Monday, July 03, 2006

My week in review, part 2: Superman, Spelling Bee, Dada

FRIDAY: Superman Returns
I should have known better than to go to a 7:00pm showing of a popular comic book spinoff. The theater was packed, with a lot of kids whose parents decided to ignore the PG-13 rating of the film. Actually, most of the kids were quite well-behaved. It was the adults that were the problem. Most quieted down when the film actually started. But one...

She was in the row behind us, with a kid way too young to sit through a 2½+ hour movie of any rating. She thought the solution to the bored, fidgety kid was to talk to her--basically narrate the film: "See the man? That's Superman. He can fly." My wife asked her to be quiet. Her response was to switch her narration to Spanish.

So my wife asked her to be quiet in Spanish. This actually worked! Except that the kid now became more than fidgety. I heard the mother say, "Stop pulling my hair," but that didn't seem to help the situation. She took the kid and left--but not before cursing out my wife and calling her a bitch.

After that it got reasonably quiet--which was a good thing, because the volume of the audio was not all that high. But there was still one problem. Occasionally a woman in a wheelchair three rows back made some random sounds. I assume it was involuntary, but regardless, nobody was going to complain about her. So I did miss a word or two here and there.

The popcorn was pretty good, though.

Oh yes, the movie.

I liked it. I found it less comic book-ish than the previous Superman films. These were real, multi-dimensional people. Outside of the bad guys nobody was over-acting, and even they were relatively subdued. I really liked Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. He wasn't a super-villian, he was a criminal mastermind, able to use his brain power to thwart Superman's powers. Almost.

Everyone else handled their roles pretty well. Brandon Routh makes a fine Superman/Clark Kent--quite able to fill Christopher Reeve's shoes (and tights and boots as well). Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane was a bit understated (and a bit too young)--I didn't quite see the hard-driving, Pulitzer-winning reporter there. Sam Huntington was great as Jimmy Olsen. And Frank Langella makes an excellent Perry White--though I'm not quite sure I can buy his "Great Caesar's Ghost!" (I also can't buy a pool table on a boat.)

The story was good, the special effects wonderful. And everything is set up for the sequel.

SATURDAY: After a very nice meal at Caffe Cielo we walked over to the Circle in the Square Theatre for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I actually could have seen this a couple years ago when it was being developed at the Barrington Stage Company. It was being shown at their "Stage II," which was really the cafeteria of the Sheffield, MA high school the Company uses each summer. But we went there to see the Main Stage (the auditorium) production--I think it was Sweet Charity that year.

We missed it in the Berkshires, but the play followed us back to New York. So now we could see it here, in more comfortable seats, for not much more money--several Broadway shows were offering great deals for Independence Day week, maybe the worst week for the box office all year.

They've done the whole theatre over as a school--apparently one that covers at least middle and high schools, if not the entire K-12. There are banners for the "Putnam Piranhas" even in the upper lobby. Downstairs there is even more: childish-hand posters saying things like "Piranha Spirit! Join the school!" There are a host of plaques for "Student of the Week" and "Musician of the Month"--with real kids' pictures. (I noticed later that these were the names and presumably the real pictures of the people behind the production. The musician of the month was the show's conductor/pianist.) The restrooms are renamed "Boys" and "Girls."

There is also a sign-up desk for spellers. Four audience member volunteers are called up on to the stage and take part in the early rounds.

The spelling bee takes place in the school gym (not the auditorium, for some unknown reason). There are ropes hanging from the ceiling and a small set of bleachers where the spellers sit. There are also tons of banners attesting to Putnam's athletic acheivements.

The show is a lot of fun. Most of the original cast is still there, though not the Tony-winning Dan Fogler as William Morris Barfée (do NOT ignore the accent), who is now off making movies. They call up the four audience member-contestants to the stage. The ones at the performance I saw were able to get into it quite nicely, and went with the flow, as ad lib jokes were made about them, such as the one with the long name being announced as having won his school's bee by spelling his own name. An older woman in a kind of sweatsuit outfit was described as being on her school's mall-walking team. They are given the chance to stay on stage for quite a while--they do have to spell their words correctly, but their words aren't that difficult, at least at first. The audience is rooting for them, of course.

The "real" contestants are shown as a bunch of smart, nerdy but fairly likeable kids, except maybe Barfée, and even he comes around in the end. There's a lot of stereotyping, but nothing really derogatory. Each character, even the adults running the contest, gets a solo song.

The spellers are eliminated one by one, and eventually a champion emerges. There's a happy ending, and everyone gets to go home.

I stopped in the boys' room on the way out.

SUNDAY: We went to MoMA for Dada--the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art on the Dada avant-garde art movement of the early 20th century. This was the first major exhibition in the United States on Dada, previously being shown at the National Gallery of Art in Washington before coming to New York. It originated at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

I didn't know much about Dada before this. I'd seen a few things in general collections, but that was about it. I heard it was "anti-art." I pictured young artists rebelling against the art establishment and their pretty pictures.

The audioguide (free at MoMA!) explained that Dada sprung up simultaneously and independently in New York and Zurich in 1915 in reaction to World War I. Thus the exhibition, which is arranged geographically, has two entrances. I chose the one for New York--as did the other two Americans with me. The European in our group chose the Zurich one. Not terribly surprising.

I was immediately fascinated. The first piece I saw was a coat rack sitting on the floor. Marcel Duchamp had purchased one, but never got around to putting it up. He kept tripping over it, and decided this was art. He nailed it to the floor, and called it the Trap. This was one of his pieces of "readymade" art, objects discovered by chance, "a sculpture already made," as he called it.

Or was it? As I searched the Internet for a picture of the Trap, I found that some scholars believe Duchamp's Readymades were anything but. They offer evidence that these were not simple store-bought items, but objects Duchamp hand-crafted or greatly modified to suit his artistic purposes. The MoMA exhibition makes no mention of this.

But I didn't know any of this as I viewed the exhibition. I did find it curious that so many of his Readymades were not the originals, which had been "lost." They were reproductions that Duchamp did later, from photographs he had kept. The scholars point to various types of trick photography Duchamp was known to use. Duchamp played with photos, he played with objects, he played with words, he even played with his identity. Some of his work was signed "Rose Sélavy" or "Rrose Sélavy"--and there were a couple of pictures of him in drag as "Rose." (Hmmmm) I find it entirely possible that he played with the whole concept of Readymades.

We had arranged to meet back at the exhibition foyer, and by the appointed time I had barely gotten into the second room. I've got to go back. When I do, I'll post a complete report.

Dinner was at Mughlai--slightly above average Indian food--though my Tanqueray and tonic was excellent.

1 comment:

Sirena said...

I loved "Superman Returns!" If there was going to be trouble, it would've been me because I was just in bliss watching this movie, being a Superman fan (as well as a Bryan Singer and Kevin Spacey fan) and all.

The kids were pretty much well-behaved where we were, too. It was we adults (who grew up with the Reeve movies, as well as "Lois and Clark") that you had to be careful about. :D