George Carlin's Not Having Any Of It

It can be easy to mock the green movement.

"I'm tired of f***ing Earth Day, I'm tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is there aren't enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world safe for their Volvos. Besides, environmentalists don't give a s*** about the planet. They don't care about the planet. Not in the abstract they don't. Not in the abstract they don't. You know what they're interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They're worried that some day in the future, they might be personally inconvenienced.

The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we're gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, 'cause that's what it does. It's a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed, and if it's true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new paradigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn't share our prejudice towards plastic." (See the whole routine here.)

Maybe George never went to Chongqing. Maybe he never experienced that level of pollution. After 2 days of being outside of the filtered air of the wonderful Hilton Hotel, I became unwell. I’m not particularly sensitive to environmental factors, but all that chemical stagnation got to me.

So I’m open to trying to do what I can on a personal level and in the voting booth to keep my New York skies blue--sadly the most memorable of all time was on the morning of 9/11--and hopefully help the Chinese citizens reclaim theirs.

(Confetti from opening ceremony of Chongqing High-Tech Fair)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

My Own “Left Turn”: Steven Moffat and the 11th Doctor

I am a big fan of David Tennant’s 10th Doctor, and was not ready for a new one. In a turn of events worthy of the fourth season episode “Left Turn,” the universe played a trick on me. I accepted a freelance gig to go to China, and then it was set that Steven Moffat, Matt Smith, and Karen Gillan would come to my office, The Paley Center for Media, to premiere the episode with a discussion on the day I would still be flying back from China. Why didn’t the universe let me be there? What would have been different had I been allowed to meet them? Did I have to miss the event to avoid sending the world into an apocalypse? Unfortunately, I don’t have a Time Beetle or a Russell T. Davies script to tell me.

My first impression of 11 at the end of “The End of Time” wasn’t great: he seemed nerdy, and not in a good way, and “Geronimo” as a catchphrase wasn’t promising.

But “The 11th Hour” was good, and our new Doctor and companion are great. The youth of the 2 is sexy, sexy, sexy and should attract a whole new following.

Steven Moffat Tugging at the Heartstrings

We meet the young Amelia when the Doctor drops the Tardis into her backyard after regenerating. She had just been praying (I think she said to Santa) to send someone to fix the crack in her bedroom wall. I remember a crack in the wall at my Grandmother’s apartment that frightened me; the young imagination sees the portal potential of that rift in the homestead protective shield, and nothing good ever comes through a portal, we all know that.

The Doctor then says he has to go for 5 minutes, and Amelia runs to her room to pack her little suitcase and then runs back out to wait for the Doctor to return. There she sits on her suitcase, in her little coat and hat. I hate images like that. Of course the Doctor doesn’t return in 5 minutes. Just as Moffat knows that cracks in the wall frighten children, he knows that adults are always disappointing them.

Little Amelia grows up to be capable Amy, and the Doctor comes back, as promised though more than a decade later, and the two are off and running. The plot of the show wasn’t as important to me as establishing the new players.

The show has a similar look and sensibility to season 4, and that continuity is good. Set in an English village—with the distinctive Norman church, stone walls, and green commons—-it has a little of a Miss Marple feel to it, and I don’t mean that as a bad thing. It connects the series to the great tradition of English storytelling on tv.

There were many nice touches: the Doctor giving Amy back the apple she gave him 12 years earlier; his comment “You are a Scot living in an English village, and I know what that’s like,” since Moffat himself is Scottish; finding his own clothes/look, that is tweed, suspenders, and a bow tie; and the vision of the 10 Doctors, through which 11 steps to take his rightful place. His hair is a little too Polo model for me, but we’ll see.

There’s lots to look forward to, including Prof. Song and those creepy Weeping Angels. Fantastic. Allons-y.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Re-entry to Manhattan

My trip to Mainland China was the veritable whirlwind of experiences: exotic, exhausting, and very uplifting. It will take some time to write about.

Thanks to Blue Girl and the Scribbler, re-entry to my own beloved city was at Elaine’s as our group of blogroll friends gathered since BG was in town. I had barely slept during the past 48 hours of traveling, so I couldn’t stay long, but it was a blast to meet Brenda and the F Word and see Siobahn of In the Next Apartment and Scribbler for the first time, as well as old friends Lance Mannion, The Self-Styled Siren, The Heretic, and the spiritual godfather of blogs, James Wolcott. In Elaine’s I felt the power of Woody Allen’s great valentine to the city as we transformed into beautiful black and white, complete with a Gershwin soundtrack.

Hopefully this kind of hallucinating is simply a symptom of severe sleep deprivation. Must get my sleep patterns under control. Be back in a bit.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter, then On the Road to China

After the suffering of Good Friday comes the glory of Easter Sunday (unless you’re Martin Scoresese, who likes to stay back at Good Friday).

And then Easter Monday, which is a holiday in much of Europe, will see me on The Road to China with my BFF, whom you know as Eloise. We are going to Chongqing (sometimes called 'Little Manhattan' because of its skyline from the Yangtze River) on a business visa at the behest of the Swedish Embassy in Beijing on a freelance assignment from Eloise’s husband, the Dashing Swede. We will be working at the Swedish pavilion at a high tech fair in Chongqing to represent the Swede’s company. Since I speak neither Swedish nor Chinese, I intend to smile and nod a lot.

So there will be a bit of a blog break here. Hope you’ll come back in 2 weeks or so to read about some of our adventures. If technology and the Chinese government let me, I'm going to tweet throughout the trip, so please join me on Twitter.

再见 (zàijiàn, see ya)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

O Sacred Head, So Very Wounded

Holy Week has always been about suffering. But this year the mystical body of the Church itself is suffering as we watch the institutional church slowly implode. My grandmother was of the generation who said that when you sin, you drive the crown of thorns deeper into Jesus’ head on the cross. It would be beyond her imagination that the very men Christ entrusted with his people---the people He died for---would be driving that crown into his skull themselves.

I’ve never expected much from the institutional church. It’s run by men who are as power hungry as they come. As an institution they do everything to protect their status quo, and since they deal in life and death—-literally from baptisms to funerals---they feel above the law, both secular and moral. Of course there are many individual priests who are decent and holy, but the institution suffers from terrible corruption of all kinds. It always has.

“The pontiff said faith in God helps lead one ‘toward the courage of not allowing oneself to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion.’ “

The arrogance of these men is staggering. Jesus entrusted the most precious thing in the world---his followers---to them, then inch by inch, step by step, they let the dark side of human nature encroach into their work until they could no longer see how much damage they are doing to their flock.

It’s not a media conspiracy. It’s that these men have cut themselves off from most of reality. How else could you ever characterize substantiated charges of abuse as “petty gossip.”

Harrison Ford made a film in 1999 of the book Random Hearts, with Kristin Scott Thomas. It’s about a man and a woman, each whose spouse is having an affair with the other’s spouse. It’s a raw portrait of betrayal. Harrison Ford has a line that keeps echoing in my head: “What is the last thing [about your husband] that you know to be true?”

That’s how I feel now. I must keep my eyes on what I am certain of. And it’s Jesus, not the institution of the Church.

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew, 22:36 to 40

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

And so I will sing the Triduum of Holy Week, and the glory of Easter Sunday. I want to stand with other Catholics and share that community. We are the true church, in our every day lives and routines, in how we treat and care for others, in how we try to be good citizens of the nation and the world.

I deeply pray for all those who were physically and psychologically harmed by the very men meant to protect them.

And I pray for the souls of those who harmed them and those who protected the abusers on all levels. Should they face criminal charges and jail time, as high up the ladder as possible? Absolutely. But if that doesn’t happen, I am certain their Father will deal with them appropriately when their time comes. And there will be no dodging that reality.