Monday, October 12, 2009

Mama's Movie Night takes on the Grandma of em all

When times are hard, the arts tend to get all retrospective, and nostalgia is this season’s trend. Film companies appear to be heading for the vault and reissuing anniversary editions of iconic classics. Weekend before last, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of Dorothy and Toto.

Then the folks at Disney sent an army of us bloggers the Diamond Edition of Snow White to examine, just in time for the October 6th rollout. I’m pretty careful about my freebies, preferring to pick my way through popular culture on my own, but as a media educator, the chance to write about the very first full length animated feature ever made was too great for my film buff household to pass up.

The eagerly awaited DVD/Blu Ray boxed set arrived, and we ceremoniously gathered round for what in our house is known as Mama’s Movie Night. Last week I had my long suffering students, I mean children, sit through Alexander the Great with Richard Burton. Next week we will be looking at Garbo. But this week we harkened back to their grandparents’ day, and it’s Snow White on a cold Saturday night. We watched the DVD version, since our friends who have a Blu Ray had a previous engagement. We have not invested in the newest technology---we still watch old VHS versions of many films, and times are hard in our house---which in a way makes us pretty similar to some of the folks watching Snow White when it first came out.

I don’t mean to be picky, but when I told my kids we were getting the Diamond Edition, my daughter expected a really nice box. And I agree---if you are peddling an artwork as groundbreaking as Snow White, it should probably get something with a little more preciousness than the usual plastic portfolio tucked into the stand by the grocery checkout. I wish the presentation of the discs had carried a sense of the jewel sitting on the shelf. But I can see from the Disney website we got the low end addition. LOL. Maybe I will make a pretty jewel encrusted case for my daughter, who is now inspired to do a vintage Disney birthday party....

It is so hard to convey to a media saturated child of the 21st century what a ground breaker this movie was. Back then, stories were heard, not seen. Masses huddled in the dark and folks must have been awed and moved by this lusciously colored version of a childhood tale. I could not give my children the eyes of children from the 1930’s—I had their highly sophisticated eyes accustomed to hundreds of visual images a day. But I wanted to know how this work would measure up to its filmic offspring: Pixar and Studio Ghibli.

The old girl held her own.

My youngest liked the old fashioned simplicity of the images and got really into the backgrounds. My tween boy was most taken with the dwarves—the rest he maintained was a “Girl Story”. We are all still wondering how they did the water in front of the dwarves house. Both kids noted that the DVD was “clearer” than our old VHS version. I can’t wait to impose on our friends and see the Blu Ray now.

And then my kids drifted off to dreamland and I stayed up to the wee hours picking through the bonus features. The most fun was the audio commentary they pieced together with ol’ Walt himself, and you get to hear the arduous struggle of trying to invent the technology as they went along.

When you look at the previews (which I usually hate), its an eye opening to get such a graphic, side by side look at how far Disney animation has come. And we absolutely adored the sneak peak of the upcoming feature The Princess and the Frog. Disney, who ordinarily never shows its back side or inner workings, shows six minutes including sketches and chunks that are not yet colored. One can see the process of creating the finished product. We LOVE that, and now can’t wait to see it. So if the main purpose of the release was to drive traffic to other Disney properties, it has accomplished its mission.

But in the end, here’s the takeaway for families that are not studying film: Snow can still provide you with a nice night of family entertainment. We got to talk about what entertainment was like back when my children’s grandparents were young, and we got to see where all those songs came from and we sang along. I caught my self hi ho-ing off to work this morning! My children have heard many of the Grimms tales, so the scary and unPC bits of the actual tale did not pull them up short---and they are clear that this was a story From the Olden Days. So if you are looking for an updated snazzy trip down nostalgia lane, you could do worse than the animated feature that started it all (and the reason why studios thought the Wizard of Oz was a bankable project).

And if you are not into nostalgia, the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival opens in about a week and a half, and you could see where film will be going next! We are all lined up for the new Wallace and Grommit…..

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Opera and the DSM

I have been spending WAY too much time with therapists of late. I know because I sat through the tragedy of Faust and kept seeing mental illness instead of characters! The soldiers all clearly had PTSD and Marguerite had one nasty case of post partem depression. Execution seems a bad way to treat a new mom who has clearly lost her marbles, so we have progressed a bit as a civilization since this tale was inked.

I started to think of all my favorite operas and I realized that if we had better psychiatric care in the last few centuries, we wouldn't have any decent plots! If SSRI's had been invented before booze, where would the human race and classic tales be then, I ask you? Prozac nations don't do awful things to their families and lovers, and where's the drama in that?

But maybe that's an important point--we all struggle through our human condition as generations have in ages past. The passions, the pain, ultimately death--which is often untimely, are common to all--although most of us can't sing our way out in an unwavering aria.

Sometimes, especially when its been a hard week, I find a trip to the opera is so cathartic. It's an escape, yes, where I can lose myself in the sumptuous staging or the unlikely fantasy of throwing oneself off a rampart after a little music that rocks me to the core (can't wait for Tosca, can I?), but it also is cleansing in a way that deep true emotion is. Truth become the underlying vibration, an aura in the air. Someone always loves something too much at the opera--whether its Faust who loves youth, or Mephistopheles (my daughter and I disagree---I totally would have signed a deal with that guy, she thought he was creepy) who loves to capture another soul in his stable. And Siebel who loves Marguerite. Haven't we all loved something too much and badly. Regrets and wasted lives are much more palatable and nuanced at the opera than on the front page. Fenger High School needs a Gounod to steep us in that tragic tale.

And I await the operas that tell stories where women are not the pawns of men. But that will have to be a new generation of tale tellers. Get to work folks, I NEED you. I just can't wait for the rest of the Lyric Season, where I can escape the parking debacle and the state budget woes and immerse myself in times that were REALLY hard.

I know I have heard grumblings about all the old chestnuts pulled out for the season from some other opera fans, but times are hard and we need to revisit the old beloved tales, and we need opera to be here in 5 and 10 years so I appreciate that the scions of culture have belt tightened a wee bit to keep on keeping on.

See you at the Civic.

Transcience, transitions

In ancient times, this was a scary time of year, as the sun died. Today in the parking lot, a woman died. You stop still, and take stock.

This morning,on the radio, Jude Law was talking about playing Hamlet and how the character could have been a great king, but life beat him down. I could relate--I have been taking that beating of late. It can twist you and snuff out the flame of dreams and inspiration. Course, I have not resorted to murder just yet.KIDDING.

But then I got a call to talk about dancing the repertoire of Isadora Duncan as part of a talkback after When She Danced at the TimeLine Theater--a play about Duncan towards the end of her life. My inner artist awakens.

And so I share what I wrote after a lecture at the Goethe Institute by a fascinating artist named Raimond Hogue--he served as Dramaturg to Pina Bausch. And for those of you who want to know, YES I missed the Merce show last weekend AND the the Links Hall 30th---the laundry needed doing, there was no food in the house, and someone in our collective lives has to make sure the home is made or we will all be Home Less......

Tribute to Pina and Merce.

Is that all there is?
If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is…..Peggy Lee

I am supposed to be at this very minute writing up bill payment forms and a grid for next summer’s space useage at my very bureaucratic arts admin day job.

I am supposed to be at this very minute running three children around to various activities so that I can be a good mother and they can grow up to be exceptionally wonderful.

I am supposed to be at this very minute productive and cheerful and at the height of my powers.

And I am at this very minute, here and now,

Standing Still.

Because Life is passing me by.

I was so promising and talented and then the kids and the mortgage and the ever changing and often crappy health benefits and the leaky roofs and the furloughs and the downsizing and the disappearing pension act and cancer and auto immune thingys and you know it never quite comes out the way you planned

But I still have dreams.

See I saw Pina and Merce and Alwin and Martha and Hanya, and I breathed the same air as they did. We lived at the same Time.

I learned the dances of Isadora from someone who learned from someone who learned from her,

And I know

You do not stop dancing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop dancing.

And as that hoofer Patrick Swayze said in Ghost: You take all the love with you when you go.

You take all the dances.
And if you are lucky,
Others keep dancing them.

Because all there is IS the kids and the aging parents and digging out the car in February and the school permission slip that the cat threw up the hairballs on.

And this only moment

and I AM dancing.


Is that all there is?
If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is…..

My daddy dropped dead of a heart attack on his lunch hour at the age of 36. It's made me more cognizant than most that we are here such a short time. We never know when it will be our time. Be. Here. Now. Love. Live.

There is nothing more you can do.