Monday, August 10, 2009

In Production

My dear readers (if, indeed, I even have any readers),

My usual neglect is ever-so-slightly excused by my being rather consumed/subsumed by the incubation of the Roth progeny for the past five months. The last four of those months have been rather unpleasantly nauseating, but things seem to be looking up now. I have, apparently, been harbouring a little boy, who will hopefully make his post-womb debut in December with the requisite limbs and organs. We plan to call him Owen.

I will resume some ballet postings quite soon...

Mrs. Lily Roth

Monday, December 22, 2008

Golden Girls

I'm afraid, Gentle readers, that if you were hoping for any sort of continuity, timeliness or coherence, that you have come to the wrong blog. However, I do mean to rectify my unwonted silence and to begin reviewing, at random, some of London's cultural delights as sampled by myself in the past year and a half.
One of my dear friends, Mr. G_______, works at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. This is a splendid edifice, and their opera and dance schedules are gratifyingly full of things that I am happy to see. My impecunious state, however, means that I am dependent upon discounts, which Mr. G__________ generously provides me when he is able to. This does mean that the more popular shows, like the recent Don Giovanni are usually not available to me. However, I have been very fortunate this year.

I had never hitherto considered Beethoven as a composer of operas, but when I had the chance to see Fidelio, his only opera, I was consumed with curiosity. The plot, for the most part, does not depart from the standard operatic tragedy, with the notable exception of a happy ending! Leonore, heroically loyal and devoted wife to political prisoner Florestan, disguises herself as a man, the eponymous "Fidelio", to remain close to her husband and to effect his rescue. My choir director Mr. B______, declares Fidelio to be one of the finest operas ever written and believes its music to be sublime. Wikipedia declares the principal parts to be extremely demanding. I can well believe both of these assertions and yet I did not find it to be compelling viewing. Perhaps it was the underlying sadness of the prisoners and the pathos of the deluded girl (Marzelline, the gaoler's daughter, pathetically and uselessly in love with 'Fidelio'/Leonore), but despite the happy ending, with husband reunited with heroic wife and the evil governor dragged away in chains, the opera left me cold and unsatisfied. The woman playing Marzelline, whoever she was (I am far too cheap to purchase a programme), deserves a special mention here, not only for her lovely contralto, but also for the real sense of loss and devastation that she conveys in the final scene, delicately shrinking in horror from the joyful, triumphant embrace of her one-time lover who has reclaimed her now that 'Fidelio' has proven to be a woman. As everyone around her loudly rejoices, her silent despair was the only thing that truly moved me.

The second opera I saw at the Royal Opera House this year had a similarly happy ending. What?! I thought, another happy ending? This will never do. I shall have to watch Tosca or La Boheme or Madama Butterfly to make up for this tumult of joy. This one was Puccini's lesser known "western" opera, La fanciulla del West. I do not know if opera aficianados care much about the settings of their operas, but I think the western is, in many ways, oddly unsuited to the opera genre. There was something almost inexpressibly droll about a bunch of rough, American gold miners trooping into a bar and singing paeans to their beloved barmaid, Minnie, in Italian. "MEEN-IE!" They sang, lustily, "MEEN-IE!!!" (I was irresistably reminded of Erik Rhode's inimitable Italian caricature, "Alberto Beddini" in the Rogers/Astaire flick Top Hat...a childhood favourite of mine). With difficulty, I suppressed a giggle. The unintentional hilarity continues as the noble heroine betrays some ignoble impulses as she ruthlessly casts her maid, the improbably (if hysterically) named "Wowkle" (refreshingly tactlessly and inaccurately referred to as an "Indian squaw") out into a blinding blizzard. On a mountain, miles away from any shelter. With her baby. So that Minnie can keep a romantic assignation with the outlaw she's predictably fallen in love with. Really, I couldn't entirely suppress my mirth at this pretty piece of cruelty. And Minnie so noble, too!

The third piece I saw at the ROH, was based on an opera, Manon Lescaut, and is a melancholy, beautiful ballet choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan. Manon has the distinction of being the only ballet I know of that takes place (at least in part) in the swamps of Louisiana. As a native Louisianian, I cannot help but be pleased by this, although the eponymous heroine is far from glad to be cast adrift in the murky bayous, deported from France as a woman of ill-repute. Manon was beautifully produced, with a pervasive air of decaying grandeur and faded opulence. Manon herself is an appealing waif, even if her transformation from shyly beguiling innocent to slyly seductive coquette seems somewhat abrupt and unconvincing, her allure is undeniable. The two men most involved in her torturous path towards destruction provide a study in contrasts. Noble, impecunious student Des Grieux, whose loyalty towards the doomed Manon is as pure as his passion, was depicted with passionate intensity by a large, fair dancer. Wily Lescaux, Manon's calculating, venal cousin, was portrayed with virile menace by a brooding dancer whose dark, saturnine looks served as a vividly natural foil to the angelically fair Des Grieux. Lescaux's sudden death, at the hands of Manon's previously foppish sugar-daddy, is startling, especially as the latter stands over the dying Lescaux cackling silently in a ballet-pantomime of fiendish glee. The transportation scene, with scores of frail child-women being abused and degraded by the heartless authorities, was all too real, emphasising that it doesn't take much imagination to see the painfully thin ballerinas as starving, defeated women. If the final scene, in the Louisiana bayou, is confusing to anyone who is not familiar with the story, I derived a special pleasure from remembering my own explorations, in the misty past of my youth, of the bayou. A more miserable place to expire is hard to imagine. As with operatic heroines, singing their consumptive lungs out, Manon's death is at least beautifully choreographed. What a lovely ballet.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Passion of the Plum

Gentle Readers,

Some time in the misty past, Mr. Roth and I (when we had the wondrous Netflix in the far off land of AZ) embarked upon a Jesus-themed film fest. Mr. Roth had been rashly reading biographies of Jesus. His sometime mentor, appropriately named Angel, once warned me that Mr. Roth was perilously close to entering the seminary, but I don't think that my atheist spouse is in any imminent danger of entering the priesthood. Besides, I don't think either of us is suited to celibacy.

Surprisingly, I really liked Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004). Please do not misunderstand me, my dear readers, I have yet to forgive Mr. Gibson for the travesty popularly known as Braveheart (1995). Someday, when I'm feeling especially vituperative, I shall tell you all about the depth of my feelings on this film. Suffice it to say that my favourite part was the quartering of "Wallace", who might have been called "Bubba" for all the resemblance he bore to the historical subject of the piece. It is always fun to see Mel being tortured, although this pleasure is mitigated by the obvious enjoyment Mr. Gibson derives from his pseudo-torture. Notwithstanding his previous willful and wanton celluloid crime against humanity, I have to admit that the arrogant ass did a good job with this one. The languages were particularly pleasing to us; even I understood most of the Italianate Latin spoken (and my Latin is scanty and medieval besides). Mr. Roth could understand some of the Aramaic too.

Before you ask, yes, there is a great deal of torture in the film. This didn't bother Mr. Roth, an acknowledged sadist. He was inclined to view the violent torture as a positive attribute. I am fairly squeamish about visceral sorts of violence, but after all, Christ's suffering was rather the point of the whole endeavor, so I thought it was appropriate. I also didn't quite see the furor about the film's alleged anti-Semitism. (Gibson himself may be a bigoted, sexist ass, but that doesn't mean his film has to be tarred with the same idiotic brush). Every character in the film, apart from the Romans (some of whom enjoyed the torture just a tad too much), was Jewish. Like all people, some were good, some were bad, some were indifferent. It was a little difficult and puzzling to me that the film should, as a whole, be seen as anti-Semetic when Jesus, the apostles and various kind strangers (including Veronica, whom I was very glad to see included in the film) were also Jewish. Pilate was let off the hook to a certain extent, but after all, a provincial Roman governor is hardly likely to be keen on getting involved with a non-political religious figure. Some debate, also, was shown amongst the Jewish Elders, so it is not a simple or one-sided portrait. Besides, from what I understand of Christian theology, no mere mortal is really responsible for the "killing" of Christ. The central premise is that God's son had to choose to die...that it was necessary for him to die in order to grant humankind a new covenant with God. Without this ultimate sacrifice, there could be no new Covenant between God and man. In these terms, all of the human protagonists (the unfortunate Judas is especially moving here) are merely instruments of God's will. (It might be argued that Christianity, as a religion and inherently, is anti-Semetic…the child turning against its' parent so to speak…but that is an argument which will not be explored here or by me).


I also rather enjoyed a "New Yawker" Christ in Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). Please let me begin by ameliorating my criticisms with the observation that I generally admire both Willem Defoe (Jesus) and Harvey Keitel (Judas) in their other films. However, they are both rather amusingly led astray by a very odd, disjointed storyline and sometimes unintentionally hilarious dialogue.

I'm afraid that I am not inclined to make any excuse for Barbara Hershey's sexy, but rather ridiculous Mary Magdalene. She is not a favourite actress of mine. (Incidentally, I cannot understand why no one has yet made a revisionist film with Mary Magdalene as a fully fledged disciple; a church leader not a lowly prostitute. It is rather surprising with the taste for revisionist stuff and if many would consider it blasphemy, many would doubtless welcome it. My own grandfather, a southern Baptist minister, was extremely offended by the notion that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute and would gladly whip out his Greek New Testament to vehemently argue his point).

I was not offended by the "last temptation". To clarify; I was not offended by its oft-alleged blasphemy. I was, however, offended by its rank stupidity. It was monstrously condescending to both the audience and the protagonist, who is supposed to have been stupid enough to be taken in by an "angel" who was so obviously demonic that it ought to have been wearing little pointy red horns and wagging a forked tail.


We also watched Zefferelli's Jesus of Nazareth (1977). I remember vaguely watching this with my mother and sister when I was a child. I was already a big fan of the beautiful Olivia Hussey (Mary, the mother of Jesus), who had previously starred in Zefferelli's Romeo and Juliet. The cast is stellar (including the magnificent Ian Holm, one of my absolute favourite actors in a small role, the talented Rod Steiger as Pontius Pilate and a passionate Michael York as John the Baptist) and it is well-produced but somehow rather stiff and distant from its central character. It isn't that Robert Powell (who plays Christ) isn't good. If find him a very believable Jesus Christ, but he is also somewhat ethereal, which is very effective for certain scenes but less effective for others. The astonishingly good cast, including James Earl Jones, Christopher Plummer, Ian Shane, Donald Pleasance, Laurence Olivier, Anne Bancroft, James Mason, Anthony Quinn, Ralph Richardson, Peter Ustinov, Stacy Keach are reason enough to give the mini-series a look. The look and feel is much more genuine than so many of the earlier adaptations of Jesus's life.


Speaking of earlier adaptations, Mr. Roth and I were astonished and amused to discover that Jesus, contrary to popular belief, actually lived in the picturesque, Sonoran deserts of Arizona, in The Greatest Story ever Told (1965). Although I adore Max von Sydow (yes, even in Judge Dredd), his English language debut was less than stellar. The Jesus-dark hair didn't suit him and the whole film was more a series of artistic tableux than a movie (not that this was seen as a disadvantage by Mr. Roth).

Like Zefferelli's Jesus of Nazareth, the film does have an enviable cast; including Jose Ferrer as Herod Antipas, Dorothy McGuire as the Virgin Mary, Martin Landau as Caiaphas, David McCallum as Judas Iscariot and a host of other big names in very small parts (Sidney Poitier as Simon of Cyrene, Roddy MacDowell as Matthew, Claude Rains, Donald Pleasence…a Jesus regular, John Wayne (!), Angela Lansbury, Shelley Winters, Ed Wynn). Telly Savalas is hilariously miscast as Pontius Pilate.

But my absolute favourite…the undisputed KING of them all, the one who chewed the austere, lovely, artistic scenery into little, itty, bitty, shreds…dripping with passionate spittle…was…

Charlton Heston as John 'the Baptist'.

Yup. Moses was back. And he was mad.

Heston's John the Baptist has the distinction of being the most robust, kick-ass, muscular, violent prophet that I have ever seen on film. He lacked the gravitas that he displayed as Moses in The Ten Commandments (1956), but more than made up for it with his marvelous sixties bouffant hairstyle, aggressive evangelism and generally defiant attitude (not to mention his fetching animal skin loincloth).

Some sample dialogue:

(King Herod Antipas's guards have come to arrest John where he's been preaching and baptizing folks at the River Jordan).

Head Guard: "We've got orders to take you to Herod."

John the Baptist: "I've got orders to take you to God!!!"

Guard: "Will you go with us quietly?"

John the Baptist: "I won't go with you at all!!!"

(At this point, four or five guards dismount and wade into the water to arrest John. Soon, he is flailing around with mighty abandon, guards literally hanging off his arms as if he were Samson. At another point, he is dunking one of the guards in the water and forcibly "baptizing" him while screaming "Repent! Repent!" Herod's dungeon, even burdened with impressive chains and manacles, John is still fighting the good fight and swinging several hapless guards around when Herod comes up to the bars to talk with him...)

Herod: "I've heard a lot about you."

John: "I've heard a lot about YOU, Herod, and none of it good!"

You get the general idea. It's a pity his character isn't in more scenes; the generally turgid movie perks up whenever he's on screen.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


My gentle readers,

"Grindhouse" is a picaresque ramble through a more innocent time in American history. Women were being liberated, we were slogging through a thoroughly unpopular ground war in Asia (never, never get involved with a former French colony) and fashion was smashin'. Your money will be well spent, with well over three hours of two feature films and several previews. One film preview in particular, rejoicing in the rather original soubriquet, "Machete", piqued my interest. It appeared to be about a Mexican immigrant's search for identity and acceptance in America. Thoughtful, engrossing fare. The other previews were similarly thought-provoking, "Werewolf Women of the SS" documenting a little-known horror perpetrated by the Nazis in WWII and "Thanksgiving", a cautionary tale involving the dangers of tryptophan.

The first "Grindhouse" feature is directed by Robert Rodriguez and is entitled "Planet Terror". It tells the touching tale of Cherry (played by the beautiful Rose McGowan), a go-go dancer who longs to be a stand-up comedian. The film details a turning point in her life; the night she decides to follow her dreams. On her way to her bright new future, Cherry runs into Wray(an excellent Freddy Rodriguez), the lost love of her life, who encourages her to live up to her potential and become the fearless leader of men (and women) that she was always meant to be.

Unfortunately, her odyssey of self-discovery is rudely interrupted by flesh-eating, pustule-popping, pulsating zombies. Amid the resulting mayhem, carnage and cannibalism, Cherry discovers her true talents. The film boasts strong performances by all, particularly Marley Shelton as a needle-wielding anethesiologist and Bruce Willis in moving cameo as a military hero who has been gravely wronged by his country.

A three-hankie movie. Two thumbs up. Bring a cushion.

"Deathproof", the second "Grindhouse" feature (directed by Quentin Tarantino), is a moving story of feminine bonding and friendship. An attractive cast of young actresses (Sydney Poitier, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Zoe Bell, Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Marley Shelton) display their acting prowess, as they convincingly demonstrate the deep intimacy of female frienships. Their gleeful road-trip is rudely interrupted by a mannerless road-hog (Kurt Russell). Three of the sassy senoritas decide to teach him a lesson in civility. Zoe Bell is particularly delightful here, and worth the price of admission alone.

A joyful affirmation of life, friendship, and the female spirit!

Two thumbs up. Way up. Bring your best girlfriend and some popcorn.

Mrs. Roth

Monday, April 30, 2007

Lazy Eye

I discovered that I have a lazy eye. I suppose it was inevitable, given my general disinclination to work of any kind. Speaking of lazy eyes, I have some recommendations in the way of music, books, films, tv shows...

Music: Mrs. Roth recommends..."Lazy Eye" by the Silver Sun Pick-Ups, a pleasant, indie tune.
Also, "Films of Antarctica" by Stars of Track and Field, which is subtle, but grows upon one...rather like a fungus. You might want to listen to Linkin Park's "What I've Done", because teen angst never goes out of style.