Archive for the ‘Seasonal’ Category

Dear friends,

It’s said they recorded this in 1971 when the war in Vietnam was not over: the US gov’t was bombing hospitals in Vietnam; they thought, What could they do about it? they decided to sing and record a song in which they pretended “the war is over:”

A hundred and ten years ago, this short French film, “The Christmas Angel” was made, and thanks to a friend on one of my listservs I watched it last night and can share it here:

An early film adaptation.


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George V (Samuel West) pushing Roosevelt’s (Bill Murray) wheelchair into the library where they can talk freely

Same night, Daisy (Laura Linney) smoking freely by small cottage on the grounds of Hyde Park

Dear friends and readers,

Until I read the reviews which came out around the time this film was released, this past Christmas (yes I’m 7 months late, but then this is better than my usual 10-20 years), I was going to tell of how much I enjoyed the movie the first time I watched it around 1 in the morning so perhaps in the mood for a sort of odd “midsummer night’s dream” about real people escaping the world of day. Then how I grew to dislike it as I considered all it had left out about the importance, greatness, nobility of the finest, best president the US has ever had bar none, his decent associates, and listened to the tasteless and hypocritical voice-over commentary of the film-makers. And then how I reversed again upon third viewing, again at 1 in the morning (gentle reader it’s been so hot here), realizing its appeal lies is that it’s traditional costume drama of the BBC type done for film adaptations with a quirky difference. It is a genuine defense of unconventionality; of people with what’s called and in the case of Roosevelt certainly was after polio disabilities. Its center is a spinster with little ambition.

Love-making in a flowered field — Daisy also begins to smoke in this scene

So, quirky, but not so much because of the female narrator whose marginalized kindly, apolitical, private point of view permeates the film: that’s par for the course in these sort of films. They often have such women only they are usually made beautiful and married by the end. The usual nostalgia there is (including the use of film taken from a historical picnic at the time which provides the film’s penultimate scene), alluring landscapes, wistful light music, the leisurely pace, the complex psychology of some of the characters, multi- and parallel stories. Rather it’s quirky because of its self-deprecating non-solemn or off-hand presentation of the unconventional, the disabled, women no one wants (but Roosevelt it seems), the usual slice of life angle from the upper class (Hyde Park house is a sort of Downton Abbey, with several extensive staffs, steward, butler, man to carry the president when needed), one presented so wryly and combined with an important political reconciliation (this was the first visit of an English king to an American president).

Daisy and Missy (Elizabeth Marvel) as friends playing cards, fringe hangers-on — the happy ending

The quirkiness is also in presenting disabilities (a stutterer, cripple), spinsters (Missy LeLand is as much a spinster as Daisy Suckley), and an unconventional marriage (FDR and Eleanor’s) as not needing to be normalized. There is none of this heroic overcoming we had in King’s Speech, no great win as in Lincoln, the stuttering and bigotry (the butler is simply let go for not being willing to allow black men on his staff in the kitchen) and unromantic sexual habits go on.

As in a novel the opening sentence is telling so in a movie the opening still: we begin and end with Daisy’s voice and here she is from the back answering a phone call to come help cheer the president

It was the second thought, the doubts I was going to emphasize. This is one of the cases where the over-voice commentary on the DVD is worse than a waste of time: Roger Michell and his buddies talked false hype: continual
self-regarding stories about “the stars,” silly stories about Roosevelt; if the film-makers understood anything of the film techniques they were using (which they surely did) it was the last thing they were going to discuss. What do they think people listen to commentaries for? To be given a commercial in disguise. And the feature was not a feature but a trailer, which like most trailers distorted and dumb-downed the movie to make it appeal to a larger audience many of whom would not like this movie. I was particularly offended with their salacious references to the “hand-job” Daisy is said to give FDR in the film, and thought they had handed the public a deliberately degrading and debased way of viewing the man responsible for the few social ameliorations US people enjoy today and whose laws until they were repealed controlled the rapacious banks.

I thought one typical remark in the commentary revealing. The film-maker apologized for cutting the scenes of Blake Ritson as Johnson (luxury casting here), the butler who refuses to work with black men whom Eleanor has hired.

Scene filmed from odd angle, Eleanor (Olivia Williams), president’s mother (Elizabeth Wilson) faced by Johnson (Blake Ritson) and other staff, two black men from the back

He says it’s them or me. Eleanor says it’s you and Ritson as butler is fired. All cut — you can view it in the DVD’s deleted scenes. No explanation from Michell beyond how sorry he was to lose Ritson’s performance. This is a part of the lavish flattery of these features for all the people participating in the film and pretense of happy times for all doing the film seen together with no rivalry (it seems). I think they cut it because it lacked the semi-humor with which everything else was dramatized.

I know FDR was the greatest (best, most decent, unbeatable as to programs) president the US ever had (bar none), though I’ve never sat down and read a full-length book about FDR or Eleanor — only what essays have come my way in periodicals we get in the house. I’ve the highest respect for Eleanor — and feminist avante la lettre as to her expressed points of view — I’ve never even read her memoir which I’ve had in my house for donkey’s years. I don’t know which is the best and don’t know where to ask, and know what is written about him is so skewed — during his 4 terms (my father used to say) from the newspapers you’d think he was the most hated man in the US and each election it was presented as astounding that he’d won again and big. His one mistake (driven to it, partly by illness) was to give up Wallace as his vice-president in that last term. History might have been different. I’m telling myself I’ll find out the best book and get to that memoir. I’m no “Americanist” — just don’t read much American literature though most of the books as a child and young woman without trying were US authors and types. I do like American gothic.


But then I read the reviews and realized the film was dissed as “imbecilic” and idiotic because it told the story from Daisy Suckley’s, an obscure woman’s point of view: Daisy has “a termite’s view of history” said one reviewer. Who could care about her? I love that it was as much a heroine’s movie as say Frances Ha or an Austen film.

Daisy (Laura Linney) appealing to and FDR (Bill Murray) reciprocating affection

A film without great stirring events and resolutions offended reviewers: it wasn’t going anywhere, had no point (like Lincoln). (None of the adulterers is punished like Anna Karenina [another Xmas movie], except if you think being told that while FDR shared his estate with Missy he did not visit her in the hospital when she felt fatally ill.) Eleanor (who did keep a second house) looked dowdy! (but she did in life). Those who recognized the film’s genre complained about what was the point: its discomfort, the unease. I agree a sceptical harder view of who these individuals were and why they hooked up (more characters should have been individualized) would have improved it (see Peter Bradshaw) — there were more serpents in this garden than the disabilities never discussed.

There is something odd in this film, but no one asks what it is: why did Nelson choose the incident of the king and queen’s visits (he adds it onto Daisy’s diaries) to show Roosevelt’s astuteness and humanity? it’s not only singularly devoid of hard mean politicking, war enter only through the king’s pity for the children in Spain bombed out of existence, and it does focus on the most privileged pair in the UK, partly trivializing them too, though Elizabeth’s (Olivia Coleman) needling George (Samuel West) with pointed references to his more suave brother, Edward VIII (who vacated the throne) seemed not improbable. The film is explicitly, consciously a defense of keeping secret the private lives of these politicians – that can be used by conservatives to cover up the their personal uses of their offices, I see that, but ti also allowed a crippled man to be president greatly. Should people’s sex lives and vulnerabilities be exposed when its their economic and social ideologies that count? In this film the characters have freedom in private.

Roosvelt catching himself with his hand

Its central scene is where the president comforts the king for his stuttering by showing himself lurching along a desk as a crippled man to reach his cigarettes. And its climax occurs when Daisy discovers the president is having an affair with Missy as well — in that cottage she thought he had set up for her. And how the two women then became close friends, buddies in a car together.



So instead I will emphasize how the film does not enforce normalcy. How it shows people behave irrationally: that the British King should eat an American hot dog as a great symbolic act is silly, and yet that is what happens in life. How Daisy remained the spinster around the place, the president’s friend except to those in the know. Daisy’s point of view is good-natured, open, tolerant, caring about others (her aunt played by Eleanor Bron who also lurches) as she hopes to be cared for,


and this wins me over.

As with The King’s Speech, I felt sorry for the king while his character played so adeptly and slightly comically by Samuel West is not paid enough attention to. He makes the film fun. I liked his jokes (lame as they were) when the poor servants dropped those trays heavy with dishes and food.


And the performances were very good. My view of Laura Linney has changed: I’d hitherto only seen her enacting that godawful introduction to Masterpiece theater where she is dressed in a ludicrous trussed-up sexual way. Here she is a Fanny Price who gets to stay on, everyone’s confidante.

As one commenter said, it’s a fine summer romp that I recommend. A beautiful movie.

The president asks Daisy how does she like the landscape; she says very well.

And then sit down and read a good book on FDR, Eleanor, Henry Wallace, the political, economic and social worlds of the later 1930s. Yes we would have learned more to have Frances Perkins in the film (and political associates of FDR), but that and Eleanor’s politics require a separate documentary or biopic. Due to some good talk on Trollope19thCStudies I’ve ordered Kirsten Downey’s book on Frances Perkins. Also Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship Between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley, ed Geoffrey Ward — Daisy’s diaries and private papers (nowadays very cheap), and Hazel Rowley’s Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage (ditto).


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Hubert Robert (1733-1808), The Old Bridge (1775) — or The Stranded Pussycat

Dear friends and readers,

On Boxing Day we again went to the National Galley as we have for a couple of years now (see Wiseman and Warhol. (We’ve gone to the Philips Gallery also.) Boxing Day is the second day of Christmas, Victorian and modern style, and the explanation for the custom and name is this was the day people who owned and governed great houses, gave their servants presents in boxes the next day. (They showed this in last year’s Downton Abbey Christmas special.) Our way of doing this is to have fun at museums which some years ago now we learned are ready for us: the National Gallery regularly has a blockbuster show, and side-shows too, are ready for the crowd, which, even in the pouring ice of this past Dec 16th, obliged by coming in great numbers.

I admit we waited until after 1 pm when the sky was merely pouring out rain. So it was an abbreviated Boxing Day, without lunch out in the the museum’s cafe. But when we got there we managed a whirlwind tour by 4 or so, when we decided it looked awfully dark and windy out there, and feared that our Jaguar (with its front-wheel drive) would not be happy if we returned to it in the cold dark.

I cannot say we felt inspired or that anyone’s spirits soared as we went through the rooms of Lichtenstein’s pictures. OTOH, the paintings were compelling in their unexpected mimicry of every day forms. Like the marbled composition book: Laura and Izzy wrote in such books for years; Izzy still does.

Composition Notebook, a painting by Roy Lichtenstein

There were recognizable washing machines, trash cans (the hinge not open and then open with a woman’s leg in high heels next to it); balls of twine. He seemed to us to be making fun of other artists especially: there was cubism outdone, Picasso exposed (as Lichtenstein first gave us a cartoon-yet-real version of a girl, then half-way to cubism, and then an over-the-top imitation). He redid Monet in his cartoon-y style, and even did seasons (hairy-cupcakes or haystacks in all the seasons).

He’s know especially for his imitation cartoons:

Drowning girl

Most of them have lugubriously sentimental cries to “Brad”. This one caught my eye because of the scary hands: limp well-manicured large hands are ubiquitous in these cartoons paintings, making them after a while creepy. This one has thick swirling lines while others have dots: hundreds & hundreds in the three colors used by printers all in straight lines. He was once dubbed “the dot man.” In many of these painted cartoons the women — or girls — are supposed sexy. Really they are bland is probably what Lichtenstein shows us. There were a great many of violence action-adventure.

But here and there one glimpsed a love of art and art objects.


I enjoyed the rooms towards the end of his career where he did his studio in this heavy-line bright single color way, projecting a given decade by a familiar object. Very inventive and very autobiographical too.


Artist’s studio, foot medication (1974).

There were a couple of beautiful frames of intense color in waves, all shiny (one turquoise blue, the other a pink) that Izzy noticed. One Laocoon with his sons devoured by serpents which emerged from brush strokes of paint.

The show takes you step-by-step through Lichtenstein’s life and works, and milieu. It’s difficult to say what was the original impetus. Lichtenstein had come from a Manhattan family, but transferred to Ohio art school for college, and after WW2 returned to the mid-west to teach. When he came to NYC, he is described as undermining the abstract expressionists, but this seems to me not enough explanation. Lichtenstein did have a financial success using pop –like Warhol — and possibly he found to keep up this kind of ridicule of supposedly pop and cultured art paid well, and his art dealer kept him at making what would sell. The provenance of many of the items was neither the artist’s estate or a museum, but “private collection” (undisclosed). Perhaps later on he felt he could not break out of being “the dot man.” I can’t say. But the exhibition left me cold. Think of how Seurat used dots and one can measure the distance from most of Lichtenstein’s art to visionary painting.

We spent much less time in front of the Michelangelo statue now called Apollo-David — because no one knows which figure the artist had in mind). The statue, though, projected a depth of feeling even in or maybe because of the deliberately unfinished state. There was no hype; it was just in the center of a room. Tellingly, there was hardly any one there. Yet the museums must have gone to intense trouble to move it from Florence to hear. Jim thought maybe they had someone personally carrying it in some super-wrapped package. Handle with care.


You can walk very close up and behind and make up your mind whether the figure has a stash of arrows at his back or not.

Two exhibits (one near Lichtenstein) were intellectually stimulating and we had the fun of feeling we came upon them by chance. We hadn’t: “The Shock of the News” was next to the Lichtenstein. The stuff wasn’t shocking but it was an exhibit of newsprint, starting before WW1 when there was a fad for putting newsprint inside a frame or making it part of a painting and bringing the exhibit up to the 1980s or so. Again I was startled to see famous and familiar headlines and pictures (as Lichtenstein startles me). The point of the exhibit was to show the viewer how central newspapers were in our experience at the time — today they’ve been partly replaced by the Internet. You had to take time to read the fine print and look at the images and also read what the curators had to say.

It was a trip through recent history from the angle of what would sell to the general public, what could attract attention.

There was an exhibit of camera work where artists took photos of people or places at intervals over the years was where last year we saw a marvelous exhibit of Pre-Raphaelite landscapes which taught me I had very narrow and distorted views of Pre-Raphaelitism. I watched individuals grow old, sometimes sad; places change or remain the same; one series of four sisters covered a wall – them when teenagers to them in their sixties. They looked like they loved one another, at least stayed together through many an ordeal and some happy moments (at beaches) too.

The National Gallery museum (like the Met in NYC) also practices replacing or changing around permanent exhibits so as to bring up from storage art objects they used to keep hidden in the basement. One large one (it seemed to us) was of American art: furniture, paintings, objects of all sorts (from chess sets to book holders to various instruments). Much of it from the later 18th century into the middle 19th. It was fun for me to recognize Martha Jefferson Randolph’s son (I just read Kierner and Gordon-Reed’s books). Some of the paintings were unexpected good psychological studies. I got an especial kick out of things like an early 19th century chess set.

We didn’t neglect some of our favorites of the permanent collection. Wm Turner, a turn of the 19th century landscape, some Corot, other landscape artists of the later 17th century. For example, this one with its sweet dog:

Wm Turner, Mortlake Terrace (1827)

For me the best art experience of the day was to come upon the original of Hubert Robert’s The Old Bridge, a favorite of mine, a copy of which is scotch-taped to one of the walls in my workroom — and to discover for the first time the top rung has an old woman reaching out for her tiny cat. Look again, dear reader. You see see a cat crouched on a narrow gate-looking iron. The old woman is trying to reach the poor creature, fearful it will fall.

Nowadays I see cats everywhere — and keep confirming they are in a lot of paintings.

At Christmas the National Gallery becomes a building filled with genuinely stimulating art objects, with good cafes to eat at. It’s not wildly over-crowded (like the Met). Many (but not too many) people enjoying either the exhibits and art or the flowers and furniture arrangements and music in various garden-courts. If you’re seeking some tradition, some habit to enable you to get through this winter holiday season with good memories to cling to, I advise Boxing Day at the National.

I’ll be away for 4 days, at the MLA Conference in Boston. When I come home I hope to have a lot to write about again — as Jim likes to go the modern sessions, all about the movies, is not Eurocentric, looks to understand history. He says we will go to one “unfogged” dinner of bloggers on the Net. I hope we won’t be too cold. We stay at the St Botoph’s Club, a place with a good restaurant, nice rooms, with a long tradition of having music concerts and art lectures and the like.


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A winter scene: George Bellows (1882-1925), Hudson River, A windy winter afternoon (1926)

I wish all those who come to our blog a merry merry Christmas and peaceful good year to come.

From Longfellow:

‘Christmas Bells’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
       And wild and sweet
       The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

There is no YouTube for this one but there is John Lennon’s Happy Christmas the War is over, one Christmas song I do love and wish were played in malls:


The reader may recall one of the artists whose magnificent pictures I wrote about this year George Bellows. I’ve kept up with my vow this year to try to make my blogs shorter, but gentle reader if you want more, a meditative attempt at why this can be such a fraught time see my Snow Reveries and Doing Christmas.

Monet (1840-1926), Road to the Farm, Saint Simeon, Harfleur (1867)


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Cast of Outcasts of Poker Flat (composer Andrew E. Simpson)

Dear friends and readers,

Every year I know we are well into “middle summer” when our Capital Fringe Festival begins. It’s been going for six years, and this is the fourth year we’ve attended. From July 12 to 29 from late morning to late night performing arts shows are done across DC, from plays to musical concerts, to films, solo artists to bands, in all sorts of venues, chiefly inexpensive ones (sometimes without air-conditioning where the building has been condemned). A comforting note for us occurred when Jim showed up to buy our tickets. He was first on line, and the chief woman organizer, Julianne Brienze, came out from her office, and kissed him, welcoming him by name (“Jim!”). We (Jim and I) may never have won one of these attendee awards (the Washington DC performing arts community gives out awards to the most devoted theatergoers), but we are apparently recognizable (last year we were probably an unusual spectacle of middle-aged people dancing at the last concert of the summer’s nights) and I know I recognize other hard-core audience members. Like Alan, who was second online and for $300 buys a ticket which covers all shows.

The festival began on Wednesday, but we were still in NYC so did not start until Friday evening when we went to Andrew Simpson’s The Outcasts of Poker Flat, a one hour chamber opera based on Bret Harte’s famous short story.

The story is a tragic poignant piece. Like other “classic” 19th American century texts given NYC children to read in the 1950s-60s (at least in the NYC schools I attended), Harte tells of characters traveling in the vast wilderness to find or to build some kind of new life for themselves, becoming stranded in an inclement place with no food and no shelter, and after a considerable struggle dying. (Think o f Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth which was assigned to a class I was in during 10th grade.)

What makes Harte’s different from those assigned in my school is the major characters are not the usual respectable middle class types, and they are angry and resentful at how they are treated by others. After all, they too are struggling to survive and those who pretend to more piety are just luckier. Two prostitutes, a gambler, a drunkard and thief, and the two normative lovers (innocent, meaning well, but poor) are our protagonists. Still they do betray as well as support one another. The tragedy is partly brought on by Uncle Billy, a drunkard and thief who steals their horses. Not enough food, freezing cold, successive snow storms do the trick. Harte’s story is told by the gambler, Oakhurst, who kills himself; the opera is equally divided between the characters who all have an aria (or so it seemed to me).

They called themselves The Timberline Players who do American and modern operas. The composer was at the piano dressed as a bartender-attendant (he was called “The Professor” as he is one) of the 19th century, and played with real feeling. The young singers were very good — the singing was strong and felt full and resonant. They have few costumes and props so have to convey their content through their gestures, and simply costume changes. It was a moving mesmerizing hour in a church assembly room. I liked how the characters turned to one another, and gradually it was clear there was no real difference between the women called whores and the newly married woman.

Most events are no more than one hour, and time inbetween shows is not long so you could get to see three weeks worth of shows, 5 a day.

The courtiers (chorus) with our heroine, Desiree (Julia Hardin)

On Saturday we drove to Rappahannock, Central Virginia, to Castleton Festival, to see Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, inspired by Bergman’s film, Smiles on a Summer Night. (Sondheim based his Passion also on a film rather than the 19th century novel the film was adapted from.)

If you go over to the website, you will see that the Castleton festival hosts and provides training for a group of exceptionally gifted graduate music students and everything done is by these students — except perhaps leading the orchestra, directing the productions, fund-raising and the like. For the first time I saw a real weakness in the group: it was due to the engimatic and over-the-top noble opening of the Sondheim’s, with characters modern ambitious 20 year olds may not be able to connect with. A trio is sung where the older hero wishes to be able to have sex with his wife, the young wife wants to put it off, and the man’s son sings of his anguished non-conformity. It is also true that we couldn’t hear all the singers clearly or very well, and the actors did seem embarrassed by some of the story turns (the man who cannot get his wife to have sex with him).

But by about half-way through the first act, particularly the introduction of the wry comedian, the wronged-wife, Charlotte, the opera came alive. The people in their roles started to be believable, the production began to jell around the time of the irresistible “A Weekend in the Country.” The play and characters became very moving in the second half. Not just that Sondheim’s powerful music and intelligent sophisticated lyrics carried it, but that the individual actor-singers were superb. Julia Hardin who played Desiree did “Send in the Clowns” better than anyone I’ve ever seen.

The Castleton production seemed to embrace the kindly perception that we must accept our ridiculousneses, love one another and ourselves as best we can, knowing all the while how needy, foolish, vain, frightened we all are. I liked the simple scenery of a wood with a mansion just out of sight, the Edwardian clothes (especially Charlotte’s outfits).

I wish there were many more contemporary musical plays, for it is really only contemporary art that can speak directly to us of our concerns through an adult humane perspective. Older operas often are based on pernicious ideas, celebrate the powerful and hierarchy; while not all do, and there are attempts to make the opera speak differently to us than intended, there really is nothing like Britten, Sondheim and some other of the contemporary writers of musical plays I’ve seen at Castleton and elsewhere.

We have bought for Wolf Trap Barns theater twice this summer, not to omit what we hope to see and hear during our week in Vermont in early August. We are staying in the 19th century Landmark Amos Brown house and from there will go to plays, an opera, museums and swim in a nearby lake. One lives only once.


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Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) a young husband cut off from his wife, and Anna aka Milly (Penelope Cruz), a prostitute who has substituted for her (2012 To Rome with Love)

Dear friends and readers,

This year’s Woody Allen, To Rome With Love is a pleasing film. It’s cheerful yet melancholy; we are presented with a array of artificial stereotyped couples who play musical chairs among themselves and other characters in scenes of mortification, confusion, anxiety, distress such that I was continually either uncomfortable and or worried what would happen to one or another of them. The central paradigm which repeats over and over is of a character in a situation or saying something which ought to be and is shameful which few around them recognize, and they themselves only intermittently. It seems this is a good thing too or none of us’d survive.

On a searingly hot afternoon to sit in a cool dark theater and watch his cameramen take loving shots of familiar older streets, houses, and stairs in Rome (he must have paid a lot for the Spanish steps), as these paradigms dissolve into the person coping the film manages to convey a world-weary odd relief. The situations become a kind of game, fun even (see the nerve this character has, what that character gets to do or see), and yet incident after incident seems to have roots in a curious despair. The couples all return to those they started out with because they might as well, and anyway life’s chances will surely now and then once again give give all of us an opportunity to fuck, walk, cook, eat and drink with, someone else momentarily more interesting.

Monica (Ellen Page) and Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) trying to cook up a gourmet meal together before they go off to a car to betray Sally, Jack’s live-in girlfriend and Monica’s best friend

It’s not the best Woody Allen film I’ve ever seen, and I’m not going to patiently go through the four sets of couples, two lone male confidants and wise advisor, and one lone female and whore, and their stories. Certainly it’s better than last year’s Midnight in Paris which I thought ludicrously over-praised. Like that, it’s an aging male’s wet dream. Jim often says he cannot understand how it is that when he reads many a male book or sees a male film it’s just filled with these females beautiful or not who are dying to jump into bed with all the males in sight, and when they do, are ever so ecstatically pleased. He seems to be on the wrong planet or these females are on another street from those he walks. It just never happens to him and he’s just like other males. How can this be? This is a film filled with such women. And it’s not really fun when people you are attached to are sexually or otherwise unfaithful.

The real Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) near going off to bed with the famous actor Luca Salta (Antonio Albanese) she’s just met because she got lost (her cell phone fell through a street grate)

A gesture is made to remember the depression engulfing much of the world’s people when Woody’s daughter’s fiancee, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) sticks up for the importance of unions. But mostly everyone is rich and untroubled about how to pay for anything. When Woody nags, tempts, maneuvers his prospective son-in-law’s father into singing operatically in a shower on stage in front of mass crowds at opera houses because only when he sings naked in a shower does his voice soar, there is not a smidgin of difficulty making this happen. A young architect said to be living according to idealistic goals with a female studying for a degree live in a bounteous flat on a lovely little corridor of a street with tons of free time.

Jack buying vegetables and flowers with live-in girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig)

All somehow detached. The reviews of the opera Woody puts on describe him in Italian as an “imbecile” and in character Woody reads this aloud. Because he knows no Italian he is chuffed. Allen also comments self-reflexively on his own film, its internal audiences and maybe us watching it all.

Judy Davis as Phyllis, Woody’s wry patient wife, spending life by his side

He has made some great films recently: genuinely satiric and grave ones, Vick, Christina, Barcelona and You will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. This one seems in some sequences an attempt to get back to his early films with their wacky sequences of events that don’t make logical or realistic sense but are hilarious. The spirit somehow is not high enough to make these moments come off.

John wisely advising Jack with the coliseum in the background

What’s here instead is a kind of witty wry self-dialogue. Woody is there himself and as two other men. Alec Baldwin as John plays a sold-out aging architect who has made tons of money building soulless stadiums and buildings and he takes to following our young architect, Jack, around and telling him from several points of view what a fool Jack’s making of himself, how Monica is a liar, a phony, a poser, pretending to know great literature when he knows famous lines, and when at the close of the film she deserts him without a second’s thought because a role in a play has come through Baldwin nearly says, “what did I say?” Jack returns to Sally and Alec goes back to the street corner where he and Jack first met and walks on his way.

As Leopoldo, Roberto Benigni plays a man made senselessly famous for several weeks, each of his daily doings and small acts made subjects for intense reporting, famous because he’s famous and during much of the movie seeming to try to escape the wild noisy argumentative Italian crowds, though not here

With Monica Nappo as his wife whose runs in her stockings are oo-ed over

He too has a Woody-Allen surrogate, male accompaniment who tells him when he is lonely after the world moves on: it’s better to be miserable and a celebrity than miserable and invisible (or some such words). At least then you didn’t have to wait on line.

Don’t go expecting a lot, just two hours or so of inspiriting humane entertainment. Woody is clearly for us all enjoying enjoying what there is to enjoy from life as far as we can and feels for all those mortified by the laughter and dumb applause of audiences — they, we are as imbecile as he has become. He may have put himself into the movie because he looks so feeble. The father of his prospective son-in-law whom Woody tries to rescue for an opera career is a mortician and fictional Woody keeps telling Phyllis how he has these dreams of death and she keeps saying, nonsense, nonsense lots of time left. (Still he hates “turbulence” periods in planes.) The singing mortician is wiser than his tempter and at the close of the film returns to his niche in his family group in the world.

As I say do all the characters return to where they are comfortable when they started out, e.g., the young couple leaves Rome where they had hoped for some splendid promotion. Antonio just couldn’t hack the pretenses wanted. He doesn’t like football. Anna has her compliant customers (the creme de la creme of society) waiting morning, noon, and night — as I say this is fantasy. The weakest point was the young heterosexual glamor couple, Woody’s supposed daughter, Hayley (Alison Pill) and her fiancee, Michelangelo (not Michael but Mickel) who we began with:

But they are soon put at the margins. You can almost measure the success of an Allen film by where this fatuous normative blond and her escort are in the film (they are central to Midnight in Paris and Matchpoint). I think of them as the wooden romance couple at the center of Walter Scott’s fiction and never can understand why Allen finds it necessary to pander by keeping them among the presences in his films.

When I remember back to the great films by Allen in the past (Love and Death, Stardust Memories, Purple Rose of Cairo, Annie Hall come to mind) I realize we were not bothered by this fake normativeness because Allen was the hero. He is too old now, even too old to pass as this heroine’s father, and he knows it.

I didn’t go with Izzy; she is not drawn to Allen (though she liked the Gemma Jones film). My neighbor from across the street and I have become friends and we went together. She is a woman near my age, and it did seem to me most of the people in the audience (however full) were older people. Woody is winding down and he does make a better film when he has a different type of male than himself (say Javier Bardem) or genuinely believable woman at the center.


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Gabriele Munter, Breakfast of the Birds (1934). For more images (her work continues the tradition described by Deborah Cherry)

Dear friends and readers,

Soon winter will become a mythic time and pictures of snow and frost will have to be explained: today our temperatures in the DC area reached 80 fahrenheit and we are in for repeat heat for 2 days, then soar up to the 90s, after which the heat will break on Saturday. In front of my window all the lovely daffodils Laura, Izzy and I have planted are now in bloom, and the pink tulip tree to the side of my window is beginning to shed its petals so heavy-laden is it.

This is really to remember the good time Jim and I just had this afternoon at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and recommend to others to go and see the exhibit called Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles and Other French collections. We saw some pictures we had never seen before, artists we’d never heard of and got a sense how hard it was for a woman to have a professional career: yes they did have to paint conventionally acceptable subjects, and they had to make their connections through their families (so it was important to be born or marry luckily). We saw a number of good paintings. Some landscapes had strong individual feeling; there was one of a dog I really liked; portraits, historical paintings, a husband’s studio, woman patrons who were daringly sexy. Antoinette Cecile Haudebourt-Lescot seems to have a strong presence. This one by her was not there (I did not buy the book as it was $45) but is typical of her work, contemplative, quietly sexual (her body is clearly emphasized as fecund), psychologically intense:

A woman reading (I don’t know the title)

I really liked a room devoted to showing dress-making in the “haute couture.” Celia Reyer and her assistants who had put the show of painting and sculpture together filled the room with patterns, materials, bodices, corsets, a mannekin dressed in a typical later eighteenth century outfit, and they told a little of their own careers.

Then we walked around the rest of the museum and really did spend an hour or more enjoying ourselves. We had not been for a while so there were some new works to see; some works had been brought up from “the basement” (or wherever they keep excess) and replaced ones we were familiar with.

A lush and deeply sensual one we had not seen before by Constance Mayer, 1775-1821 (known as a pupil of Prud’hon

Some were placed in better spots; we got into a conference room where the curators keep some of their favorites, one American one of a woman painter painting her sister and the sister’s dog, later 19th century, exquisitely lit and realistic surface. Alas I didn’t take down the title of the painting or name of the artist, so put this one by another American artist we did see that I liked equally:

Mary Nimmo Moran (1842-99), The Haunt of the Muskrat, East Hampton (1884, etching on cream parchment)

Moran’s techniques of foliage and landscape, the background use & knowledge of Dutch landscape, using unconventional proportions she creates haunting scenes.

We saw one exhibit of unreal glittering gowns and shoes said to have been inspired by Princess Grace of Monaco. Jim said it had a strong feel of “gay” aesthetics.

We spent some fun time in the shop too: we looked into books and I bought a book about the museum with samples of the permanent collection. On sale for $20, it enabled me to feel I was contributing something beyond the entrance fee. The museum has far more paintings by Remedios Varos than I thought they had, and Jim and I spent time reading and looking at the pictures in Surreal Friends — he could see more there, as well as images by Leonora Carrington. One learns by reading books with such reprints and information and insights. I may yet buy that book if I can find it on the Net.

Our interlude away from our usual activities, work, routine, was not yet finished.

We walked uptown for about 10 long blocks and over two avenue blocks to reach the West End Cinema where we planned to see (and hear) an HD opera from the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden: Massenet’s Cendrillon (Cinderella). It has the marvelous singer who sang Sycorax in Enchanted Island from the Met last month: Joyce DiDonato. (The opera itself left a lot to be desired, hard comedy with offensive typologies that amused some in the audience. Oh well, one can’t have everything: the music had this minor key mysterious feel.) On the way there we stopped off to eat out and drink at an attractive friendly pub and the meal was good. At the movie house I got into some friendly talk with people like ourselves (retired) who told me about courses in opera and other subjects at American University for $200 for 3 for retired people. Maybe we’ll look into it.

There are many museums in DC and we told ourselves we don’t go enough to them and would try some we’ve not yet been to and keep our eyes for shows on in those we have.


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