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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Sondheim’

Loveland

November 29, 2013 | by

FolliesTheaterPosterlarge

“If I had any visual talent, I would have loved to be a filmmaker,” Stephen Sondheim told me in a recent phone interview. “But I didn’t. So this is what I became.” It’s jarring to think that the legendary composer-lyricist of Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods only resorted to musical theater out of an inability to compose a wide shot. In the 1950s Sondheim directed amateur horror movies (“The photography is like a five-year-old’s”) and he later co-wrote the enjoyably chilly mystery film The Last of Sheila, but he has made a relatively piddling contribution to the art form that is deepest in his bones. As he told Frank Rich in 2000, “Movies were, and still are, my basic language.”

It’s the language he used to write Follies, the sumptuous 1971 Broadway musical about middle-aged showgirls gathering for a boozy, confrontational reunion on the eve of their old theater’s destruction. While critics have treated the show as an elegy to the theater, Hollywood seems to have been the headiest influence on Follies’ creative team. Sondheim has said that during the writing process, he “could only imagine the spectacle of a Ziegfeldian ‘Loveland’ in terms of movie musicals,” and co-director Harold Prince’s concept for Follies as a story about “rubble in the daylight” grew out of a  Life magazine photo of Gloria Swanson standing in the ruins of the Roxy movie palace. Prince insisted that the libretto be rewritten to include cinematic techniques like dissolves, close-ups, and black-and-white flashbacks, and the orchestrations were deliberately rigged with MGM-isms (like the thrilling piano-to-orchestra swell midway through “Beautiful Girls”). Even the casting of old vaudevillians in many of the roles was inspired by Billy Wilder’s casting of silent movie actors in Sunset Boulevard. “We just kept hoovering up people who were close to the story,” Prince explained to me in a phone call. “That’s what Billy Wilder did: he put Swanson in the part so you thought, ‘Hey, she’s playing herself.’ She wasn’t, of course, but you made that connection.”

Was the fabled original production of Follies always pining away to be a movie? I called Sondheim and Prince after learning that they actually had cooked up a scheme to make a film version in the early 1970s, featuring dozens of faded stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age congregating on a studio backlot about to be torn down. It is intoxicating to imagine such a film, with archival footage of the stars sewn into the plot, and each cut functioning like an electric restoration of youth.Read More »

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A Week in Culture: Sadie Stein, Editor

November 14, 2011 | by

DAY ONE

4:00 A.M. I can’t sleep. Because I just moved from Brooklyn into Manhattan, my books aren’t unpacked, and so my reading options are limited. The only books I have handy are on decorating—although it’s usually a pretty theoretical study in my case. The pattern of the boards on the floor of this new apartment reminds me of floors I saw in Kraków when I visited there with my father, and I’ve decided rather grandly to do a sort of prewar Eastern European motif. (Again, this is probably theoretical. ) Wonder vaguely where one would find a tiled stove in New York.

I read a few chapters of the inimitable Dorothy Draper’s Decorating Is Fun!, which is filled with gems like “It is just as disastrous to have the wrong accessories in your room as it is to wear sport shoes with an evening dress,” as well as the somewhat less helpful “I don’t believe anything can do as much for a room as a glowing fire in an attractive fireplace. Men and dogs love an open fire—they show good sense. It is the heart of any room and should be kindled on the slightest provocation.” (That said, I’m guessing Alexa Chung or someone is wearing sports shoes with an evening dress as we speak, and probably causing a sensation. Imagine a world with rules and dicta. The mind boggles.)

5:30 A.M. Finally manage to drift off for a few hours, until a handyman unexpectedly knocks at the door at 7:45 to wash the windows. It occurs to me that this is just the sort of dubious ruse a murderer or thief might use to gain entrance to someone’s apartment; let him in anyway.

9:00 A.M. I pass an angry-looking gentleman on the way to the subway.
“Hello,” I say.
“Bloomingdales, Bloomingdales!” he shouts.

3:53 P.M. I get some sad family news. Internet is in and out here, but in a good moment, I find my favorite Barbara Pym quote: “The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things ... the trivial pleasure like cooking, one’s home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.”

4:45 P.M. My old boyfriend e-mails me about a recent fight he got into at a dinner party, over collective nouns. “I was quite put out, let me tell you,” he says. Read More »

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On the Shelf

September 21, 2011 | by

Gustave Flaubert. Photograph by Nadar.

A cultural news roundup.

  • Michel Houellebecq has been found.
  • So has a James M. Cain manuscript.
  • Neil Young is writing an autobiography.
  • So is Jermaine Jackson.
  • So is Julian Assange. But without his consent.
  • “If I say ‘David Bellos has to be one of the smartest people now on the planet,’ what language am I using? English of a kind; but scarcely the Queen’s, which—to judge from her public utterances—retains a careful insularity; mid-Atlantic schtick is not Her Majesty’s bag.”
  • Nor Shakespeare’s.
  • The Sondheim-crossword mother lode.
  • Shakeups at DC Comics ...
  • But peace at the Poetry Society.
  • “The general editorial posture of the magazine leaned away from the conventions of the establishment and toward the eccentricities of bohemians everywhere.”
  • Salman Rushdie joins Twitter.
  • Flaubert once bet some friends that he could make love to a woman, smoke a cigar, and write a letter at the same time. He won, as they looked on in admiration.”
  • These are beautiful, if we do say so ourselves.
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