Thursday, November 30, 2023

Flashback, November 1963: Master Filmmaker Kurosawa Caps Crime-Thriller Quartet With ‘High and Low’

International audiences had become accustomed to daringly innovative cinematography and visual storytelling by Japanese writer-director Akira Kurosawa, even when he turned to foreign influences such as the American Western (The Seven Samurai), Dostoevsky (The Idiot), Shakespeare (Throne of Blood), Gorky (The Lower Depths) and Shakespeare (Throne of Blood) for his examinations of his own country’s psychology.

But with High and Low, which premiered in the U.S. 60 years ago this month (and, incidentally, in the week following the JFK assassination), this supremely influential figure in world cinema turned to a genre that had come particularly to fascinate him: the crime thriller, in this case based on the American pulp novel King’s Ransom, by Ed McBain.

Trust me, not every adaptation of one of McBain’s 87th Precinct novels works. As evidence, I submit two 1990’s TV movies in the long-running Columbo series, “Undercover" (based on Jigsaw) and “No Time to Die” (source: So Long As You Both Shall Live), by general agreement of fans of Peter Falk’s rumpled detective the nadir of the series—and the only two stories not written originally for the show.

But Kurosawa did not merely translate the setting of McBain’s police procedural from an American metropolis to Japan. 

By confining the accomplices in the kidnapping to the margins of the story, Kurosawa (who collaborated on the screenplay with Hideo Oguni, Eijiro Hisaita, and Ryuzo Kikushima) concentrated on the relationship between the crime’s ringleader and wealthy industrialist Kingo Gondo (played by Toshiro Mifune, paired with Kurosawa for the 15th and next to last time)—one with unexpected subtleties and class tensions.

Being most familiar with Kurosawa’s samurai films and historical epics, I was surprised to see how fluidly he handled a contemporary setting. But I may have been even more astonished to learn that High and Low represented his fourth venture into Japanese film noir, following Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, and The Bad Sleep Well.

The environment of this film is far removed from the agrarian world of so many earlier Kurosawa films. By this point in the 1960s, Japan was achieving levels of consumer spending and financial sophistication unimaginable before World War II.

“In Japan, the society progressed through a rapid growth, which was an unnatural process,” Kurosawa remembered. “Daily life lost its natural course. To live, it became necessary to work beyond one's abilities. That's why instability among people has increased.”

In the script that Kurosawa helped fashion from the McBain novel, that “instability” gave rise to a kidnapping, reflecting a frightening national trend of the time. (Kurosawa himself had received kidnapping threats involving his own daughter, Kazuko Kurosawa).

Gondo, a hard-charging footwear tycoon, not only faces a blackmail demand that could bankrupt him—just when he needs the money to fend off an internal coup—but won’t even be paying for his own family member, as the kidnapper has mistakenly snatched the son of Gondo’s chauffeur.

The planned ransom exchange on a bullet train is one of Kurosawa’s most exciting sequences, brisk with motion. But scenes set in Gondo’s home, though stationary, work equally well, as Kurosawa focuses on the tension engulfing Mifune, a normally forceful actor here required to register his emotions with greater restraint.

Over the years, I had come to admire such Kurosawa gems as Rashomon, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, and, of course, The Seven Samurai. But I was pleasantly surprised by his change of pace in High and Low

It was the highest-grossing film in Japan in the year of its release, and with its powerful energy and deep moral seriousness, it also happens to be an uncommonly thoughtful thriller. 

Quote of the Day (Andrew Ferguson, on Notes Made by Famous Readers in Their Favorite Books)

“The task of a marginalia maven is at right angles to the task of reading a book: It is an attempt to read the reader rather than to read the writer. For several decades now, scholars have been swarming the margins of books in dead people's libraries. Those margins are among the most promising sites of ‘textual activity,’ to use the scholar's clinical phrase—a place to explore, analyze, and, it is hoped, find new raw material for the writing of dissertations. Famous readers whose libraries have fallen under such scrutiny include Melville and Montaigne, Machiavelli and Mark Twain.”— American journalist and author Andrew Ferguson, “Nixon Between the Lines,” The Atlantic, October 2023

I came upon this article several weeks ago and set it aside for future reference. Early last night, I became intrigued by Ferguson’s opening paragraphs: his discovery of Richard Nixon’s books in the late President’s library and museum in Yorba Linda, CA.

An inveterate reader, Nixon engaged heavily in these materials, becoming a counterpart to the famous authors that Ferguson mentioned as scribbling in margins. One book the disgraced ex-President digested in his unwanted retirement deeply annoyed him with its revelation that in 1969, his then-National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, had ridiculed him “in private conversation with liberal friends.”

Irony of ironies: even as Ferguson was researching his biography of Nixon among these previously unsampled books, Kissinger himself was appearing at the Nixon Library to promote his own latest book, Leadership, in which he had praised his old boss.

A further irony of ironies: only a few hours after reading about this conjunction of events, I found on the Internet that the man Ferguson called “the 20th century’s only celebrity diplomat” had passed away, at age 100.

Somewhere in the afterlife, I suspect, Nixon and Henry the K are going to have a very long conversation.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Quote of the Day (Graham Greene, on Why Books Excite Us So Much in Childhood)

“Perhaps it is only in childhood that books have any deep influence on our lives. In later life we admire, we are entertained, we may modify some views we already hold, but we are more likely to find in books merely a confirmation of what it is in our minds already; as in a love affair it is our own features that we see reflected flatteringly back. But in childhood all books are books of divination, telling us about the future, and like the fortune teller who sees a long journey in the cards or death by water they influence the future. I suppose that is why books excited us so much. What do we ever get nowadays from reading to equal the excitement and the revelation in those first fourteen years?...It is in those early years that I would look for the crisis, the moment when life took a new slant in its journey towards death.”—English novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter, playwright, and journalist Graham Greene (1904-1991), The Lost Childhood and Other Essays (1951)

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Quote of the Day (Robert Frost, on ‘Bare November Days’)

“Not yesterday I learned to know
     The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
     And they are better for her praise.”— Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963), “My November Guest,” in A Boy's Will (1915)
 
I took this photo in Overpeck Park, not far from where I live in Bergen County, NJ, three years ago this month.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Photo of the Day: Toms Run Nature Reserve, Pittsburgh PA

I took this photo while away for a few days this past week visiting a close relative in Pittsburgh.

People who remember the longtime nickname of Pittsburgh, “The Smoky City,” might have a tough time believing that it can have an area filled with extended wooded areas and streams. 

But that in fact is the case with Toms Run Nature Reserve, which contains 369 acres of maple, oak and American beech trees in an urban forest 10 miles from downtown Pittsburgh in western Allegheny County.

In the spring and fall, you can hear a variety of songbirds, including vireos, warblers, thrushes and sparrows. But, following heavy rain from earlier in the week and plunging temperatures the day of my hike, I found thick mud much more abundant on the three-mile trail loop.

In 1977, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy began to protect the area from development, but the most intensive work took place after the turn of the millennium, continuing through 2018.

TV Quote of the Day (‘Harry O,’ As a Detective Counters a Potential Client’s Suspicions About His Intentions)

Gertrude Blainey [played by Julie Sommars]: “I don't think you're the right detective for me.”

Harry Orwell [played by David Janssen]: “Gertrude, all detectives are immoral. And we all drink alcoholic beverages.”— Harry O, Season 1, Episode 1, “Gertrude,” original air date Sept 12, 1974, teleplay by Howard Rodman, directed by Jerry Thorpe

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Christian Wiman, on Darkness)

“Darkness starts inside of things
but keeps on going when the things are gone.” —American poet, translator, editor, and essayist Christian Wiman, "Darkness Starts," in Hard Night (2005)


Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Quote of the Day (John F. Kennedy, With His Last Thanksgiving Day Proclamation)

“Today we give our thanks, most of all, for the ideals of honor and faith we inherit from our forefathers—for the decency of purpose, steadfastness of resolve and strength of will, for the courage and the humility, which they possessed and which we must seek every day to emulate. As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.”—John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States (1917-1963), “Proclamation 3560—Thanksgiving Day, 1963,” issued Nov. 5, 1963

Monday, November 20, 2023

Quote of the Day (Richard Feynman, on Why You Should ‘Fall in Love With Some Activity, and Do It!’)

“Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn't matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don't think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn't stop you from doing anything at all.”— Nobel Prize-winning American physicist Richard Feynman (1918–1988), Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! Adventures of a Curious Character (1985)

Quote of the Day (Ricky Gervais, on Keeping Opinions to Oneself)

“On Twitter, people sometimes say, ‘Why don’t you keep your opinions to yourself?’ I go, ‘You’re following me. I didn’t tweet at you.’ That’s like going to a notice board in the middle of town, seeing a sign for guitar lessons, and yelling, ‘I DON’T WANT guitar lessons!’ Well, it wasn’t for you.”—Comic Ricky Gervais quoted by Nick Marino, “The Only Real Offense Is Not Being Offensive,” GQ, Mar. 29, 2016

The image accompanying this post, of Ricky Gervais at Comedy Central's "Night of Too Many Stars," was taken Oct. 2, 2010 by Thomas Atilla Lewis at https://www.flickr.com/people/51761894@N00.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Quote of the Day (Sam Altman, on AI and the Future of Jobs)

“A lot of people working on AI pretend that it's only going to be good; it's only going to be a supplement; no one is ever going to be replaced. Jobs are definitely going to go away, full stop."— OpenAI CEO Sam Altman quoted by Ross Andersen, “Inside the Revolution at OpenAI,” The Atlantic, September 2023

Will someone please tell me what’s going on here?

I’m not talking about AI as such—most of the people I know are at least cautiously concerned about its implications, even its advocates—like Sam Altman, who, in his interview with Ross Andersen, didn’t know exactly where it would lead to except “a new kind of society.”

No, I’m talking about what is going on with Altman himself and the company he turned into a Wall Street darling.

This past Friday, its board of directors explained on a blog post that he had not been “consistently candid in his communications.” It seems that, while fully expecting that other people would be losing their jobs because of the technology he pioneered, he’d be out of his own much sooner.

In the current climate of corporate upheaval, more than a few people reading the board’s cryptic but dangerous-sounding mistake might be forgiven for speculating that Altman had inflated current financial results or projections, or, like so many testosterone-turbocharged executives in recent years, had started a personal relationship with an employee and thus violated norms evolved in the wake of the #MeToo movement. 

Evidently this wasn’t the case—the company’s chief operating officer sent a note to staff on Saturday that no “malfeasance” was involved.

But if those scenarios didn’t lead to Altman’s ouster, what did?

Oh, yes—and about that ouster? That expectation, it turns out, may be slightly premature. 

According to a report airing less than 48 hours later from The New York Times, Altman is talking about staying on as CEO, even if it means a restructuring of the group that forced him out and disrupted a tech industry that can’t stop talking about how it’s going to disrupt everything.

I tell you, I haven’t done such a double-take over news since George Steinbrenner got rid of Billy Martin (the first of five times The Boss canned him or forced him to quit!) as manager of the New York Yankees, only to have him introduced four days later at Old Timers’ Day as the team’s rehired skipper for the 1980 season. (You can read all the details of those doings from The Bronx Zoo in my blog post from a decade ago.)

Altman has vowed, MacArthur-like, to return. But to reconquer what he lost, he’ll have to execute something faster than the general’s island-hopping strategy. Maybe AI has a ready-made plan for him?

(The image accompanying this post, showing Sam Altman during TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019 at Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, was taken on Oct. 3, 2019 by TechCrunch.)

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Book of Proverbs, on the Need to ‘Trust in the Lord’)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.”—Proverbs 3:5-6
 
The image accompanying this post, The Annunciation, was created in 1650 by the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664). (Mary, of course, is the Christian exemplar of “trust in the Lord.”)

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Quote of the Day (Bruce Schoenfeld, on Shohei Ohtani’s Astonishing Second MVP Season)

“This year was his [California Angels pitcher-designated hitter Shohei Ohtani] best yet, perhaps the most remarkable season by an individual in baseball history. It started when he played for Japan in the World Baseball Classic in March, where he recorded the hardest-hit ball of the tournament and tied for the fastest pitch. The first five times he pitched for the Angels, he allowed a total of eight hits, the fewest by a starter to open a season in modern history. After that, he seemed to do something every week that hadn’t been seen in years, or ever. Some feats were the obscure sort baseball likes to keep track of, like becoming the first player since 1964 to steal a base and homer in a game that he started on the mound; or his accumulation of especially long home runs. Others were more historic. He was only the second player ever to lead his league in both homers and triples at the All-Star Break, for example. On July 27, he reached an apotheosis of sorts by throwing a one-hit shutout against the Detroit Tigers in the first game of a doubleheader, then hitting two home runs in the second game, another combination without precedent. ‘In our lifetime, we’ve never seen anything like it,’ says Manny Machado, the San Diego Padres’ All-Star third baseman. ‘I didn’t believe it when he first came over here, that it would be possible. But he’s proven me and a lot of other people wrong.’”— Magazine and television journalist Bruce Schoenfeld, “Mr. Incredible,” The New York Times Magazine, Oct. 1, 2023

I hope that Shohei Ohtani doesn’t risk a worse injury than he already has to his ulnar collateral ligament by batting during the coming season while allowing his elbow (so integral to his pitching success) to heal. It’s not that I fear a threat to his future financial prospects. (Please!) But I’d like baseball fans like me to see even more of what has made him virtually without precedent to date.

Moreover, I’d like him to compile high enough career totals to assure entrance into Cooperstown. Baseball history includes several Most Valuable Player winners who never made it to the Hall of Fame, primarily because of injuries, including Roger Maris, Don Mattingly, Dave Parker, and Dale Murphy. 

If his career is shortened and lifetime pitching and batting totals curtailed (right now he has 171 HRs and 437 RBI to go with a 38-19 won-loss record and a 3.01 ERA), one can only hope that Cooperstown voters will remember what he was like at his unbelievable best, as they did with Dizzy Dean and Sandy Koufax.

Even with his problematic injury history, somebody will pay Ohtani serious money as he enters free agency. Ethan Semendinger’s late-August post on the “Start Spreading the News” blog poses four questions on the slugger-fireballer’s future, including whether the New York Yankees should pursue him (don’t go there!) and how Semendinger might use him when Ohtani’s ready to pitch again (as a reliever).

(The image accompanying this post, showing Shohei Ohtani batting at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, was taken July 8, 2022 by Mogami Kariya.)

TV Quote of the Day (‘Columbo,’ On Detectives’ Advantage Over Murderers)

Lt. Columbo [played by Peter Falk] [addressing psychiatrist Ray Flemming—an as-yet uncaught killer]: “You know, cops, we're not the brightest guys in the world. Of course, we got one thing going for us: we're professionals. I mean, you take our friend here, the murderer. He's very smart, but he's an amateur. I mean, he's got just one time to learn. Just one. And with us, well, with us, it's—it's a business. You see, we do this a hundred times a year. I'll tell ya, Doc. That's a lot of practice.”—“Prescription: Murder” (pilot for the Columbo series), original air date Feb. 20, 1968, teleplay by Richard Levinson and William Link, directed by Richard Irving

Friday, November 17, 2023

TV Quote of the Day (‘Succession,’ on a Date Who’s the Talk of the Town)

Tom Wambsgans [played by Matthew Macfadyen]: “So I hear you've made an enormous faux pas and everyone's laughing up their sleeves about your date.”

Cousin Greg” Hirsch [played by Nicholas Braun]: “What? Why?”

Tom: “Why? Because she brought a ludicrously capacious bag.”

Greg: “What's...”

Tom: “What's even in there, huh? Flat shoes for the subway? Her lunch pail? I mean, Greg, it's monstrous. it's gargantuan. You could take it camping. You could slide it across the floor after a bank job.”

Greg: “Well, whatever.”

Tom: “She's used all the display towels in the bathroom and now they're sopping wet. She's gabbling about herself and posting on social media, she's asking people personal questions, and she's wolfing all the canap├ęs like a famished warthog.”— Succession, Season 4, Episode 1, “The Munsters,” original air date Mar. 26, 2023, teleplay by Jesse Armstrong, directed by Mark Mylod

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Photo of the Day: Riverside Park, NYC, Mid-November

This past weekend, before having lunch with a college friend where we first met in the late 1970s—Morningside Heights, the home of Columbia University—I also took a walk to other sites in the neighborhood, including Riverside Park.

As a college freshman taking a jogging course to fulfill my phys ed requirements, I came to realize, on many an exhausting run, the size—and hilliness!—of this vast tract, though I was in no condition to appreciate its beauty. 

But I was on Sunday, with many of the autumn leaves still clinging to the trees and the rest forming a multi-colored natural carpet in this officially designated scenic landmark in New York—one of only eight in the city.

Quote of the Day (Evelyn Waugh, on an Aristocrat’s Wife Bored With the Family Mansion)

“Shafts of November sunshine streamed down from lancet and oriel, tinctured in green and gold, gules and azure by the emblazoned coats, broken by the leaded devices into countless points and patches of coloured light. Brenda descended the great staircase step by step through alternations of dusk and rainbow. Both hands were occupied, holding to her breast a bag, a small hat, a half-finished panel of petit-point embroidery and a vast, disordered sheaf of Sunday newspapers, above which only her eyes and forehead appeared as though over a yashmak.” —English novelist-travel writer Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), A Handful of Dust (1934)

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Quote of the Day (Declan Hill, on This Era of Legal Sports Betting)

“Leagues are dancing with the devil. Here’s what happens. There’ll be one play that’s kind of weird and dubious and sports fans will start to go, ‘Was that legitimate?’ And then there’ll be another one. And another one and another one. And after a few years, the sports leagues will have a problem. Because their fundamental credibility is being debated by their fans.” —Declan Hill, Univ. of New Haven professor and expert on match-fixing, quoted by Kyle Hightower, “Pro Leagues Balance Profit, Integrity Risks in Legal Betting Era,” The Berkshire Eagle, June 14, 2023

By a majority vote that surprisingly cut across liberal and conservative factions, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled five years ago legalized sports betting. The decision unleashed massive growth in this business—and, I’m afraid, more opportunities for mischief than they could ever have foreseen.

Legendary sports-betting scandals, such the 1919 World Series involving the Chicago White Sox, were often attributed to the pitiful wages that players earned years ago. But I’m not sure that the influx of money in the free-agent era will cure such problems. Greed will come to the fore, no matter how much somebody already has.

Especially in prolonged postseasons, sports fans know how much chance can play a role in how far their favorite team can advance towards a championship. One unlucky bounce, one freak injury and they’re out.

Do we really want questions of legitimacy swirling around this?

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Quote of the Day (S.J. Perelman, on the Effort of Writing)

“I generally feel astonished at whatever I put down in the first place. The effort of writing seems more arduous all the time. Unlike technicians who are supposed to become more proficient with practice, I find I’ve grown considerably less articulate.”—Humorist and Oscar-winning screenwriter (Around the World in 80 Days) S.J. Perelman (1904-1979), interviewed by George Plimpton & William Cole, “The Art of Fiction No. 31,” The Paris Review, Summer-Fall 1963 issue

Monday, November 13, 2023

Quote of the Day (Moliere, Letting a Narcissist Speak for Himself)

“I'm clever, handsome, gracefully polite;
My waist is small, my teeth are strong and white;
As for my dress, the world's astonished eyes
Assure me that I bear away the prize.
I find myself in favor everywhere,
Honored by men, and worshipped by the fair;
And since these things are so, it seems to me
I'm justified in my complacency.”— French playwright, actor, and poet Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, AKA Moliere (1622–1673), The Misanthrope (1666), translated by Richard Wilbur (1955)

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Theater Review: Elizabeth Baker’s ‘Partnership,’ at New York’s Mint Theater

Like many New York area theatergoers, I have been slow getting back to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows even as the dangers of COVID-19 have receded without fully disappearing. Before March 2020, I had sometimes taken in a couple of shows a month. 

What a difference the pandemic made! This past spring’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House starring Jessica Chastain was the first I had attended in three years, and it satisfied my curiosity about this much-discussed show without making me entirely glad I had spent so much for a small-scale production.

I felt much better after seeing the latest Off-Broadway production by the Mint Theater. The third and last installment in a trilogy by English playwright Elizabeth Baker (1876-1962), Partnership, which closed this weekend, accomplished what the company has done so successfully so often throughout its nearly 30 years of existence: bring to light past dramas and comedies that have slipped, often unjustly, into the mists of history.

Superficially, Baker delivered what audiences in the WWI era (and, actually, ours) craved: a wry, gentle romantic comedy. But not for her the drawing-room comedy genre that made Oscar Wilde, Somerset Maugham, and Noel Coward the toast of the West End.

Instead, in class-conscious Britain, in 13 plays over two decades, she limned the aspirations of middle-class strivers—especially women who, against all odds, were trying to gain a foothold in a male-dominated business world. 

Even as the government was confronting the challenge of suffragettes, Baker was posing questions even more fundamental than politics to women: without men, how they could expect to survive on their own, and what might they have to sacrifice to achieve a life without want? And, looking beyond that, what constituted a fulfilled life?

Herself a member of the aspiring class (a stenographer and typist who imbibed dramatic construction by typing the works of fashionable playwrights of the day), Baker was a realist rather than a romantic. She found little poetic in the lives of characters wholly invested in the struggle for personal autonomy.  But she was honest in depicting characters too little seen on the stages of her time.

Partnership, first staged in England in 1917 (with future film great Ronald Colman playing a bit part), is a good example of her stagecraft and concerns, and it gets a second wind here in the United States under the direction of Jackson Grace Gay.

Kate Rolling, along with her sharp and saucy friend and second-in-command Maisie Glow, is making a go of it in her small fashionable milliner’s shop in Brighton, even for a demanding clientele. The attractive and successful young women are also getting attention from male suitors, with the two received a combined four marriage proposals in the past four weeks.

Then Kate receives, from the owner of the largest store in town, yet another, but this time with a twist a business and personal merger proposal: a suggestion, from an especially acquisitive businessman who’s just bought the property next door, that the two combine forces in a partnership that would allow Kate to expand. 

Part of the arrangement—already spelled out in a formal contract by the enterprising George Pillatt—is that Kate marry him.

Pillatt can’t imagine how anything could matter more to a businessperson than the slightest opportunity to make another sale. Any woman accepting his hand in marriage could be assured of a financially secure future, but hardly a warm and happy one.

For a while, it seems that this marriage of convenience is enough for Kate. But when she accepts an invitation to visit the nearby “Downs” or hills from free-spirited investor Lawrence Fawcett, she becomes of the possibility of a different lifestyle and different life companion.

All of this occurs in the face of an incredulous Pillatt and a frustrated Maisie, who advises her friend that if it’s romance and excitement she craves, she should have a man on the side.

Sara Haider has made her Off-Broadway debut an auspicious one. In accentuating how the intelligent, driven Kate Rolling finds herself unexpectedly intoxicated by the spirit of freedom and love, she has put herself on track for a future role as a self-possessed Shakespeare comic heroine like Rosalind and Portia. 

I wasn’t able to see Olivia Gilliatt’s performance in the Mint’s production last year of Baker’s Chains, but judging by her work here she appears to have a real affinity for the playwright, lending a winning spice and joie de vivre to a character who, in less capable hands, might have sounded simply dour and cynical.

The men fare less well, in admittedly more constricted roles. Gene Gillette at least heightens the stakes by depicting Pillatt as a businessman that one disappoints only at one’s peril, but Joshua Echebiri cannot achieve a natural evolution from the reticent Fawcett of early scenes to the more unbuttoned down at the Downs.

It should also be stated here that, though confined to a small space in New York’s Theater Row, the Mint has consistently used its limited resources imaginatively. In the current production, that is owing to scenic designer Alexander Woodward, who has adapted a James Hart Dyke painting into a beguiling backdrop suggesting the rolling green coastal landscape of the Downs that turns Kate’s head around.

Though it has also run less well-known plays by famous authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Noel Coward, D.H. Lawrence, and Leo Tolstoy, the Mint Theater has performed a particular service by mounting several productions by once-acclaimed dramatists who’ve fallen into obscurity (e.g., George Kelly) or who have never really enjoyed their moment in the sun (Teresa Deavy, N.C. Hunter).

 Elizabeth Baker belongs to the latter category, and it was good to see her Partnership receive its American premiere more than a century after it captivated London audiences got their first, fleeting glimpses of it.

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Paul Tillich, on How Grace Overcomes Sin)

“In grace something is overcome; grace occurs ‘in spite of’ something; grace occurs in spite of separation and estrangement. Grace is the reunion of life with life, the reconciliation with self with itself. Grace is the acceptance of that which is rejected. Grace transforms fate into a meaningful destiny; it changes guilt into confidence and courage. There is something triumphant in the word ‘grace’; in spite of the abounding of sin grace abounds much more."—German-born American existentialist theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965), “You Are Accepted,” in The Shaking of the Foundations (1948)

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Quote of the Day (Janan Ganesh, on Offices and ‘The Demystification of the Successful’)

“Except in sectors where the minimum standard is kept high through regulation — medicine, say, or piloting — the standard in a profession is always lower than outsiders would credit. This has to be drummed into young people from less privileged backgrounds, all too many of whom believe that every lawyer is Earl Warren, every trader a Fields Medalist. The office allows them to observe colleagues flail under pressure, utter banalities, or just shamble around. The ultimate benefit of going to the office is the demystification of the successful. You can’t see someone’s clay feet over Zoom.”—“Citizen of Nowhere” columnist Janan Ganesh, “Why the Young Should Go to the Office,” The Financial Times, Nov. 4-5, 2023

The image accompanying this post comes from the 1999 movie Office Space, with Gary Cole playing the kind of clay-footed boss that Ganesh has in mind. 

Friday, November 10, 2023

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show,’ As Ted Delivers an On-Air Obit for Chuckles the Clown)

Ted Baxter [played by Ted Knight]: [ad-libbing an on-air obituary]: “Ladies and gentlemen, sad news. One of our most beloved entertainers, and close personal friend of mine, is dead. Chuckles the Clown died today from - from uh - he died a broken man. Chuckles, uh, leaves a wife. At least I assume he was married, he didn't seem like the other kind. I don't know his age, but I guess he was probably in his early sixties; it's kind of hard to judge a guy's face especially when he's wearing big lips and a light bulb for a nose. But he had his whole life in front of him, except for the sixty some odd years he already lived. I remember, Chuckles used to recite a poem at the end of each program. It was called 'The Credo of the Clown,' and I'd like to offer it now in his memory - 'A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.' That's what it's all about, folks, that's what he stood for, that's what gave his life meaning. Chuckles liked to make people laugh. You know what I'd like to think, I'd like to think that somewhere, up there tonight, in his honor, a choir of angels is sitting on whoopee cushions.”— The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Season 6, Episode 7, “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” original air date Oct. 25, 1975, teleplay by James L. Brooks, Allan Burns, and David Lloyd, directed by Joan Darling

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Quote of the Day (Marcel Proust, on the Hard-Won Struggle for Wisdom)

“There is no man,’ he began, ‘however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived in a way the consciousness of which is so unpleasant to him in later life that he would gladly, if he could, expunge it from his memory. And yet he ought not entirely to regret it, because he cannot be certain that he has indeed become a wise man—so far as it is possible for any of us to be wise—unless he has passed through all the fatuous or unwholesome incarnations by which that ultimate stage must be preceded. I know that there are young fellows, the sons and grand sons of famous men, whose masters have instilled into them nobility of mind and moral refinement in their schooldays. They have, perhaps, when they look back upon their past lives, nothing to retract; they can, if they choose, publish a signed account of everything they have ever said or done; but they are poor creatures, feeble descendants of doctrinaires, and their wisdom is negative and sterile. We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, an effort which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world. The lives that you admire, the attitudes that seem noble to you are not the result of training at home, by a father, or by masters at school, they have sprung from beginnings of a very different order, by reaction from the influence of everything evil or commonplace that prevailed round about them. They represent a struggle and a victory. I can see that the picture of what we once were, in early youth, may not be recognisable and cannot, certainly, be pleasing to contemplate in later life. But we must not deny the truth of it, for it is evidence that we have really lived, that it is in accordance with the laws of life and of the mind that we have, from the common elements of life, of the life of studios, of artistic groups—assuming that one is a painter—extracted something that goes beyond them.”— French novelist Marcel Proust (1871-1922), Within a Budding Grove, Vol. II of “In Search of Lost Time,” translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, by D.J. Enright (1918)

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Quote of the Day (Sir Kenneth Clark, on What Kills a Civilization)

"It is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.”—English art historian, museum director, and television personality Sir Kenneth Clark (1903-1983), Civilisation (1969)

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Quote of the Day (Frank McCourt, With Advice for a Young Teacher)

“Find what you love and do it. That's what it boils down to. I admit I didn't always love teaching. I was out of my depth. You're on your own in the classroom, one man or woman facing five classes every day, five classes of teenagers. One unit of energy against one hundred and seventy-five units of energy, one hundred and seventy-five ticking bombs, and you have to find ways of saving your own life. They may like you, they may even love you, but they are young and it is the business of the young to push the old off the planet.”—Longtime Irish-American teacher—and Pulitzer Prize-winning memoirist—Frank McCourt (1930-2009), Teacher Man (2005)

If we are lucky, most of us have had a teacher who’s made a difference in our lives. Too bad so much abuse gets hurled unfairly at such people who give so much of themselves; they’ll never get to hear the praise from those who feel that they are more of an inspiration than they can ever know.

(The image accompanying this post, showing Frank McCourt at a reading in Cologne, Germany, was taken Sept. 12, 2006 by Elke Wetzig.)

Monday, November 6, 2023

Review: Orson Welles’ ‘The War of the Worlds,’ (Re)staged Live at Barrymore Film Center, Fort Lee NJ

In a way, it was natural that Barrymore Film Center would follow the 1953 movie adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds with an even more unusual event: a live stage reading of the notorious 1938 radio broadcast that propelled its 23-year-old wunderkind director, Orson Welles, into the national consciousness.

Eighty-five years after radio listeners heard that Martians had landed in rural Grover’s Mill, NJ, would you believe it happened all over again in another part of the state Saturday night? Only this time it wasn’t millions of listeners unnerved, but a more select group of a few hundred attendees in suburban Fort Lee.

Over the years, several plausible reasons have been suggested for why the CBS broadcast became such a sensation, including an announcement at the start of the show noting that this was a dramatization of the Wells novel that was missed by listeners switching from another station, as well as the air of verisimilitude created by Welles through faux news reports on the invaders and the names of real New Jersey locations (instead of the British ones in Wells’ novel).

But, as I listened to the actors reading with gusto the original radio script by Howard Koch (who would secure even greater fame in a few years with his work on the movie Casablanca), I couldn’t help feeling that Welles had tapped into contemporary fears to an extent that he and his Mercury Theater company of actors didn’t remotely anticipate.

Director Ray Faiola, assuming Welles’ original role in setting the stage for the terror, somberly intoned that “Business was better; the war scare was over”—clear references to America finally easing out of the Great Depression and to the false “peace in our time” proclaimed a month earlier by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain after appeasing Adolf Hitler at Munich.

Within a few short years, terror was coming not from a fictional War of the Worlds but an actual World War II, with devastation engulfing entire nations rather than simply patches of the Garden State.

At the same time, I felt my own sense of unease about the script’s application to human beings of our time unaware of what they were doing to the climate as I heard the lines, “With infinite complacence people went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their dominion over this small spinning fragment of solar driftwood which by chance or design man has inherited out of the dark mystery of Time and Space.”

Throughout, Faiola—a retired director of audience services for CBS, and currently appearing on the small screen in “The Secret Diary of an Exchange Student,” “Darcy,” and “Confession”—ably read Welles’ lines from decades ago, even as he monitored the effects from technical supervisor Eldric Etra.

 (An extra thrill of the proceedings was hearing once again the incidental music of composer Bernard Herrmann, who would go on to score Welles’ Citizen Kane and much of Alfred Hitchcock’s best work from the Fifties and Sixties.)

At the end of the show, after all the terror of the events he narrated, Faiola seemed particularly amused as he read Welles’ non-apology apology after CBS urged him to make a statement on the hullabaloo:

“Of course we are deeply shocked and deeply regretful about the results of last night’s broadcast. It came as rather a great surprise to us that the H. G. Welles classic—which is the original for many fantasies about invasions by mythical monsters from the planet Mars—I was extremely surprised to learn that a story which has become familiar to children through the medium of comic strips and many succeeding novels and adventure stories, should have had such an immediate and profound effect on radio listeners.

Faiola and the quartet of actors with him onstage—Sean Marrinan, Wayne Pyle, Craig Marin and Kevin Miller—have had considerable experience with bringing back to life the world of radio drama, as they have been longtime participants in Halloween “Terror at the Mike” thriller series that have been staged in Ellenville, NY. The audience on Saturday night was the great beneficiary of their feeling and reverence for the medium.

It appears that this might have been the first time that the Barrymore—which opened a little over a year ago—has tried this kind of experiment. Judging from the healthy attendance and the appreciative response of the crowd, I wouldn’t be surprised if this kind of re-staged radio dramatization becomes an annual event—maybe even around Halloween again?

Quote of the Day (John F. Kennedy, on How Things Happen)

“Things do not happen; they are made to happen.”—John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States (1917-1963), “Remarks in Los Banos, California, at the Ground-Breaking Ceremonies for the San Luis Dam,” Aug. 18, 1962

TV Quote of the Day (‘Bewitched,’ As Darrin Gets His First Taste of Samantha’s Uncle Arthur)

[Samantha, Darrin, Endora and Arthur are together, drinking coffee.]

Uncle Arthur [played by Paul Lynde]: “Cream, Darrin?”

Darrin Stephens [played by Dick York]: “Yes, please.”

Uncle Arthur [he creates instantly a cow by magic]: “Help yourself.” [smirking] “Forgive me. I just can't help milking a joke.”—Bewitched, Season 2, Episode 5, “The Joker Is a Card,” original air date Oct. 14, 1965, teleplay by Ron Friedman and Sol Saks, directed by E.W. Swackhamer

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Rabbi David Wolpe, on Why Faith Matters)

“Why does faith matter? Love of this world, of one another, is the sole hope in an age when we can destroy the world many times over. There is no power that is only good, that cannot be twisted for evil. Religion is hardly an exception. But while there are many things that can doom us, only one thing can save us. Faith. Not blind or bigoted faith, but faith that pushes us to be better, to give more of ourselves, to see glimmers of transcendence scattered throughout our lives. Such faith is an achievement and a gift: it is an achievement of seeking, questioning, yearning, reasoning, hoping, and it is a gift of God, who fashioned this world, whose goodness sustains it and whose teachings could save it if only we—believers and deniers both—would listen, would love.”— Rabbi David Wolpe, Why Faith Matters (2008)

The image accompanying this post, showing Rabbi David Wolpe officiating at a wedding, was taken June 1, 2014.

Quote of the Day (Ginia Bellafante, on Why Having Sam Bankman-Fried Testify Was ‘A Self-Defeating Proposition’)

“From the outset, the decision to have Mr. Bankman-Fried testify in the federal trial that charged him with some of the most grievous acts of financial fraud in the country’s history seemed like a self-defeating proposition. Ostentatiously unfazed by physical beauty, art, novels, fashion, religion and heated food, he was also an avowed hater of Shakespeare ('one-dimensional' characters, 'illogical plots,' 'obvious endings') who was mystified by emotionally driven decisions, challenging any effort to place him somewhere on a continuum of human relatability.”—“Big City” columnist Ginia Bellafante, “In Crypto Case, Using an Image as a Shield,” The New York Times, Nov. 5, 2023

The image accompanying this post, showing Sam Bankman-Fried on a video call during the MIT Bitcoin Expo 2022, was taken July 8, 2022.