Two Terrific Counterfactuals

We took the Lady de Gloves to see Quentin Tarantino’s  Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood while we were reading Alan Furst’s The Spies of Warsaw.  Our link is to all of Alan’s books because we have found all eight we have read to date to be outstanding.  Quentin’s movie and Alan’s book share at least three things: A counterfactual story, a joy of place and time, and a chilling villain.

Quentin has a bromance between Rick, the leading man played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Cliff, his stunt double, played by Brad Pitt set against the backdrop of Hollywood in 1969 (movies, TV shows, ads, cars, and records) while the Manson Family (in case you didn’t know) threatens their joy.  Kyle Smith at NRO thinks Quentin spends too much time on atmosphere:

Tarantino stops the film regularly to linger on a montage of neon marquees fizzing to life, to cast his eye down a boulevard teeming with period cars, or to look at a 1969 television commercial. There must be scenes from close to a dozen movies and TV shows within the movie, some of them real, some fictitious, others combining forms by inserting today’s actors into vintage footage. Almost none of this drives the plot along. Tarantino just thinks it’s cool to re-create 1969 in a thousand different ways, and, with $90 million of Sony’s money to spend, he won’t be denied. He should have cut almost all of it and saved it for the boffins who buy Director’s Cut DVDs.  [Emphasis added]

We agree with Quentin and disagree with Kyle.  We don’t quite agree with Armond White.  It was beyond cool to us and we see it as advancing the plot. It is not that Matt Helm was a great movie or Jose Feliciano’s version California Dreaming was any good.  It is an excellent movie, because like Alan, Quentin reflected the time, the culture, and specific people.  The joy amps up the coming conflict especially as Sharon Tate enjoys her role in Matt Helm.   Perhaps we see it that way because we grew up in that era.  Or perhaps it was reading Alan’s evocative book when we saw the movie but we delighted in the atmosphere of both and the contrast between them. We saw the atmosphere as ratcheting up the tension.   In both cases we know that gruesome deaths are close by despite the joy of ’69 and the manners of ’38.  It is hard to imagine two more different places.  Alan and Quentin capture them beautifully.

Sidebar: Somewhere we saw a critic defending Quentin against other critics saying he should have shown the rest of ’69 including the antiwar movement and racial conflict.  The critic says Quentin can make the movie he wants.  We think there is a better explanation in that the movie needed just one villain, the Manson Family, against the joy of the times.  It is, as the title implies, a fairy tale.  End Sidebar.

Alan has the love story of Anna and Mercier set against the anxiety of pre-WWII Europe while threatened by the Nazis.  Both live in Warsaw but they travel all over Europe.  Mercier is a doubly wounded warrior who comes from a long line of French warriors.  In 1938 nobody would think the previous sentence was a joke.  He was physically wounded in battle and he lost his wife to the ‘flu.  He is thinking about retiring but as his “Cold War” starts to heat up he finds interest in his work and love.  The extraordinarily brief epilogue suggests that Mercier and Anna will be back. We hope so.

We can’t tell you about the counterfactuals other than we enjoyed both.  Watch the movie and read the book carefully so you don’t miss the important stuff.  We can’t create the counterfactual where we only do one of reading Alan’s book and seeing Quentin’s movie.  We encourage you to do both and recognize that they might be better if taken together.

 

 

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Shakespeare’s Cymbeline

We escorted the Lady deGloves to the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) in Winona, MN to see Cymbeline.  We encourage folks to see these types of regional Shakespeare and especially the GRSF.  American Players Theatre (APT) is substantially better, in part because it has its own stage and a larger group of actors, but folks like GRSF provide an interesting take on the Bard.  It is a joy to see how GRSF does a play like Cymbeline on a small stage with actors playing several parts.

Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare’s play that is performed fairly rarely.  Our search of APT only showed it performed in 2004.  We do not know if their online records are comprehensive and searchable.  We do know that we never remember seeing it there.  Our memory is not perfect either.

We enjoyed GRSF’s version of Cymbeline.  And of course, it has the words that make us love Shakespeare.  Although the title is the king, the main characters are Posthumus, an orphan raised by the king, and the king’s daughter Imogen whose name has lots of alternative spellings.  Posthumus and Imogen are married against the king’s wishes and the king banishes Posthumus to Italy to start the action.

As we see it, the play revolves around our favorite theme from Shakespeare: forgiveness.  One critic has a point that the author might be engaging in a bit of self-parody.  The forgiveness at the end will truly blow your mind.  Among some of the things to be forgiven are Cymbeline banishing Belarius, Belarus kidnapping the Cymbeline’s two sons, one of the sons killing Cymbeline’s stepson, Posthumus fighting for the Romans against Cymbeline, and those are the minor items of forgiving. It is a typical Shakespeare ending that is contrived but comprehensive.  We love them.  The Lady deGloves, however, would only be willing to forgive Posthumus posthumously.

APT Stoops And Conquers

We accompanied the Lady de Gloves to American Players Theatre (APT) in Spring Green, WI to the opening night of She Stoops To Conquer.  We enjoy opening nights because, among other things, it brings the other actors to the show.  After decades of going to APT (this is their 40th year and perhaps our 30th) we know many of the actors.   As Father Brown says, actors lie for a living, but it is still fun to watch actors watch actors and plays within plays.  Perhaps they are acting when they watch but they really seem to enjoy the shows.

We had a nice evening meal on the picnic tables APT provides.  The APT grounds are enjoyable so bring a picnic or buy one there.  We are arrived at the outside theatre up the hill with some trepidation.  Last week, for the first time in our experience, we were rained out.  There were clouds but, fortunately, nothing more.  Then we read the director’s (Laura Gordon) notes and she said that Tony Lumpkin was arguably one of the funniest characters in the English language.  We almost left then thinking that no actor (Josh Krause- a relative newcomer to APT) or play could live up to such ballyhoo.

We are glad we stayed.  She Stoops To Conquer is an excellent play that APT does extraordinarily well.  The play is almost three hours but the time flies because the play does.  Josh is great as Tony.  James Ridge and Sarah Day are wonderful as the Hardcastles, a bickering pair on their second marriage.  There is singing, music, and wonderful physical comedy to go along with great use of the stage and and its surroundings.  Wait for Mrs. Hardcastle (Sarah) to get lost in the woods.  There are no small parts and Jennifer Vosters proved that by enchanting us as the fiddle-playing Pimple (yup, that is her character’s name).  We’re not sure if she had a line but we enjoyed her stage presence.  One of the joys of APT is the depth of the quality.

We don’t know if it was only for opening night but “Tony Lumpkin and the Bumpkins” performed several (four?) songs outside the theatre as the patrons departed.  We watched it with one of the actors from a Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur (review later).  She seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.  Whatever the distance, She Stoops To Conquer at APT is worth the trip.

Paul McCartney In Madison

We accompanied the Lady de Gloves, our sister, and a friend to see Paul McCartney at the Kohl Center in Madison.  Wow! it was worth the trip.  Paul gave a three hour tour (just like Gilligan) of 38 songs from the Beatles, Wings, and his solo work.  You need to see him before this musical treasure is gone.

Paul’s voice is not the instrument it once was but he is still a joy to listen to.  What make it a great show is the songs, the organization, his presence, and his musical skills.  Paul is onstage for all three hours playing a variety of guitars, keyboards, and a (baby?) grand piano.  It makes three hours fly by.

Paul is a star and he knows it because he can still connect to us. At one point amidst all the applause he says (approximately) I think I’ll take a second to drink it all in.  It wasn’t a talk-fest like some concerts (Donovan) we have been to but he did have some great stories.  The one we liked was very brief and concerned writing Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite and the relationship we saw with expertise.  Paul related, as many knew, that a substantial part of the lyrics came from a poster of John’s.  Paul made a self-depreciating comment something like, “After that there wasn’t much to writing it.”  Of course there was much to it.  The first step was to see the germ of the song on the poster.  The second step was to flesh it out.  Several steps later there is a song worth including on Sgt. Pepper.

The organization of the show starts with the brass section showing up in the third (?) song in the audience in about section 105.  Shortly after they closed off part of the stage to do some of the older Beatles songs as a small group.  Later, Paul did a couple of solos on a cube that rose up (15 feet?) from the stage.  The pyrotechnics in Live And Let Die scared the bejeezus out of us.  The video content was interesting.  We especially liked the tribute to George.

And there are great songs even without playing Yesterday!  We could list a half dozen songs he should have added.  Paul is still the popular rocker he was with the Beatles so his library is 50 plus years of joy.  Sure there was a song about bullying and another about segregation (Blackbird) but it was not a woke show.  It was fun.  It was great fun.  You should see Paul while you still can.

 

Generational Awareness

Recently The Donald called Pete Alfred E. Neuman.  We thought Pete feigned knowledge of the What – Me Worry kid when he said he had to look it up.  As the cite says, Alfred has shown up in various places in public view.  We have, however, changed our mind about generational awareness.

One of our alumni magazines recently had a cover story on a young woman with the title Fearless Leader.  To us that term only mean one thing, this guy, the dictator of Pottsylvania and employer of Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale.  The cartoon series about Rocky and Bullwinkle (it had several names) led to several movies.  Fearless Leader was once played by Robert De Niro.  It (now The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle) is even an Amazon Video series.

Sidebar One: We know we are going to go to Amazon tonight to see the new version.  It will be easy to be disappointed because the old version was so great.  Our expectations relate to our cultural awareness.  The original reflected our culture.  It is unlikely that the new one will.  End Sidebar One.

The publication lists lots of alums on the editorial masthead with graduation dates.

Sidebar Two: We were going to say we needed an editor but were  pretty sure that the phase had mast in it.  When we tried editorial mast we got a result.  So we will do without an editor for a little longer.  End Sidebar Two.

Only one person on the masthead (1997) is from the last century.  We have come to the conclusion that cultural memory doesn’t last because culture is so fractured and changes so fast that old stuff goes down the memory hole increasingly quickly.  It is no surprise that recent graduates would make such a faux pas.  We can’t keep up with the current culture.  It is not surprising that Pete and the rest have such little recollection of ours.  We should be understanding of each other’s lack of knowledge.

Bag Rock

We escorted the Lady de Gloves to see the Red Hot Chili Pipers.  They are sometimes confused with the Red Hot Chili Peppers but only the former has bag pipes and wears kilts.  In fact, if you search the Pipers you will find several news stories on folks getting the wrong tickets.  We got a warning before the show not to be confused.  In case you are wondering, the Peppers started first in 1983 with the Pipers formed in 2002 and really came to notice in 2007 when they won a BBC talent show.

We completely enjoyed the show at the Ordway in Saint Paul.  Like many other places the Ordway has more than one theater but we can’t find out how many.  This was a smaller venue that was just right for the show and crowd.

Sidebar.  Yes it was awhile ago.  We figure that if you are going to see the Pipers then you will wait until they get in your neck of the woods.  We try to take our time with the reviews to get a full story.  End Sidebar

It was different from most rock concerts where you go to hear the big hits and perhaps something new.  We have seen Jackson Browne twice and neither time did we hear Load Out/Stay. We were disappointed about that. The Pipers play mostly covers and you go to hear the version with the pipes and the drums added to the usual guitars. keyboard, and vocals.  They have an excellent vocalist but he is on stage probably less than half the time.  Besides the vocalist they have three pipers, guitar, bass guitar, keyboardist, and two drummers.  Instruments dominate the performance.  First the pipers are front and center, then the guitar, and a real highlight was a drum duet with the drum set and snare drum.  The guy on the snare drum, Grant Cassidy, is listed as a many time (8?) world champion.  He is great and great fun although we never knew that there was a snare drum world championship and we can’t seem to find it or him.

Watch for the footwear.  Five members of the band wear these strange (to us.  they are Scottish, we assume) shoes that seem to have no tongues and what we see as extraneous laces up the calf.  The other four wear black Chuck Taylor hightops.   When they all (or most) are lined up on stage you should expect footwear to alternate.

We are not sure about the Peppers but the Pipers are worth seeing.  Bring your Saltire or Rampant Lion (or they will sell you a t-shirt with the latter) and enjoy seeing the Pipers pipe.  You kids might enjoy it, especially if they have seen How To Train Your Dragon with music from the Pipers.

American Players Theatre 2019 Season

It is American Players Theatre’s (APT) 40th anniversary this year.  You should visit APT and Spring Green, Wisconsin this summer.  It has terrific actors in great plays in a lovely setting.  Tickets are now on sale for returning patrons.

If you haven’t been there then you should know that there are two theaters.   The Hill is a beautiful outdoor theatre on, no surprise, the top of a hill.  Don’t worry the seats are very nice and the theatre has recently been redone.  Transportation is available for those who can’t or don’t want to walk up the hill.  We recommend the walk.  Touchstone is a smaller indoor theatre that is a great place to watch an intimate play and get out of the summer sun.  There are many picnic tables to have a meal before or after the show.  Check the APT schedule as they have some outside organizations bring in food on certain days.

There is other entertainment in the area as well.  You can go all cultural and add Frank Lloyd Wright’s Talliesin.  Or you can try more popular culture and hit the House on the Rock.  The affiliated House on the Rock resort has a nice golf course and is across the street from APT and a few miles from the actual House on the Rock.  You can laze around the Wisconsin River or make a short drive and see the Great River and its road.  You can learn how to pronounce Mazomanie.  While you are there you should eat at the Old Feed Mill.  There are lots of hotels and places to camp but don’t wait until the last minute to make reservations.  As we said, APT has terrific actors in great plays in a lovely setting.  Make the trip.