Last fall The Metropolitan Opera released a podcast mini-series called Aria Code. Each episode Rhiannon Giddens assembles a team of “investigators,” various artists and scholars to decode a famous aria. A revolutionary listen that makes opera not only accessible but exhilarating and essential.
Got to catch two completely galvanizing pieces of theater. The penultimate performance of Michael R. Jackson’s A Strange Loop at Playwrights Horizons was buzzing with energy. A wily musical, busting at the seams with ideas. A cerebral cacophony, Jackson lays bare the external and internal tensions that threaten to define him (if such a definition were possible…). The next day I ventured to see a sold out screening of the National Theatre’s The Lehman Trilogy, Stefano Missani’s epic which is still running in the West End (I was sad to miss the limited run the show had at the Park Ave Armory earlier this year). Sam Mendes’ directorial prowess has never been so evident than with this three man play about the storied history of the Lehman Brothers. Mendes remarkably reaches a transcendent clarity, surprising and brilliant considering the pretty spare costumes and sets; a bold move to portray a generational odyssey that voyages across 160 years of history to show the devastating arc of modern Western economics. Knowing next to nothing about the story, I was surprised to be as completely riveted as I was. The performances are next to perfect and the powerful impact of the piece is still settling.
It’s become a custom of mine to bring a tattered paperback classic with me on each trip to Europe. On my sojourn to Italy in early July, I brought with me E.M. Forster’s Maurice. The novel is short and brilliant, each sentence more delicate and devastating than the next. It’s also a comic novel and a romantic one. The proto-Call Me By Your Name, it’s a landmark of gay literature that dares to question the essence of conformity that every queer person has to reckon with at some point in their glorious, tumultuous existence.
I wasn’t sure it was possible to make a television series more inherently brilliant than season one of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag. Then she made season two.
Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is out in theaters right now and doing very well. The indie dramedy is the sort of understated gem to offset a summer of bloated, Hollywood fantasies. Uproariously funny, which is a handy quality to remember while you are silently weeping. It’s a movie that deserves your attention, and perhaps my favorite of the year so far.
As a primer for Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, I’ve been doing some cinematic homework. Tarantino’s famous cinephilia creates a sort of built-in supplemental programming, which can be a real thrill. Along with some 60s classics (some of which I am still working my way through) I thought it would be good to pay some attention to the man himself. Re-watching Pulp Fiction and seeing Reservoir Dogs for the first time, his command of both literature and cheap cinematic thrills synthesize into unforgettable experiences that reward with multiple viewings. A steady reminder as to why he’s a household name in the first place.
Speaking of re-watches, Indiewire published their (perhaps premature) Top 100 Movies of the 2010s list. It’s a sporadic, provocative list with some hilarious inclusions and insulting exclusions. Seeing Abbas Kiarostami’s 2010 film Certified Copy at #3 was impetus enough for me to revisit that film (which I hazily remember watching on a tiny dorm room TV in 2011.) What a masterpiece. Binoche has never been better and the conflation of reality and fiction is perhaps a guiding principle of the decade (and, all things considered, modern life as we know it). Streaming on the Criterion Channel.
More Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood preparation led me to queen Karina Longworth’s podcast series You Must Remember Manson. Exhaustingly researched and ultimately cringeworthy and captivating, it’s a perfect journalistic dive into that time, that place, and the horrific event that changed everything.
I can’t imagine anyone could exit the theater after a screening of The Farewell without their mouths watering. The movie, among other qualities listed above, is an excellent food movie. The dinner scenes are so beautifully rendered and lend a casual glory to the culinary culture of China. I found the closest dumplings place I could, and wound up ordering five different plates at Amber on the Upper West Side. This asian fusion restaurant fulfilled my cravings and then some- miso glazed cod, pillowy and buttery, duck buns softer than cream, and a drunken noodle cooked to perfection.
The fine arts have re-entered my life in exciting ways this year, and particularly this month. I have been reading more of Shakespeare’s histories (the slyly epic Henry IV, Part I) and found myself to a wonderful little Shakespeare podcast called No Holds Bard. Dan Beaulieu and Kevin Condardo host, exquisitely pairing their scholarly breadth of knowledge (they run the Seven Stages Shakespeare Company in New Hampshire) with a laid back, approachable energy and genuine curiosity.
That’s all folks. Of course I want to talk more about the death of legendary producer and director Hal Prince (who died on the last day of July) and also Tarantino’s new film, which I spent most of the month mentally preparing for, but those I will save for next time.
Stay cool. Real cool.