Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Open Source Art

Open Source Art
There is a very cool Brooklyn Based piece on the Open Source Gallery, where I worked in 2008 and am about to work again in April. I still don't understand how Monika and Gary find the energy to run a gallery on top of everything else in their lives, but I'm glad that they do.

Another Interesting Thing

What would I do without Irish Central feeding me material? From their February 5th digest, British Pathe has put literally thousands of hours of newsreel footage on their website, which you can watch for free!
There's footage of Michael Collins (he does look like a big fella in the still, doesn't he?), Sinn Feiners in "concentration camps" in 1920 (looking remarkably like German POW camps in the '40s), President and Mrs. Wilson, JFK in Ireland- too much to describe here. Link above.

A Mayor Who Wasn't the Richest Man in Town

In my New Yorker rootings, I came across a mayor I knew nothing about in a Talk of the Town piece in the March 2, 1946 issue. William O'Dwyer was the 100th mayor of New York City. He was not born in the U.S. (nor was the mayor who came after: Vincent Impelliteri) was born in Sicily, but in Bohola, County Mayo. (I have heard the county referred to as "County Mayo God help us," as if it's all one thought.) After our last few mayors, it's hard for me to imagine that. The New Yorker piece describes Mayo's residents as including St. Patrick, Grace O'Malley (aka The Pirate Queen) and Oscar Wilde.
O'Dwyer succeeded LaGuardia as mayor. He and his wife lived in a double house in Bay Ridge in the 70s. One Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, Tom and I went to find the house. It looks exactly as the magazine described it: brick and faux Tudor. There was no indication that a mayor or anyone else of note had ever lived there. After O'Dwyer was elected to his second term, the Kings County D.A. (where O'Dwyer had worked before he was mayor) uncovered a scandal in the police department that was so bad that O'Dwyer resigned less than a year into his second term.
Photo credit: nyc.gov

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An Interesting Thing

A few weeks ago, I'd been reading Rebecca West's essays about the trial of William Joyce. He was one of the men known as Lord Haw Haw, who broadcast Axis propaganda from Berlin to England during World War II. I'd always thought he was an intriguing character (what makes someone turn to treason?). Then a week later, there was an item on Irish Central about BBC Radio putting large chunks of their archives online. If you click on the link above, you can hear several of William Joyce's broadcasts. They are much shorter than I'd realized, and his voice isn't at all what I'd expected.
Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Most Important American Plays

A few months ago, my playwright friend Elaine Romero told me about a friend of hers, John Moore, who was doing a survey among theatre people to see what they thought the most important American plays were, for The Denver Post. The plays had to be ranked, 1 through 10. I passed this onto some other theatre friends, as I'm sure many of the respondents did.
This was a really difficult exercise. Because it wasn't what plays you like most, or are the most emotionally affected by, but which you think are "most important," starting in 1776 to the present day. Is Fashion by Anna Mowatt important because it's the first play by an American woman? Is Here We Are by Dorothy Parker important just because I think it's nearly flawless, though it's adapted from a short story and it's only one-act? Is "Death of a Salesman" important because it's thought to be Miller's iconic play, even though I've never been that wild about it? I also wonder if some of it has to do with age; not so much old vs. young, but when I was in college the young-ish playwrights writing in English who we really looked up to were Sam Shepherd and John Guare, and to a lesser extent Jean-Claude van Itallie. Albee was different- there was no question that he was already in the canon.
The link to the survey is above. I can tell you that the top ten most important plays on that list that were not on mine (I can't find mine at the moment) were Death of a Salesman, A Raisin in the Sun and The Crucible. The plays I remember really wrestling with myself about including were The Curse of the Starving Class, The Little Foxes, and You Can't Take It With You (there are no comedies on the top ten list).

Victor Klemperer

For the past month, I have spent a lot of time with three volumes of Victor Klemperer's diaries: I Will Bear Witness, To the Bitter End and The Lesser Evil. These cover his life from Hitler's rise to power in 1933 to Klemperer's death in 1960. I finished reading the last volume on the subway this afternoon. As I've begun wading through the endnotes, I see that there is another volume of the diaries about Klemperer's early life, but it hasn't been translated into English yet.
There is one (1) reference to the beloved character actor Werner Klemperer, who was Victor's first cousin's (the orchestra conductor Otto Klemperer's son, described as "an actor in New York." He was in a show a friend of mine directed fifteen years ago, and I got to meet him. She had a bad cold at the time, and he was pushing chicken soup on her. It was all very familiar and German to me, and he sounded remarkably like my maternal grandmother. The diaries in the 1930s until 1945 are full of details about what it was like to be a Jew in Germany under Hitler (despite the fact that Klemperer had been baptized a Protestant before World War I, and that he'd served in the German Imperial Army). He survived because of his "Aryan" wife, Eva Schlemmer. He details so much angst and fear, so much time spent trying to get food (ration cards, long queues, shortages, etc.), and his heroic efforts to keep up his scholarly work (he was a professor of French literature) and these very diaries.
After the end of World War II, Klemperer regained his professorship in Dresden, and other appointments in Halle, Berlin and Greifswald. His wife died, and he married one of his students. Klemperer cast his lot with the GDR, not West Germany, because of his fear of the resurgence of Nazism and the unchecked capitalism of the West. To me, the saddest part of The Lesser Evil (the last volume), is one of the last entries in 1959 where he admits that he finally sees through the sham of democracy in the GDR, and if it wasn't for his concerns about his wife being adequately provided for after his death (he would be dead in less than six months), he would renounce every bit of it.

The Fountainhead

Ayn Rand and her novels are not really my thing, and, yes, I have read them. But they are sort of my boyfriend's thing, and in the spirit of Valentine's Day, I gave him a DVD of the movie of "The Fountainhead," which we watched on Saturday night. Rand wrote the screenplay, which is quite talk-y, even for 1949, and I'm afraid I didn't find Gary Cooper as Howard Roark that compelling. That said, there are wonderful things about it. Patricia Neal, as Dominique Francon, is so young as to be almost unrecognizable. She looks gorgeous, as I'm certain she was supposed to, and wears lovely clothes beautifully. Raymond Massey is more ebullient than I've ever seen him, playing a Hearst-like newspaper publisher who marries Neal.
But among my favorite elements were Max Steiner's score; the clothes (there's no costume designer listed on IMDB); and the cinematography by Robert Burks (who went on to work with Hitchcock beginning with "Strangers on a Train"); fantastic use of shadows and line- looks very expressionistic in some places. There are also great shots of Manhattan that are used for window views: two that stick in my mind are just south of the Pulitzer building on Park Row, looking uptown for Massey's office, and Central Park South looking west, as the site of Roark's forward-thinking apartment house. Also the art direction by Edward Carrere is just right; he also designed "White Heat" and "The Sweet Smell of Success."