Movies

Popcorn With That Beethoven?

By Brian McCreath   |   Monday, January 10, 2011
4 Comments   4 comments.

Jan. 10

A few years ago, the Metropolitan Opera pioneered one of those “wish-I’d-though-of-that” ideas by sending out live performances of opera to hundreds of movie theaters around the world, and within a year, many other opera companies had followed along, to varying degrees of success. As a way to reinvigorate its audience, it makes lots of sense for opera, especially on the scale produced by the Met, with lavish production values and access to practically any combination of cast and singers it wants. And it doesn’t seem to have hurt the company’s box office; in fact, it may have had just the opposite effect.

But would the same success come to an orchestra broadcasting itself to movie theaters? Orchestras aren’t known for staging particularly interesting events from a visual perspective, no matter how attractive concert halls are architecturally. But maybe the right combination of orchestra and repertoire could inject a new perspective to the orchestra experience. I was curious, so I found myself on Sunday at the Showcase Cinema de Lux Legacy Place in Dedham, Massachusetts, for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s first movie theater broadcast, with Gustavo Dudamel, now in his second year as music director of the orchestra, conducting a program that included Slonimsky’s Earbox by John Adams, Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1, “Jeremiah,” and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. This being LA, glam hosting, complete with sometimes pleasant, sometimes annoying, and occasionally enlightening banter, was provided by Vanessa Williams.

To begin with, the orchestra sounded terrific. LA has built a stellar reputation over the last 15 or so years, with credit usually given to the previous music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen. They can clearly take on whatever technical challenges might be thrown at them and not just navigate those challenges, but do so with excitement, precision, panache, and verve. And Dudamel (“The Dude”) was at his best: razor sharp, electric, and expressive. And all with that crowd-pleasing mop of hair on his head.

[Sidebar: If you didn’t know this already, Dudamel is really quite the story in the music world, as made abundantly clear in a recent program by Tavis Smiley. For the record, I don’t have a particularly strong opinion of him yet, but to the degree that he brings people to classical music who might not otherwise find themselves interested, he’s great. And his story, as dovetailed with that of Venezuela, really is compelling. His status as a great conductor is a true case of “time will tell,” but in the meantime, he’s someone with whom, I believe, anyone who cares about classical music should be familiar.]

I left the theater, though, with the feeling that this was the trial run of a concept that really hasn’t found its direction yet. Sure, it was fun to get extreme closeups of players as they un-self-consciously pulled off amazing feats of musical prowess (really, incredible things happen every week in orchestras across the country), and I guess I can consider myself lucky to have “been there” as The Dude slipped on his tails and walked down the hallway from his dressing room to the stage door.

But while Disney Hall (designed by Frank Gehry), with its cattywampus organ pipes and sweeping curves, is visually arresting, the experience was still that of an orchestra concert, which is to say, several dozen instrumentalists arrayed in a semi-circle playing music for an audience of people in seats while wearing … black. After the first half hour, it really didn’t add up to much, even after we got a few more shots at intermission of Vanessa Williams in a bright purple strapless number.

The major shortcoming was sound. Even with the most advanced surround sound system, with impressively delineated spatial qualities, it simply cannot equal the experience of sitting in a great concert hall, hearing and feeling a great orchestra. And as much as I love thinking about and playing with new ways to transmit the musical experience through evolving media, I’m actually heartened at this. I love the idea that live concerts of orchestra music, which have been going on for centuries, are still irreplaceable and essential.

None of which means I’m not rooting for the LA Phil and any other orchestra in contributing to that evolution. I hope they and others succeed beyond their wildest dreams. Here are a few ideas that, humbly, I think would contribute to that success:

1. Ditch the black. There’s no really great reason to stick with black tails/white bow tie/long black gown dress code in general, but there’s REALLY no reason to continue that practice when playing for people who came to the multiplex dressed in jeans and sneakers and who are probably enjoying popcorn while watching. I remember seeing The English Concert at Jordan Hall several years ago, and just by having the women wear a variety of coordinated single-color blouses (red, blue, orange, etc.), the experience was radically different.

2. Think through the host a bit more. I bet Vanessa Williams is a terrific person, and she might even be a big supporter of her local orchestra. But her presence didn’t really get beyond the Matt-Lauer-at-the-Macy’s-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade level. It needn’t be a musicologist, or even a music geek, but just someone who can offer a bit more depth.

3. Content, content, content. I thoroughly enjoyed all three pieces on the program, but I also wondered why I was hearing them. With the absence of the full orchestral sonic experience (as mentioned above), a greater premium is placed on why the audience should want to experience the event. Coherent, thematic programs that illuminate ideas beyond any individual part of the program, an approach that’s been gaining ground in general over the last decade and a half in orchestral programming, should be exploited to the max for the multiplex crowd. One potential model, or at least starting point, is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Beyond the Score series .

4. Make the experience last. A couple of months ago, I tried out the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall, which is a webcast experience. Aside from being a much more polished presentation (which, to be fair, no doubt is due to the fact that Berlin has been doing this for two years now), my admission ticket included access for a limited time to the entire archive of previous concerts, including the one I saw and heard live. What if, as a ticket holder to the LA Phil’s theater broadcast, I had the chance to see and hear it again, along with other concerts, on the web or on my phone?

I’m interested to know if you’ve attended any of these kinds of events, either in movie theaters wtih the Met, the LA Phil, or another organization, or via internet, like Berlin. Could something along these lines work in Boston?  And for more reaction from around the country, visit NPR Music.

A Request for Beethoven, and music for the holiday

By Ray Brown   |   Thursday, December 23, 2010
0 Comments   0 comments.

Dec. 24

Today's 4:00 request is from Marc for Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, which we'll hear performed by Robert Levin on the fortepiano, with the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique led by John Eliot Gardiner. Continuing the practice he began in his recordings of the Mozart concertos, Levin improvised all of his own cadenzas in the studio, rather than play the ones that Beethoven wrote. My colleague Cathy Fuller asked Levin about the process of creating new cadenzas for Mozart's music, and, especially for Beethoven's First Concerto, I think the same things apply.  Check out Cathy's conversations with Robert Levin here.

After the Beethoven we'll play a work that is increasingly associated with the holidays: the music Prokofiev wrote for the film "Lieutenant Kije."  While this music has been used in several films (perhaps most memorably in Woody Allen's "Love and Death"), it's quite illuminating to hear the music in its original context.  If you have a spare 82 minutes this holiday weekend, you can check out the 1934 film below.  It feels like a Soviet version of the Marx Brothers, based on a bitterly satiric novella by Yuri Tynyanov about a nonexistent officer in the Tsar's army who becomes a very convenient fiction.

Beginning at 5:00 we'll play three hours of music (and a bit of radio drama!) for the holidays, including excerpts from The Nutcracker, works by Bach and Corelli, carols sung by Chanticleer, the Boston Camerata, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and the Handel and Haydn Society Chorus (who will also be singing our holiday broadcast of Handel's Messiah at 8:00 tonight). We'll also hear a few snippets of Patrick Stewart's magnificent audio version of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," as well as a few surprises. All of us here at 99.5 thank you for making us a part of your celebration, and we wish you a joyous and peaceful holiday.


For Veterans Day, Favorite Films From The Frontlines

By Jared Bowen   |   Wednesday, November 10, 2010
2 Comments   2 comments.

A scene from Saving Private Ryan. Photo by Amblin Entertainment – © 1998


BEDFORD -- Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Mass. has a lot of what you might expect: Fighter jets, uniformed men and women bustling about and the requisite on-base hangout. At the back of Hansom’s MinuteMan Club sits 2nd. Lt. Patrick Gernert, who sits at a card table with two other servicemen, talking about their favorite war movies.
 
“Mine would probably be Forrest Gump,” says Gernert. “Even when he was miles from home he always thought about Jenny, and he always wanted to get back to her. He got bit in the butt, but he did definitely get home.”
 
Just like every football player has seen Rudy, and every filmmaker has studied Citizen Kane, for America’s men and women in uniform there are a go-to set of must-see movies that are often quoted, joked about and heavily relied on.

Must-See War Movies

Saving Private Ryan

Its first and last acts are among the most realistic and brutal depictions of war captured on film. In between is a timeless story of innocence facing the ultimate test.

Top Gun

One of a handful of movies granted full cooperation by U.S. Miltary, Top Gun defined heroics in the air for a generation with iconic star turns by Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer.

Forrest Gump

On one hand the story of a simple fan living an extraordinary life. Dig deeper and follow the baby boom generation as it grows up through Elvis, Vietnam, and the age of disco, drugs, and disease.

Stripes

Classic Bill Murrary comedy. "Don't leave. The flowers will die."

Full Metal Jacket

Stanley Kubrick's mix of surrealism and dark humor follows a Vietnam platoon's evolution from boyhood to war machine.

Gladiator

When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by a corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge.

“I mean, you can’t go wrong with Full Metal Jacket,” chimes Staff Sgt. Andre Edgardo Olaciregui-Perez, who normally craves the comedy stylings of Bill Murray and company. “Stripes is good, too. ‘The name’s Francis Sawyer.  If I catch any of you guys in my stuff, I kill ya.’”

Olaciregui-Perez then wades into the danger zone with his next pick, Tony Scott’s 1986 melodramatic ode to military machismo Top Gun. He sums it up in one word: "Lame.”
 
Tech Sgt Khaliliah Velez is a little kinder. “All I gotta say is Take My Breathe Away. Every time I hear that song, that movie pops into my head, and I liked it," Velez said. "Now, it’s not Air Force, but I like the movie.”
 
The one movie they all agree is paramount is the untouchable Saving Private Ryan. “This movie, straight from the entrance, the Battle of Normandy” says Gernert. “It’s like—wow—boom—bomb—you know all this stuff going on, everybody ducking down, you hear the splash of the water—splush. It’s just intense, really intense.”

Capt. John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) and the Allied
troops land on the beach of Normandy.

For the group assembled at this card table, there are a variety of different missions under their collective belts -- some of which include long deployments. To them, there is a different set of go-to comfort movies: The ones that take them home, when home is many miles and months away.
 
“They kind of helped me get through my time there,” says Velez. “You know, reminded me of my family and of things that I like to do in the States that I wasn’t afforded in Iraq. The Devil Wears Prada, The Breakup, Failure to Launch, Underworld 2, you always gotta switch it up a little bit. Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift was one that was close to home because it reminded me of son because he loves cars. And then, The DaVinci Code, just to kill time. I fell asleep most of the time, you know, it’s a long movie.”
 
Sergeant Olaciregui Perez has a shorter list of comfort movies. ”I was in Kuwait in 2007 and 2009, and my two favorite movies of all time, that I’ve watched repeatedly over when I was deployed, were Cast Away and Gladiator.”
 
Cast Away is really interesting cause you know, you have this guy that gets stranded, in the middle of nowhere and really has no hope. But because of his determination in wanting to go back to what was close to his heart, it kind of deals with the same thing as in deployment," Perez said. "You know, you’re ready to go back, but you understand that you have to do certain things at the location. It’s like a journey, or an adventure. That’s why Cast Away is close to me, I guess.”

 
Maximus (Russell Crowe) addresses the
Roman crowds.

As for Ridley Scott’s action-packed historical epic Gladiator -- that one is a little more obvious.
 
“Every guy, they all wanna be Russell Crowe in that movie,” says Perez. “You know, screaming out, ‘Are you not entertained?  Are you not entertained? Is this not what you want?’  You know, it’s just very thrilling—it’s amazing.”
 
It’s also an escape. So in wartime, amid the intensity, the brutality, the loneliness—it’s clear listening to these veterans that in the 21st century, movies are an integral part of the war experience.
 
“I guess I would tell someone that’s in the military with me, you know, whatever makes you laugh, smile, cry, because we all have different tastes,” says Velez. “Whatever takes you to your happy place—just watch it.”

 


Moviola's War Movie Picks

Boston Jewish Film Festival Celebrates Storytelling And Heritage

By Jared Bowen   |   Tuesday, November 2, 2010
3 Comments   3 comments.

The Boston Jewish Film Festival runs through Nov 14th at local theaters, including the Coolidge Corner Theatre.


2010 marks the 22nd Anniversary of the Boston Jewish Film Festival, and in that time, its mission has kept consistent and clear.
 
“We began as a way to showcase films with Jewish themes from around the world, and we’ve pretty much stayed that way,” says Sara Rubin, artistic director of the Boston Jewish Film Festival.
 
“We focus on very contemporary films. Sometimes we push the envelope a little bit, if it’s a fiction film, but we want either the theme or the characters to the Jewish. We don’t really care about who directed the film, or who acts in it. And if it’s a documentary, most things from Israel are going to be fair game.”

Being steeped in the Jewish experience certainly hasn’t limited the appeal of this festival, especially for film lovers simply looking for good films that wouldn’t come to Boston otherwise. And for Boston’s Jewish community, says Sara, “I think that film festivals are a place where Jews who might be a little uncomfortable in a more organized setting—a synagogue for example—can come and be comfortable exploring their Jewishness.”
 
In terms of “place”, the “place” Sara refers to is the community that gets built each year through the festival, and continues year-round. The festival itself is housed in a number of venues, primarily the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline and the Museum of Fine Arts. Additionally, there are a number of screenings in the suburbs, including the West Newton Cinema and Arlington’s Capitol Theater.
 
One of the highlights of festival is the film Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story.

View the trailer for
Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story

Sara explains, “It’s a wonderful, wonderful film, and what it does is touch upon something that has obviously struck a nerve.”
 
Directed by Peter Miller (who grew up in Lexington) and narrated by Dustin Hoffman, Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story confronts an old stereotype: That Jews are not athletic. It does this by exploring the historical connection between Jewish Americans and the nation's pasttime.
 
“It’s the puny Jew versus the strong athletic Jew,” says Sara. “I think that there are a couple of really strong characters that have resonated with audiences.  Certainly, Sandy Koufax by not playing on Yom Kippur, and Hank Greenberg who did the same. They’re both real giants, both physically… and um… sort of morally.”

View the trailer for Socalled

Sara also recommends a couple of hidden gems, including one called The Socalled Movie, about a very quirky artist called Socalled. Who is he?
 
Socalled’s real name is Josh Dolgin, and he’s from Montreal.  I’d say that he is kind of a ‘schlump,’ which is a Yiddish word for someone that’s sloppy.  He’s taken Klezmer music, which is an old music from Eastern Europe, and has added hip-hop music to it. He’s got quite the following among Klezmer and hip-hop types alike."
 
“We’ve shown more traditional Klezmer films, and this one is a little bit cutting edge. So I hope people will go, because they’ll see something different. That’s what we try to do with the Festival.”
 
The Boston Jewish Film Festival is underway all the way through November 14th.
 

Moviola's "So Called" Review

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Can You Endure This Horror Movie Marathon?

By Jared Bowen   |   Tuesday, October 26, 2010
3 Comments   3 comments.

From the left: Superfan Generoso Fierro, Mark Anastasio and Jesse Hassinger

It's an understatement to say that Mark Anastasio knows horror movies. His office at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, where he is the assistant program manager, is crammed with more movie posters and action figures than office supplies. This guy knows horror movies the way Ted Williams knew hitting and Stephen Hawking knows physics.

So what makes a great horror movie? To Anastasio, it's a pretty specific formula. “It has to be made from the mid-70s to the mid-80s. That’s step one," Anastasio says. "Step two is that either Tom Savini or Rob Bottin should have done the makeup effects and special effects for it. And step three is that it needs to have been directed by John Carpenter.”

This connoisure of cinematic gore is one of two men responsible for the lineup at the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, a 12-hour sensory overload of live music, psychic readings, popcorn and — of course — plenty of blood and guts on the big screen. 

“It’s a really great endurance test for horror film fans,” says Anastasio. “Half the fun I have is going around at like 9 a.m., seeing what the status of the place is.  Seeing who’s still here… what the smells are like.  Our projectionist one year equated it to an actual crypt. It gets funky.”

The funk starts at the Coolidge Corner Theater this Saturday at midnight and it doesn’t stop until noon on Halloween Day. Hundreds of horror movie geeks, film buffs and curiosity seekers will pack into the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. Some will stay for a movie or two and maybe a laugh. A few will be in it to win it, enduring six feature films ranging from the campy to the terrifying.
 
If you’re hoping to hear a preview of all of the films that you can expect to see on the big screen, well... “I can definitely talk about two of them,” says program manager Jesse Hassinger. Jesse is a refugee of Los Angeles who fled back to Boston to become the Coolidge Theatre’s lead programmer. He shares Mark’s facial hair and his enthusiasm for this year’s line-up, especially Saturday night’s double-feature.

View the trailer for House

“This year there’s a movie called House, which is a 1977 Japanese film, that just got… well, I don’t know if 'rediscovered' is the right word… but ‘rediscovered’ by Janus Films. It’s a crazy, wild, insane movie that is equal parts Japanese pop and LSD trip.”
 
The second part of the double-feature is the 1980s horror classic Re-Animator, which isn’t just celebrating Halloween, but a birthday as well.

“This is the 25th Anniversary year,” Jesse says. “It’s definitely a horror movie classic—HP Lovecraft influenced.  It has a great mix of humor and gore goes to extremes on both sides.”
 
So, which title is the bigger draw? The subtitled, LCD-trip Japanese Pop, or the Cult Classic celebrating it’s big 25?  According to Jesse, it’s neither.

View the trailer for Re-Animator

“I think the biggest draw are the four films that we’re not advertising.”
 
Mark agrees, “The dawn hours… and maybe even close to 9AM… yeah, there’s gonna be shear brutality. I challenge you to come to this thing and stay until noon.  I’ll be there at noon the next day and if you’re there shaking my hand, you are a true horror movie fan.”
 
And if that’s still not enough for you, “We do have a ghost that’s rumored to live in the theater,” says Jesse. “So, maybe we will hear from that ghost this year."


Moviola's Halloween Must-Sees

Don't be scared to hear what the Moviola team thinks you should be watching this Halloween. Listen and share your picks by leaving a comment below.

What's New in the Arts This Week with Jared Bowen

Thursday, October 10, 2013
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About the Authors
Brian McCreath Brian McCreath

Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 

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