Tag: Criticism

Jon Batiste on Thelonius Monk

Five Minutes That Will Make You Love Thelonious Monk
We asked Jon Batiste, Arooj Aftab, Mary Halvorson and others to share their favorites.

Jon Batiste, pianist and composer


It’s not possible for me to choose a favorite Monk song. At 19, I became obsessed with everything Thelonious and spent a year focused exclusively on absorbing as much as I could. Monk is a world. “Introspection,” from the album “Solo Monk,” is borderline atonal while still distinctively melody-rich. The melody is akin to a nursery rhyme in its playful logic and symmetry, all while whistling overtop a bed of through-composed dissonance. Those chords! The way he constructs the harmony to shift between at least three identifiable key centers creates a trance-like quality to the recording that rides the borders of Eastern mysticism and some obtuse sanctified hymn. The chord voicings are constructed for every note to have a deliberate intention. There’s no room for harmonic interpretation here — if you add or take away any of the notes from his chord voicings, the song risks completely losing its identity. Monk’s way of “super syncopation” is utilized significantly in this tune as well, making his charismatic approach to aligning the harmony and melody a defining characteristic of the composition.

He named it “Introspection” ’cause he certainly had a lot on his mind with this one. Very concentrated in all harmony, melody and rhythm. The master of repetition. Over the years it’s the least played Monk tune of all. This is significant given that he is one of the most covered and influential composers of the modern age. I love the “Solo Monk” version because he doesn’t even improvise over the chord changes, he just states the melody twice and walks out of the studio (or at least that’s how I envision it). Sometimes that’s all that needs to be played: the tune.

Is this Satire or Propaganda? – A. O. Scott on The Wolf of Wall Street

This brings me back to the question I started with, which perhaps should be posed another way: Is this movie satire or propaganda? Its treatment of women is the strongest evidence for the second option. On his way up, Jordan trades in his first wife, a sweet hometown girl named Teresa (Cristin Milioti), for a blonder, bustier new model named Naomi (Margot Robbie), whose nakedness is offered to the audience as a special bonus. (Mr. DiCaprio never shows as much as she does.) The movie’s misogyny is not the sole property of its characters, nor is the humiliation and objectification of women — an insistent, almost compulsive motif — something it merely depicts. Mr. Scorsese, never an especially objective sociologist, is at least a participant-observer.

Does “The Wolf of Wall Street” condemn or celebrate? Is it meant to provoke disgust or envy? These may be, in the present phase of American civilization, distinctions without a meaningful difference behind them. If you walk away feeling empty and demoralized, worn down by the tackiness and aggression of the spectacle you have just witnessed, perhaps you truly appreciate the film’s critical ambitions. If, on the other hand, you ride out of the theater on a surge of adrenaline, intoxicated by its visual delights and visceral thrills, it’s possible you missed the point. The reverse could also be true. To quote another one of Mr. Scorsese’s magnetic, monstrous heroes, Jake LaMotta, that’s entertainment.

When Greed Was Good (and Fun)

Letterboxd – Some Reviews this Week


Fast X 2023
Written and directed entirely by AI.

Killers of the Flower Moon 2023

Beau Is Afraid 2023
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Anne Frank Play – 1956 Berlin Performance, Kenneth Tynan on

And at the Schlosspark, last Monday, I survived the most dramatic emotional experience the theatre has ever given me. It had little to do with art, for the play was not a great one, yet its effect, in Berlin, at that moment of history, transcended anything that art has yet learned to achieve. It invaded the privacy of the whole audience: I tried hard to stay detached, but the general catharsis engulfed me. Like all great theatrical occasions, this was not only a theatrical occasion: it involved the world outside. The first page of the programme prepared one: a short, stark essay on collective guilt. Turn over for the title: The Diary of Anne Frank, directed by Boleslaw Barlach. It is not a vengeful dramatisation. Quietly, often gaily, it re-creates the daily life of eight Jews who hid for two years in an Amsterdam attic before the Gestapo broke in. Otto Frank was the sole survivor: Anne was killed in Belsen.

When I saw the play in New York it vaguely perturbed me: there seemed no need to do it: it smacked of exploitation. The Berlin actors (especially Johanna von Koczian and Walter Franck) were better on the whole and devouter than the Americans, but I do not think that was why the play seemed so much more urgent and necessary on Monday night. After the interval the man in front of me put his head in his hands and did not afterwards look at the stage. He was not, I believe, Jewish. It was not until the end that one fully appreciated Barlog’s wisdom and valour in using an entirely non-Jewish cast. Having read the last lines of the diary, which affirm, movingly and irrationally, Anne Frank’s unshattered trust in human goodness, Otto Frank closes the book and says, very slowly: ‘She puts me to shame.’

Thus the play ended. The houselights went up on an audience that sat drained and ashen, some staring straight ahead, others staring at the ground, for a full half-minute. Then, as if awakening from a nightmare, they rose and filed out in total silence, not looking at each other, avoiding even the customary blinks of recognition with which friend greets friend. There was no applause, and there were no curtain-calls.

All of this, I am well aware, is not drama criticism. In the shadow of an event so desperate and traumatic, criticism would be an irrelevance. I can only record an emotion that I felt, would not have missed, and pray never to feel again.

Berlin Postscript
Observer, 7 October 1956

Theatre Writings
Kenneth Tynan

Rom-Com Reality

Peter, for example, is a Manhattan marketing consultant with commitment problems. Early on, he breaks up with his latest girlfriend at the six-month mark; in his next scene, he has a near-identical conversation with his latest corporate clients. (The clients take it harder.) Debbie, a risk-averse single mother in Los Angeles, is pilloried with advice from one friend (Tig Notaro) — “Get your degree, find a man, then come home and redo your kitchen” — and escapes only to immediately collide with a second pesky pal (Rachel Bloom), who tacks on that the self-sacrificial parent should also pursue her dream job as a book editor.

The pacing of these scenes feels as though we’re trapped in a spaceship airlock and can only faintly remember what natural life felt like back home on Earth. It only takes a squint to see that Debbie’s adorable foibles — rules scribbled on Post-it notes stuck all over the house, an insistence that her overprotected 13-year-old son (Wesley Kimmel) is allergic to everything from grass to fun — would, in reality, demand an intervention and, perhaps, a diagnosis of Munchausen by proxy. But no one in this movie is playing anything near a human being, although Kutcher occasionally resembles one when he lowers his head, crinkles his eyes and chuckles.

‘Your Place or Mine’ Review: Try Neither
This humdrum Netflix romantic comedy features Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher as longtime friends with possibly hidden feelings for each other.
Amy Nicholson

Carnivalization – Bakhtin Dostoevsky Criticism

Bakhtin argues that Dostoevsky always wrote in opposition to modern tendencies toward the “reification of man”—the turning of human beings into objects (scientific, economic, social, etc.), enclosing them in an alien web of definition and causation, robbing them of freedom and responsibility.[56] ‘Carnivalization‘ is a term used by Bakhtin to describe the techniques Dostoevsky uses to disarm this increasingly ubiquitous enemy and make true intersubjective dialogue possible. The concept suggests an ethos where normal hierarchies, social roles, proper behaviors and assumed truths are subverted in favor of the “joyful relativity” of free participation in the festival. In The Idiot, everything revolves around the two central carnival figures of the “idiot” and the “madwoman”, and consequently “all of life is carnivalized, turned into a ‘world inside out’: traditional plot situations radically change their meaning, there develops a dynamic, carnivalistic play of sharp contrasts, unexpected shifts and changes”.[57] Prince Myshkin and Nastasya Filippovna are characters that inherently elude conventional social definition, or—as Bakhtin puts it—anything that might limit their “pure humanness”. The carnival atmosphere that develops around them in each situation and dialogue (“bright and joyous” in Myshkin’s case, “dark and infernal” in Nastasya Filippovna’s) allows Dostoevsky to “expose a different side of life to himself and to the reader, to spy upon and depict in that life certain new, unknown depths and possibilities.”[58]


Austin Powers as Metaphor for Change

‘This Fool’ (Hulu)
Season 1, Episode 5: ‘Sandy Says’

The closing seconds of this episode-long homage to “Austin Powers” were perhaps the most satisfying payoff I saw this year. “Sandy Says” exemplifies the tricky tone “This Fool” is able to strike, combining the structure of traditional sitcoms with the style of auteur comedies, hitting a sweet spot of goofy and clever. Luis (Frankie Quinones), newly out of prison, is in annoying-eighth-grader mode with his constant “Austin Powers” references, and the episode is packed with shagadelic Easter eggs before Luis explains part of why the movie means so much to him. “I’m tired of wasting time living in the past,” he says. “Ideally, we’ll change. The world is ever-changing, homey. I gotta change with it. That’s what ‘Austin Powers’ is all about. You know, I used to think that movie was a comedy. But now I know, it’s a tragedy.”

The Best TV Episodes of 2022
TV in the streaming era is an endless feast. This year, series like “Barry,” “Ms. Marvel,” “Pachinko,” “Station Eleven” and “This Fool” offered some of the best bites.

Best and Worst European Theater of 2022 – NYTIMES Critics

The Best (and Worst) Theater in Europe in 2022
The Times’s three European theater critics pick their favorite productions of the year — plus a turkey apiece for the festive season.

Matt Wolf – Four favorites from The Times’s London theater critic:
Blues for an Alabama Sky
The Seagull
A Number (no link given)
Mad HouseTurkey

Laura Cappelle – Four favorites from The Times’s Paris theater critic:
Catarina and the Beauty of Killing Fascists
One Song
Fat People Skate Well. A Cardboard Cabaret
Free Will

A.J. Goldmann – Four favorites from The Times’s Berlin theater critic:
Oasis de la Impunidad
Verrückt nach Trost
Queen LearTurkey

Couple Amazon Reviews

Not my opinions…

The Clown – Heinrich Boll

This used to be my favorite book in college. Now that I’m 60 I revisited it and it seems I must have been damn depressed in college.

Sylvia – Leonard Michaels

Read this if you’re into two thoroughly unlikable people ruining each others’ lives and having sex. I bought it because I read that it was the inspiration for The Antlers’ phenomenal Hospice album, but I find it hard to believe something so beautiful and moving could have come from this. Worth reading for the part where Sylvia throws spaghetti at Leonard and he cries about it, however.

Lot’s Wife – Some Interpretations

Genesis Chapter 19
17. And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.

26.  But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.

The Old Testament
Everyman’s Library

In Judaism, one common view of Lot’s wife turning to salt was as punishment for disobeying the angels’ warning. By looking back at the “evil cities,” she betrayed her secret longing for that way of life. She was deemed unworthy to be saved and thus was turned to a pillar of salt.

Another view in the Jewish exegesis of Genesis 19:26, is that when Lot’s wife looked back, she turned to a pillar of salt upon the “sight of God,” who was descending down to rain destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrah. One reason that is given in the tradition is that she turned back to look in order to see if her daughters, who were married to men of Sodom, were coming or not.

Another Jewish legend says that because Lot’s wife sinned with salt, she was punished with salt. On the night the two angels visited Lot, he requested that his wife prepare a feast for them. Not having any salt, Lot’s wife asked her neighbors for salt, which alerted them to the presence of their guests, resulting in the mob action that endangered Lot’s family.

Lot’s wife

The Bible tells a story that should remind us of the dangers of being unable to change with changing circumstances. When God determines to destroy the irredeemably wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah Gomorrah (whose unforgivable sin, by the way, was not homosexuality but cruelty to strangers; see Ezekiel 16:49), He advises Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family, the only decent people in the city, to flee Sodom and not look back (Genesis 19:17). But unlike Abraham, who marched willingly into an unknown future, Lot is hesitant to leave his familiar surroundings. He knows how depraved a community Sodom is, but it has been his home. He is used to it and does not know what life will be like outside it. He may feel he is too old to learn new ways and start over somewhere else. He virtually has to be dragged out of his house. Though God has warned the family to flee and not look back, Lot’s wife cannot tear herself away and turns around for one last look, at which point, the Bible tells us, she is turned into a pillar of salt. Tourist guides at the Dead Sea today will point out the column of salt that was once, thousands of years ago, Mrs. Lot.

Why salt? There were so many other punishments that might have befallen her. I like to think that she turned to salt because salt is a preservative. In the premodern world, salt was used not so much to flavor food as to preserve it, to keep it from changing and spoiling. To live preserved in salt is the fate of people who are so bound to the past or so unsure of their ability to cope with the future that they continue to do what they have always done, even when it no longer fits the new circumstances in which they live.

Conquering Fear
Harold S Kushner

When a Scholar Acknowledges All His Sources, He Brings the Day of Redemption a Little Closer – Talmud Quote

His voice is so weightily authoritative that he hardly ever bothers to cite a source or quote a fellow critic. There is, so the sociologist Michael Walzer tells us, ‘a saying in the Talmud that when a scholar acknowledges all his sources, he brings the day of redemption a little closer’, in which case Williams has managed to postpone the Messiah’s arrival indefinitely. Not that he always had that many sources to quote. There were many significant thinkers whom he never read; and while this reflects something of his originality and independence of mind, the way he draws so deeply on his own resources, it also betrays a certain pride and aloofness, a refusal to be beholden to his fellow intellectuals, which is not easy to square with his politics.

Critical Revolutionaries: Five Critics Who Changed the Way We Read
Terry Eagleton
(from the section on Raymond Williams. )

Realism Is but One of the 57 Varieties of Decoration

Robert Bresson’s Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne deserves a few explanatory notes, if only because this brilliant work has been so widely and wildly vilified by so-called realistic criticism. Realism, as Harold Rosenberg has so sagely remarked, is but one of the 57 varieties of decoration. Yet, particularly where movies are concerned, the absurdly limited realism of the script girl and the shop girl is too often invoked at the expense of the artist’s meaning. Why, oh why, whines one local reviewer, does Maria wear long dresses in the afternoon? (This same reviewer is unperturbed by the transparent contrivance through which East German nuns are dumped pathetically in Arizona, where they can be saved with topical miraculousness by a Negro deus-ex-machina machinist out of Robinson Crusoe via Going My Way—but that is another story.)

Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema, 1955-1969
Andrew Sarris

Charles Dickens’ Urban Way of Seeing

In any case, what counts as realism is a contentious matter. We generally think of realistic characters as complex, substantial, well-rounded figures who evolve over time, like Shakespeare’s Lear or George Eliot’s Maggie Tulliver. Yet some of Dickens’s characters are realistic precisely by being none of these things. Far from being well rounded, they are grotesque, two-dimensional caricatures of human beings. They are men and women reduced to a few offbeat features or eye-catching physical details. As one critic has pointed out, however, this is just the way we tend to perceive people on busy thoroughfares or crowded street corners. It is a typically urban way of seeing, one which belongs to the city street rather than the village green. It is as though characters loom up out of the crowd, allow us a quick, vivid impression of themselves, then disappear for ever into the throng.

In Dickens’s world, this serves only to heighten their mysteriousness. Many of his characters appear secretive and inscrutable. They have a cryptic quality about them, as though their inner lives are impenetrable to others. Perhaps they have no inner life at all, being nothing but a set of surfaces. Sometimes they seem more like pieces of furniture than living beings. Or perhaps their true selves are locked away behind their appearances, beyond reach of an observer. Once again, this mode of characterisation reflects life in the city. In the anonymity of the great metropolis, individuals seem shut up in their solitary lives, with little continuous knowledge of or involvement with one another. Human contacts are fleeting and sporadic. People appear as enigmas to each other. So in portraying urban men and women as he does, Dickens is arguably more realistic than showing them in the round.

How to Read Literature
Terry Eagleton

You Can Like What You Actually Like

This love can’t be faked, not inside your own soul. Yet among those who are merely trying to impress, it is of course faked all the time. At my university, we foolishly used to ask applicants for a list of the writers and books that had “influenced” them. This is not an entirely fair question to ask any writer, but for a board of academics to spring it on a bunch of young, inexperienced, aspiring writers was madness. Of course the answers we got were mainly intended to impress. The question became the single most insincere item in the entire application—bypassing the mendaciousness even of professorial letters of recommendation. The lists we got were almost always very grand, academically impeccable, and exactly the same: that year’s higher-than-highbrow list of what every applicant assumed a bunch of professors wanted to see. We should have been ashamed. We were doing people damage by inducing them to lie about their real tastes and their real identities, leading them into a form of self-betrayal that at worst can be a symptom of self-contempt. Dishonesty about what really pleases your imagination is outright dangerous to you as a writer.

The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction
Stephen Koch

In My Day People Weren’t So Nostalgic All the Time – The Paradox of Nostalgia

In fact, I think that the alt-country and Americana scenes can be too precious in their efforts to resist the polluting influence of the country industry, and in their attempts to evoke a simpler world through archaic slang and ostentatious hats. Maybe this judgment is simply a kind of reverse snobbery, a way for me to feel superior to the kind of people who feel superior to the kind of people who love “commercial” country music. (Snobbery, I’ve learned, is hard to define, and even harder to avoid; there is virtually no way to judge popular music without making some judgment about the people who listen to it.) This judgment surely reflects, too, my general allergy to any music that strains to be “retro,” even though I realize that a current of nostalgia runs through all popular culture. (It sometimes seems that popular music is more nostalgic than it used to be, which could mean that my distaste for nostalgia is itself a form of nostalgia for a pre-nostalgic past.)

Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres
Kelefa Sanneh