Friday, October 07, 2005


We're cancelling our leaf-peeping trip to Vermont that we had planned for this weekend. The forecast is for rain almost the entire time, and the leaf season is late this year, so we'd have to drive at least a hundred miles further north to see the really good stuff. Maybe next year.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Yesterday I noted that the Nobel Prize for Medicine went for work done more than 20 years ago. Apparently this is a competition among the various Nobel areas, because they just awarded a share of the 2005 Nobel Prize for Physics for work published in 1963.

Maybe they should just call them the Nobel Lifetime Achievement Prizes.

Monday, October 03, 2005


After exiting the Breakfast on Pluto Q&A on Sunday afternoon, we headed up Broadway. It was a little strange being there in the middle of the day, with the stores all open--usually I'm only in the Lincoln Center neighborhood for evening performances. We stopped at a coffee shop, where I had a nice bison burger for lunch.

There was still over an hour until our next event, so we strolled into Central Park, enjoying the beautiful early fall weather. We skirted Sheep Meadow, where there were lots of people, but no sheep, unlike at Falstaff the night before. Eventually we got to the Central Park Zoo, or whatever they're calling it these days. We did manage to catch the end of the 4 o'clock performance of the Delacorte Clock, and then proceeded to the Children's Zoo. We saw turtles and ducks and goats and (yes) sheep--and lots of kids watching the turtles and ducks and goats and sheep. We watched some of the kids feeding the goats and the sheep, and we read the sign about the spitting alpaca (if it spits on you, contact any zoo employee). Then we went back to the main zoo area. There we saw sea lions sunning and swimming, viewed penguins mostly just standing, and traversed an obstacle course of empty strollers parked in front of the puffin exhibit, the view of which was obscured by the former occupants of said strollers.

Time was running out, so we left the park and went to Florence Gould Hall of the French Institute/Alliance Française (FIAF) on E. 59th St. We settled into our seats for Liaison Transatlantique: Letters of Simone de Beauvoir to Nelson Algren. This is a one-woman show based on Fabrice Rozié's play Transatlantic Liaison.

I can't say I was really looking forward to this. It is a reading of French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir's love letters to American author Nelson Algren, whom she met while on a trip to America in 1947. She was having a long-distance affair with Algren, who wrote The Man With the Golden Arm. This affair was concurrent with her life-long relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre. De Beauvoir would not marry Algren out of respect to her relationship with Sartre. She ended up being buried next to Sartre--wearing Algren's ring.

In and of themselves, the letters are not particularly interesting, at least to me. De Beauvoir wrote them in English, and this was clearly not her mother tongue. What is interesting, though, is that at the same time she was pouring her heart out in these love letters, she was also writing The Second Sex, the book that basically founded modern feminism. The contrast of the conventional love letters with the revolutionary book is jarring.

Nevertheless, the reading of the letters by themselves quickly put me to sleep. I awoke just in time to hear the one line in particular that I remember. De Beauvoir explained that she was calling her book "The Second Sex" because "pansies" were called "the third sex" in France, but no one ever referred to the second (or to the first, I presume).

The performance was by Marie-France Pisier (left), who seemed very under-rehearsed. I can't believe she's 61 years old, though. I'd sure like to know the name of her plastic surgeon.

The Q&A afterwards was not terribly illuminating, other than Pisier saying that she knew de Beauvoir. We left in the middle, and went and had a nice dinner at Fig & Olive.

It was the end of a very busy week. I was out 7 days in a row. I need a rest.


Sunday, less than 13 hours after I got out of Falstaff, it was back to Lincoln Center for my last film at the New York Film Festival, its "centerpiece," Breakfast on Pluto. The schedule said it started at noon, but the ticket said 11:59 a.m. Maybe it was Brunch on Pluto.

Director Neil Jordan adapted Patrick McCabe's 1998 novel for this film (the film's website has an incorrect date). It's the story of Patrick "Kitten" Braden, a crossdressing orphan in Ireland in the 60's, who grows up to search for his mother in London in the 70's. I haven't read it, though I don't know how much it would have added. In the Q&A after the screening Jordan said that when he does use a book as his source his first allegience is to the film, not the book. He specifically said he entirely made up the ending of the film, having thought the novel didn't really have much of one.

Jordan had previously made The Crying Game, which he said McCabe was influenced by in writing Breakfast on Pluto. Both share the themes of transgenderism and Ireland's political violence. He was unsure whether he wanted to do so similar a film. While exploring the possibilities, he had Cillian Murphy do a screen test as Kitten, using the peep show scene. He was amazed at how much Murphy was able to get out of the character, he said--much more than he actually had envisioned.

Still, he was undecided. This went on for a while, until one night when he was having dinner with Murphy. Murphy wanted to do the film very badly, later calling Kitten "a once in a lifetime role for me." He told Jordan that if they were going to make the film that they had better get started, before he got too old to play the part. Indeed, he was into his late 20's when it was shot, and the early scenes of Kitten's teenage years are a stretch.

But the film did get made, and it is a lot of fun. (My only quibble is that the Irish accented dialogue was difficult to understand sometimes, especially in the early scenes.) Jordan said he had Candide in the back of his mind, and Kitten certainly was a youth who naively flits from one peril to the next, as did Voltaire's character. Breakfast on Pluto is not nearly as serious a film as The Crying Game. If you can't believe Kitten, or some of the things she gets into (and out of), it doesn't really matter. It's just a fun movie--the whole tone is set by a couple of wise-cracking computer-generated birds that open the film. Jordan said he was worried that audiences wouldn't get the humor. They did no audience testing, they just threw it into the film festivals, first Telluride, then Toronto, then here. He worried for nothing.

Murphy was gorgeous. The Q&A moderator, Lisa Schwarzbaum, was really taken by his cheekbones. I was taken by his eyes. His performance was great. I've heard mention of an Oscar nomination, but I doubt it. Crossdressing actors aren't favored: Philip Seymour Hoffman didn't get a nomination for his drag role. In fact, the entire cast was wonderful. And this time Stephen Rea got to play a character that can recognize a tranny.

It's opening in November. See it.


I see they awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize for Medicine to the two Australians who discovered that most stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria, not stress. They made this discovery in 1982! I guess it takes a long time for news to get all the way from Australia to Stockholm.


President Bush has nominated White House counsel Harriet Miers to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. I don't know anything about her judicial philosophy (she's never been a judge), but judging from her pictures she's definitely a swing vote on hairstyles.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


Following up Wednesday evening's hearing of the Verdi Requiem, Saturday we went next door to see the Metropolitan Opera's production of Verdi's last opera, Falstaff, which I had never seen before. It featured my favorite current baritone, Bryn Terfel, in the title role. I heard him in an excellent recital at Tanglewood last year and I was looking to seeing him on stage. I was not disappointed.

Falstaff was Giuseppe Verdi's last opera, and his first comedy in 52 years! His librettist, Arrigo Boito, managed to extract a fairly reasonable story from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor and King Henry IV--reasonable by opera standards, which isn't saying all that much. The aging and enormously fat Sir John Falstaff finds himself nearly broke. He decides to replenish his purse through the use of his romantic power over women--a power long gone, if it ever existed. He decides to woo Alice Ford, the wife of a rich man. Just to make sure, he decides to woo a second such woman, and that is his undoing.

He sends both of them love letters, but the two women happen to be friends, and compare notes--literally. They find Falstaff's missives to be identical, except for their names. Together with another friend, Mrs. Quickly, and Ford's daughter, they plot their revenge. It's not quite that simple. The daughter is in love with with a young man, but Mr. Ford wants to marry her off to an old doctor. And he suspects his wife of being unfaithful, so he disguises himself and sets a trap to catch her--paying Falstaff to woo her!

It takes half the opera to set all this up, and it would have been just a series of static scenes of people singing, except for the slapstick of Falstaff and his henchmen. Terfel, with Jean-Paul Fouchécourt and Mikhail Petrenko, play it for all it's worth, and manage to keep the audience laughing. Fouchécourt and Petrenko are a great comedy team--the former is at least a foot shorter than the latter.

Eventually Falstaff goes off to visit Mrs. Ford, and after a bit they are interrupted. She has him hide in a hamper of dirty laundry, which she has thrown into the Thames River, ending the second act.

The third act starts with Falstaff dragging himslf out of the water--Terfel climbs a ladder out of the orchestra pit onto the stage. The plot gets a little incredulous here, because he then falls for another trap set by the women. Briefly, he is lured out to a park, where half the town comes out in costume to torment him. It is this scene that makes the whole 3+ hour opera worth it. Verdi was a master of choral music, even greater than his small ensemble composition, if that is possible. The scene gives the Met chorus a chance to show off, not to mention its costume department. There's a big bunch of kids in the scene, who get to have a great time on stage, way past their bedtime. Oh yes, there was a horse. There are plenty of operas there where they bring a live horse out onto the stage, but I don't remember ever having seen one disguised as a unicorn. And I've certainly never seen live sheep on the stage before.

Anyhow, Falstaff learns his lesson, Ford learns his lesson (his wife is faithful), and even his daughter gets to marry her beloved. All is forgiven, and the opera ends with everyone singing that the world is but a jest.

Terfel is a very good comic, besides being a great singer. He obviously relishes being the clown--he even stayed in character a little when taking his bows. The other standout of the evening, at least vocally, was Stephanie Blythe as Mrs. Quickly. And for once a very large opera singer had a role where her size seemed appropriate. Franco Zeffirelli's 1964 sets, while certainly not his most spectacular, have been well-refurbished--and he did manage to include a couple of his signature staircases. It took a while to get going, but Falstaff was an enjoyable evening.