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Archive for May, 2016

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by Sam Juliano

Heat and humidity have reigned supreme over the Memorial Day weekend, of which today is the annual day of remembrance for those who perished in the armed forces serving our nation.  For many trips down the shore and home barbecues have been the favored venues.  Moving into June this week others are tackling trip plans, upcoming graduations, retirement dinners and various outdoor activities, while others remain in holding patterns under the air conditioning.

Ballots for the upcoming science-fiction films countdown continue to trickle in, and will do so until the June 15th deadline.  The Top 50 countdown will begin on Monday, June 27th.  After the ballots are tabulated by Angelo D’Arminio Jr. writing assignments will be offered up by group e mail.

Lucille and I attended a retirement dinner and hosted family dinners for the birthdays of two of our kids this past week, otherwise we saw a single movie in theaters and for me a torrid week of at-home viewings: (more…)

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 © 2016 by James Clark

      There are two ways to approach a Ridley Scott film. The first and most popular way is to engage each outing as a totally new venture under the aegis of a writer (or two, or more) never to be heard from again. This preference takes up a vehicle like Black Hawk Down (2001) as a patented Scott patina of highly accomplished cinematic mood in the service of vividly introducing us to the nuts-and bolts details and stresses of modern military action. The second and rarely considered way is to note that, though seldom acknowledged as a (sort of) ghost writer of every production he undertakes, his efforts all zoom to a consistent and rigorously developmental communicative sense of cosmic crisis. As such our film here does not in fact well jibe with indifference toward the ramifications of an al-Qaeda take-down of elite military aircrafts in the productive sweep peppered with the al-Qaeda take-down of the World Trade Centre.

How on its toes is the discursive flood of action propelling Black Hawk Down? An epigraph leads the way—an epigraph far more abusive to the unwary than any of the countless bloody ambushes to come! “Only the dead have seen the end of the war.” The statement is attributed to Plato. Plato, like hell! This little tweak of erudition derives from the philosophy-challenged, General Douglas MacArthur, trotting out an old soldier’s bromide about the huge stature of those in the military and finding it apt that a universally revered clear thinker would be onside. The true author of that reflection on war is a far less celebrated participant within the process of sharing lucidity. That idea, far less self-evident than the General imagined, derives from someone who did his work around 500BC, a hundred years before Plato “flourished” (in the vernacular of professional teachers of the subject of thinking, a métier invented by Plato). Concern for the endlessness of war was a major project for one Heraclitus, of the town of Ephesus (in what is now Turkey), one of his pronouncements being, “War is the father of all and the king of all. Some he has made gods and some men; some slaves and some free.” (more…)

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Higher Principal

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by Sam Juliano

Seven completed ballots have been received for the mid June launching of the Science Fiction Countdown.  With a deadline of June 15th, it is certain many more will be forwarded in what is fast becoming another exciting venture at Wonders in the Dark after a slow build up.  After the ballots are compiled by Voting Tabulator Extraordinaire Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. a Top 50 countdown will commence for ten weeks up until the beginning of September.

Over the past week I have watched a bunch of older films, several Czechoslovakian masterpieces.  Lucille and I did see one new release in the theaters and on Thursday night the Lincoln Center production of Rogers and Hammersteins’ The King and I at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.   A sylish production with some spectacular sets and spirited singing, the production was a fine follow-up to the same company’s staging of South Pacific a few years back.

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Note:  Nearly three months after this review first appeared at WitD I ran into CAS financial officer Ralph Jones at the home of a very close mutual friend at a Labor Day weekend barbeque.  I asked Jones, a headstrong pedant why he never acknowledged the review, one of many done in behalf of the group where he serves mainly in a marked unartistic capacity -his choral singer wife is the reason he is involved- why he never acknowledged its publication.  He responded with an annoyed quip that I “mispelled” the director’s name.  Going back to the review I found that I spelled Martin Sedek as Martin Sedak.  I erroneously substituted the “e” in the director’s name for the incorrect “a”.  One letter spelled wrong and Jones opted not to acknowledge the review which was done as a favor, and which took me time from a  busy day to complete.  This is not the first time Jones has called me on the carpet for a review I wrote in his behalf.  A few years ago he made a major stink because I wrote “Arts Society” instead of “Art Society” though it was the very first review I had written on the group.  Truth be said Jones is easily threatened when someone comes along who has a far more vast and studied grasp of the classical canon, in my case many years of attending concerts by the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, City Opera and New Jersey Symphony Orchestra via partial season subscription.  I am also a regular at many local venues including those staged by the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra and the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company.  Jones’ chief involvement with his wife’s choral group is a technical one, but he still struts all he can.  I have never myself been very impressed with his personal contribution, though it is clearly a no-brainer.  Here is the hitch:  Jones never tried to contact me to change the single letter typo in the 1,000 plus word review.  He knows well all he could have done was e mail me and I would have changed the single vowel immediately as the site administrator.  But Jones had no desire to do that.  He much preferred to “play the role” for his director with nose way up in the air.  He needed to impress Sedek against the affrontery of “disrespect” no doubt to prove what a  loyal guy he is.  No matter to Jones that the review praises Sedek to the high heavens, he used this opportunity to play internet police, most reprehensibly at my expense.  Too bad Jones himself hasn’t a speck of talent to conduct himself in that manner.  Instead of concerning himself with the quality of the review, the discussion of the music and glowing appreciation of the CAS he obsesses over a single letter.   As long as Ralph Jones is involved, this was the final concert by this group my wife and I will ever attend.  We’ve traveled all over to attend about eight (8), mainly out of respect for our very dear mutual lifelong friend, but I have reached the end of the line with Jonze, oh I mean Jones.

by Sam Juliano

The May 14th concert by the Choral Art Society of New Jersey featured work by some of classical music’s most iconic figures, but it was the reunion of a student playing one of his one-time mentor’s most celebrated compositions that brought a special emotional heft to the proceedings.  Performed at the acoustic-friendly Presbyterian Church in Westfield -the group’s home base for decades, the night brought CAS Music Director Martin Sedak and his previous instructor – the composer Matthew Harris – together in a glorious presentation of the latter’s Oceanic Eyes, a four part cantata commissioned in 2006 based on texts by celebrated Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and distinguished by the employment of classical guitar that allowed the work’s distinct Spanish romanticism to shine through.  The composition’s lilting metaphors and colorful imagery seems inspired by the British poet Alfred Noyes who wove undying nocturnal passions into the narrative of his arresting “The Highwayman.”  Yet it was the highly emotive, stirring and soulful reading by the committed singers of the CAS who injected Harris’ work with a sense of immediacy, aided by the prism of water, which flows through universal appreciation.Sedak’s decision to open the show with a rarely performed song by the great British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams proved to be a masterstroke of mood and staging.  To be sure “The Lover’s Ghost” (from Five English Folk Songs)  is one of the most sublime and haunting choral pieces from anyone, replete as the piece is with color, form, harmony and expression but especially prominent for its contrapuntal construction.  Sedak directed the singers to create two lines in the space between the central orchestra and the sides, making all the more of a powerful impression.  Though the second work is another infrequently negotiated composition, the fact that it was written by Beethoven elevates it immeasurably for classical music fans who can never get enough of one of the form’s supreme immortals.  A Calm Sea & A Prosperous Voyage is noted for the composer’s setting the text by Johann von Goethe and as an earlier example of his evocative nature writing that is strikingly evident in his later symphonic masterworks, so expertly visited by the CAS. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The deadline for science fiction countdown ballots is June 15th.  I will be sending out my own list this week, and have been assured by others that they will be following suit.  I will be sending out reminders to the e mail chain tomorrow, and also encourage any readers at the site who are interested to forward a Top 50 to me at your convenience.

Another incredible week for the record books included a three-day trip to the nation’s capital.  This is the fifth year in a row I made the annual Lincoln school pilgrimage to a bunch of memorials, Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon, Ford’s Theater, several Smithsonian museums and other sites, and my 8th grade son Jeremy and teaching colleague and friend Broadway Bob were aboard for the trek.  For the most part the weather was overcast and temperatures hovered around 70, making this an especially comfortable venture.

Lucille and I attended two fabulous musical events over the weekend.  The Choral Arts Society of New Jersey presented “Songs of the Sea,” which included works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Beethoven, and Benjamin Britten, and at the Players Guild of Leonia, a program titled “The Memory Lingers On” featured the songbook of American songwriting icon Irving Berlin.  Both shows were sublime and spirited and will be separately reviewed. (more…)

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© 2016 by James Clark

 

 

    Ridley Scott readily lets us know that he is an avid searcher amongst the films of newcomers, for the sake of keeping up with the latest thoughts and skills. He never gives us a break, however, about his encyclopedic coverage of films from the past. Unlike Michael Mann, who warmly treasures the impetus derived from the work of Jean-Pierre Melville, our eclectic helmsman here chooses not to explicitly identify that range of inspiration contributing to those heights he so often soars to. As with his breathtaking TV commercials, for Scott it seems to all come down to the season’s hit and its filmic brilliance. A large problem about that strict immediacy is that his formidable perceptiveness ardently digs into the problematics of world historical discernment. His sagas flame high and wide with being on the hunt for this planet’s catastrophic and institutional malignancy. This is long-term work in spades. And though that might constitute a reason for hiding it at the summit of Mount Everest, the forward motion of that contrarian manifold takes place with far more transparency than Scott, a hugely divided agent of popular entertainments— “I don’t make films for other people. I make films for me” –is prepared to tolerate.

Keeping in mind that caveat, with The Counselor (2013) we not only have wave after wave of presentations based upon films of Melville; but, moreover, without this component The Counselor cannot come into its own as a richly tempered hopeful communication. Sure, it’s got a flashy cast and devastating horror hooks. But, to all intents and purposes, it looks the part of a relentless dismissal of every vestige of adult integrity. Seemingly doing his utmost to leave intact the rattlesnake smarts of the Cormac  McCarthy screenplay, he declares, “I was very happy with The Counselor. I think it was cynical and too nihilistic for some people, but I like nihilistic.” He likes a lot more than that. And thanks to Melville’s Le Doulos he knows how to royally tip a scale, overloaded with sentient figures amounting to sewage trucks, with an abundance of rhapsody. “Music is dialogue,” is another of Scott’s sayings, one, in fact, which particularly reaps benefits from Le Doulos. (more…)

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Jilllian in high school production of “Shrek: the Musical.

by Sam Juliano

The deadline for the science-fiction ballots has been extended two weeks, making the final day for submission June 15th.  Aside from an early ballot from Allan Fish, no others have been yet forwarded, though I expect my own will be very soon.  The ballots will again by tabulated by Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr., and a Top 50 five-day-a-week countdown will commence in late June.  Those planning to submit ballots can send them either to me directly or to the e mail chain presently circulating.

I predicted Donald Trump would win the GOP nomination all the way back in January, but just about everyone thought I’d be way off the mark.  Of course my vote in the primary on June 7th will go to Bernie Sanders, but it is clear that Hillary will be the party nominee.  We are certain to have quite the nasty November election.

Lucille and I were proud to attend out daughter Jillian’s high school play “Shrek: the Musical” on Saturday afternoon.  A freshman, she played one of the Three Little Pigs on crutches after she sprained her ankle a few weeks back.  We attended the latest Curious Reader Bookstore (Glen Rock, N.J.) presentation and signing in the morning of that same day (Sergio Ruzzier- “This is Not A Picture Book”), and saw the Palme d’Or winner DHEEPAN on Saturday evening at the IFC Film Center. (more…)

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