Movement is near to nature—as a bird flying—and it is the spoken word which is embarrassing. The voice is so revealing, it becomes an artificial thing, reducing everybody to a certain glibness, to an unreality. Pantomime to me is an expression of poetry, comic poetry. I knew that in talking pictures I would lose a lot of eloquence.
I love that line. I don’t entirely agree with Charlie Chaplin (I’m a word person, after all), but it is truer than I would like that words—even the right words—often are inadequate. An image, a gesture, a silence often means more than words ever could.
To demonstrate the point, I give you Wall-E, Pixar’s latest animated gem and, according to many, the studio’s masterpiece. It is, indeed, a gorgeous movie, one destined for a cherished spot in my DVD collection, but I don’t think it’s as perfect as its most passionate fans believe, and I’d even guess (with unforgivable arrogance) that Chaplin would agree with me. The wordless passages—the opening act, the zero-gravity robot ballet, the poignant history-of-art epilogue over the closing credits—are just as profoundly beautiful as everyone says, but whenever dialogue enters the picture, the movie dips from greatness to goodness. The words aren’t bad (though they do veer toward the heavy-handed), but they simply can’t compete with the poetry of pantomime and suffer by comparison. In this instance, at least, Chaplin was right.
JVC Jazz Festival at Le Poisson Rouge on Friday, June 27.
I don’t know anything about jazz. I mean, I can recite the requisite list of icons—Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and, um, other people who aren’t dead yet—but I’ve never studied jazz or even listened to it much. I feel so out of my element here that I tried to convince myself I needn’t write about this concert at all, but that would go against my personal Code of Blogging (really!), and besides, it was an amazing experience, one that I want to remember, so it would do me good to try to articulate what I got out of it. So here goes:
The New York City Ballet on Tuesday, June 24.
The lyrics to “At the Ballet” from A Chorus Line (“Everything was beautiful at the ballet / Graceful men life lovely girls in white …”) make me think of works like Balanchine’s “Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet.” Sure, the costume colors tend more toward peaches than cream, but “Quartet” presents exactly the kind of unabashed, innocent sweetness that the song so wistfully celebrates. Charmingly pretty and traditional, it is all pirouettes and arabesques and pink tulle tutus.
It was fun to see that juxtaposed against “Prodigal Son,” a completely different Balanchine ballet in which the dancers tend to creep about with their feet wide apart and the prima ballerina, Siren, spends a great deal of time wrapping a long velvet train between her legs in a suggestive but distinctly unladylike manner. The contrast is striking—in the steps, in the dancers’ physical bearing, in the costume style—but both works are a joy to watch.
Burn Notice, Kitchen Confidential, and House.
I hardly ever watch TV on TV anymore. Even with a digital video recorder, sitting down in front of the TV to watch something seems so inflexible and archaic. If it’s not available online—either on Hulu or some other site—keeping up with it is too much bother. (I stopped watching Gossip Girl when it was no longer available on the Internet, and the ratings would suggest that I wasn’t the only one. Poor move, CW.) Besides, the Internet provides so much more variety, plus instant gratification. Here are another few shows I never would have seen were it not for the glories of the World Wide Web.
The New York City Ballet on Thursday, June 13.
One of my all-time favorite albums—of any genre—is Five Tango Sensations, composed by Ástor Piazzolla and performed by the bandoneón master himself with the Kronos Quartet. It’s a dazzlingly rich, textured composition (one often hears the analogy that Piazzolla did for the tango what Chopin did for the polonaise), and it showcases just how expressive and evocative the bandoneón, a relative of the accordion, can be. To me, that was a wonderful surprise.
Bruno Moretti’s accordion-centric score for “Oltremare,” one of the works included in the City Ballet’s Here and Now program, doesn’t have quite the same passion as Piazzolla’s work, but it, too, makes vivid use of its distinctive solo instrument. Mauro Bigonzetti’s choreography isn’t particularly remarkable, but Moretti’s music makes “Oltremare” memorable nonetheless, and it made me think about how important music is to the success of dance.
I’d forgotten that parody could be this sharp, this smart. Too many movie parodies are like Scary Movie, Not Another Teen Movie, and their ilk: cheap, junky, kitchen-sink productions that throw countless dumb gags and are lucky to hit their target one out of ten times. Hot Fuzz is much more targeted and infinitely funnier. A witty, well-observed, affectionate rib on action movies, it expertly cracks wise on the characters, the situations, and even the camerawork of the genre, and the cumulative effect of all those perfect details makes Hot Fuzz a riot.
Special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through September 1.
Having sat through all four hours and seven minutes of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies once, I don’t feel the need to do so again, but when they show up on TV, I like to drop in and catch my favorite scenes. The Bride’s battle with O-Ren Ishii. Her escape from the wooden coffin to the strains of Ennio Morricone. And, of course, the final sequence with Bill, particularly Bill’s monologue about Superman. I love that monologue. The gist is that Superman is the only superhero whose true identity is, in fact, that of a superhero. Unlike Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker and their compatriots—all of whom must wear superheroic costumes to disguise their true, vulnerable selves—Superman must wear a costume to disguise his true, superheroic self. Bill argues that the “Clark Kent” costume represents Superman’s critique of humanity: Clark is weak and uncertain and cowardly, and that is how Superman sees us.
Delivered by David Carradine, it’s a brilliant monologue. Extrapolating from the Superman/Clark Kent theory helps the movies back away from some queasily anti-feminist, essentialist thinking, which is cool, and on a broader level, the monologue gets at some interesting ideas about identity and costume: what costumes disguise, what they reveal, and who we become when we wear them. It’s a rich vein to mine, which is why the Met’s special exhibit on superhero-inspired fashion is surprisingly thought-provoking. It, too, is concerned with identity and costume and transformation. Bill would feel right at home.
To be blunt, The Fall is a failure. It doesn’t achieve the epic grandeur to which co-writer/director Tarsem clearly aspires. Its emotional arc is incoherent, its climax is muddled, and its conclusion is weirdly off-point. And yet few failures are so interesting, so visually hypnotic that one can dismiss the story entirely and treat the movie as a travelogue across a dreamscape. I can’t recommend The Fall, but I can’t regret seeing it either.