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Posts Tagged ‘theater

“Comedy too can sometimes discern what is right”*…

What’s old is new again…

When​ Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion released ‘WAP’ in August 2020, ‘conservative’ commentators such as Tucker Carlson expressed outrage that the song might corrupt ‘your granddaughters’; Alyssa Rosenberg in the Washington Post celebrated it as an ‘ode to female sexual pleasure’. The video featured the two long-lashed goddesses twerking their way through a gilded McMansion in fabulous candy-coloured outfits, like bethonged Disney princesses. The lyrics create a cluster of ambiguities: are the speakers supposed to be sex workers struggling to pay their college tuition and running in fear from ‘the cops’, or wealthy A-list celebrities? Or are they, as Black women in a white man’s world, both? Do they really want anyone but each other? Do they own the house through which they strut? The song mocks its listeners and viewers for yearning for these superior beings in their state of limitless desire. At the same time, its sly laughter invites us to feel, for a couple of minutes, part of their glittering, multicoloured world.

The song’s genius lies in its inventiveness: its mastery of rhythm, and its innovative abundance of metaphors for the ‘wet-ass pussy’ of its title. You come for the nasty, but you stay for the poetry. The two artists celebrate the power of their bodies to express desire and joy, but more fundamentally, they celebrate their gushing waterfalls of linguistic ‘flow’. The joke of the title hinges on the fact that language is both literal and metaphorical: one body part is used as a linguistic modifier for another. The most memorable lines contain no words that would be unsuitable for a nursery school sing-along, but provide brilliantly funny images: ‘Swipe your nose like a credit card’, ‘Get a bucket and a mop’, or – climactically – ‘Macaroni in a pot’. It’s wild and down to earth at the same time, and for ever changes the way you think about cooking spaghetti.

Ancient Athenian comedy of the fifth century BCE – mostly known to us through the work of Aristophanes – can be usefully compared to a number of different modern genres. Like traditional TV sitcoms, it featured typical or stereotypical characters, and showcased their ridiculous lust, avarice, stupidity and ambition. Like modern stand-up comedians or late-night TV hosts, comic poets included speeches in their plays in which they railed at the audience about the state of society and their personal grievances. Like Saturday Night Live, comedy in fifth-century Athens included caricatures of people who might well have been in the audience – such as Socrates, Euripides or the politician Cleon. Like The Simpsons or 30 Rock, the dialogue had a high rate of jokes per minute, and catered to multiple different audience sensibilities, including a taste for lavatory humour. As in Broadway musicals or on the Disney Channel, characters in lavish costumes were liable to burst into song and dance at any moment – although, unlike on Hannah Montana, the male characters wore large strap-on phalluses. Old Comedy anticipated modern sci-fi, and shows like The Good Place, in its willingness to carry out fantastical thought experiments (talking frogs, a city of birds, a singing chorus of metaphysically inclined clouds, or, weirdest of all, women with real political power), and considered their social and political repercussions. Like pantomime or Punch and Judy, it included formulaic riffs on falling over, violence and cross-dressing.

But the lush comic hip-hop of Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B is one of the most useful modern analogues, because it illustrates the core element of Old Comedy that is most often obscured in contemporary Anglophone translations – the flow. Aristophanes, like the creators of ‘WAP’, was a musician, songwriter, choreographer and poet, and his linguistic effects depend, like theirs, on the artful manipulation of rhythm and sound in words and imagery. The poetic affinity between rap and Old Comedy is explored in Spike Lee’s film Chi-Raq, a hip-hop adaptation of Lysistrata set on the South Side of Chicago…

Aristophanes and rap: “Punishment By Radish,” from Emily Wilson (@EmilyRCWilson), the translator of a wonderful edition of The Odyssey.

* Aristophanes

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As we LOL, we might we might send dramatic birthday greetings to Nathan Field; he was born on this date in 1587. A contemporary and colleague of Shakespeare, Field was– like the Bard– both a dramatist and an actor.

As an author, Field wrote alone (e.g., the comedy A Woman Is a Weathercock), and in collaboration with John Fletcher and Philip Massinger (e.g., the tragicomedy The Knight of Malta). As an actor he ended his career in the Kings Men, working alongside Shakespeare, where he appeared in Shakespeare’s plays and in Ben Jonson‘s Volpone and The Alchemist, among other productions.

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“Any subject is good for opera if the composer feels it so intently he must sing it out”*…

We know that opera took the form we know today in Italy the first half of the 17th century, when what had largely been ponderous courtly spectacles mutated into the lively popular art that opera has remained for the past 400 year. But why did operas as we know them become… well, operas as we know them?

Why did opera first succeed as a public art form in Venice between 1637 and 1650 when all the elements of the new form were fully evident? The answer is to be found in the conjunction between Venetian carnival festivity and the intellectual politics of Venetian republicanism during the two generations after the lifting of the papal interdict against Venice in 1607. During this extraordinary period of relatively free speech, which was unmatched elsewhere at the time, Venice was the one place in Italy open to criticisms of Counter Reformation papal politics. Libertine and skeptical thought flourished in the Venetian academies, the members of which wrote the librettos and financed the theaters for many of the early Venetian operas.

How opera became Opera: “Why Venice? Venetian Society and the Success of Early Opera,” from Edward Muir (@EdwardMuir7)

* Gian Carlo Menotti

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As we fiddle with Fidelio, we might recall that it was on this date in 1600 that Euridice, an opera by Jacopo Peri, with additional music by Giulio Caccini, was first performed in Florence; the libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini is based on books X and XI of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. which recount the story of the legendary musician Orpheus and his wife Euridice. A presage of what was later to flourish in Venice, it is the oldest surviving opera (though the same authors wrote the now-lost Dafne two years earlier), and is generally regarded as marking the dawn of the Baroque period.

The Prologue, from the score of Euridice, published in Florence in 1600 [source]

“Playing bop is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing”*…

Jazz as a form of wit…

Jazz, like wit, can be broadly defined as surprising creativity. So does it follow that jazz musicians are a witty bunch?

I’ve wondered about this for longer than Kenny G has held an E-flat (45 minutes, for the record) but lacked a way to prove it. 

There was some promising neuroscience research on the subject back in 2014 that linked conversation to trading fours. Both jawing and jamming involve “an exchange of ideas that is unpredictable, collaborative, and emergent,” the paper hypothesized. In other words, a riff is a riff.

That said, all the actual data was pretty flat. The researchers brought the musicians into the lab, wired them up, and let them noodle around while they watched the blood slosh through their brains via a functional MRI machine. It went to the same spots it would go in a conversation, they found, which was interesting as far as it went but didn’t go all that far.

So when I came across the book Jazz Anecdotes at Sellers & Newel, I knew this was what I was looking for. I immediately flipped my fMRI machine on Kijiji and grabbed a copy.

Jazz anecdotes, like jazz itself, aren’t usually transcribed. In the words of drummer Shelley Manne, “We never play anything the same way once.” 

But bassist, writer, and editor Bill Crow combed through hundreds of interviews and biographies to pick just the juiciest bits, and the best display a virtuosic level of verbal dexterity. The book really slaps, as they say. There’s a whole chapter on pranks, and in said chapter there’s a whole section on Limburger cheese. (You can flip through a digitized version over at the invaluable archive.org here.)

Start with the nicknames, which alone are worth the price of admission. Fats, Shorty, and Slim were all physical descriptors. Cannonball Adderley was originally called Cannibal because of his voracious appetite — but one problem took care of the other as he rounded out.

William Randolph Cole was known as Colesy, which evolved into Cozy. Cozy, in turn, couldn’t remember names so he called everyone “Face” if they looked familiar, and then added the name of the instrument they played for Bass Face, Sax Face, and so on. Bassist George Mraz was called Bounce because he was a baaaad Czech. And bassist John Simmons got a rise out of trumpeter Oran “Hot Lips” Page by announcing at the bandstand, “Lady there at the door sent this letter to Mr. Warm Jaws.”

The greats get a chapter each, and they’re at their best when they’re playing off one another. Once John Coltrane started playing a solo, he’d just play and play —which irritated those who shared the bandstand. “I get involved in this thing and I don’t know how to stop,” he told Miles Davis, to which Davis suggested, “Try taking the saxophone out of your mouth.” Why did he play so long, Davis asked? “It took that long to get it all in.”

The pianist Errol Garner had a similar issue at a recording session in 1969. The red light in the booth flickered off, but he kept right on playing. “I couldn’t stop,” he said. “I wanted to find out how it would come out.”

The difference between live wit and recorded repartee is like the difference between fresh squeezed orange juice and the frozen concentrate. So leave the last words to Louis Armstrong, who refused to describe exactly what he did so well.

How did he define jazz, exactly? “Jazz is what I play for a living.”

Would you describe it as folk music? “Man, all music is folk music. You ain’t ever heard no horse sing a song, have you?”

Making it along as you go up: “The wit of jazz, and vice versa,” from Benjamin Errett (@benjaminerrett)

* Duke Ellington

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As we improvise, we might recall that it was on this date in 1899 that Sarah Bernhardt became the first woman to portray Hamlet on film…

The French actress was certainly a force to be reckoned with. In 1899, she took over the Théâtre de Ville in Paris and renamed it the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt, which is, as one Lit Hub editor once put it, “basically cell phone providers in the early ’00s levels of confidence.” That same year, she premiered a new production of Hamlet, with herself in the title role—a production that she would eventually also take on tour. Critics were divided—not only was she a woman, but she was a woman in her mid-fifties!—but audiences were largely enthralled, and if nothing else, the performance is now legendary.

Bernhardt may not have been the first female Hamlet—that was probably 18th-century actor Charlotte Charke—but she was the very first to play the Prince of Denmark (a bro who didn’t even like sex, mind you) on screen. On October 1, 1900, the audience of the Paris Exposition (also known as the Exposition Universelle) was treated to Le Duel d’Hamlet, the very first known film adaptation of Hamlet—albeit one that is only a minute and a half long, comprising a single scene: the Act V duel between Hamlet and Laertes. The short was filmed only a year after Bernhardt first played the role; in it, she is 56. “She’s somber, quick, natural—easily expert with her sword and clearly used to dueling,” Robert Gottlieb wrote in a biography of the actress. “There’s nothing campy or feminine about her; she’s manly and she’s coolly resolved. This isn’t an exhibition of virtuoso acting—it’s modest, in fact. But it’s certainly a vindication of her right to perform the greatest of male roles, and a welcome clue as to how she pulled it off.” Indeed. Luckily, we have even more female Hamlets in our future

LitHub

“There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses, and Sarah Bernhardt.”  – Mark Twain

Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 1, 2021 at 1:00 am

“I want people to walk into a movie theater and be transported to a different world”*…

In the fall of 1997, a blurb appeared in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. AMC Theaters was launching a “brand new concept… a fancy interior that transforms the otherwise plain theater into a science-fiction, high-tech experience,” replete with decorative planets, the colors teal, purple, and yellow, and a “generally upbeat design.” Its name: the Odyssey…

If you went to the movies around this time anywhere in the United States, you might’ve registered a similar aesthetic. Like cartoon corporatism and hypermodernism getting smashed through a cultural particle collider. It was ambient and nearly universal, and yet absolutely the opposite of timeless. One year into life without movie theaters and you might begin to wonder: What was that?

You might start thinking first about the carpets. Those frenzied, high-octane, blacklight carpets that took over movie theaters for a small, fixed period of time and then mostly just… went away. Like an obscure one-hit-wonder earworm, the carpets might keep bugging you, prompting you to wonder: How is it that we, as a society, spent that much free time in these bizarre wall-to-wall settings without ever wondering what acid-doused party monster’s fever dreamt them up? Who decided this is what movie theaters should look like? What was this “style” even called?

Do you think what you’re about to read is simply, like, an etymology of carpet? If only. If those carpets could talk, they’d tell you a story about late-90s economics, showbiz, multiplexes, and an era of world-building that changed moviegoing as we know it—maybe more than any other… 

If Y2K-Era Movie Theater Carpets Could Talk“: behind the ecstatic aesthetic of squiggles, stars, and confetti.

Genndy Tartakovsky

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As we settle on the extra-large tub of popcorn, we might might recall that it was on this date in 1941 that Orson Welles’ first feature film, Citizen Kane, premiered at the Palace Theater in New York. A quasi-biography (based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, with elements of those of Joseph Pulitzer and Chicago tycoons Samuel Insull and Harold McCormick), it was nominated for Academy Awards in nine categories, winning Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for Herman Mankiewicz and Welles.

Considered by many critics and filmmakers to be the greatest film ever made, Citizen Kane was voted number 1 in five consecutive British Film Institute Sight & Sound polls of critics, and it topped the American Film Institute’s 100 Years … 100 Movies list in 1998, as well as its 2007 update.

Citizen Kane is particularly praised for Gregg Toland‘s cinematography, Robert Wise‘s editing, Bernard Herrmann‘s music, and its narrative structure, all of which were innovative and have been precedent-setting.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 1, 2021 at 1:01 am

“What’s a bigger mystery box than a movie theater?”*…

Arman Cinema / Viktor Konstaninov, architect. Almaty, Kazakhstan 1967

“Eastern Bloc Architecture: 50 Buildings that Defined an Era” is a collaborative series by The Calvert Journal and ArchDaily highlighting iconic architecture that had shaped the Eastern world. Each publication has released a round-up of five– so ten in total– Eastern Bloc projects of different sorts. The above, from: “Eastern Bloc Architecture: Sci-fi Cinemas.”

More where that came from at “Eastern Bloc Architecture: 50 Buildings that Defined an Era.”

* J.J. Abrams

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As we take our seats, we might send brief birthday greetings to Valentin Sergeyevich Pavlov; he was born on thus date in 1937. A Russian economist and politician, he served as Prime Minister of the Soviet union for 9 month in 1991. During his tenure he oversaw a major currency reform and (concerned to prevent the break-up of the USSR) he attempted to shift the locus of power from the President– Gorbachev at the time– to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Deputies. When that move failed, he joined a coup attempt… which, when it too failed, cost him his post and landed him in prison.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 26, 2020 at 1:01 am

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