May 22

Vivaldi Edition by Philips, featuring I Musici and Vittoria Negri ?????

I’m a Vivaldi fan, but he is not in my top 5 composers of all time. Our friend J.S. Bach was far better endowed from our creator with the gift of music, and Bach remains the greatest musician that ever tread on terra firma. Ever. Yet, the fact that Bach listened to the music of Vivaldi, and often wrote modifications of Vivaldi, suggesting that even Bach held Vivaldi’s music in highest regard. This 29 CD set is no longer available, and that is a great shame, since this is the best performances one will ever get of Vivaldi. Between such performers as I Musici and the artistic direction of Vittoria Negri, you will never hear Vivaldi in a better light. It is a pity that the only piece that is usually performed by Vivaldi is his Four Seasons, as so much of his instrumental pieces have deep charm and compositional brilliance. It is even a more serious pity that virtually none of his choral music is widely known, as Vivaldi’s choral (sacred) music excels his instrumental pieces. How could one not be deeply moved by the brilliance of his Dixit Dominus, Nisi Dominus, his Glorias, etc. Vivaldi via Vittoria Negri is a absolute must for the discriminating listener. Make every effort possible to get copies of these performances and you will be greatly blessed through listening to them.

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May 21

The Bridge on the River Kwai, starring William Holden and Alec Guinness ???

The best part of this movie is watching a bridge get blown up. Any movie that has bridges should eventually have those bridges blown up. This movie orients very loosely around the actual story of the building of several bridges over the Kwai River in Thailand by forced British and American war captives. It is true that the Japanese were modestly kind to their captors. It is not true that they allowed the British to essentially run the show. It is true that the bridge(s) were destroyed, but not by secret agents sent up the river; instead, it was aerial bombing which destroyed the bridges. It is true that the main theme song (Colonel Bogey march) was a war song, but it was a war song about Hitler, not about the Japs. This movie, as well as the effort to make it a classic soon after it was released for viewing, represents the brutal arrogance of the British. Included in the arrogance was the notion of officers defiantly refusing to work, but then NOT offering resistance to their captors. It made for a wonderful piece of literature regarding the value of integrity, but reflected on the dismal naiveté of a public who would actually swoon to that rhetoric. In actual fact, the leading colonel encouraged sabotage as much as was humanly possible, and for every attempt to escape as was possible. Most arrogant was the notion that the Japs were technical ignoramuses that required British leadership in order to do anything right, including, how to build a bridge. In actual fact, the Japanese were quite technologically capable of engineering feats without the help of British buffoons. All in all, the movie doesn’t deserve a 5-star rating, let alone the distinction of being a “classic”. The acting was good, the scenery (in Sri Lanka) was gorgeous, and the story line flowed well, saving the movie from a 1-star rating.

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May 18

Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, by Kurt Weill from text of Bertoldt Brecht, performed at Salzburg Festival 1998 ?

Known in English as “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”, this opera by Kurt Weill rates among the worst of the Euro-trash operas. Though Weill has had occasional lapses of reasonable music that he has written, his ideologic drive for communism has clouded his thinking and produced a piece of trash that would not survive the kindest of the Soviet years. To be fair to this opera, I will critique separately 1) the musical performance, 2) the stage performance, and 3) the opera itself. First, the musical performance was not too badly performed. The only problem is that there was little the was overtly demanding, including no demands on the singer, save to sing weird, no lengthy segments, no  music that could even be thought of as likable. The stage performance represented a complete lapse of ingenuity. Isn’t one tired of the suitcase on stage carried by a Zoot-suited individual, as is now seen in just about every European opera production? I could wax eloquent about how virtually every scene lacks in creative imagination. The minimalist staging suggested that the producer really didn’t care enough for the opera to put much into it. And, that is quite understandable, because it was not an opera to enjoy or appreciate as a work of art. Brecht (via Weill) at the end of the opera spewed out a vindictive against capitalism, the stage designers and Brecht not-so-subtly implying that the greatest sinners of their communistic ideology are the Americans. A leading character named Jimmy is sentenced to death for a lack of money. I presume that Weill was attempting to make some sort of profound statement against greed and monetary avarice, but he fails dismally. Any thinking person finds the philosophical statements of this opera to be poorly developed non-sequitors with a forced conclusion, believed only by Brecht and Weill, and perhaps a few of the performers and audience. Such go the warm and fuzzy statements of the new art, promoting the warm and fuzzy sentiments of the new philosophy and the new politic. It’s one thing to have wasted one’s money on this opera, but even a worse crime to have wasted one’s time watching it.

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May 16

Les Trois Colours (Three Colors) Trilogy (Blue/White/Red) by Kiezlowski ????

These three films receive a uniformly 5-star rating by Amazon reviewers, and there is much to commend for this series, superbly well performed and directed. They are separate tales, but tied together by the French themes of liberty, equality, and fraternity, which is actually demonstrated very weakly in the series. The first film (Bleu) is about the wife of famous composer, whose family, including her composer-husband and young daughter are killed in a tragic automobile accident. She goes on to try to free her life from her past, but eventually discovers more to the life of her late husband than she expected. The second film (Blanc) is about a polish hairdresser involved in a messy divorce, with his wife mercilessly dumping him while living in Paris, he being unable to capably defend himself owing to language problems. The remainder of the film takes him from destitution to ultimate revenge on his ex-wife. The third film (Rouge) depicts a young model who chances across a retired judge who now spends his life eavesdropping on his neighbors. Ultimately, a deeper relationship is developed between the two, as they interact with the past of the judge and future of the young model. Kieslowski nicely incorporates the thematic colors in his films in an interesting sort of way. In Bleu, there are blue rooms and blue chandeliers and many blue objects, in Blanc, emotional episodes show a screen white-out, and in Rouge, there is an equal profusion of red, such as a large red banner announcing a fashion show with the star character imaged. I reduced the rating by one-star because of the overwhelming morose mood throughout the entire series. Only Blanc showed any humor at all. All were moderately dark, deeply-foreboding films, quasi-tragedies of ruined lives desperate for significance and meaning, and the films never offering a way out. Ultimate liberty, equality or fraternity are never achieved, but a cheap imitation. These are not films to soar with, but will put you in the gutter and leave you there. They would be nice films for conversations on philosophy, but not for conversations on a life of higher aspirations.

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May 14

Camille Claudel, starring Adjani and Depardeau ?????

I’ve always liked the acting talent of Gerard Depardeau, and he is at his best in this film, playing the role of Auguste Rodin. With Adjani capably serving as the title role of Camille Claudel, this film follows the historical fate of Claudel in the late 1800’s to her death in the mid-twentieth century. Camille was an aspiring artist, dropping out of school, and eventually working/studying in the workshop of Rodin. Becoming his lover, and then breaking up, she develops a paranoid delusion of Rodin constantly plotting to ruin her. In return, this paranoia leads to her institutionalization for most of her life. It is a sad but true tale, all too true because it actually happened, but also because it represents life’s drama in so many of us who look for false sources of significance. Acting in this movie was superb, the cinephotography excellent, the French was not too difficult to follow, especially with the help of sous-titles, it was R-rated for some sexual depictions-but never in an obscene way, and the “fill-in” on the known historical facts of Camille C. to make a movie version seemed fairly reasonably as to what one would expect. Thus, a highly recommended film, though not for children.

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