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Posts Tagged ‘modernism’

Spring Fever

July 11, 2013 | by

Nijinsky-Rite

Six weeks ago, the world celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the premiere of Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) on May 29, 1913, and of the legendary riot that accompanied it. It was the culmination of an ongoing celebration. In the past year, orchestras around the globe performed the piece. Carolina Performing Arts sponsored a symposium featuring leading scholars, a puppetry performance by Basil Twist, and a new reinterpretation of Nijinsky and Stravinsky’s ballet, called A Rite, by Anne Bogart and Bill T. Jones. Mark Morris, too, leapt onto the reboot bandwagon with Spring Spring Spring, danced to a musical reinterpretation of Stravinsky by the jazz group the Bad Plus. So, too, did the German choreographer Sasha Waltz, with her new ballet, performed on May 29 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, the very theater in which the original premiered. Indubitably great as Stravinsky’s composition was, there is no doubt that much of the work’s fame and the desire to mark its anniversary rest on the riot. The Rite may have created a riot, but it was the myth of the riot that made The Rite and much attention has been spent in recent months on determining just what the source of the riot was.

If we really want to understand that watershed moment, however, we might do better to recall a different anniversary. A hundred years ago today, on July 11, 1913, the ballet was performed for the first time in London. After the tumult in Paris, what must have happened in the conservative, even staid, cultural climate of England?  France, after all, had spawned Baudelaire, the Moulin Rouge, and Ubu Roi. London had sired Tennyson, the pantomime, and H.M.S. Pinafore. If worldly Parisians had rioted, surely parochial Londoners must have rampaged. Read More »

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The Dogs of Men and War: Charlie Newman and His Lost Novel

June 14, 2013 | by

CT  Charles_Newman.jpg

It is best to dispense at once with the salacious stuff of Charlie Newman’s life: he was a drunk, a bastard, and a boor. His marriages did not last. His books did not bring fame. When not poisoning his liver or relations with both family and fellow writers, he taught college, smoked a pipe, and trained dogs.

Only the very last of these facts is relevant when reading In Partial Disgrace, a fantastically odd posthumous novel for those who like their beauty strange, their plots unruly, their ideas ambitious. It has been patched together by his nephew Ben Ryder Howe—a former editor at The Paris Review–and released this spring by Dalkey Archive Press. The book is set in a fictional European land called Cannonia, its history based on that of Hungary but its name quite clearly derived from the Latin for dog, canis. The main character, Felix Aufidius Pzalmanazar, is a dog breeder, and there are roughly 0.7 references to the canine species on each page of this gorgeous mess of a novel, which is what Pale Fire (a novel Newman adored) might have read like if given a heavy-handed edit by Cesar “The Dog Whisperer” Millan. Read More »

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Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: Modernists Go Off-Menu

January 2, 2013 | by

The opening scenes of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times demonstrate the indignities mechanized factory production perpetrates upon the bodies of its workers. The first shot, of sheep herded into a pen, dissolves into one of men leaving the subway. They’re bound, the viewer assumes, for the kind of job in which the next cut finds Chaplin’s Little Tramp: working on an assembly line, his motions so repetitive that they become reflexive. He can’t stop twisting his wrists, as if to tighten bolts, even when he leaves the station where he tightens bolts all day. His body is so bound to the line and to the factory that the same boss who controls the conveyor belt’s speed also controls the movements of the Tramp’s body. Finally, the factory extends its control to the Tramp’s last autonomous function: eating his lunch.

A salesman so committed to mechanization that he lets a machine speak for him has brought to the factory boss’s office a prototype of “the Billows Feeding Machine, a practical device which automatically feeds your men while at work.” He asks the boss to pick one of his workers for a demonstration, and of course Chaplin’s Tramp is volunteered. Strapped into the machine, hands incapacitated, the helpless Tramp watches the machine rotate plates before him: soup, air-cooled between spoonfuls; corn, spinning on its cob; cubes of meat, pushed by a mechanical arm from the plate into his mouth; and finally cake for dessert. The machine promises to “eliminate the lunch hour.”

Even before the machine goes predictably haywire—speeding up, spilling soup on the Tramp’s shirt and cake in his face (always pausing, hilariously, to wipe his mouth)—it’s clear to the viewer that some kind of line has been crossed. Read More »

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Documenta 13

July 11, 2012 | by

Massimo Bartolini, Untitled (Wave), 1997–2012. Photo: Nils Klinger

Michelangelo Antonioni was not happy with the grass. This was the summer of 1966, and London was experiencing an extreme drought. The director had shot the pivotal scene in Blow-Up where David Hemmings photographs an unconsenting Vanessa Redgrave and her lover, and maybe, or maybe not, a murder at Maryon Park. But the grass looked terrible, scraggy and yellow, so Antonioni had the crew spray-paint it green, and then shot the whole sequence again.

Antonioni would’ve approved of the grass in Kassel, though. It was incredibly green, food-coloring green. The leaves, too. The city, at the northern tip of the province of Hesse, in the middle of Germany, is known for having been nearly obliterated by Allied bombs in World War II and for Documenta, the hundred-day international exhibition of 150 contemporary artists that takes place every five years. I was there with my girlfriend, Liza, for the event's thirteenth incarnation, but at some point, everyone I met would mention the destruction—whether to explain the city’s history of manufacturing weapons or the blocky postwar architecture.

The painter and professor Arnold Bode organized the first Documenta in 1955 in order to exhibit publicly the “degenerate” art that had been banned under the Third Reich. The work of prewar and wartime modernism was displayed in the ruins of the Fridericianum Museum, not just as an act of recovery but of testimony, too. This year, the director is Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, and the exhibition spread beyond the renovated Fridericianum to the main square, the train station, the Brothers Grimm Museum, the sprawling Karslaue Park, and more. There were paintings, installations, films, performances, lectures, seminars, and, as described in the press packet, “periodic activity.” I was there for three days, which is enough time to realize how little time that is, especially since this year Documenta extends beyond Kassel to Alexandria, Cairo, and Kabul, where ruins, recovery, and testimony are not distant concepts.

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Staff Picks: The Kid, ‘Reading for My Life’

February 24, 2012 | by

I am so excited to visit this Djuna Barnes exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum: it’s an archive of her New York journalistic work between 1913 and 1919, frequently illustrated by the budding modernist herself. —Sadie Stein

“John had many moving parts, exploding in as many directions as one of his sentences,” writes Jen Nesselin in one of the rememberances that round out the new collection of John Leonard’s writings, Reading for My Life. “But he was, above all, an enthusiast.” Those ecstatic, exhaustive, amassing—enthusiastic!—sentences, nestled in the pages of The New York Review of Books or Harper’s or The New York Times, were a delight to me for many years. I’m even more delighted to have so many of them in one place. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

Joseph Cornell, mostly known for his shadow boxes, also made surrealist films. UbuWeb carries some dozen of them, including the rightfully famous Rose Hobart, the only movie to screen publicly during his lifetime—it sent Salvador Dalí into fits of rage, which sent Cornell’s cinema into hiding. Yet it’s The Midnight Party that really charms and disturbs. —Josh Anderson

“They free me from the prison of contemporaneity: one should not live only in one’s own time. A wall of books is a wall of windows.” Leon Wieseltier’s hymn to having shelf upon shelf of books perfectly conveys the reason I’ll never stop bringing books home. —Nicole Rudick

Recently I found myself watching a lot of Israeli cinema. I began with Or, about a daughter struggling to support her mother and keep her out of prostitution, and moved on to Jaffa, about a secret affair between a Jewish woman and an Arab man—both brilliant films featuring the splendid Dana Ivgy. —Natalie Jacoby

For those fond of the scandalous and confessional, take a look at these diaries of the famous. A perfect reading list for the voyeuristic. —Elizabeth Nelson

Of all last week’s tributes to the late, great Gary Carter, the one that choked me up most was an emotional Keith Hernandez, who, back in the day, used to mock the exuberant and clean-living catcher. I also love Left Field Cards’s tribute to “The Kid,” the proceeds of which go to the National Brain Tumor Society. —S.S.

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Anne Enright on ‘The Forgotten Waltz’

October 25, 2011 | by

The writer Anne Enright, a native of Ireland, is perhaps best known for her 2007 Booker Prize winning novel The Gathering, a darkly beautiful novel about a family gathering in the wake of a suicide. In The Forgotten Waltz, her fifth novel and her first since winning the Booker, she takes up a seemingly more mundane plot: that of adulterous love. Gina, married to Conor, narrates her affair with Séan—himself married and father to a troubled daughter, Evie—which comes to a head as Ireland’s economy collapses.

It’s an affair whose outcome is known from almost the very first pages, and  Enright is not interested in judging Gina or Séan—Gina believes, ultimately, that there is nothing to forgive and, if Enright does not agree with her outright, she makes Gina a sympathetic enough character that it is possible for the reader to do so. The considerable narrative pleasures of this novel lie in Enright’s luminous language, as she sketches Gina’s attempts to figure out what happened and how and why. The author, who has a quick wit and a hearty laugh, as well as a refreshingly no-nonsense attitude, spoke to me recently from the West Coast, where she was on book tour. Read More »

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