Saturday, February 27, 2010

Catholic bloggers agree...

Bush Administration lackey Mark Thiessen miscalculated when he decided to defend the use of torture in the "War on Terror" using the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catholic blogosphere is deeply polarized and heavily politicized, but there are limits to how much manipulation it will accept, and Thiessen is finding that out now. Read my post at dotCommonweal for the details.

Friday, February 26, 2010

What do you like best about Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY)?

Oh, sure, you admire him now for his heroic filibuster preventing the senate from passing an emergency 30-day extension of unemployment benefits. (Senator Bunning objects because the extension isn't paid for.) But there is so much else to love about this guy. And I'm not even talking about his baseball-hall-of-famer status.

First, here's a scene from the Senate floor:
As the fight drew to a close, Mr. Bunning complained he had been ambushed by the Democrats and was forced to miss the Kentucky-South Carolina basketball game. He said Democrats caused their own problems by dropping the program extensions from an earlier bipartisan jobs measure.
Like something out of Frank Capra, isn't it?

But there's so much more to admire. This guy might have the most entertaining Wikipedia entry of any active politician. You can skip on down to the section about his 2004 campaign for the best parts, like:
During his reelection bid, controversy erupted when Bunning described [his Italian-American opponent] Mongiardo as looking "like one of Saddam Hussein's sons."
That's just ONE of the many astonishing details of the campaign he somehow managed to win. (I recommend reading this Salon article for more.) So what has he done with his second six years in the Senate?
In January 2009, Bunning missed more than a week of the start of Congress in January 2009. Bunning said by phone that he was fulfilling "a family commitment six months ago to do certain things, and I'm doing them." Asked whether he would say where he was, Bunning replied: "No, I'd rather not."
In December he missed 21 votes, including (obviously) the health-care-reform vote on Christmas Eve. Even Robert Byrd showed up more often.

And top this, political satirists:
In February 2009, at the Hardin County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner, while discussing conservative judges, Bunning predicted that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would likely be dead from pancreatic cancer within nine months. Bunning later apologized if he had offended Ginsburg with his remarks and offered his thoughts and prayers to Ginsburg; his press release misspelled the Justice's last name twice.
Be sure you read to the bottom, where you'll discover that the Jim Bunning Foundation "has given less than 25 percent of its proceeds to charity." I can't even find out what charity it's supposed to be raising money for! Not that it matters!

I spent most of yesterday watching/listening to the "health-care summit." That was discouraging enough. Reading this settles it, for me. Here's my idea: we clear out the entire Senate and fill it back up with members of the U.S. Olympic team. Who's with me?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Through mem'ry's haze

I lived in New Haven the summer after my junior year at Yale -- a baby step toward living on my own for real when college was through. I had long thought it might be fun to be a campus tour guide, but during the academic year the competition for the job was too intense, and the time commitment too burdensome, for me to bother. The summertime tour-guide gig was much more my speed, and so when I knew I would be in town I decided to try out for a position. To help me prepare, I got a copy of the tour-guide "script," and I was, quite honestly, appalled. This was 2002. The script I got was from about 1990. It hadn't been updated since it was first typed, except for a few notes in the margins. That explained why I was always hearing tour guides claim that, because Connecticut Hall had a computer cluster in the basement, it wasn't necessary for students to have their own computers. (This despite the fact that everyone I knew had his or her own computer.) A lot of other things had changed, on campus and in the world, in the last decade or so, and few of them were documented in the "official" guide. The "Women's Table," for example, hadn't even been installed when the script was written. No wonder guides who stopped there always told stories about the Vietnam War Memorial instead.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I should never have gone to the theatre...

The marquee at A Little Night Music says "Directed by Trevor Nunn," which is odd, because the show looks for all the world as if no one had directed it at all. The pace is slow. The staging, especially of the musical numbers, is weak. The performances are uneven. There's no sense that anyone has tried to impose a particular tone or locate a thematic throughline. In short, all the things a director ought to do seem to have gone undone.

After seeing the show I turned to Michael Feingold for guidance, and found him bang on as usual:
Sampling dessert wine from a king's cellar, the dinner guests at elderly Madame Armfeldt's ch√Ęteau sit on the floor. No wonder the old lady bemoans, in her song "Liaisons," the disappearance of style, skill, forethought, discretion, passion, and craft. She could easily be reviewing the show she's in.
An irresistible joke (Brantley makes it too), but exactly right. He goes on:
Some of this downgrading might be forgivable (OK, the dinner party's a picnic) if Nunn's direction didn't push so crudely at every point. When Egerman, half asleep, murmurs Desiree's name, Nunn has him sit bolt upright in bed and bellow it. "The Miller's Son" is deprived of its context; Leigh Ann Larkin, as Petra, simply marches downstage and belts it at us. Rushed gabbling through the verses of "The Glamorous Life," Zeta-Jones is then asked to sledgehammer the gag lines in "You Must Meet My Wife" at the audience.
He put his finger on exactly what irritated me most about the musical staging in "Now/Later/Soon" and "The Glamorous Life." Catherine Zeta-Jones has stage presence and comic timing, but when it comes to the songs she would have benefitted from the amateur director's best friend: slavish adherence to the original cast recording. Someone should have said to her, Listen to how Glynis Johns or Jean Simmons handles "The Glamorous Life" and then do thou likewise.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ben Brantley, gossip columnist

So, Ben Brantley took some lady to the theatah, and she showed her appreciation for the free ticket and sweet orchestra seats by... forgetting to silence her cell phone's "particularly obnoxious" ring tone! This led him to feel bad for her, or hope she learned her lesson, or be convinced she learned her lesson, or something like that. He... thinks people should have hated her less? He thinks it's understandable that someone who "does not as a general rule carry a phone" but on that day "felt she should be reachable" would ignore the preshow announcements, signs, etc. designed to remind people in her exact position to silence their phones? It's not really clear. But that's not what I care about anyway, because he starts off his little please-comment-on-this prompt with a BLIND ITEM:
I seethed righteously when an eminent theater writer seated in front of me took his grudging time in quieting his bleating phone, as if it were a matter he shouldn’t have had to be bothered with.
Who? WHO? Which critic who goes to plays for a living didn't have the good sense to turn off his phone or even be embarrassed when it rang? That's what I want to know. Guesses? I'd say John Heilpern (formerly of The New York Observer), except, is he "eminent"? Or maybe John Simon. Except, does he have a cell phone?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Tweeting with the stars

I watched A Place in the Sun recently, having recorded it on TCM during their month devoted to the Method. A Place in the Sun is an Actors Studio double-whammy, with Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters strutting their unglamorous stuff all over the place. According to my TV grampa, Robert Osborne, Elizabeth Taylor credited this movie, her first time working with Clift, with making her more serious about the craft of acting.

The movie didn't blow me away as much as I expected it to (especially after Osborne's nearly giddy intro), but I enjoyed it well enough, and afterward I went to IMDB to dig into the credits. IMDB is the first website I can remember bookmarking, back when I was still accessing the web via AOL dial-up. Still just as indispensable fifteen years later. Impressive! It has been getting steadily more comprehensive over the years, but even I did not expect to find, on Liz Taylor's profile page, a link to "Elizabeth Taylor (DameElizabeth) on Twitter."

I'm not on Twitter and don't plan to change that. But I was tempted, I must say, by the thought of following and tweeting back at Liz. Here's something I bet you didn't know about Liz Taylor, if you aren't already reading her tweets: She is sort of obsessed with Kathy Ireland. This is her Twitter output from August 17 through September 22:

Friday, February 5, 2010

Gold stars

There are things in The New Yorker that I like, also! Just to prove it, here are two pullquotes from the February 1, 2010 issue.

First, from George Packer's article about the city of Dresden and its complicated relationship with its history:
Dresden is the Blanche DuBois of German cities -- violated, complicit in its violation, desperate to recover its innocence. It has the unstable character of a place with a romantic self-image and a past that it would rather not discuss.
A rhetorical gamble, but I think he pulled it off. The whole article is well worth reading, by the way, or at least worth skimming for the good parts.

Here are a couple of memorable sentences from Peter Schjeldahl's review of the Bronzino show at the Met:
Recall Bronzino's "The Allegory of Venus and Cupid," at the National Gallery in London: a confounding tour de force of over-the-top sensuality and cryptic symbolism, painted for France's racy, bookish Francis I. (Cupid lewdly embraces his naked mother while, among other things, Father Time presides, a butterball putto rejoices, a cute-faced and snake-tailed grotesque proffers a honeycomb, and a dove departs on foot like a stricken guest from a party that is way out of hand.)
To fully appreciate the delightfulness of that description, compare this lesser attempt, from a review of the same show in The Wall Street Journal:
Many of us cherish, too, Bronzino's "Allegory of Venus and Cupid," at the National Gallery in London, a kinky free-for-all in which a teenage Cupid gropes his nude mother amid characters symbolizing time, folly, jealousy, and some things I've forgotten.
And since I know you're as curious as I am, here's the picture being described. It was difficult to find at first, because Schjeldahl calls it "The Allegory of Venus and Cupid," Wikipedia calls it "Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time" (?), and the National Gallery (who should know!) calls it "An Allegory with Venus and Cupid." And now that I'm looking at it I'm not at all sure I agree that the dove is "departing on foot," rather than just hanging out in the bottom left corner (canoodling with another dove, if you ask me). But it's a great mental image just the same.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Their weaknesses are incidental

I know I already said New Yorker theatre critic Hilton Als was on my don't-bother-reading list. And I meant it! And the first line of his review of Young Jean Lee's Lear is a good reminder of why!
Young Jean Lee’s “Lear” (at the SoHo Rep) is a hot mess, but it’s the kind of misfire that any young artist is entitled to, especially if he or she aspires to greatness.
You stopped after "hot mess," right? Good for you! But I must confess I skimmed the rest of that review, despite my no-Als policy, because I was curious about how the play was being received in general. Which is how I found this:
Lee has a profound understanding of women—how they talk, how they describe one another: with a near-clinical objectivity and, often, with loathing.
Ooh, snap! Women are such bitches! Finally, a lady playwright with a profound understanding of her sex's awfulness!

I once jokingly suggested that perhaps Als is on his editor's don't-bother-reading list. Now I think that may actually be the best explanation. On the other hand, maybe Hilton Als just gets women more than I do. It does seem to be a theme with him lately! Here's the first line of his review of Venus in Furs in the February 8, 2010, issue:
The cruelty of women!
Hilton, honey, is... is something bothering you? Because, this could be my near-clinical objectivity and loathing talking, but: maybe you could work it out on your own time? And not so much with the overt misogyny in your theatre reviews? Just a suggestion!