With Albert Finney’s departure from the world stage on February 7, there’s plenty to say about his exceptional career. Two favorite scenes from The Dresser (1983) are included here. The film is about a small ragtag acting troupe that brings Shakespeare to the provinces. It’s a sendup of bombastic old-school acting and a poignant study of the lead actor’s personal assistant or “dresser.” The film opens with Finney's character in the role of Othello. As you can see from the above photograph, his entire body has been darkened. Tom Courtenay, his dresser, is shown assisting him with a post-performance bath.
Taken on its own and out of context, the image is both compelling and off-putting. It seems especially relevant to the current social moment when blackface is trending yet again. What does it mean when a white actor darkens his skin to play Othello? Is that the same as the kind of blackface historically used to denigrate African Americans? Or something different?
Ann Patchett , Julie Harris, Georges Seurat & Maria Callas Give December 2nd a Good Name - Happy Birthday
Born this day in 1963, she is NOT the author of Bird by Bird, though Ann Patchett says she is sometimes mistaken for Anne Lamott at book signings. The reason people line up to see her is that she made them fall in love by turning out one beautiful novel after another. Best known for the prize-winning Bel Canto, she has also given us The Patron Saint of Liars, Run, State of Wonder, and (one of my favorites) The Magician's Assistant. It was just a few weeks ago on November 19th, that she spoke at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco, where her warmth, intelligence and insights left no doubt as to why her fans wait for her latest book and line up outside bookstores for her autograph. Here she is in a YouTube reprise of that delightful event.
In her 87 years on the planet, this actor gave us many memorable performances, which have set the bar for any others who attempt roles she made her own. It is difficult to imagine anyone else in The Belle of Amherst, for instance. When I wonder what poet Emily Dickinson looked and sounded like, it's Harris who comes to mind. The year she spent studying theater at the Yale School of Drama served her well. She moved easily from Tony Award-winning performances on Broadway to film adaptations of the same material. Carson McCullers' A Member of the Wedding and The Last of Mrs. Lincoln come readily to mind. Nominated ten times for a Tony, she won five of them and received many other awards during her brilliant career. Here she is with James Dean in the screen adaptation of John Steinbeck's East of Eden.
Even if you've seen Sunday in the Park with George a zillion times or tacked posters of his pointillist paintings to your dorm-room wall, you will not be prepared for the way Seurat's work envelops you. It's a little like falling in love the way it happens one dot at a time until all of a sudden you're completely involved. If I could bear the winters, I would move to Illinois to be near the Chicago Art Institute for the pleasure of seeing his massive A Sunday on La Grande Jatte at least once a week. Here's one of those delightful 7-minute clips from SmartHistory with more. Thanks again to Drs. Beth Harris and Steven Zucker. By the way, Seurat was born this day in 1859.
Listen to the following recording of "Ave Maria," and you will understand why this soprano was known as La Divina (The Divine One). It is a matter of record that she gave up her career in opera after falling in love with shipping magnate Aristotle Onasis, who basically dumped her some time later for Jacqueline Kennedy, whom he eventually married. But that is not the record that will stand when we think of Callas, who would have turned 90 on this day. Thanks to the fine art of digital remastering, some of her best recordings are now accessible and can be fully appreciated on decent stereo equipment. My personal favorite is "Casta Diva" from Bellini's Norma. So what the heck - I've been on vacation for a few days - why not throw that in too. Enjoy!
Born this day in 1887, she is the quintessential artist. Not only was she a photographic model for her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, who may have exploited their intimacy by exhibiting his private photographs of her, but was - and is - a model for the rest of us who want to live lives that reflect our values. Independent, creative, in touch with the natural world, she continues to inspire. Most of us recognize her famous flower paintings. But take a look at the beautifully edited piece below, put together by "starrynight003." Her landscapes are lovely, too.
Born in Buenos Aires on this day in 1942, this Israeli-Argentine pianist and conductor has won seven Grammy Awards, received a knighthood, and racked up more honors than you can shake a stick at. A charismatic figure in his own right, he was famously married to the equally charismatic cellist, Jacqueline Du Pre. Much has been written about her tragic illness, and as outsiders, we can never really know what their relationship was like. However, there was a moment before their troubles set in, when they shared something remarkable as artists. The following clip from an early recording session shows some of the joy they ignited in each other, which found its way into music.
Born this day in 1920, this wonderful painter turns 93 today. The clip below is from an interview conducted five years ago. Love what he says about painting anthologizing the sum human consciousness from all of our sides, from the majestic and spiritual all the way down to brute terror and the tremendous inhumanity of man. As one of the YouTube comments points out, this man is a national treasure.
TAGS: Truth & Beauty, Muses & Music, Famous Birthdays
Wally Shawn (My Dinner with Andre) Born Today; Also, Rodin (Filmed in His Studio) & Anne Hathaway (Devil/Prada)
Put him in a line-up with a dozen hunky guys, and you'd never guess that Wally Shawn is the playwright, essayist and actor whose credits include Woody Allen's Manhattan, Toy Story, Murphy Brown, The Incredibles - and of course, Louis Malle's phenomenal two-man tour de force, My Dinner with Andre, a few mind-blowing moments of which are included in the clip below. Happy Birthday Number 70, Wally!
Born this day in 1840, this French sculptor gave us The Kiss, The Burghers of Calais, and The Thinker. It's impossible to show that moment during the creative process when, as Ingmar Bergman once said, the artist ceases to exist, becomes, as it were, invisible. But at least this scratchy old clip gives us some idea of what the physical Rodin looked like while at work in his studio.
Yes, we all know by now that Anne Hathaway, born this day 31 years ago, won a much deserved Oscar for Les Miserables. But wasn't she also amazing in Rachel Getting Married? For many of us, that was the film that told us she knew how to go deep.
Painter, filmmaker, artist extraordinaire, Julian Schnabel was born this day in 1951. Nominated for an Oscar for his beautiful film, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, he also made a terrific film about the African-American artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, a taste of which is offered here.
The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
My Dad did not have much time to take my brothers and me to see many films, what with his job as a dining-car waiter back in the days of separate-but-equal. So when he did, it was a major event. The 1957 version of the famous gunfight with Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday was the one we saw. What really happened on this day back in 1881 in Tombstone, Arizona, is probably more interesting today as legend than history. But for me, this film is a chance to hang out with my Dad again, though he passed away years ago during my freshman year in college. He did not have much education, but he made sure we all got good ones. And he certainly knew a good movie when he saw one. This one's for you, Dad.
And as long as we're talking fathers and sons, let's say Happy Birthday to novelist, Pat Conroy, born this day in 1946, with this great scene from the movie based on his novel, The Great Santini.
It's true that the video quality of the below clip is not so great, but there's nothing wrong with the audio. A couple of months ago, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, and it is widely known that Martin Luther King, Jr., often found inspiration in music. An opera lover, he was also deeply moved by the voice of Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972), and was said to have listened to her sing this song the night before he delivered his immortal Dream speech.
Gertrude Stein's Portrait of Picasso on His Birthday; Georges Bizet, Johann Strauss II & Katy Perry Also Born This Day
Here is the opening of Gertrude Stein's cubist portrait of Pablo Picasso, "If I Told Him," to celebrate his arrival on the planet this day in 1881, followed by a lovely four-minute video meditation on his life and work.
"If I told him would he like it. Would he like it if I told him.
Would he like it would Napoleon would Napoleon would would he like it.
If Napoleon if I told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if I told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if Napoleon if
Napoleon if I told him. If I told him if Napoleon if Napoleon if I told him. If I told him would he like it would he like it if I told him. Now. Not now. And now." You can listen to Gertrude Stein read this here (courtesy University of Pennsylvania).
Born this day in 1838, Bizet still knocks your socks off with his great opera, Carmen. Give yourself three minutes and forty-one seconds with this clip of Anna Caterina Antonacci in the title role at Covent Garden, and you will see why Don Jose has been making a tragic fool of himself for generations.
Johann Strauss, II
The Waltz King, as he was called, was born today in Austria in 1899. We could dance all night to his music, and just to put us in the mood, here is Andre Rieu in a performance of "The Blue Danube."
And to think, she's only 28. We love her because she uses today's music to remind of of the imperishable: - "the part you're never, ever going to take away" and love "Unconditionally." Happy Birthday, KP
Rimbaud, Jelly Roll Morton & Charles Ives - Born This Day - A Good Day to Answer "The Unanswered Question"
Gertrude Stein once said, "Our children will not understand what we are doing, but our grandchildren will." Whether we understand the work of Charles Ives today or not is anybody's guess. But at least it is not ignored now as it was during most of his lifetime, which began on this day in 1874 in Danbury, CT, and ended on May 19, 1954, in New York City. In 1906, he composed The Unanswered Question, presented here by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. This seven-minute piece will go on feeding you long after you've left the table. But try not to leave before tasting Leonard Bernstein's 1973 response, given at the end of his Harvard Lecture Series, which he aptly named, "The Unanswered Question."
Bernstein's Response to The Unanswered Question
Born this day in 1853, most of his best poems were written before the age of 20. One wonders if they are as well known as his tempestuous affair with the Symbolist poet, Paul Verlaine, who left his wife for the 19-year-old Rimbaud, then shot him and went to prison for it. Here is a clip from the film, Total Eclipse, with Leonardo Dicaprio as Rimbaud.
Rimbaud - A Few Quotes
Jelly Roll Morton
Born today in 1890, he was a tireless self-promoter and brilliant virtuoso, whose seminal contributions to jazz and the blues - whether as great as he claimed them to be or not - are indisputable. Here is a beautiful reminiscence by the late, great Dr. Billy Taylor.
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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