Friday, August 3, 2012

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Radio Rant

I got a fund-raising letter from the public radio station that plays classical music here in Miami. I wrote them back.

Dear Classical South Florida:

Thanks for the “Action Needed!” donation reminder. I listen to the station all day at work (6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) and in the car. I have donated in the past. But when finances got tight, I had to give it up. Now I could probably contribute a small amount, but I have made the decision not to based on the following points:

1. You play the same pieces over and over. I have heard “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” more times in the last year than I’d heard in all my life up until then. I love Gershwin’s music, too, but I’m actually getting tired of “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris,” which means you’ve basically taken the joy out of hearing them. It’s gotten to the point that when I hear a DJ announce a piece by a certain composer – Wagner, Richard Strauss, Copland, Gershwin, or Beethoven – I can bet what that piece will be, and if I had a dollar for every time I was right, I’d give it all to you. You’re a classical music source with hundreds of years and hundreds of pieces to choose from. Please use those vast resources and stop playing the Top 40. And don’t get me started on “Bolero.”

2. There’s a propensity for your playlist to include music from the Baroque era that specializes in screechy and high-pitched strings, usually in concert with each other that actually puts my teeth on edge. I realize Georg Philipp Telemann wrote a lot of music, but do you have to play all of it… ?

3. You moved Performance Today from noon to 7:00 p.m. Why? That program provides variety, information, and insight that made me pay attention. Instead, you replaced it with another two hours of jukebox classical music seemingly chosen at random to fit into the constraints.

4. Speaking of constraints, I realize that Classical South Florida is an outlet of Classical 24 and you have no more choice over what comes out from the network than the local TV station has over what comes to them during primetime; Classical South Florida hears the same music as Classical Sun Valley. I also realize that you have to meet time constraints such as finding enough music to fit in 54 minutes each hour, which would explain why you go with the shorter pieces. But they don’t have to be the same pieces over and over again.

5. As you know, South Florida went through the drought of no classical music on the radio when WTMI went off the air in 2001. We welcomed you to our area with open arms and I am very glad you’re here. But I also think you have squandered the opportunity to make an impact on both the music and educational world here. As a public station, you have an obligation to be more than just a repeater station for a network.

6. I’ve lived all over this country and listened to classical stations from Denver to Petoskey, Michigan; from commercial stations like the legendary KVOD to WQXR in New York. I grew up on Karl Haas’s “Adventures in Good Music” through the speakers of an AM radio on WJR in Detroit, and participated in the raucous pledge drives at Interlochen Public Radio where they actually had fun and made me want to listen to them beg for money. Each of those stations forged a personality that differentiated it from the other. Classical South Florida is trying desperately to forge an audience by acting as if it’s a local outlet when we know it is not. I realize there’s nothing to be done about that; you can’t forge a South Florida personality when your hosts are in Minneapolis. But you can do better than be just a Muzak feed that has all the variety of the buffet line at Golden Corral.

I’ll keep listening, and I’ll keep hoping to hear something new. But until I do, you’re not getting any financial support from me.

I will say this in their favor: I have yet to hear one of their hosts introduce “The Grand Canyon Suite” by “Fred Groff.”

Radio Rant

I got a fund-raising letter from the public radio station that plays classical music here in Miami. I wrote them back.

Dear Classical South Florida:

Thanks for the “Action Needed!” donation reminder. I listen to the station all day at work (6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) and in the car. I have donated in the past. But when finances got tight, I had to give it up. Now I could probably contribute a small amount, but I have made the decision not to based on the following points:

1. You play the same pieces over and over. I have heard “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” more times in the last year than I’d heard in all my life up until then. I love Gershwin’s music, too, but I’m actually getting tired of “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris,” which means you’ve basically taken the joy out of hearing them. It’s gotten to the point that when I hear a DJ announce a piece by a certain composer – Wagner, Richard Strauss, Copland, Gershwin, or Beethoven – I can bet what that piece will be, and if I had a dollar for every time I was right, I’d give it all to you. You’re a classical music source with hundreds of years and hundreds of pieces to choose from. Please use those vast resources and stop playing the Top 40. And don’t get me started on “Bolero.”

2. There’s a propensity for your playlist to include music from the Baroque era that specializes in screechy and high-pitched strings, usually in concert with each other that actually puts my teeth on edge. I realize Georg Philipp Telemann wrote a lot of music, but do you have to play all of it… ?

3. You moved Performance Today from noon to 7:00 p.m. Why? That program provides variety, information, and insight that made me pay attention. Instead, you replaced it with another two hours of jukebox classical music seemingly chosen at random to fit into the constraints.

4. Speaking of constraints, I realize that Classical South Florida is an outlet of Classical 24 and you have no more choice over what comes out from the network than the local TV station has over what comes to them during primetime; Classical South Florida hears the same music as Classical Sun Valley. I also realize that you have to meet time constraints such as finding enough music to fit in 54 minutes each hour, which would explain why you go with the shorter pieces. But they don’t have to be the same pieces over and over again.

5. As you know, South Florida went through the drought of no classical music on the radio when WTMI went off the air in 2001. We welcomed you to our area with open arms and I am very glad you’re here. But I also think you have squandered the opportunity to make an impact on both the music and educational world here. As a public station, you have an obligation to be more than just a repeater station for a network.

6. I’ve lived all over this country and listened to classical stations from Denver to Petoskey, Michigan; from commercial stations like the legendary KVOD to WQXR in New York. I grew up on Karl Haas’s “Adventures in Good Music” through the speakers of an AM radio on WJR in Detroit, and participated in the raucous pledge drives at Interlochen Public Radio where they actually had fun and made me want to listen to them beg for money. Each of those stations forged a personality that differentiated it from the other. Classical South Florida is trying desperately to forge an audience by acting as if it’s a local outlet when we know it is not. I realize there’s nothing to be done about that; you can’t forge a South Florida personality when your hosts are in Minneapolis. But you can do better than be just a Muzak feed that has all the variety of the buffet line at Golden Corral.

I’ll keep listening, and I’ll keep hoping to hear something new. But until I do, you’re not getting any financial support from me.

I will say this in their favor: I have yet to hear one of their hosts introduce “The Grand Canyon Suite” by “Fred Groff.”

Monday, March 12, 2012

Game Change — Palin Comparison

As playwright Peter Stone once noted, history writes lousy drama. He should know; he was one of the authors who took on the events surrounding the writing of the Declaration of Independence and turned it into 1776, a musical. Characters and actions in real life are complicated, and coming up with a simple story arc that reveals more than just what happened means that you have to create characters that are more than just echoes of the historical figures being portrayed on the stage or screen. Put simply, you have to start from scratch and create compelling characters and situations that reflect that core of the character and their objectives.

So turning a recent event into a drama requires more than just using the film clips and transcripts of interviews or even the background from a tell-all book. That’s the background, but it’s up to the writer and the actor to turn the characters into something worth listening to and caring about.

The HBO film Game Change, directed by Jay Roach from a screenplay by Danny Strong, is based on the book about the 2008 presidential campaign by John Heileman and Mark Halperin. The film focuses on the selection of Sarah Palin as the vice presidential running mate for John McCain and the realization on the part of Steve Schmidt, the McCain adviser who selected her, that they had created a monster. It wasn’t the fact that Gov. Palin was unaware of the basics of foreign policy or geography, didn’t read newspapers, or was uncontrollable on the campaign trail. It was the fact that they had chosen someone purely to shake up the dynamics of the presidential race with little or no thought about what would happen if they won and Sarah Palin became the Vice President of the United States.

There was a lot of pre-show chatter, including a preemptive raspberry from Ms. Palin herself. Well, that’s not surprising, but it’s also in keeping with the fact that a movie — even if it’s “based on a true story” — isn’t going to be historically accurate. Julianne Moore isn’t Sarah Palin, and for all the method acting work she did studying the character she was going to play, she could never be Sarah Palin. But what she could do is create a multi-dimensional character, showing her strengths as well as her weaknesses, and making us care about her. Ms. Moore went to great lengths to look and sound like Ms. Palin, but she also created a role that went beyond the two dimensions that we saw on the news in 2008 or heard on her bus tour last summer. It is a brilliant interpretation of a flawed and tragic character.

Woody Harrelson did a masterful job with his role of Steve Schmidt, the Svengali of the campaign who was responsible for finding the “game changer” that would turn the election away from electing a “celebrity” — Barack Obama — to electing John McCain… by selecting their own celebrity. Picking a running mate has always been a political ploy — who can we get to balance the ticket? — but never before had it been so cavalierly considered: who can we get to get a great post-convention poll bounce? At the end of the film it’s apparent that Mr. Schmidt realizes what he has done to the future of American elections, and the awareness of his actions dawns on him to a degree that frankly is lost on his counterparts in real life. After all, the current election cycle is providing us with candidates who have no business running for the presidency, and they’re being advised and coached by people who took their lesson from McCain-Palin 2008. (No wonder the real Steve Schmidt got out of the business.) Watching the slow realization by Mr. Schmidt that what started out as a campaign tactic and grew into a disaster both politically and historically by truly changing the political landscape from considering what happens after the election to just winning it was thrilling, and affirms my belief that Woody Harrelson is one of the most underrated actors in the business.

The real Sarah Palin dismissed the film as “fact-free.” In a way, that’s a compliment; movies like this are not supposed to withstand the test of historical accuracy. (The same can be said of films that glorify characters that Ms. Palin admires such as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.) They use the events as the framing for the tales that reveal more about our true nature and what we learn about ourselves. That’s the essence of drama. If you want history, Sarah, read a newspaper.

Game Change — Palin Comparison

As playwright Peter Stone once noted, history writes lousy drama. He should know; he was one of the authors who took on the events surrounding the writing of the Declaration of Independence and turned it into 1776, a musical. Characters and actions in real life are complicated, and coming up with a simple story arc that reveals more than just what happened means that you have to create characters that are more than just echoes of the historical figures being portrayed on the stage or screen. Put simply, you have to start from scratch and create compelling characters and situations that reflect that core of the character and their objectives.

So turning a recent event into a drama requires more than just using the film clips and transcripts of interviews or even the background from a tell-all book. That’s the background, but it’s up to the writer and the actor to turn the characters into something worth listening to and caring about.

The HBO film Game Change, directed by Jay Roach from a screenplay by Danny Strong, is based on the book about the 2008 presidential campaign by John Heileman and Mark Halperin. The film focuses on the selection of Sarah Palin as the vice presidential running mate for John McCain and the realization on the part of Steve Schmidt, the McCain adviser who selected her, that they had created a monster. It wasn’t the fact that Gov. Palin was unaware of the basics of foreign policy or geography, didn’t read newspapers, or was uncontrollable on the campaign trail. It was the fact that they had chosen someone purely to shake up the dynamics of the presidential race with little or no thought about what would happen if they won and Sarah Palin became the Vice President of the United States.

There was a lot of pre-show chatter, including a preemptive raspberry from Ms. Palin herself. Well, that’s not surprising, but it’s also in keeping with the fact that a movie — even if it’s “based on a true story” — isn’t going to be historically accurate. Julianne Moore isn’t Sarah Palin, and for all the method acting work she did studying the character she was going to play, she could never be Sarah Palin. But what she could do is create a multi-dimensional character, showing her strengths as well as her weaknesses, and making us care about her. Ms. Moore went to great lengths to look and sound like Ms. Palin, but she also created a role that went beyond the two dimensions that we saw on the news in 2008 or heard on her bus tour last summer. It is a brilliant interpretation of a flawed and tragic character.

Woody Harrelson did a masterful job with his role of Steve Schmidt, the Svengali of the campaign who was responsible for finding the “game changer” that would turn the election away from electing a “celebrity” — Barack Obama — to electing John McCain… by selecting their own celebrity. Picking a running mate has always been a political ploy — who can we get to balance the ticket? — but never before had it been so cavalierly considered: who can we get to get a great post-convention poll bounce? At the end of the film it’s apparent that Mr. Schmidt realizes what he has done to the future of American elections, and the awareness of his actions dawns on him to a degree that frankly is lost on his counterparts in real life. After all, the current election cycle is providing us with candidates who have no business running for the presidency, and they’re being advised and coached by people who took their lesson from McCain-Palin 2008. (No wonder the real Steve Schmidt got out of the business.) Watching the slow realization by Mr. Schmidt that what started out as a campaign tactic and grew into a disaster both politically and historically by truly changing the political landscape from considering what happens after the election to just winning it was thrilling, and affirms my belief that Woody Harrelson is one of the most underrated actors in the business.

The real Sarah Palin dismissed the film as “fact-free.” In a way, that’s a compliment; movies like this are not supposed to withstand the test of historical accuracy. (The same can be said of films that glorify characters that Ms. Palin admires such as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.) They use the events as the framing for the tales that reveal more about our true nature and what we learn about ourselves. That’s the essence of drama. If you want history, Sarah, read a newspaper.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

All Booked Up

I’ve been wondering when some sort of insider book on the Obama administration would be coming out, and I guess one has.

The problem with this or any book about any president is that it’s not really all that interesting unless you’re a West Wing kind of nerd and you get off on listening in on gossip about people you don’t know doing things that have no real context. They’re talking about someone’s management style as if that is a true measure of how successful or not they will be. I’ve worked for people whose office looked like the bottom of a birdcage and treated people like shit and got amazing things done, and I’ve worked for people who were organized and dispassionate and accomplished just as much. Or sometimes nothing at all.

The whole point is that these kinds of inside-the-Beltway inside-baseball books don’t really mean much except to give people we don’t care about a little airtime on daytime cable TV.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ruth and Rosie

My latest addition to my very small art collection:

“La Belle Chanteuse.”

Story below the fold.

It is a painting of Rosie Mayhew of the Liberty Inn in Chicago. The painting was a gift to Ruth Bailey Swigart from Alex Maley of Honor, Michigan, in 1964.

Ruth Bailey Swigart was the founder and producer of the Cherry County Playhouse in Traverse City, Michigan. She ran the summer stock theatre from 1955 until 1976, when she sold it to comedian Pat Paulsen and Neil Rosen, a TV producer from Los Angeles. She had a summer home near our family’s place in northern Michigan, and she knew of my love of theatre. In 1970 she gave me my first professional (as in working on a professional stage, but unpaid) role in theatre in a production of My Daughter, Your Son with Vivian Vance. We remained friends for the rest of her life.

When she passed away, her summer home went to her relatives, and the furnishings — including the painting of Rosie — stayed with the house. Earlier this year, however, the house was sold and Ruth’s memorabilia was dispersed to family and friends. The painting arrived at my parents’ house in Perrysburg as a gift from the family to me.

I’m no art historian, so I don’t know if Mr. Maley was the artist or if he just presented it to Ruth “with applause,” as it says on the back. I also don’t presume to be a critic of art. I can’t speak to the style or the technique or judge whether it’s good or bad. (The somewhat odd placement of the eyes, which seem to come from the Alfred E. Neuman school, are mesmerizing.) But it is a nice remembrance of Ruth and the start she gave me in theatre.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Politically Incorrect

As a part of my annual pilgrimage to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, I put on my theatre scholar’s cap to review the plays we’re seeing.

Honesty may be the best policy, but it doesn’t always work in politics and in affairs of the heart. At least that seems to be the point in Molière’s brilliant and stylishly-produced comedy The Misanthrope at Stratford.

The story centers around Alceste, a man who has vowed to speak frankly about his opinions, foregoing the niceties of 18th century Paris society where politeness and social amenities are the Rule. It gets him into trouble with his friends as well as the woman he loves, and even when his honesty is put to the test both in court and in winning his love, he has to pay a price.

The timelessness of the play doesn’t hurt, either. Today we seem to be awash in people offering their unvarnished opinions of everything, from (ahem) bloggers to the cult of personalities that develop around the folks on cable TV who claim to speak their mind and damn the consequences. Everyone from Glenn Beck to Rush Limbaugh to Keith Olbermann to presidential candidates holds forth and frequently get in trouble for their candor. And, as Molière proves in this play, it often becomes less about the moment of truth than it does about the person speaking it. Rather than “listen to what I’m saying,” it becomes “listen to ME!” And when honesty becomes secondary to personality, both lose.

The production at Stratford is beautiful in all respects. The Festival stage is a gilded wedding cake of a Paris home at the hands of designer John Lee Beatty, and the costumes by Robin Fraser Paye are equally stunning. The translation is by Richard Wilbur, done in rhyming couplets, and it captures both the voice and the taste of the era in its wit and charm, and it is deftly directed by David Grindley.

The performances are all stand-out, including Ben Carlson as Alceste and Sarah Topham as Célimène, his love interest and exact opposite when it comes to social decorum. The pace is quick, the staging choreographed beautifully, and the points of the story are rapier-like, not cudgeled. Stratford may be renown for its productions of Shakespeare, but they know how to do a comedy of manners as well.

(Cross-posted at Bobby Cramer.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Falstaff 2.0

As a part of my annual pilgrimage to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, I put on my theatre scholar’s cap to review the plays we’re seeing.

Each year that we come to Stratford, we make an effort to see something we’ve never seen before. That’s the case with Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor; it was a new one for me.

Legend has it that Queen Elizabeth commanded that Shakespeare write a play about Sir John Falstaff in love. According to scholarship, that’s not exactly true, but it’s a nice little legend, and it explains how a character from Henry IV can show up in England some 200 years after his death in Henry V. In this play, Falstaff has been rebooted from the hard-drinking rowdy confidante of Prince Hal to become a broke and dissipated sot without much of a touch of Harry in the night. The only connection between the two Falstaffs is the name. In this case, Falstaff is not so much in love as he is in lust and looking for money, and since both desires can lead a man to foolishness, the women he has set his sights on use him as their foil.

This play also serves as an outlier in Shakespeare’s canon. It is the only play of his that takes place in Elizabethan England, in sync with Shakespeare’s own life. The characters aren’t named Antonio or Romeo, there’s no magic spells or ancient curses to be fought or heeded, and the plot isn’t based on a recycled story or rewrought history of English kings and dynasties (although it does contain elements of stories by translated by William Painter). It is, in many ways, a precursor to the comedies that would come along a hundred years later, after the time of Cromwell when public theatre was banned, and the stage was being restored and influenced by the Renaissance making its way to England from the continent. If you didn’t know it was Shakespeare, you would think you were seeing something by such writers as William Wycherly or John Dryden.

The plot is not all that different than a lot of Shakespeare’s previous comedies; there’s mistaken identity, disguises, attempts at adultery, and strong women who pretend to be at the mercy of the menfolk but are really the ones in charge. Of course there are young lovers who are determined to marry against their parents’ wishes, and of course it all ends happily, even if there are some loose ends left untied. (I guess even Shakespeare struggled with finding a good ending.)

The production on the Festival stage under the able direction of Frank Galanti is thoroughly enjoyable. Laura Condlin as Mistress Page and Lucy Peacock as Mistress Ford, are the nominal merry wives, and they have a great deal of fun. The plotting husbands are played to the hilt by Tom McCamus as Master Page and Tom Rooney as Master Ford. Geraint Wyn Davies hams it up well as Sir John Falstaff, who is treated more like the butt of jokes rather than the driver of the plot; he’s painted almost like Malvolio in Twelfth Night and even has a couple of goofy companions to round out the company. The thankless roles of the young lovers, Fenton and Miss Ann Page, are played with winsome charm by Trent Pardy and Andrea Runge, but as in most of Shakespeare’s comedies, they don’t get to have as much fun as the rest of the intriguers.

This is not your Henry’s Falstaff, but he’s still a basketful of laughs.

(Cross-posted at Bobby Cramer.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Harold Pinter’s Comic Stylings

As a part of my annual pilgrimage to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, I put on my theatre scholar’s cap to review the plays we’re seeing.

I remember sitting through numerous graduate school seminars in theatre where we plumbed the depths of every line in a Harold Pinter play, trying to come up with the inner meanings of his long pauses and seemingly disconnected simple phrases. The plots were deceptively simple, we thought, because there had to be something more. How else could Pinter achieve the total heaviosity that we were told was there?

Even after working on two different productions of The Birthday Party, one under the direction of Emily Mann at the University of Minnesota, I was sure that there was some greater depth to Pinter’s work than what we saw on the surface; maybe I had not achieved the elusive level of understanding, and all I saw was just the inane conversation between people I didn’t care about. But all the wise and insightful articles and critiques of his work hinted that there was much, much more. And so I sought it out.

Well, I finally figured it out yesterday at the hands of a truly great production of The Homecoming here at Stratford: Harold Pinter was a comic genius. Not in the fashion of the Marx Brothers or Mel Brooks, but in crafting characters and situations that really are truly comic. Instead of being menacing, Brian Dennehy gives Max, the patriarch of his dysfunctional collection of sons and brothers, a blustery tone in an almost Homer Simpson way that lets you appreciate his ineffectualness. His in-home sons Lenny and Joey are echoes of their father; Lenny, the seething and conniving pimp, and Joey, the muscular, inarticulate, slightly goofy boxer who lives for the moment. All of them are perfect for playing off each other.

As in all Pinter plays, there is a menacing intruder who disrupts the flow. In this case it’s the arrival of Max’s son Teddy, a professor of philosophy who lives in the U.S, and his wife Ruth, who immediately sizes up the family dynamic and plays each of the men like a fine Stradivarius. It’s all done in a claustrophobic set of a dingy home in London that cries out for more room, even after long-ago attempts to make the space bigger.

This production doesn’t play for the broad laughs; director Jennifer Tarver and her cast knew just the right touches to bring about the laughter — both broad and nervous — in this production. The casting is perfect, and Mr. Dennehy, who has a presence on stage that is both vulnerable and menacing in everything I’ve seen him in, is the quintessential English working class dad. Stephen Ouimette is always a delight to watch for his understated archness, and Cara Ricketts as Ruth is just plain fascinating. Kudos also to Ian Lake as Joey and Mike Shara as the seemingly dense Teddy, the professor who appears to not know what is happening right under his nose, but really does get it.

I suppose it’s rather Pinteresque that I learned more about Pinter’s work in two hours yesterday than I did in all those seminars way back in grad school. Who knew?

(Cross-posted at Bobby Cramer.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Film Review — The King’s Speech

I won’t keep you in suspense. The King’s Speech is one of the best films I’ve seen in a very long time. Colin Firth as Bertie, the stammering Duke of York who became King George VI and overcame his speech impediment, is heartbreakingly good, as is Geoffrey Rush who plays Lionel Logue, his speech therapist who is unimpressed with his royal patient’s pedigree but clearly fond and supportive of his friend. Helena Bonham Carter is delightful and charming as the young Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) who reaches out to find Mr. Logue to help her husband overcome his disability.

There is much more, though, to this story than just a man learning how to speak in public. The family dynamics of an overbearing father who also happens to be King George V (Michael Gambon) and a feckless older brother (Guy Pearce) who treats his duties as the heir to the throne as a way to get laid all play out like all good dramas involving families and the clash of personalities and ambition. It’s clear that Bertie’s stammer is a result of growing up terrified by his father, bullied by his brother, and dismissed by his mother (Claire Bloom), damaged and intimidated to the point that he cannot bear to hear himself speak. The therapy that Lionel Logue gives him isn’t the physical and vocal techniques that help him speak; it’s the simple act of friendship and trust.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Film Review — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I

I finally went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I at a practically empty theatre in West Kendall. To quote the immortal Pauline Kael (reviewing another film), it would have been twice as good at half the length.

I get it that the target audience for this film probably tops out at people who are forty years younger than me (I’m 58), but I’m wondering how they thought that kids would sit through some of the long scenes full of meaningful looks that are meant to convey bridled teenage lust while the rest of the wizarding world is being destroyed by an evil wizard with a head like a turtle. But it does have the three things that Alan Alda says are necessary for a hit film with teenagers: blowing things up, people taking off their clothes (Daniel Radcliffe needs to hit the gym), and defiance of adult authority. So in those terms, the film works and guarantees that there will be a lot of kids lined up to see Part II next July.

I’ve read all the books and while I really admire J.K. Rowling’s capacity to tell a story that keeps you turning pages, I can’t help but think that they are written in disappearing ink. Each time I’ve seen a film version of the books, I’ve had to remind myself that, yes, I did read this before, but I don’t remember this particular plot point or this character. Contrast that with Peter Jackson’s versions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I remembered every turn of the plot from the novels and it has to be at least thirty years since I last read the books. Maybe it’s me and my aging memory. Or maybe it’s that I really don’t care all that much about the characters in the Harry Potter books.

As noted, the final book has been split into two parts. The official story is that there is so much to be told that it would have made the film too long for one sitting. That may easily be, but I think that the real purpose of splitting it out was to stretch it out and double the box office take for the end of the franchise. (The same could be said for what they’re planning to do with Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Come on; that story is shorter than the first volume of LOTR.) I think that with some judicious editing and tighter writing, Deathly Hallows could have been made into one film and be done with it. But Warner Bros is looking for a for-sure summer blockbuster in 2011, and if the previews of coming attractions are any guide, they and the film industry are going to need it. (Among other cinematic masterpieces, we have a Twilight-inspired re-telling of “Little Red Riding Hood” and Ryan Reynolds in a g-string as Green Lantern to look forward to. Oh yip yah.)

What I think has befallen the series is that it has begun to take itself too seriously. When the first film came out nine years ago, there was a light-heartedness about it that was reflected in the innocence and playfulness of the magic that the young wizards were doing; these were children and childrens’ books. The settings, even the scary ones, had a sense of lightness and wonder about them, as did the direction and writing, and the often-whimsical music of John Williams helped set the tone. But with each film another layer of darkness settled upon them until now they have achieved a level that tries to convey Serious and Deep Heaviosity going on rather than the lighter fare they started out with. There was not one moment of comic relief in this chapter; not even a crinkle of a smile. That’s a sure sign of trouble. Even Hamlet has a few yucks in it.

The Harry Potter franchise always relied on adult supervision and some amazing performances from actors like Maggie Smith, Alan Rachins, and Michael Gambon (preceded by the late Richard Harris as Dumbledore). Now the adults have barely a cameo — Maggie Smith isn’t even in it — and the whole soggy story falls on the thin shoulders of Mr. Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint. They may be fine actors in their own regard, but they and their characters just don’t have the strength to pull it off.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Almost Home

We’re back in Perrysburg. We had a nice breakfast this morning at the hotel, took a little drive around Niagara-On-The-Lake (and actually saw the lake), then headed home via the Lewiston Bridge back to the U.S.A. The lines were long on this Sunday morning — it took us 45 minutes to get to the Customs inspector — but he was very nice and asked about the plays we’d seen. Then we made our way through Buffalo to I-90, Western New York (past a lot of vineyards), the little upraised thumb of Pennsylvania, then on to Ohio, through Cleveland, and home: 780 miles all told, and a complete circumnavigation of Lake Erie.

I’ve posted a review of John Bull’s Other Island, the play we saw at the Shaw last night, at Bobby Cramer.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

Thursday, August 5, 2010