Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Death of Klinghoffer: More Lies, Anger and Confusion

I continue to find it remarkable that people who don't like John Adams' music (or what they "think" is his message) go on the attack of those who do appreciate his work . . . and there are lots of us who do. I don't give the proverbial rat's ass if someone hates his music, but what I find appalling is the notion being pushed that it should not be performed. This notion comes from many who say they are not arbiters of music, yet they would deny opportunity to others who can and do want to be moved by his music, particularly, as in this instance, "The Death of Klinghoffer."

I read the puff piece in The Wall Street journal and could only shake my head at some of the comments variously describing the composer as a "Jew Hater," with several guessing Adams next work will be an opera about Auschwitz told from the Nazi perspective (with a scene of an old Jewish man singing as he's wheeled into a gas chamber).

Another accuses Adams of being one of a charlatan - unmusical with "little talent and even less artistic taste."

The idiocy abounds with collective outrage demonizing his "celebrating" and "endorsing" the brutal murder of Mr. Klinghoffer, and he thinks it's must be okay to murder a handicapped man "because he is Jewish." Then there are the continued accusations of Adams making the Jews look bad and the terrorists into "sympathetic characters." Have any of them seen this opera? The person who comes off the best is the title character, who courageously confronts the terrorists (let's call them what they are) saying, "somebody's got to tell you the truth . . . We're human, we are the kind of people you want to kill . . . there is so much anger in you, and hate . . . Old men at the Wailing Wall get a knife in the back, you laugh. You pour gasoline over women passengers . . . and burn them alive. You just want to see people die."

Do we ever read these words quoted in the condemnation of this opera? Nope. Not ever. What we read instead are cherry picked like "wherever poor men are gathered they can Find Jews getting fat," always taken out of context and never mentioning these words are sung by Rambo, one of murderers, who also goes on to denigrate not only Jews,but America. By this same logic these people (few if any of whom know anything about this opera) may assert that Adams not only hates Jews, but hates America as well. Gimme a break.

When I reviewed the film version of the opera, several people from Opera-L sent private me e-mails that I could hardly believe, one proclaiming me as "guilty as any Nazi or any other terrorist," another (who I had only pleasant exchanges with previously) inundated my inbox with graphic descriptions of Israelis being raped, tortured and slaughtered by Palestinians telling me since I "got off" watching Klinghoffer murdered I should enjoy these. Then there was the dear lady who suggested I and Mr. Adams begin a defense fund for Abu Abbas so he could get out and kill more Jews. Lovely.

What one also rarely hears is how Adams concludes his opera with the terrorists' arrest, followed by a heart-wrenching aria from Mrs. Klinghoffer, singing of her love for her husband, as anger and grief swell within her, powerfully putting everything into perspective. We never read about this though, because it's an opera about celebrating terrorism and killing Jews.


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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

For several years now I've resisted watching Mark Herman's film, "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," having read a number of mixed reviews and thinking I knew what to expect. Once again, I was wrong.

Newly promoted Nazi officer, Ralf (David Thewlis), moves his young family (wife, Vera Farmiga, son Bruno, Asa Butterfield, and daughter Gretel, Amber Beattie) from their comfortable Berlin home to a large manor in the countryside near the concentration camp he is now commandant of. The family adjusts except for Bruno who suffers from ennui and loneliness.

In an act of defiance to not go out back, Bruno escapes the confines of the home and after wandering through the woods arrives at the electric fence of the came whereupon he meets, an eight year old Jewish boy, Schmeul (Jack Scanlon). Despite the barricade of the fence, the boys strike up a friendship though neither understands the positions they are in or why their lives are so dissimilar.

A tutor is brought in for Gretel and Bruno, but all they are taught is propaganda, and the history of The Fatherland retold through Nazi eyes and lies. Bruno can't comprehend any of it, but 12 year old Gretel (who has an eye for a teenage Nazi soldier assigned to her father) buys into all of it with a chilling, coldblooded fascination.

We witness what appears to be daily bucolic life in the country, punctuated by terrifying brutal inhumanity towards the Jews (who Bruno is repeatedly told are not really people).

Kept in the dark as to her husband's business, the Commandant's wife begins putting the pieces of the terrible puzzle into place, reacting in horror. It's clear she wants no part in any this and can barely face her husband whose atrocities she can only imagine. Farmiga performance here is remarkable and heartbreaking as she tries to remove her children from the madness.

From this point on the story hurtles with an inexorable deftness to its final, inevitable tragedy.

Herman gets great results from the cast, nowhere more so than from his two juvenile leads.

Like the storytelling itself, James Horner's score nudges us into the film with its gentle opening motif that expands, contracts, and floats before screeching into the films finale.

Lacking the sensationalism of many anti-war films (particularly WWII films) "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" packs as strong an emotional punch to the gut as any in recent memory.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Blood Brothers: A Most Powerful Documentary

I watched this film last night and was overwhelmed, having to hit "pause" on more than one occasion before being able to continue.

Blood Brother is a 90 minute documentary about Rocky Braat, a young man from the U.S. who was a poor student, from a very broken home who suddenly decides to move to India.

Openly admitting a dislike children, he nonetheless visits an orphanage for women and children affected by or afflicted with HIV. The orphanage becomes his home and his mission in life. Several years in, he's forced to return to the States for visa renewal, and stays with his best friend, STeve. During this period, Steve, decides to accompany Rocky to India to see (and film) his friend's life and witness first hand how that life has changed. Needless to say, he's overwhelmed and so is the viewer.

The impact this young man makes in the lives of these abandoned, outcast children is nothing short of inspiring, but also heartbreaking. The film has an honesty about it and unflinchingly shows Rocky's anger, his struggles to go on in the face of such hopelessness amidst the frightening living conditions. More than once the work of Mother Theresa came to mind.

I so wanted to see this when it aired on PBS' Independent Lens earlier this year, but missed the opportunity. I'm happy to say Netflix has just added it to its latest streaming programming. I cannot recommend this highly enough.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Nathan Lane Shines in "The Nance"

I'd known little of Douglas Carter Beane's play The Nance other than its premise, so wasn't sure quite what to expect. I expected it to be funny, and it was, but what I wasn't expecting it to be was thought provoking, gut wrenching and infinitely touching.

As comic Chauncey Miles, Nathan Lane gives one of his finest performances I've yet seen from him as a character both complex and complicated, adding nuance, dimension and revealing the carefully hidden heart of this tortured, self-destructive character.

In his play with music by Glenn Kelly, Beane nearly seamlessly weaves together the secret, pre-Stonewall and dangerous world of gays of the 1930's with the end of the burlesque era resulting in a wondrous tapestry evoking a unique ethos that, despite all the positive
changes in the world made since, still resounds loudly today.

Wedged into the very heart of "The Nance" is a romance between hard bitten Chauncey and the earnest, brand-new-to-New York, Ned (a marvelous Broadway debut by Jonny Orsini) who truly appears to have just fallen off the turnip truck. Despite its predictable outcome,
the unlikely romance adds a much needed tenderness that makes the plays crusty outer layers snap and pop all the more.

As the three burlesque queens, Cadi Huffmann, Andrea Burns and Jenny Barber, give Mazeppa, Electra and Tessi Tura a run for their money, a little raunchier, a little more broken and a little more real. They're wonderful.

Lewis J. Stadlen's aging "seen it all" clown offers some masterful acting, desperately clinging to the world crumbling around him, and doing anything to prevent letting go.

Having the luxury of hindsight, Beane is able to offer up some timely, hilarious lines. A rabid Republican, despite being homosexual, Chauncey forever seizes opportunities to rage against socialism, at one point complaining about Social Security prompting one of the
characters to say, "Trust me, in 80 years no one's gonna be worrying about who's gonna pay for Social Security" or comparing Chauncey's Republicanism to "a negro joining the Klan . . . or the League of Jewish Nazi Voters."

Jack O'Brien's production is sensational, featuring John Lee Beatty's rotating stage instantly moving the scenes from the Horn and Hardart, the stage of the theatre, Chauncey and Ned's apartment, and the theatre's backstage. The set is employed brilliantly throughout, right through the final curtain.

PBS has put it up on its web site and I recommend anyone who missed it Friday night, try and catch this.

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