Sunday Salon 10-27-13

Time: 7:00 Sunday morning.

Place: In my computer-music-storage room.

Eating: Some flax-enhanced cereal is awaiting me. But it’s hard to eat and type this at the same time.

Drinking: Coffee.

Reading: Roger Lipsey’s The Spiritual in Twentieth-Century Art is still my main focus. It’s slow going, but extremely interesting (a work featured in the book will be appearing at the end of this Salon). I also received some nice books for my birthday this past week, and they’ve been added to the soon-to-be-read stack, which has now taken on a second and a third floor and will soon require an annex.

Watching: Last night I finally watched Babette’s Feast (1987), in its day a very well-known film and winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It was extremely fine, although I couldn’t help but wonder to myself why the chilly ambiance of the first two-thirds of the film, with its moody, misty landscapes and blue-gray coloring, was more appealing to me than the warmer, more genial final third of the film as the Feast of the title was served. It probably says something about my personality that I’d rather not explore further. The same might be said of my choice to spend the evening of my birthday watching Vincent Price horror movies on Turner Classic Movies. None of them – House of Wax, The Mad Magician, and House of Usher – would likely be described as a great film. But all were entertaining, not least because of the great Mr. Price himself, who brought nobility to even the B-est of B films.

Listening: A review will soon be appearing in this blog of one CD I’ve been listening to a lot recently, the new one by the Irish early music group eX. Recently purchased is the new Naxos CD of Havergal Brian symphonies, which I’m looking forward to. And I received as a birthday gift (thanks, Scott) Kelley O’Connor’s recording of Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs, which I’m sure will be great but which I won’t listen to until the mood is just right; those songs are extremely emotional.

Pondering: In just over three months I will be traveling to southeast Asia. My passport is up-to-date, and the necessary visas are in the works. But I feel I should be frantically preparing, even if there isn’t really anything to be done just yet.

Blogging: My only post of the past week listed Herman Melville’s many terms for beards in his novel White-Jacket. I’ve had a somewhat slow last couple of weeks with the blog, which I hope to improve this coming week.

Anticipating: I don’t know if anticipating is quite the right word, but I am very much aware of the fact that I have to write program notes for December’s Nevada Chamber Music Festival concerts in the next two or three weeks. While we are repeating some works this year (meaning I can reuse older notes, hurrah!), there are still eleven performances that will require some degree of writing. More about this will turn up in the Sunday Salon in the coming weeks, probably in the form of complaints about the workload!

Gratuitous Art Work of the Week: Robert Delaunay, Window (1912)

Delaunay Window 1912

Herman Melville’s Beards

Thanks to Flavorwire and The Towering Irrelevance, I was pleased to find out that in two chapters of White-Jacket (1850), his fifth novel, Herman Melville uses twenty-five different terms to describe beards. As one of the bearded, while I’ll accept any of the following, I would from now on like to have my facial hair described as “suburbs of the chin,” “whiskerandoes,” or “nodding harvests.” Thank you very much.

Herman Melville’s Beards…
the crop
suburbs of the chin
long, trailing moss hanging from the bough of some aged oak
Winnebago locks
carroty bunches
rebellious bristles
redundant mops
yellow bamboos
long whiskers
thrice-noble beards
plantations of hair
nodding harvests
viny locks
the fleece
fine tassels
sacred things
admiral’s pennant

Muller: Dark City

Dark City coverEddie Muller
Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir
(1998, St. Martin’s Griffin, 208 pages)

“I sat down at the desk and watched the light fade. The going-home sounds had died away. Outside the neon signs began to glare at one another across the boulevard. There was something to be done, but I didn’t know what. Whatever it was, it would be useless.” – Philip Marlowe, in “The Little Sister” by Raymond Chandler.

Eddie Muller is the founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation, co-programmer of San Francisco’s Noir City film festival, and has provided commentaries on a number of DVD releases. So he is in a perfect position to talk about the world of film noir. Some of the bleakest films of the 1940s and 1950s, film noir provided a necessary corrective to the more wholesome, but saccharine, films being cranked out by the major studios. Muller’s journey through Dark City – filled with films both familiar and unfamiliar, from both Hollywood and independent companies – takes the form of visits to some of the iconic symbols of noir: The Precinct, Hate Street, Vixenville, Blind Alley, The Psych Ward, and so on.

KillersThe films now known as film noir were initially simply dubbed “crime dramas.” But before noir, the criminals and those fighting crime, the bad guys and the good guys, were pretty easy to identify. But as Muller points out, those boundaries broke down in noir, and the police chief and captain of industry are as likely to be corrupt to their depths as the local petty thief. Muller points to Force of Evil (1948), with John Garfield as a lawyer who plots to turn the system to his advantage, as one of the first films to deal with this theme. As Garfield’s character Joe Morse says in the film, “I didn’t have enough strength to resist corruption, but I had enough strength to fight for a piece of it.” Muller also quotes a mob boss in Samuel Fuller’s Underworld USA (1961): “There’ll always be people like us. As long as we keep the books and subscribe to charities we’ll win the war. We always have.” Read more

Sunday Salon 10-13-13

Time: 8:00 Sunday morning.

Place: At my laptop in the living room, with news sans sound on the television (somehow the daily news is more palatable when you’re not paying attention to it).

Eating: Just living off my accumulated fat for the time being. But later, my famous strawberry breakfast shake – a half cup of apple juice, half a cake of silken tofu, a banana, and a cup of frozen strawberries all into the blender – healthy and tasty.

Drinking: Coffee, always coffee at this hour.

Reading: I’ve recently finished a book that I got as a gift months ago and that has been recommended to me repeatedly, The River of Doubt by Candice Millard. The story of Theodore Roosevelt’s harrowing several weeks in the middle of the Brazilian rain forest charting a little-known tributary of the Amazon, The River of Doubt was every bit as good as advertised. While I have never had a particular interest in James Garfield, the subject of Millard’s second book Destiny of the Republic, I’m probably going to read the book soon simply because she wrote it. I’ve also finally completed, after weeks of lollygagging, Eddie Muller’s book on film noir, Dark City. A review is about 95% complete, and should appear soon. Yesterday I started Roger Lipsey’s The Spiritual in Twentieth-Century Art, which I bought at the Contemporary Jewish Museum a while back after seeing the Museum’s quite beautiful current exhibition Beyond Belief: 100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art.

Watching: My return to Muller’s book was prompted by the recent release of the fourth volume of Columbia Film Noir Classics, of which I’ve watched a couple so far, the very fine Johnny O’Clock (1947) with Dick Powell and Lee J. Cobb, and the fairly good Between Midnight and Dawn (1950) with Edmond O’Brien. Last night it was the beautiful new Criterion Blu-ray of Frantisek Vlacil’s Marketa Lazarova (1967), which many argue is the greatest Czech film ever. Set in the Middle Ages, the film depicts the conflict between two families and a corrupt government official – overlaid with the tension between Christianity and the local medieval pagan beliefs – with the devout young Marketa, the daughter of one of the families, caught in the middle. Definitely one of the most visually striking films I’ve seen. Otherwise it’s just been the usual round of news programs, with a special nod to LinkTV’s Link Asia, a weekly round-up of news from Asian countries.

Listening: Much of my listening in recent weeks, as usual, was dictated by my program note writing for the Reno Chamber Orchestra and Reno Philharmonic. Certainly the highlight of that recent listening was getting to know in some depth Hector Berlioz’s song cycle Les nuits d’été, a remarkable series of songs on love, lost and found, and death (see the video below). Coincidentally, both orchestras are performing Dmitri Shostakovich symphonies this month: the Ninth is an offbeat masterpiece, while the Twelfth, which I’d never really paid attention to until now, has moments of greatness and lengthier passages of tedium and bombast.

Pondering: When I went out for my daily walk at about 5:30 this morning, I was expecting the usual near-total darkness. But a low layer of clouds blanketed the sky, and the lights from downtown Reno set the clouds themselves alight with a subtle ambient glow. So, even well before sunrise, my way was gently lit for me in a nice, vaguely mysterious way.

Blogging: The fact that I am blogging again, after around four months away, comes as somewhat of a surprise even to me. Whether I actually have anything to say is yet to be seen.

Anticipating: Eleven straight days of work after today, with Reno Chamber Orchestra concerts next weekend, and a possible birthday trip to San Francisco the following weekend. So life is busy, but it could be worse. I could be employed by the federal government.

Gratuitous Video of the Week

Anne Sofie von Otter singing my favorite song from Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été, “Le spectre de la rose,” with Marc Minkowski conducting Les Musiciens du Louvre.