Review Of “Scenes From A Marriage,” via The New York Theatre Workshop

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Ingmar Bergman's Scenes From A Marriage (1972). (c) Criterion

Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage (1972). (c) Criterion

Yesterday afternoon, I was at the New York Theatre Workshop’s performance of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage (trans. Emily Mann), which boasts a run-time similar to the original film’s. This makes sense, as Scenes is a film that naturally lends itself to theater: it mostly takes place in simple interiors, focuses on long, involved scenes — often involving just 2 characters — and draws much of its power from the gestures, expressions, body language, and intonations that, alongside the great writing, really drives the narrative forward. No, it is not superficially dependent upon its visuals (like many purportedly ‘visual’ films are), but there was as much in Liv Ullman and Erland Josephson’s expressiveness as in, say, an Antonioni landscape, that gave Scenes From A Marriage a depth that lesser actors would have merely occluded.

Ivo van Hove‘s play, however, is not the film, and judging the play for what it’s NOT would be a critical faux pas from which there is simply no return. So, what is it, exactly, and what is its relationship with Bergman? Well, it takes many of the film’s key scenes — the discovery of Johan’s infidelity, the dinner with Peter and Katarina, Marianne’s pregnancy, and a few others — and splits them out of order, into an arbitrary sequence played by a revolving door of actors. For the first 2 hours, these scenes play out simultaneously to smaller groups, which are separated by a couple of thin walls through which the music, shouting, and action of earlier/later scenes is still audible. The viewers witness whichever scene they happened to have sat down to, and move every 30-40 minutes to a new scene while the others re-play for new audience members. This goes on until the intermission, after which all the lead actors come together, as 3 Johan/Marianne duos, to act out the next part simultaneously, first taking turns with lines before climaxing into a rumble (as per the film’s divorce scene) that has everyone merely shouting at one another in an odd, anomic scene that left at least a few audience members frustrated and aghast.

Some of this works because, instead of merely aping Bergman, it clarifies, in its own way, a central posit of the original film: that Johan and Marianne are not merely a unique couple going through unique problems, but despite being very real and ‘particular,’ themselves, are representative of many similar relationships, which thrive and die according to the same patterns — details be damned! The play does this by using different actors and actresses for each scene, making the viewer viscerally feel that these are ALL different couples, with the verbiage and action coming from next door almost like similar fights that might be going on elsewhere, and perpetually. The scenes, too, are split in a way that — despite the re-use of the leads’ fictive names — there is little real continuity from one scene to the … Continue reading →

Recipe: Swordfish, Pasta, & Carrot Cake

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Swordfish pasta

Swordfish on whole wheat spaghetti, with a red sauce.

Carrot cake sounds moist.

Carrot cake sounds moist.

Last week, my wife and I had our grandparents over, and so I spent much of the day cooking. Recently, we went to one of those ‘junk-food’ Italian places, wherein the menu is primarily lasagna, fried/breaded cutlets, thick sauces, and lots of salt. Can’t say that it was bad — it was junk, after all — but I’ve slowly, mechanically, been improving my pasta dishes for a number of years, now, usually cooking them once a week or so, trying to polish them every time. It’s taken a lot of forms: pasta and broccoli in a red sauce (which was my mainstay for a while), experiments with pasta and potato (sucked!), the use and mis-use of various greens, tomato varieties, oils, and, of course, different pasta brands.

Since I strictly eat whole grains, it is hard to find a whole wheat pasta that is firm, dry, and not too overpowering. Supermarket brands are no good, so I’ve experimented both with cheap and artisan pastas. Bionaturae is good, but not worth the cost. Garofalo is hands down the best, and better than most white pastas, but too expensive for anything but special occasions. Yet the lowly Trader Joe’s brand pasta is just a little over $1, rivals Bionaturae in taste, and — if cooked right — indistinguishable from white.

For my grandmothers’ visit, it was best to keep things simple. They’re old, and have a bland palate, while I’ve settled, over time, on a recipe that calls for thin shiitake mushrooms (as opposed to the meaty ones in Chinatown and Flushing), a pound or two of tomatoes, a pound of turkey sausage, half a pound of mixed green leaves (chard, spinach, and kale), half a pound of fresh basil, a large onion, a few heads of garlic, two or three tri-color peppers, parmesan/romano, raw butter, olive oil, black pepper, pink Himalayan salt, and half a jar of Trader Joe’s basil marinara. The shiitake, in particular, imparts an MSG or ‘umami’ flavor to the dish that mixes nicely with the rest, but not for THIS little dinner party. So, I just dumped a jar of the basil marinara into a pan, added 20-30 chopped garlic cloves, some lemon, butter, cheese, basil, mixed leaves, and olive oil, mixed the result with the spaghetti, then apportioned the remaining sauce on 4 grilled swordfish steaks. Grandmas love mushrooms, so I grilled that on the side.  The recipe is as follows. Serves 4:

Pasta & Swordfish Recipe (Serves 4):

  • 1 box of Trader Joe’s whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 jar of Trader Joe’s Tomato Basil Marinara
  • 1 bag of Trader Joe’s “Power Greens” (baby spinach, kale, and chard)
  • 4 swordfish fillets
  • 1 bunch of fresh basil, chopped
  • 3-4 heads of garlic (20-30 cloves), chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons of rice brain oil
  • 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 oz of grated parm/romano
  • 3 lemons; 2 squeezed into sauce, 1 squeezed over fish
  • salt,
Continue reading →

Review: Charles Feldman’s “Casino Royale” (1967), via BlogCritics.

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Charles Feldman Casino Royale

Casino Royale (1967), a cult classic that started…something.

The 1967 James Bond spoof, Casino Royale, has been on my mind ever since a discussion with Dan Schneider a few weeks ago, wherein he pointed out some of the film’s positives. I wouldn’t exactly call it a good film, for a number of reasons. Suffice to say that, for a comedy, it’s often short on jokes, and (even when they do appear) they are marred by poor timing, or convoluted scenes that can absolutely KILL comedic writing far quicker than they might action, as James Bond films are.

Yet despite these issues, it does many things that the Bond films would have never been able to imagine in the 1960s, given how limited they were by their own genre and reflexivity. I mean, what did they REALLY have to point to — more action, and the same old tropes, within? By contrast, Casino Royale tried more, even if, overall, it was successful at less. For instance, the film frequently uses anti-symbols instead of symbols, there are visual sequences — such as with Evelyn’s hallucinations, Evelyn’s first time in Vesper Lynd’s apartment, the odd yet really effective opening with the singing children — that point to deeper aims, as well as filmic techniques (especially its meta-fiction) that add layers to the work. No, it doesn’t mean that the film sums up to anything great, but at the very least, it is ambitious, and a good prototype for the sort of postmodern styles in film that came in vogue in the 1990s.

Too often, Casino Royale has merely been condemned, but while I partly agree with these judgments, it’s almost become a cliche to call it “messy” and “convoluted,” for it’s so obviously those things. So, I’ve decided to focus on things beyond evaluation because it’s not only interesting culturally, but presages — for good or ill! — the sort of high-budget, small-payoff, multi-actor films that would eventually become so popular.

It is also one of Woody’s first ‘major’ acting gigs — despite the fact that he appears for a few minutes, tops, and given his own much more disciplined work ethic, absolutely hated the time spent on it, and has not, to my knowledge, ever seen it.

You can find my in-depth review here, via Blogcritics.… Continue reading →

Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Fall Of The Rebel Angels”

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Hieronymous Bosch's The Fall Of The Rebel Angels, 1500-1504.

Hieronymus Bosch’s The Fall Of The Rebel Angels, 1500-1504.

I’ve been a fan of Hieronymus Bosch for some time now, but have never really given him my public due. That will change as I plan to discuss at least a few of his paintings at some point, but suffice to say that I consider him one of the first truly great painters — greater, in some respects, than even some of the best-known painters of the High Renaissance, with whom he was contemporaneous. That is because while Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael were still at times stuck in the ancient Christian world of Old Rome, replete with its rote symbolism, simple — even twee! — tales, and predictable figuration, Bosch had turned to an unlikely, even contrarian, source: that of medieval art, with its clunky figures, simple landscapes, and other elements that, in lesser hands, stifled Western art of any real potential for many centuries.

This is because, under most circumstances, medieval art was simply flat. There was, on the one hand, no real technical merit, and on the other, no real idea, either. Bosch, however, was able to reach a compromise of his own making. Technical excellence, he likely realized, meant nothing without some intellectual heft, some deeper ‘trap’ or allure that would make mere technique absolutely REAL to the observer. So, forget the new standards of painting for a second, forget some of the better rules of perspective, and forget some of the repetitions, as well as the aesthetic demand for ‘beauty’. The more relevant thing, he instinctively thought, was not ‘beauty’ — which is always a tool or a preference, as opposed to an inherent good or depth — but COMMUNICATION. And not just communication, mind, but deeper communication, which might, in the right circumstances, involve less technically accomplished figuration, or colors and ideas that were presently out of vogue. Yet, in exchange, one would get a deeper look at the sorts of things the more popular painters were trying to do, via techniques that, while less showy, complemented the subject matter in a way that was not only richer, but more relevant to art in the long-term sense. Say what you will of the technical excellence required for the best Leonardo, or the greatest Michelangelo, but these are painters that have dated in a way that Bosch has not.

In fact, if one were to draw a line from the Italian Renaissance to modernity, the Renaissance painters would clearly be a kind of blueprint for the greater things to come. After all, who is Francis Bacon, Picasso, or Van Gogh more indebted to: the ideas (if not the artist) of Bosch, who revealed a more fractal sense of what art could be, or of the polish and re-polish of the Masters? Hell, even Caravaggio, who seems to be a direct descendant of Michelangelo, is only superficially of ‘that’ world. His ideas are just so completely different, and — even more … Continue reading →

Wallace Stevens: “A Rabbit As King Of The Ghosts”

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Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens, in full. (c) Amazon.com

[Listen to my reading of the poem here.]

Wallace Stevens is not only one of the 5 or 6 greatest poets to have ever lived, but — after years of being nigh-impenetrable to me, as a teenager — has become one of my favorites, too. He can be beautiful without emotion, and he can be emotional with nothing but an intellectual base. Too often, such things are treated as mutually exclusive, when in fact, one can simply be a route to the other, with Stevens’s choice of ‘intellect first’ generating some interesting effects. After all, if you erase emotion — at least in the literal sense — yet still write in a way that the reader utterly wallows in it, what does this say except that the intellect is, paradoxically, one way into the heart? (And I’d argue it’s the superior route.)

No, I wouldn’t go as far as calling Wallace Stevens a “dead end” in poetry (as Emily Dickinson was, or parts of Gerard Manley Hopkins and William Blake were), but prior to Wallace Stevens’s ascent, there were few that resembled him, at least in this regard. At best, there were prototypes — perhaps in some of the direct treatment of the Chinese classical writers, some parts of Ezra Pound, something of Yeats in mid-line, or Rainer Maria Rilke, who might in fact be the closest to him of all great contemporaneous writers. Yet Stevens still reads like an aberration, and MANY writers of the last few decades have tried to emulate him. I know, because whenever I open a given poetry book — usually forgotten after a few years’ time — there are the inevitable Stevens rip-offs, since many assume that merely writing ABOUT ideas (as Stevens did) is the same as writing about them WELL (which few ever do). In such cases, jargon takes place of real language, and broken prose for genuine music, since it is those things that, unfortunately, are presently associated with ideational heft.

Yet here’s an example of the above done right, and how emotion can come in roundabout ways, even when dealing with topics that, at first glance, seem to have no real connection with human experience:

A Rabbit As King Of The Ghosts

*from Parts Of A World (1942)

The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur —

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten on the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light,
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is … Continue reading →