Thursday, July 30, 2009

Austin Pendleton Speaks.

It was some surprise that I saw an interview with character actor Austin Pendleton on the Onion AV Club. I knew his work, primarily for what the author, Nathan Rabin, calls "his daft, sweet, quirky presence," from a lot of movies. Like some other actors (all of whom deserve the title "veteran character actor"), Pendleton has done a lot - much of it good - but he's always Austin Pendleton, if for no other reason than the fact that he has a very memorable, distinctive voice.

It turns out, much to my surprise, that Pendleton is probably a better raconteur than he is an actor, and he's not a bad actor. For example, he discussed Peter Bogdanovich's relationship with Orson Welles,
[This is Orson Welles is] the best book about Orson I’ve ever read. And it’s just Orson talking. It’s absolutely delicious, and perceptive, and profound, and all those things he was, in addition to being a very bad boy. And his bad-boy aspect comes out in it, too. He would boast on the set of Catch-22 how he had thrown Fred Zinnemann off the set for his scene in A Man For All Seasons, and directed it himself. He loved to do that. I met Peter, because he would sit with Orson in the middle of the desert in a canvas-backed chair, right next to Orson, with a tape recorder, just for hours. And Peter would be dressed every day in a black suit, in that heat, and his skin would of course be totally pale, and it was the most unforgettable sight. And Peter was very unapproachable in those days. He’s now the opposite of that. But he was very serious. It was before The Last Picture Show and all that. At that time, he was essentially a film historian who had made one film for Roger Corman.
I am not a fan of Bogdanovich for much the same reason Dick Cavett has never engaged me (despite Clive James' scintillating essay on Cavett in Cultural Amnesia): being friends with a famous artist -- be it Orson Welles or Groucho Marx -- gets you so far, but then you need to stop talking about it. That's probably asking too much of two men whose job it is or was (to some extent) to talk, especially when they knew two of the 20th century's seminal artists. I ask anyway.

Pendleton manages here to encapsulate the strangeness of a relationship that I find strange indeed (especially if, as I do, you think Bogdanovich didn't get much out of the deal other than a perennial spot in any Welles documentary). One can imagine the massive, voluble late-period Orson Welles telling his stories to pale, skinny, black-dressed, but deeply grateful Bogdanovich in the desert -- which may be one the most magical images I can imagine. In a way, Pendleton has given us an image that says a lot about Orson Welles -- even if his audience was a film nerd in a suit with a tape recorder, Welles was ready to perform his favorite role -- Orson Welles: Frustrated Artist.

What is even more interesting is the fact that Pendleton has a similarly engrossing story for each of the films discussed -- ranging from My Cousin Vinny to Buck Henry's flop, First Family. I, for one, would welcome Pendleton's memoir after this little example of the stories he has to tell and his way of telling them. There is a seeming lack of self-serving artifice, which may well be self-serving, for all I know, which gives his accounts the air of being retellings of stories he likes rather than an opportunity to gild his lily.

God knows, and I think he'd say this, anyone who has been in a Hulk Hogan vehicle probably shouldn't be gilding his lily. Anyway, an interesting interview well worth the read.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

That loving feeling

I'll be honest: I haven't found much to excite me in the realm of serious art music lately. I've been busy with law school and a summer clerkship, too; that, however, doesn't explain it.

The fact of the matter is this: the recording industry is undergoing a change. People have been pronouncing classical dead for a while. Prematurely each time, I might add. There are still interesting releases, and I think that -- despite my initial skepticism -- DVD/BD is going to be a large part of the way forward. And why shouldn't it? High-definition media and televisions, coupled with audio reproduction systems that can get us closer to the concert halls, makes visual opera-going an easy and attractive option. Indeed, Wagner needs to be experienced visually (even if in a bad production, though one should know what a good production would look like first) to be understood fully. Orchestral works benefit less from visual presentation, but a tasteful production can be very nice.

We're seeing more releases on the order of the "Wagner cube" of last year (was it?), which is -- ultimately -- a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it's nice to hear out-of-print performances; on the other, how many times can we look at a conductor in a work and say the same thing? Unfortunately, too, a complete Verdi-from-La Scala set leaves me cold. As does a complete Haydn. Audite's Furtwängler-RIAS set looks neat, but how many times can I say the same thing about Furtwängler's Beethoven 5th? I find it harder and harder to justify completism.

I'd rather not see this blog fall victim to stagnation, which -- I am acutely aware -- is a real risk (if not already a problem). So, for the moment, anyway, I'm going to open the borders. I still would like to do my part in resisting the "dismal tide," so I won't be throwing the gates wide. I'll just expand my musical focus and introduce some more topics. Film will, naturally, be a big one. Books. Talking -- again -- about how Karl Böhm's Wagner works for Meistersinger, but not the Ring (it does, in my book) might be fun, but I'd rather compare Bill Evans' 1967 stand at the Village Vanguard to his legendary 1961 dates. Or why Al Reinart's For All Mankind deserves more notice than Moon-anniversary-mania will afford it.

Let's try this and see what happens. If I can get out of this blogging slump, then I'll draw the boundaries a little closer to their original locations. Heck, I might even decide that I like the new way forward.