All my life, I’ve been hearing—words and music—the epic story of Siegfried, the hero of the eponymous third section of Richard Wagner’s four-part opera inspired by Norse mythology, Der Ring des Nibelungen, or the Ring Cycle. I had my mother’s childhood books on the Ring (published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild in 1939), and my father liked to tell the story to his children, because his father had told it to him. Yet in all these years, I’d never seen Siegfried, never experienced the full force of the operatic work, in which the visual component must attempt to equal the power of the aural.
Siegfried premiered in Bayreuth, Germany in 1876 during the first performance of the entire cycle, which immediately ignited the passions of operagoers. Those who love Wagnerian opera really love it; those who don’t (for reasons both aesthetic and philosophical) can be quite disdainful. But however you feel about its worldview, you cannot doubt that the Ring is the Gesamtkunstwerk—total work of art—that Wagner asserted it to be. In each section (all can stand alone), the music and lyrics (Wagner wrote both), the instruments and singing, the dramatic action, the sets, costumes and lighting all add up to a great wholeness. The four parts together create a staggering totality.
They cannot be experienced consecutively all at once: There are not enough hours in the day. In fact, unless you are able to travel to the annual festival in Bayreuth, the opportunities to see any part of the Ring live are few and far between. A new staging by any major opera company is a notable event. Not only does any staging cost as much as the vast hoard of gold in dragon Fafner’s cave, at any given time there may be only three or four singers available who are capable of fulfilling the demanding roles.
Siegfried runs well over five hours with intermissions, with the tenor Siegfried onstage and singing an incredible amount of that time. There are just not that many men young enough, heroic enough and strong enough; who know the part, are sensitive to the complex music and whose voices’ can hold up through that much singing. The dissatisfied young Siegfried has to grow up before our eyes, break away from the evil dwarf who has raised him, re-forge the great sword of his slain father, kill the dragon, take the magic ring and helmet, journey through a forest and cross a ring of fire to discover and awaken to womanhood the spellbound Valkyrie Brünnhilde—at which time he must summon his most delicate and beautiful vocalizations.
Or, his “prettiest singin’,” as The Metropolitan Opera’s surprise new Siegfried called it in an interview segment during the Met’s Live in HD presentation of the Opera’s new Siegfried on Nov. 5. Jay Hunter Morris is a strapping youngish tenor from Paris, Texas (it’s next wide spot west of Texarkana, in the Red River valley just south of the Oklahoma line—about 100 miles southwest of the birthplace of my mother’s mother, she who inculcated the love of opera in her daughter with the little illustrated books), and I am pretty sure his natural accent is one never before heard backstage at the Met. Certainly his path to stardom on that stage is unique. His scenic route to success recently included stops in New York’s Central Park, where he hawked rollerblades, and at an athletic club back home in Paris, where his jobs was handing out the towels.
Not that he was inexperienced when the Met called him in just days before the opening (tenor Gary Lehman had withdrawn due to illness). He has sung a wide repertoire, and had sung Siegfried in the San Francisco Opera’s new production earlier this year, receiving good reviews. But to be cannoned in to Robert Lepage’s high-tech production (with its sometimes-effective 45-ton machinery of moving slabs, its video projections and 3-D animated bird) with a cast of already-famous first-class singers—just in time for the dress rehearsals! What an amazing twist of fate and bucket of luck. He got to be a hero and to play the hero, while having his biggest dream come true, and the energy released by all that glowed brighter than the magic ring.
I’m not capable of judging the finer points of the singing, especially at the remove of broadcast. I thought it was wonderful. Some reviewers have noted that Morris’ voice is not that big, but that is probably why I found him pleasantly un-bellicose (except of course when he’s slaying man and beast). Dramatically, he was excellent, with natural gestures and magnetism off the chart. When Siegfried finally gets to Brünnhilde, the chemistry between Morris and voluptuous soprano Deborah Voigt pales the digital flames all around them as they sing together. Whew.
UPDATED: 10:48pm Monday, Nov. 21.
The Durham City Council passed a resolution Monday night to devote up to one percent of the proposed General Capital Improvement Project (CIP) annual budget to the installation of public art at CIP sites and other locations around the city, including a priority area downtown and along "gateways" to the city. And it's been a long time coming.
The percent-for-art program was flagged as a high-priority section of Durham's Cultural Master Plan (CMP) as early as 2004. Once the city created a board to oversee moving forward with the plan, the program took second-tier status. The board designated a task force to create a temporary public art policy for the city to use in the meantime, and a consultant developed a plan after examining what other community percent-for-art programs looked like. Things were moving right along toward City Council consideration when the economy tanked.
"In talking with the CMP board and the Public Art Task Force, and internally with the City," explains Josh Parker of the Cultural Advisory Board, as well as the TBL Group, a diversified community development and invest firm, "We just felt like trying to bring forward a program that looked like it was asking to spend money—which in fact it wasn't necessarily doing that—but even had the appearance of that was probably not a good idea when we were dealing with massive budget shortfalls. So we sort of put it on ice for about eighteen months."
While on ice, the resolution was further vetted and crafted. Which was time well spent, according to Parker.
"We’re ending up with a pretty strong document that we know we can execute on. And that’s why I think it’s felt like it’s moving a bit slow through the City but there has been this piece by piece progress, just to have assurances that the policy makes its way to the Council agenda."
Kim Rorschach, director of the Nasher Museum of Art, has served on the task force. She's thrilled the resolution is now in place.
"The policy sends a message very broadly that art is valued in this community," Rorschach says. Whether someone is going to Full Frame, or to something at Duke, or to DPAC (the Durham Performing Arts Center), we care about the experience that they have, and we want to welcome them in terms of visiting the city and its atmosphere and ambiance. And I think public art has a role to play in that."
"We’re trying to think about public art as broadly as possible. It might be a sculpture on a plaza, or outdoor mural paintings. Just as an example, we saw a preliminary project proposal in which sewer grates all around the city could be painted according to a certain theme by a certain group of artists. And then there could be a map to find the sites."
After waiting patiently for years, the Cultural Advisory Board will waste no time, meeting the morning after the vote to talk about next steps, the first of which is to determine the scope and selection process for a Public Art Committee that would be the first body to see public art project proposals.
The approval process, however, is fairly set. The Public Art Committee would flag proposals to pass along to the Cultural Advisory Board, and an internal city process would weigh in as well. In addition to considering any project's educational possibilities, the Cultural Advisory Board would seek public input, particularly from neighborhoods and businesses close to a proposed site. The final decision on a proposal would rest with the City Council, which would vote on it at a public meeting.
Small-scale or temporary projects, or maintenance of existing public art, could be fast-tracked, however. "It could be that if it’s under a certain amount and there’s not public money and it’s just the lease of some space, the City Manager might be authorized to make those decisions on his own. But any meaningful public art is definitely something that the Council would have the final say on," Parker explains.
Locations for temporary art exhibitions specified in the resolution include CCB Plaza, Central Park, Five Points, the Civic Center Plaza, the grounds of the Durham Performing Arts Center, City Hall, the Hayti Heritage Center, the Durham Arts Council, the Carolina Theatre, and Durham Athletic Park.
The CIP, which runs the fiscal decade 2012-21, covers everything from large-scale projects like the Human Services Complex and the new County Courthouse, to public schools, refurbishments to the Museum of Life and Science, and IT infrastructure. After hovering in the mid-$30 million range for several years running, the CIP line in the 2011-12 budget is $46,962,324.
The percent-for-art program won't kick in until fiscal year 2012-13, but that doesn't necessarily mean citizens should anticipate $470,000 for public art. The "up to" in "up to one percent" gives the Council leeway in determining the annual allocation.
"The percentage really just asks the manager not so much to consider a number each year relative to the CIP, but to make sure that public art has a budgeted number," Parker notes. "It’s to make it a part of the budgeting process. And I think that’s really where it provides transparency to citizens. It’s not arbitrarily tied to some budget line item. It’s something that citizens can really advocate for to be funded."
New ad posters for the upcoming Muppets movie picture Kermit and Co. in send-ups of the Twilight films (e.g., Miss Piggy as “Bella Swine”). And, a recent episode of the new Beavis and Butt-Head opens with the slackers watching Twilight in a movie theater: “Is Bella a zombie?” Beavis asks. “She’s always standing there with her mouth open.”
In truth, nothing about these lampoons is half as parodical as the haughtily titled The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1. I write this knowing full well that nothing in this review will affect whether or not anyone plunks down their hard-earned cash to catch the penultimate installment in what feels like a never-ending franchise. Fans of the series still squeal at any cinematic appearance by Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and the habitually shirtless Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner).
I haven't read any of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight novels, but far from making me somehow unqualified to assess their film adaptations, it actually affords me an objectivity needed to grade the movies on their own merits. And, objectively speaking, Breaking Dawn — Part 1 stinks.
This is a languid mess on virtually every account—plot, acting, script, set design, special effects and a bloated score from Carter Burwell that sounds as if it was written for another movie entirely—intruding on every scene and sometimes drowning out the dialogue. Still, it’s better than the insipid soft-rock ditties interspersed throughout that make the whole spectacle sound like something that belongs on The WB.
The film opens with the long-awaited wedding between Edward and Bella, a woodland occasion that director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls; Gods and Monsters) clearly spent most of his budget and attention designing. Jacob stops by to dance and pout before the newlyweds are whisked away for their honeymoon on a small island off the coast of Brazil.
Despite building the entire series to this moment, Condon deprives the audience of any moment of surrender. Afraid he will literally ravish Bella to death during lovemaking, Edward channels his vampire impulses into turning the four-poster marital bed into nothing but feathers and splinters while consummating their marriage. His seed isn’t so restrained, however, and Bella quickly finds herself with a bloodsucker in the oven, much to the surprise of Edward, who over his century of existence apparently missed out on sex education. It’s hard to decide what is more antiquated—Edward’s Victorian sexual repression or the fact that he still uses Yahoo as his Internet search engine.
With Bella soon barricaded inside the Cullen compound, forces align over the fate of her rapidly gestating baby. The flea-bitten Quileutes conspire to destroy the satanic spawn, while Jacob—surprise—breaks with his pack and forms another uneasy alliance with Edward for the sake of saving Bella.
Breaking Dawn — Part 1 not only completes morphing the story’s virgin-angst subtext from the metaphorical to the literal, but it takes up a radically pro-life mantle when Bella refuses to abort her baby, even though her life may depend on it. In one of many episodes of high camp, Bella starts sating her fetus’ parasitic appetite by sucking blood decanted into a Styrofoam cup.
The film continues the Twilight saga’s tedious touchstones of vapid brooding, meaningless reaction shots and blurry CG skirmishes—the werewolves speak in some garbled, digitized baritone that sounds like Michael Clarke Duncan in Planets of the Apes. What’s different is the sheer silliness of it all, as if this time around the filmmakers decided to double down on the inherent self-parody. Jacob rips his shirt off mere seconds into the prologue, Bella’s dad (Billy Burke) is even more clueless than usual and the Cullens’ white face makeup resembles Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.
And the good news is that we get to do it all again next year. A mid-credits teaser hints at the plot turn at the heart of Breaking Dawn — Part 2. No matter — you can already count me as a member of Team Tiresome.
At the heart of Adam Sandler’s latest comedic romp, Jack and Jill, are lessons about the extricable bonds of family and the existential duality of the human soul, encapsulated under the guise of a…oh, who the heck am I kidding?
The degree of celebrity and financial success that Sandler continues to amass as a result of films that are increasingly and resoundingly putrid is fascinating only if one day we learn that the entirety of Sandler’s career was one big lampoon of Hollywood: A marginally talented star spoon-feeds producers and moviegoers a steady diet of clichéd scripts, awful actors, lazy filmmaking and offensive material, and they keep coming back for more.
If this were somehow true, then Jack and Jill would represent Sandler’s attempt to see just how low his fans will go. The cross-dressing comedy hasn’t truly worked since Tootsie, but that doesn’t stop Sandler and the indefensible Dennis Dugan from slapping on a dress and foisting this affront to the medium. Set around the Thanksgiving and Hanukkah seasons, Los Angeles ad exec Jack Sadelstein (Sandler) ruefully awaits the annual arrival of Jill (Sandler in a wig, makeup, fat suit and grating accent), his identical twin sister.
Jill is loud, needy, embarrassing and obnoxious—frankly, a scene in which she talks loudly on her cell phone in a movie theater make her fair game for ridicule. But, she’s still preferable to Jack, who is regularly and inexplicably cruel to Jill, giddy when his adopted son punches her in the face and she crash-lands a jet ski outside his pool.
In other words, the audience isn’t given a reason to like either sibling or, for that matter, anyone else in this dumpster fire of a movie. Jack’s throwaway family includes dim bulb wife Erin (Katie Holmes, grinning mindlessly) and an adopted moppet from India who has a bizarre but pointless fetish for Scotch-taping objects, including animals, to his body.
The first fart joke comes during the opening credits, eventually metastasizing into a full-blown diarrhea gag after Jill scarfs down some chimichangas. And Sandler trots out his usual unholy triumvirate: choppy editing, useless celebrity cameos and casual racism. Famed Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez is ethnically emasculated, playing a gardener who cracks wise about crossing the border inside a car trunk and takes Jill to a gathering of la familia that features an unconscious old woman revived by shoving red chili peppers in her mouth.
Playing himself, Al Pacino becomes infatuating with Jill after spying her at a Lakers basketball game and embarks on an extended, fanatical courtship. Rehashing lines from The Godfather and donning a black suit a la Tony Montana in Scarface eventually devolves into watching the acting legend tickle-fight with the cross-dressing Sandler inside a medieval castle and perform a rap routine in a commercial for flavored coffee.
While Pacino’s presence here seemingly represents a new nadir in his career, he nevertheless manages to turn this utter rubbish into something oddly satirical. He tackles each scene with such gusto that you soon realize that while Sandler is paying slapdash homage, Pacino has something more cunning in mind. He turns the film’s inanity to his advantage, spoofing his onscreen personas as a means toward skewering the entire Hollywood system. Jill consoles Pacino after smashing his Oscar statuette by reminding him that “you must have others.” “You’d think it,” he deadpans. “But no.” Later, Pacino longingly recalls his native New York City, lamenting L.A. as a place “where all the palm trees look the same” and productions of Richard III feature Bruce Jenner as Lord Hastings.
In spite of itself, Jack and Jill will likely fetch Sandler another big payday. Still, when Pacino appears in a NYC bar at film’s end dressed as Don Quixote and starts tilting at a ceiling fan, it’s a joke that’s too smart for the room and more self-aware than a movie that’s (literally) full of shit deserves.
Unless you’re someone who wants to find Dick Cheney’s secret lair so you can hang out and watch football with a neoconservative mastermind, it’s probably easy to guess your opinion of J. Edgar Hoover, long-time FBI chief and enemy of the civil rights movement. What you might make of Clint Eastwood’s biopic J. Edgar is less easy to predict.
Charting Hoover’s life from a repressed mama’s boy to a right wing radical trying to blackmail MLK out of the Nobel Prize, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) forgoes proselytizing while managing to get away with lines like “Due process of law? What about the threat to our country!?” Hoover almost seems beyond politics, as he treats all of the eight presidents under whom he serves with suspicion or contempt. It’s his personal predilections that determine his approach to crime-fighting; the Hoover of J. Edgar created a fingerprint database and kept files on everybody not necessarily because he was an active assailant of civil liberties and privacy, but because he was a librarian at heart: This is a guy who takes his dates to the Library of Congress.
It’s a chilly movie, not just in its approach to Hoover but because of Eastwood’s reliably icy palette. For the most part, J. Edgar is an even-keeled, sometimes plodding journey through a life, and the only chills it provides come from the fact that it takes place in a permanent winter.
But the off-putting surface makes for a few ambiguously tense moments, especially given its treatment of Hoover’s sexuality. A convincing DiCaprio manages to make his young Hoover both a flirt and a starched square. When he proposes to his secretary, Helen (Naomi Watts), on their third date, it’s hard to be sure whether Hoover is being a career man who’s simply practical about his sex life, or if he really doesn’t know how these things work.
Helen's red lipstick can’t quite glow through movie’s cold shimmer, and no sexual energy cracks the surface. (Considering this is an exchange between DiCaprio and Watts, that’s saying something.) The blood that turns up on Hoover’s lips later, as he tussles with a would-be lover, shines a little brighter. These moments pop, and they’re not accidents. J. Edgar is a well thought out film, but it’s more fun to assess than it is to sit through, and none of the key figures on screen are having much fun.
The small army of character actors (Dermot Mulroney squawking “New Joysey”) liven things up occasionally. So, too, does the analysis of a wood expert played by Stephen Root (Office Space, Newsradio); his examination of a ladder serves as a microcosm of Hoover’s early embrace of what we now call forensics, and it’s the most enjoyable through-line in the movie.
Yes, that’s right: a movie covering the career of a repressed homosexual and alleged cross-dresser who used illegal methods to chase some of the most lurid and charismatic criminals (and presidents!) of the century finds its most exciting moments in the scenes about wood grain. There’s something laughably square and totally unique about this, which you could also say about most any Eastwood movie.
Now, Hodgman has completed his continuously paginated saga of false knowledge with That is All (Dutton, $25), a massive compilation of made-up facts and stories centered around the coming global superpocalypse, Ragnarok, in 2012.
Hodgman will appear at the Durham Armory at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to read from and sign copies of That is All. We were able to get up with him on the road to ask him questions about the reading, his thoughts on Occupy Raleigh and the extremely unsettling mustache he's been sporting for That is All.
Independent: So, the description for the Durham event is a "reading and riffing." That scares the hell out of me. What will this be? Improvising? Do you have a talk or anything?
John Hodgman: Well, usually with book tours, I start by reading passages from the book I think the live audience will enjoy. Gradually, as the experience gets tattooed onto my brain, the book tends to fall aside, and I think by the time I'm in Durham, I will be speaking more or less extemporaneously from the book.
I might talk about sports, and the difference between American football and European football, including the fact that one actually uses a ball, while the other uses something that could only be called a ball by a mentally ill person. I'll also probably touch on how magic tricks are performed, and a reality television show I think is going to be very successful that I have devised, and certainly the coming global superpocalypse, which I refer to as Ragnarok.
Of all the things to latch onto from what you just said, I have to say your reality show is going to have a hard time topping Hillbilly Handfishin', which is sort of a sign of Ragnarok in and of itself.
Are you referring to the ancient art of noodling, or catching a catfish with one's bare hands? That's the ancient battle of man against disgusting mud creature. It taps into that.
Just last night, you did "Money Talks" on The Daily Show, riffing on the Occupy Wall Street movement. You might be interested to know that just 20 miles or so from Durham, there's an Occupy Raleigh movement going on near the State Capitol. Any plans to drop by?
Is this specific to North Carolinian (pronounced "North Caro-LEAN-ian") issues?
There's some overlap with local issues and the broader movement.
I don't know that I'll have time to visit the Occupy movement there in Raleigh. I don't want to make fun of people when I don't know what they look like. That's the thing with the whole Occupy movement—it truly is leaderless and grassroots in every possible way, so even I hesitate to call those people "dirty hippies" as a joke, because there are a lot of people down there who are extremely eccentric, and many who are extremely thoughtful.
There would be a lot of people down there I would agree with tremendously—in or out of character as the "Deranged Millionaire." There's a lot of people I feel are not going to be productive trying to solve our problems with a drum circle.
Speaking generally, I think when it is not violent, which I do not think is productive even as an expression of frustration, it is a perfectly reasonable thing to be happening, and it tests our ability to tolerate ambiguity that we cannot put a particular ideology on it. It's a good challenge for our media and our country to appreciate, that we are not living in a world where politics are right vs. left, like two opposing sports teams.
But I do hope that they are able to take showers before I come to town, because that's just something that I'm not willing to tolerate.
Speaking of the "Deranged Millionaire," of all the things you discuss in your book, the thing that has burned itself most into my brain is the mustache.
Right. I think you put it well. More than anything else, it is an issue. It is troubling to people; it is a subject of debate; it is controversial.
Will you be bringing this mustache to your reading, and what does it say about the mindset of myself and others that the mustache is the first thing that leaps out at people?
Well, I will be bringing the mustache, because it has attached itself to my face. So I have no choice about that. I can reassure the people of Durham that it will not be jumping out at people. It seems to have established a very stable parasitic relationship with my upper lip, and it seems to not be wanting to change hosts. So people should not fear my mustache, or worry that it's going to take over their own upper lips.
So it's a mustache détente, where it's peacefully occupying your face?
In many ways, you're right. The mustache has a lot of similarities to what's going on on Wall Street; it's almost like an outgrowth of the Occupy movement. It is clearly a disruptive presence. It has something to say, and yet precisely what statement it is making is multitudinous and unfathomable.
And I don't quite know what to do about it. I grew it on a whim earlier this year, where it was something that I liked, and yet it is something that causes a lot of discussion. I think that people are unnerved by an otherwise pale and baby-faced human baby walking around with a mustache, and because of its unnatural lustrous dark color. It is jet black with streaks of gray, compared to my otherwise mousy brown, limp hair, and people presume it is fake.
I think people are concerned I'm turning into some kind of creature. You remember the 1980s movie The Fly, when Jeff Goldblum was transforming into the giant fly? His transformation manifested itself in many ways, including large dense coarse hairs growing out of his body. And that is effectively what has happened to me, though what I am becoming remains to be seen.
"Perhaps I was a mustache that dreamed it was a man, and now the dream is over and the mustache is awake."
“It is not (it seems to me) by painting that photography touches art, but by theater,” Roland Barthes wrote in Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. The French theorist’s book investigates the relatively young medium through the question of why certain individual images fascinate him.Flanders Gallery through Nov. 29 would likely have been in Barthes’ book. And its complex theatrical power makes it worth a special trip to camp out in front of for a half-hour pondering where America is, and where you are in it.
The name Burk Uzzle might not ring a bell, but you’ve likely seen his photographic work. You know the official Woodstock album cover, with a couple embracing, wrapped in a dirty blanket? Uzzle, a Raleigh native, shot that.
Although Flanders is large for a gallery, it’s not big enough to comprehensively reflect upon a photographer who’s been shooting for over a half-century, as Uzzle has. Consequently the overall show feels a little odd. I kept double-checking the wall tags to make sure I was still looking at the work of the same photographer. But even if you can’t connect each series back to the same eye, the exhibition is a wonderful dip into Uzzle’s work, ranging from his civil rights-era documentarian work for Life magazine, which hired him at age 23, to more recent artistic burned-book prints.
The pay-homage image, however, is entitled “Red, White, and Blue” (2007) and is part of Uzzle’s “Just Add Water” series. A quintessentially American landscape photograph, it features an Exxon station and self-storage sheds in the foreground, nestled into a razed, ruined hill topped by splayed, orphaned pines, power lines, a highway-visible Exxon sign, and Bernard Coffindaffer‘s semi-ubiquitous trio of crosses.
Gary Hustwit’s first film, Helvetica (2007), was a surprisingly engaging documentary that made font fanboys of people who didn’t know they could care about the studied minutia of typeface design. He broadened his gaze to industrial design in 2009’s Objectified, which lacked the tight focus of Helvetica, but compensated with a wealth of seductive shots of the fetishized tokens of consumer desire (fittingly, Apple design chief Jonathan Ive gets plenty of screen time).
The latest entry in what Hustwit is calling his “design trilogy” takes another step back, to look at the largest-scale—and perhaps most important—design application. Urbanized alights in the field of urban design, crisscrossing the globe to compare solutions to living densely.
Hustwit name-checks some of the specialty’s greatest hits and misses, including Robert Moses versus Jane Jacobs in mid-20th century New York; brutalist monuments of inhuman scale in Brasilia; former Bogotá mayor and pavement liberator Enrique Peñalosa; unchecked Phoenix sprawl; and the emptying of Detroit and New Orleans, with scatter-shot approaches to refilling the voids.
Hustwit also spends time with lesser-known subjects, like Chilean low-income housing designer Alejandro Aravena, whose plans combine aesthetic beauty with realistic considerations of what people can afford; innovative improvements in lighting and public spaces in Khayelitsha, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, which have reduced crime and given children space to play; and a contentious battle for the heart of Stuttgart, Germany, as the construction of an upscale residential and commercial center surrounding a high-speed rail station proceeds against the wishes of a majority of the citizenry.
With as large a subject as urban planning, Urbanized can only skim the surface, flitting from one city and one morsel of an idea to the next. But it’s a good survey of important concepts and trends in urban planning, and like its predecessors, it is itself such a brilliant example of thoughtful design that it’s a pure pleasure to watch: The fastidiously composed shots look like the work of $100/hr. graphic designers, and it’s assembled with a perfect smoothness that proves that really good design is its own satisfaction.
Urbanized is being self-distributed in a limited release, so Monday’s screening at the Rialto is your best chance to catch the glorious visuals on the big screen. As an added bonus, Hustwit will be on hand for a post-film Q-and-A. Tickets are $15 ($13 for students). The show starts at 7 p.m. Visit urbanizedfilm.com/raleigh-durham-special-screening/.
The trailer is here:
The digital revolution has made many wonderful things possible, but culturally speaking, one of the grandest is the live-in-high-definition broadcast of opera from the world’s major opera houses. The leader in bringing the enormous multi-art undertaking that is grand opera is New York’s Metropolitan Opera, with its Live in HD programming, now nearing its fifth anniversary. The most recent broadcast, on Oct. 29 (all live broadcasts to theaters occur on Saturdays), is a new staging of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The recorded show will repeat (or encore, as they say) on Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m. and local opera lovers can choose between Brier Stadium 14 or North Hills Stadium 14.
And this weekend, Wagnerites will be converging on the cinemas for the live broadcast of Siegfried, the third installment in the Ring cycle. (I'll be there, readers, for all six hours of it.)
But we're here to discuss Don Giovanni—aka Don Juan—the antihero few can resist. A swaggering, lusty liar, seducer, betrayer and murderer, his only positive quality is the unmitigated zest with which he undertakes his loveless misdeeds. The Met is presenting a new staging by Michael Grandage; the music is conducted by newly-named principal conductor Fabio Luisi, who also plays the harpsichord flourishes preceding the recitatives. The music was not as sprightly as I prefer my Mozart, but it well supported the singers.
The strong cast, led by Mariusz Kwiecien as Don Giovanni, sings beautifully, although generally the singers seemed somewhat distant from the passions of the story. Kwiecien has sung the role many times on many stages, and often his delivery seemed rote. The most enjoyable aspect of his characterization were his conversations and asides with his servant, Leporello, the highly amusing and smooth-voiced Luca Pisaroni, who makes a marvelous low accomplice, festooned with the last shreds of conscience.
The sparkle so essential to Mozart is supplied here by Mojca Erdmann as Zerlina. Her character is about as moral as a kitten, but also as sweet. She goes right along with the Don when he seduces her moments before her own wedding to the hapless Masetto, but she is so bubbly and adorable, so playful in a voice so pure, that we forgive her humanity, and by extension, Don Giovanni’s, too.
Needless to say, local fanboys, like Raleigh film blogger and comics aficionado Isaac Weeks, are curious to find out what the movie will be about.
“There’s always the rumor/hope that they might do the adaptation of the ‘Demon in a Bottle’ storyline,” Weeks said, referring to the Iron Man comic’s famed subplot from the ’70s where Tony Stark became a raging alcoholic.
“He drank a little bit in [Iron Man 2]. That’s as close as they’re gonna get to it in a movie, you know. They’re not gonna base a $100 million-budgeted, Hollywood film on a superhero being a drunk.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Marvel considered filming in Los Angeles (where the first two were shot), Michigan and New Mexico. But executives were enticed by North Carolina’s 25 percent tax credit. (California offers a 25 percent tax credit, but excludes big-budget flicks like Iron Man 3.) Not to mention that EUE/Screen Gems boasts one of the largest sound stages in the world with Stage 10, a 37,500 square-foot-space with a 60-by-60-by-10.5-foot water tank.
Aaron Syrett, director of the North Carolina Film Office, confirms that both the incentives and the sound stages played a role in Marvel’s decision.
“It’s a large film which requires a lot of infrastructure and large sound stages,” Syrett says. “I guess all those things added up for us in the end.”
But EUE/ Screen Gems, which has had such projects ranging from Blue Velvet to Dawson’s Creek memorably shoot at its studios over the decades, has been home to several high-profile projects as of late, building its rep as a studio where bigger-scale productions are welcome. The much-anticipated screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ young-adult novel The Hunger Games and the Dwayne Johnson vehicle Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (the sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth), are two projects that have filmed at the EUE/Screen Gems stages.
Wilmington-based camera operator Bo Webb feels this will bring more big-budget business to the state.
“I think it’s going to be great,” says Webb, whose credits include The Notebook, Eastbound and Down and One Tree Hill. “Right now, a lot of the shows like that end up in New Mexico, because of their soundstages there and because of their film incentive. So, I think it’ll help us be more competitive.”