Why We No Longer Hear Angels - and a Few Words about Tennis, Chess, Prison & the Healing Power of Classical Music
If you’ve ever visited the circus or a city like San Francisco, then you know a barker is someone who stands outside a theater or sideshow and calls out to passersby to get them interested in what's happening inside the tent. The word comes to mind just now because there seems to be a lot of barking in the public arena these days. And a lot of braying too. All of it a distraction from the things that probably matter most to you—if you haven’t been too distracted by all that noise to figure out what that is.
So, let me depart from my usual commentary in order to share a few things I found touching recently, which you may find interesting too.
WHY WE NO LONGER HEAR ANGELS
The following clip is from Faraway, So Close—a beautiful 1993 film by Wim Wenders, which I heard about this year from a writer friend on Twitter. At only two minutes and fifteen seconds, this bit of dialogue gets to the core of why all that barking can be harmful. It depicts a telepathic conversation between two angels, Raphaela (Nastassja Kinski) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), as they consider why it’s so difficult for their guidance to reach us the way it used to back in the day.
Why the 60th Anniversary of Lorraine Hansberry's 'A Raisin in the Sun' Resonates for Me in a Personal Way
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Broadway premiere of Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun." A major American classic by any standard, it is also the first Broadway-produced play by an African-American woman. It's a milestone that remains as relevant on March 11, 2019 as it was in 1959.
Several years ago, a Seattle newspaper asked me to review a staging at Seattle Rep, one of the finest regional theaters in the country. A lifelong theater buff, I was thrilled when the editor promised free tickets and a stipend in exchange for my opinion.
Whenever anyone remounts a beloved classic of film or stage, you hope they won't ruin it. So it was with a mixture of anticipation and dread that I made my way to Seattle Center for the opening. But I needn't have worried. As you might expect from a Tony-winning outfit like Seattle Rep, the production was excellent. Although I hadn't seen the play for quite a while, its impact remained undeniable. The play resonates for anyone with a human heart, but it's especially meaningful to African Americans because it takes a hard look at a family divided by conflicting dreams and the internal and external pressures that challenge and shape the black experience to this very day.
But Hansberry's play also has a special place in my personal memory because my brother, Kurt Hill, performed the role of Walter Lee Younger (the Sidney Poitier character) when my alma mater, Drexel Catholic High School, produced the play during the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement, about a year before the Voting Rights Act became law.
Prop Goes the Weasel: Did the Racial Sideshow at the Cohen Hearings Demonstrate that America's Deepest Wound Will Never Heal?
The vehement exchange between two members of Congress during Michael Cohen’s testimony on February 27 was more than a failure to communicate. The argument itself was not only a distraction from the main event, it struck at the core of America's oldest wound.
In case you missed it, a white congressman (Mark Meadows) trotted out a black female employee of the Trump administration (Lynne Patton) as proof that the president is not racist. A freshman congresswoman (Rashida Tlaib), who is Muslim, responded by referring to Ms. Patton as a prop, claiming that Meadows' tactic was itself racist. This led to a spirited digression, which achieved what sideshows always do--divert attention from the main purpose of the hearings.
Although the president's former attorney and "fixer" called Donald Trump a racist during his opening statement, the main reason for the hearing was not to debate the president’s racism. It was to determine if he had broken the law.
The last time blackface rode into town, the showdown ended with Megyn Kelly losing her job at NBC Today and disappearing from television. But not without lawyering up and collecting a reported $30 million due on the remaining two years of her $69 million contract. That’s how much the network wanted to put an end to the controversy.
Now Blackface is back and ready for another showdown. Will Governor Northam of Virginia lose his job over blackface and Ku Klux Klan images in his medical school yearbook? Will Justin Fairfax, the African-American Lt. Governor, next in line for the top job, be impeached over sexual assault allegations? Can Virginia's attorney general come out of this mess unscathed after revealing that he too has worn blackface? What about Katy Perry's shoes and Gucci's blackface sweater? Or Cindy Sherman's controversial "Bus Rider" series, which became known in the art world as "Cindygate"?
And what about Jimmy Kimmel, Sarah Silverman, and Jimmy Fallon, who have also resorted to blackface in order to keep the masses entertained? Or the dozens of other American entertainers listed on this Wikipedia entry?
Is there no one who can rid us of this egregious insult once and for all?
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?
Why I Will Not Miss Paul Holdengräber When He Bids Farewell to the New York Public Library - And You Shouldn't Either
Paul Holdengräber is not the Lone Ranger. He cannot take all the credit for the exhilarating cultural exchange knowns as Live from the NYPL, though he is its creator and director. It takes more than a few Tontos to keep a series of public conversations and performances like that running strong in the Big Apple for 14 years. It also takes the willing cooperation of the leading cultural lights of the day, most of whom Holdengräber has engaged in lively, stimulating conversations that take the art of the interview to a whole new level.
But in case you haven’t heard, Paul Holdengräber is leaving his beloved lair between the roaring lions of the Fifth Avenue public library. At the end of December, he will ride into the sunset toward a new home and a new job in Los Angeles. Do not look for a silver bullet. There won’t be one.
“Of course they’re guilty. How is it possible for men to cross women time and time again and go unpunished? If men were held accountable they’d hang hour after hour, every day of the year.”
This crucial line from the new adaptation of Wilkie Collins' A Woman in White comes during the first 60 seconds of a visually striking five-part series on PBS. But something about it seems all wrong. Not because it lacks truth but because it does Collins' novel an injustice.
Part of the fun of the story--one of the first and finest mysteries ever written--is deciding for yourself who did what to whom and whether they're guilty or not.
This 2018 adaptation seems to tip the hand in favor of certainty from the get-go. Its avenging-victim theme is so pronounced, I wondered if screenwriter Fiona Seres was more interested in making a case for #MeToo than in remaining true to the taut thread of suspense that makes the book such a thrilling ride
Voting with Your Middle Finger: How Working-Class Whites Became a Negative Stereotype & What That Means for You
Last weekend I came across a Hidden Brain podcast called “Voting with Your Middle Finger,” which reveals some unpleasant insights about the adverse effects of stereotyping others. Since I'm black, I know how it feels to be seen as a stereotype. You get pigeonholed as a concept before anyone even bothers to ask your name. Definitely not fun. But in this case, the stereotyping is about what happened to white blue-collar workers over the past several decades We already know that Donald Trump got into the White House by tapping into their pain. But there's a lot more to the story than that. Why, for instance, do his followers remain loyal to him no matter what?
This Hidden Brain podcast is a discussion with two authors who break down the significance of race and class in determining voter behavior. Whether you realize it or not, your class identification--the way you move through the world and relate to others--tips the scale almost as much as race. Sure, sure. But there's an aspect to this we tend to overlook.
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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