March 24, 2008

guilty.jpgThe year was 1980.  I had just graduated high school and the soundtrack of my life consisted of John Williams’ stellar sequel for The Empire Strikes Back, the song-driven soap opera of Fame, and the unlikely successful pairing of Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb for the classic Guilty album.  While Streisand’s voice has continued to gain in body and depth, her later albums lack spontaneity and each successive release features this legendary singer further and further entombed in her own secluded world, rather than enshrined as she should be. 

Not so with Guilty.  What could have easily have turned into the ultimate in pop Muzak instead  became a bona fide classic and arguably qualifies as Streisand’s finest pop album.  Flawlessly written and produced by Gibb, the album has a sound unlike any other Streisand effort.  To this day, even though I can still sing many of the lyrics and certain inner musical lines have lodged themselves in my brain, this unique collaboration sounds just as fresh today as it did 28 years ago.  And the album’s closing track, “Make It Like a Memory,” remains one of Streisand’s lesser-known, yet greatest, tracks (and that’s not even counting the magnificent final two minutes of instrumental playoff!).

On the album’s 25th anniversary in 2005, a remastered version was released as well as the album’s followup, Guilty Pleasures.  Though the later albums has its moments, it could not succeed in recapturing the magic of the earlier album.  One thing is for sure, Guilty is no longer a guilty pleasure.  It’s simply a great album.


Paul Scofield, Oscar-winning actor, dies

March 20, 2008

paulscofield.jpgThey say that deaths always come in threes.  And today, the announcement of Paul Scofield’s death from leukemia, the third passing in as many days, has dampened this otherwise sunny NYC day.  In high school, I first saw Scofield’s Academy Award-winning performance in 1966’s Best Picture, A Man For All Seasons.  Its sterling dialogue (courtesy of Robert Bolt’s Tony Award-winning play and Oscar-winning screenplay) and Scofield’s performance as Thomas More (the first instance that I can remember when I was aware of “great” acting) remain indelibly etched in my memory thirty years later. 

Paul Scofield, an actor for all seasons.

Legendary sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke dies

March 19, 2008

arthurcclarke.jpgI confess I was confused when I read this morning that legendary science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke had died, having thought he passed away years ago.  Clarke had been out of the literary firmament for many years, especially since he suffered from post-polio syndrome beginning in the early 1980s, a result of his bout with polio in 1962.  But Clarke was a seminal writer for my childhood. 

Like many young boys, I immersed myself in the distant galaxies of Clarke’s imagination.  His novelization of 2001: A Space Odyssey for me was far more memorable than Stanley Kubrik’s more celebrated film.  And his classic Rendezvous with Rama is still one of the only sci-fi books I can remember from my childhood, which says something considering that my main reading focus was in that genre.  I recently reread the book as an adult, and while it didn’t capture my imagination like it had in my early years, Clarke’s writing was as crisp and evocative as always.

I must confess that outside of the two works above, I am mainly unfamiliar with much of Clarke’s prolific output.  However, that doesn’t tarnish the memory of two books that remain fond memories of a more innocent time in my life.  For a man who always looked to the stars, Arthur C. Clarke can now reach out and touch them.

Anthony Minghella, Oscar-winning director, dies

March 18, 2008

anthony_minghella.jpgAnthony Minghella, the Oscar-winning director of The English Patient, died today at age 54 of complications from surgery to treat tonsil cancer.  Minghella’s singular vision brought a touch of elegance to the Academy Award-winning film.  Two of his later films, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain, suffered from an English Patient backlash, but they are every bit as beautiful as, and even more engaging than, the earlier film. 

Minghella’s films are best seen on the big screen and one image stands out from three wildly different sources in the director’s canon.  The first can be found in the duel scene of Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin featured in Ripley.  As Onegin kills Lensky, a bright red fabric spreads out onstage as Lensky’s blood is spilled.  Again in Cold Mountain, Minghella uses the same image as Inman’s (Jude Law) blood spreads in the snow.  In the fall of 2006, in his spectacularly beautiful production of Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan Opera, Minghella once more uses the red fabric to convey Cio-Cio-San’s suicide at the end of the opera. 

It is a particularly disheartening that we won’t have the opportunity to see what would have come from Minghella’s operatic partnership with composer Osvaldo Golijov.  However, Minghella leaves behind three films in particular that showcase his particular talents, and for that we can be thankful.

Russian Reading Challenge

March 17, 2008

russia_cathedral_2006_06_142.jpgI begin this blog with a posting on words of note from Russia.  I recently joined the Russian Reading Challenge 2008.  In this challenge, you agree to read four books written by Russian authors or about Russia itself.  That could be anything from Peter the Great to Nicholas and Alexandra.  From Dostoevsky and Chekhov to Tolstoy and Pushkin.  The challenge began on January 1, but I’m coming to it rather late.  You may think four books should be easy to finish by December 31, but Russian literature tends to be as expansive as the country itself.  My four choices consist of (with the caveat that I can change my selections at any time):

War and Peace – Tolstoy
A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 – Orlando Figes
Crime and Punishment – Dostoevsky
Krushchev: The Man and His Era – William Taubman

Anyone who knows me knows how obsessed I’ve been with Russia over the last few years.  Whether or not I’ll  be able to finish these classics, especially with so many other things to read, remains to be seen.  Wish me luck.