Friday, August 22, 2014

Weekend Entertainment Recs for Seniors and Others

Film: The Big Sleep, directed by Howard Hawks, starring Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart

Lauren Bacall died this past week at age 89. Her husband, Bogie, died when he was 57 so she was incredibly longer lived despite being known to be his match for anything, including smoking and drinking, if needs be. This was one of their very best movies together and is a splendid example of film noir. Film Noir was and is very heavy on style. It is very high contrast with black and white. There is always a femme fatal and a detective. Bacall is the dame with the rich father and the younger sister whereas Bogie is the detective, Phillip Marlow, called in to work on a case for this rich family.

If sparks don't fly off both guns and male and female leads in a film noir, it is a dud. This is no dud. Bacall and Bogart sizzle onscreen. The mystery is complex but that too is not unusual for film noir. Raymond Chandler wrote all of these Philip Marlow detective stories set in 1930s-1940s Los Angeles. This was a bit odd considering that he was an Englishman and also dead drunk almost the entire time he was upright. So the film noir setting of hard drinking and smoking guys and gals was right up his alley. To see Los Angeles in this time period is also a good part of the pleasure of this film noir.

The Big Sleep is Death, which is at the heart of any film noir because they always involve a murder and a murderer. The question is who is the murderer and, of course, upon first meeting this family, Bacall is the one who seems to have the brains for it to Bogie. No one did film noir quite as well as the Americans in the 1940s and 1950s. This film was made by Howard Hawks who was a leading American director of that era and known for film noir pictures. Although Hitchcock was English, he couldn't wait to get over here to be making his own film noir on our soil. There are plenty more great film noir movies but this one is a very good place to start.

TV: The Sopranos by David Chase, starring James Gandolfini

I became hooked on these characters and the intelligent writing. I didn't know how I was going to make it between seasons I was so hooked! One would think nothing new could be done with this mobster scenario but boy, does brilliant writing make the difference. Each episode is very well thought out. The females are not slighted in the storytelling which is usually the case in these mafia story lines. Both Tony Soprano's mother and sister are major characters as well as his wife, female psychiatrist and daughter. Tony's mother was especially the first time that this major aspect of the Italian-American son's genesis and development is ever handled in a mobster show. She is the most vile of people and acted to perfection by Nancy Marchand until her death from cancer in real life. However, on the show, her wake becomes a festering point where only so much hypocrisy can survive before exploding. 

Carmella, Tony's wife, seeks separate psychiatric help and that is my favorite scene in the whole series. Her psychiatrist is the one and only person to turn down Soprano money in the series, saying that the reason he won't accept payment is that it is blood money. He says that she has to hear and understand that she is living on blood money and that is the root of her problems. Now she will not be able to say she never heard that truth. 

These women are not doormats. There is a lot going on in each and every one of them and I find them even more fascinating than the men in the series. Tony's psychiatrist has trauma of her own to handle and she is tempted to let Tony handle her problem for her in his usual violent manner. 

James Gandolfini did not long survive the series. He died of a massive heart attack while on vacation in Italy in the summer of 2013, aged 52. Many of the others have gone onto new work, however. The most visible is Edie Falco, who played Tony's wife Carmela, who has been Nurse Jackie for many seasons.

Amazon Prime members can currently see the entire series for free.

Novel: Age of Miracles by Karen Thomson Walker

One of the great beauties of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was that it was written in the first person from the point of view of Atticus Finch's young daughter, Scout. It was an exquisitely crafted and written book about universal truths of all mankind. Likewise, this book is written from the point of view of Julia, a young girl on the cusp of puberty adapting to her changing body and her changing planet. The earth is slowing. Gravity is changing. Days swell with bouts of light and dark. What better metaphor could there be for a girl's body being hit by all the hormones which will change her into a woman? This is just one of many profound truths to be found in this remarkable literary yet compulsively readable novel. I can only hope this goes on to win many of the prizes in writing awards for its year. Bravo to a dazzling writer!

Music: Mozart: Clarinet Concerto & Quintet 

I love the sound of the clarinet. In fact, I love almost all of the reed instruments. I was surprised to discover that Mozart had only one work composed for the clarinet. So I resolved to listen to it. This was the recording I chose to listen to of it and it was flawlessly performed by Martin Fröst. I need to hear it many more times as I simply do not listen to much classical music so it takes me awhile to fully appreciate it. Some of the reviewers here at Amazon think there may be a performer or two who do a slightly better job and some reviewers feel that it should be played more as an orchestra ensemble piece than as a soloist's tour de force. I do not know enough about classical music to make these kinds of distinctions. Let's just say he renders a totally perfect solo version and if you need more than that, other suggestions are given by other Amazon reviewers. Apparently there is a version which is the same composition but adapted for the oboe. I would like to hear it with the oboe instead of the clarinet as I also greatly like the oboe. So I hope to hunt that down as well.

Reader David Hartley from Pierre South Dakota has a different recording of this concerto to recommend. This is the recording done by clarinetist Sabine Meyer, shown to the left.

Everything reviewed on this page is carried by Amazon, iTunes, Audible, the Overdrive app for your public library and most other outlets both online and in the real world. These are taken from my five star reviews at Amazon where I am a Top Reviewer.

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