Tuesday, July 18, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Winter Has Come

Arturo Toscanini, the subject of a fascinating new biography, “Toscanini: Musician of Conscience.”
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Winter Has Come. "GOT" Has Returned. Will This Short Season Satisfy Fans? Also — Ann Coulter ... Shia LaBeouf ... Arturo Toscanini ... The Sistine Chapel in Manhattan and — Can our new media actually encourage new intellectuals?

“THERE IS nothing so fretting and vexatious, nothing so justly terrible to tyrants, and their tools and abettors, as a free press,” said Samuel Adams.
THE subject of a free press is omnipresent these days, as is a great deal of mourning for old-fashioned print journalism, intelligent TV discourse, and how technology has transformed our collective abilities to concentrate, connect and make a constructive difference.

I was therefore intrigued and somewhat heartened by Elizabeth Mitchell’s article in the July/August issue of Smithsonian magazine.

It is rather depressingly titled “America’s Dimming Stars.” It takes into account what the Internet and our information devices have wrought. Also, stunningly, how our current state of mind and media was predicated in 1968 by Canada’s renowned intellectual Marshal McLuhan, during a TV program.
Armando Veve
“McLuhan, in his peculiar Morse code-like cadence calmly predicted that the media would hurtle to tribalism. Since we can’t absorb every data point ... we rely on stereotypes. When you give people too much information, they resort to pattern recognition.”

Writer Mitchell follows: “Sure enough, in 2017, we are not uninformed; we are over-informed ... we seek out the trigger topics and views that bolster our perspective.”

However, Mitchell posits that “Maybe our cable-news wars and Facebook scuffles aren’t the death throes of intelligent discourse after all, but, rather, signs that this national tribe is furiously attempting to knit itself together.” Ms. Mitchell cites the rise of women and minorities as college graduates, and concludes, encouragingly: “If we look back at our history, public intellectuals always emerge when the country was sharply divided: during the Civil War, the Vietnam War, the fights for civil rights and women’s rights. This moment of deep ideological division will likely see the return, right when we need them, of the thinkers and the talkers who can bridge the emotional divide. But this time they will likely be holding online forums and stirring up podcasts.”

From your mouth/pen to God’s ear, Ms. Mitchell! It should be noted, however, that she did not include great thinkers, speakers or intellectuals likely to appear on the three cable networks, CNN, MSNBC or Fox. In this dicey era of tribalism and deliberate over-simplification, these entities should all hang their heads in shame.
Source: Smithsonian magazine.
ONE DOWN and six to go. For some “Game of Thrones” fans, season 7 of the wildly popular HBO epic, is very much a matter of these fans feeling they better they their money’s worth! (This next-to-last season will be the shortest ever — only seven episodes. Although we are promised the longest episode of the series so far, before the season ends.)

Last Sunday’s return had at least one stunning moment (no we won’t spoil), but for me, there seemed more thoughtful filler than necessary. Oh, dear, I feel we have become somewhat bloodthirsty! Certainly glad it’s back, but we do hope things goose up, swiftly. We are not at all adverse to a dazzling ten-minute dialogue scene. But — it has to be dazzling.

Six weeks down the road, will “GOT” work a miracle, and end up as brilliant, engrossing and startlingly original as its best past seasons, now that winter has come?

... FOR a good time, call up all the comments from articles pertaining to Ann Coulter’s in-the-air rant about her pre-arranged seat being given away on a Delta Airlines flight. Even those who don’t mind Ms. Coulter, or who have had their own airline inconveniences (who hasn’t at this point?) are not feeling much sympathy for Coulter. Her reaction was so outrageous and over-the-top one has to think it was little more than a bid for attention. She is after all, a professional provocateur. I see her Twitter melt-down as akin to Kathy Griffin’s decapitated Trump head stunt.
... SPEAKING of melt-downs, I sure hope Shia LaBeouf’s disorderly conduct arrest, his unconscionable racial remarks while in custody, and what appears to be a sincere and honest apology is the beginning of the end of this talented young actor’s free-fall. Long an admirer, I have been distressed as LaBeouf went from what we all at first perceived as pretentious wacky behavior to what were actions clearly the result of substance abuse. Good luck, kid.
... HAVE now read two massive reviews of historian Harvey Sachs’ new biography of Arturo Toscanini, “Toscanini: Musician of Conscience.” One, in the New York Times, by Robert Gottlieb. The other, David Denby’s big take in New York magazine. Both articles are so passionately and intelligently written that I have ordered the book — reminded through these reviews what an astounding cultural force Toscanini was.

However, one triviality arose after this deep-reading. I do wonder if Franco Zeffirelli’s 1988 feature film, “Young Toscanini” will ever see the light of day — outside of the few screenings it had in Europe? And one here in Manhattan, which I attended. The film starred Elizabeth Taylor as an opera diva (yes, really) and C. Thomas Howell as the arrogantly confident conductor. He transforms a production of “Aida” in Rio de Janeiro in 1886. Despite hostility, and a nervous star, Arturo, triumphs, naturally.

It’s a gorgeous-looking film, and thanks to Miss Taylor, got up in her final scenes as enslaved Ethiopian princess Aida (dubbed by opera’s great Aprile Milo) it’s also quite a hoot.

In this film, Taylor’s diva breaks character and makes an impassioned plea for the freedom of real slaves in Rio, or some such civil rights matter. It’s a scene for the ages! Toscanini’s success is true. I don’t know if the rest is — although Zeffirelli is a great opera lover, and perhaps mixed fact and fiction.

Anyway — it is, for the moment a lost film. And though not a masterpiece, it deserves to be saved. “Young Toscanini” is, after all, Taylor’s penultimate big-screen appearance. In 1994 she would be Pearl Slaghoople in “The Flintstones” movie, as Fred’s nagging mother-in-law.
... FINALLY — have you ever been to Rome? Have you ever gazed upon Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel? No? Well, with travel as difficult as it is these days (see above — the torments of Ann Coulter) maybe you’re not so hot to fly. Well, in the matter of the Sistine Chapel, you don’t have to.

Ending on July 23rd is an extraordinary exhibit at The Oculus at Westfield World Trade Center (33-36 Vesey Street) Up Close: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel allows visitors see the great artwork reproduced in near-original size. You are nose to nose with Adam, Eve, Abraham, Noah and Michelangelo’s depiction of the Deity himself.

It’s open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Hurry! Just a few days more! Several friends have attended and assured me it is indeed breathtaking. And, nobody will give your seat away.
Contact Liz here.