There’s something eerie and exciting about walking through the home of a writer you admire. I recently returned from a family vacation cruise and our first port of call was Key West, where both Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams created significant works in their oeuvre. Many other writers lived there at one time or another too.
Williams first visited Key West in 1941 and lived at the La Concha Hotel on Duval Street. He later bought a house that remained his home until his death in 1983, although he traveled and worked in many cities. In Key West, he wrote Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, Night of the Iguana and The Rose Tattoo. The 1956 film of Tattoo was filmed in Key West with many residents acting as extras. It wasn’t possible to see the room where Williams wrote, so we passed the hotel on our trolley ride around the island.
Hemingway lived in the house in Key West from 1931 to 1940. (See my photos of the house exterior, coach house and his office.) A knowledgeable docent led us on a tour of the house, describing the art work Hemingway collected (including a painting of a cubist cat given to him by Pablo Picasso) and the heavily carved Spanish furniture that he had sent from Spain.
Yes, the six-toed cats are thriving at the Hemingway House. There are dozens of them, all descendants of Hemingway’s original polydactyl cat named Snowball. Cats named after famous authors prowl and lounge about on the patio and in the many little cat houses.
Hemingway turned the second floor of the coach house into his office. After touring the house itself, we were able to walk up the stairs of the coach house and peer into his office, which is restored to the way it was when he wrote there. Shivers down my spine. I felt just as I did walking through Carl Sandburg’s office on the second floor of his old farmhouse outside Asheville, NC.
During the Key West years, Hemingway spent time in Spain as a reporter covering the Spanish Civil War. That experience resulted in his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, about an American fighting with the Republican forces in Spain.
If you’re not familiar with the Spanish Civil War, get thee to a bookstore or a website and read about it. To me, it was the last great war involving political passion. That’s why, without any support from their country, some 3000 Americans went to Spain to join the International Brigades and fight fascism. Because the US and other western powers refused to support the democratically elected Republican government, the fascists were able to take over, massacre thousands of Republican freedom fighters, and ensconce Generalissimo Francisco Franco is power for the next 30 years.
Hemingway also finished A Farewell to Arms in Key West and wrote To Have and Have Not, The Green Hills of Africa, Death in the Afternoon, and many short stories there. He moved to Cuba in 1940, where he spent almost 20 years. In 1959, he bought a house in Ketchum, Idaho, where he committed suicide in 1961.
About me and the Spanish Civil War. Please check out my essay about how I came to be so interested (dare I say obsessed?) with this war. Also see the website for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, an organization dedicated to ensuring we remember the Spanish Civil War.
”¡No pasarán!” Two of the three Pussy Riot activists are still imprisoned in Russia for protesting the suppression of free speech. Here they are before their trial; Nadia (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova) is wearing a shirt commemorating the Spanish Civil War slogan, ”¡No pasarán!” They shall not pass!
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer. I wrote about this documentary on the Russian protestors a few months ago. They are activists who use art to communicate and bring about political action and they are among the many political prisoners around the world. (Of which more later, in my next post.)
“I have eyes in my fingers. I have to touch my art.”
That was just one of the comments made by Jaume Plensa, the Spanish artist who created the Crown Fountain at Millennium Park, in his appearance at the MCA recently. Plensa, who is a true creative spirit and a thoughtful artist, showed an 18-minute slide presentation of his sculptures in locations all over the world and was interviewed by Reed Kroloff, director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art.
I was only familiar with his fountain design here and it is considered his most important piece in the US. Why do I call it magical? Have you ever taken a child there or sat and watched kids play in the summer? Plensa has created the ultimate in interactive art. You can physically become part of his work of art. (But be sure to bring a towel.)
The MCA event was cosponsored with the Chicago Architecture Foundation and titled “Architecture Is Art…Is Architecture Art?” The question was never answered directly but Plensa did muse about the relationship between architecture and art. You can read more about him and his work in my Gapers Block article.
Related articles on public art and sculpture
Sculpture in Portage Park and Pioneer Court, plus new tours at a Frank Lloyd Wright landmark building. Read it here.
Public sculpture on the parklet on the State Street median and a global view of art under a viaduct. Art everywhere! You have to love it.
A/C. That’s art and culture in Chicago. Your intrepid blogger is here to report on two items that you should consider adding to your calendar. Plus: what a way to say goodbye! To Lou Reed, the legendary punk rock musician who died last month.
An Iliad at Court Theatre: The poet reports
Court Theatre has remounted An Iliad two years after it was first produced. I was blown away the first time by the power of the story, the language and the acting. Timothy Peter Kane, a very talented Chicago actor, performs a tour de force one-man show as the poet or observer of this classic blood and glory story set at the end of the Trojan War.
The remounting, which runs until December 14, is perhaps even more powerful than the original. Is it because we all, including Kane, have seen two more years of the endless US war in the Middle East? He seems to be sadder, more traumatized and distraught by the many deaths around him. The single most gripping scene is his three-minute soliloquy of wars through history, beginning with the conquest of Sumer and ending, this year, with Libya and Syria. I was in tears at the end of it. Here’s a clip of that speech from the 2011 play.
The play, adapted from the Robert Fagles translation of Homer’s long poem, was written by Denis O’Hare, another masterful Chicago actor, and Lisa Peterson, a director at the New York Theatre Workshop.
An extravaganza of Tiffany at the Driehaus Museum
Richard Driehaus, a successful investment banker, is an important supporter of the arts and historic preservation in Chicago. He purchased the Samuel Nickerson mansion (1883, Burling & Whitehouse, architects) at 40 E Erie St and restored it to its ornately decorated, Gilded Age form. In 2007, it was opened as the Richard H Driehaus Museum of Decorative Arts and it’s worth visiting on its own, but even more so now. Sixty pieces from Driehaus’ large collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany are on exhibit on the second floor of the museum until June 29, 2014. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday until 5pm and you can take a docent-led tour or meander through on your own.
I went with three of my ex-CAF docent friends and, as always, we create our own tour. The four of us have a combined treasure of knowledge on architecture, art and design and we love doing these tours collaboratively.
The photo at left is one of the Tiffany windows, beautifully displayed, in the exhibit.
What a great way to say farewell to an iconic musician like Lou Reed. Just his music, played at the appropriate volume (that is, loud) in a grove of trees near Lincoln Center. It was one of those days I wish I lived in New York…or at least had the wherewithal to fly there on a whim for a landmark event.
Lou Reed, known as a solo musician, guitarist, songwriter and founder of the Velvet Underground, the preeminent punk rock group, died at 71 on October 27.
See Greg Mitchell’s site here for three videos from the event. My favorite is “Walk on the Wild Side.” It’s wonderful to see people communing over music, many singing along, others dancing, all paying tribute to Reed’s music.
The photo is Lou Reed performing at the Hop Farm Music Festival on Saturday, July 2, 2011, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Bruce Springsteen has a song oeuvre in the hundreds. The setlists for his legendarily long concerts are 99 percent his music. But he occasionally covers another artist’s work. That’s the case with a beautiful song that I first heard him sing in 2005 and again the other night on the Stand Up for Heroes concert. Since then, I’ve been mesmerized by this song and have listened to it dozens of times. Two video versions below.
The Stand Up for Heroes Concert is an annual event co-sponsored by the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the New York Comedy Festival to honor wounded warriors. (Woodruff is an ABC News reporter who was almost killed by an IED in Iraq in 2006.) This year’s, the seventh annual event, was held November 6 at the theater at Madison Square Garden, a 5800-seat venue. Like last year’s event, it was streamed live on YouTube and thus on my big beautiful TV set. (Some people buy big HD flatscreens to watch football; I bought mine to watch rock concerts.)
I really needed a Bruce Springsteen fix, since it’s been 14 months since I saw him live at Wrigley Field last September. (See Related Links below.) So I was very excited about this concert. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd opened with his band and the Wounded Warriors Project, a band of warriors with instruments, voices, missing limbs, and other wounds we could not see. They played a great set including Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” “Hallelujah” included a beautiful solo by Tim Donley, a veteran with an amazing voice–and no legs.
You can donate to Stand Up for Heroes here, by the way. This year’s concert raised a record $5 million. The Woodruff foundation has raised $20 million to help veterans after they return home.
Bruce came on solo to do an acoustic set. First of all, however, he did his dirty joke routine. “I don’t understand this. A night of comedy for soldiers…and the entire night went by with no dirty jokes?” Bruce had to tell his bad dirty jokes, one between each pair of songs.
He sang an acoustic version of “Dancing in the Dark,” and then his wife, Patti Scialfa, came out to share the mic on “If I Should Fall Behind.” Finally, he went to the pump organ to sing “Dream Baby Dream,” a really beautiful song that he has rarely performed live.
The first time he played DBD was May 11, 2005, at the first Devils & Dust concert at the Rosemont Theatre. (What? You don’t think I keep notes of these important historical events?) That theater is a nice venue for a solo performer. (I saw Leonard Cohen there too.) “Dream” was the last song in Bruce’s 24-song set and I had never heard it before. The fans I was with hadn’t either and there was a great buzz on the message boards that night and the next day. Many thought it was the Roy Orbison song, “Dream Baby,” but I knew it wasn’t the same melody.
The next day someone (or many someones) figured out that the song was by the punk band Suicide, which influenced Springsteen’s album Nebraska. Among other Suicide recordings, “Dream Baby Dream” is on their album called Attempted: Live at Max’s Kansas City 1980.
You can watch Bruce’s 21-minute SUFH set (including bad jokes) here.
And you can also watch another beautiful version of “Dream Baby Dream” in this 5-minute video that Bruce released at the end of his Wrecking Ball tour to say thanks to his fans. The video, edited by the super-talented Thom Zimny, includes clips of Bruce from various concerts and lots of footage of fans and their reactions. I’m sure I’m in there somewhere.
I’m still looking for an audio-only version of DBD that I can download for my iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc. So far I haven’t found any, either free or for purchase. There are rumors that it will be on the next album, which he better be working on right now. 2014 tour in North America, Mr. Springsteen? So I recorded the audio from the video as a voice memo on my iPhone. Bruce fans will do anything for a few minutes with their favorite musician.
Wrigley x 2. Two wonderful nights at Wrigley Field in September 2012. My favorite musician and my favorite ballpark.
I believe in rock and roll. My very first blog post, in which I tell how much I love rock and roll and how it all started.
The 12-12-12 concert for Sandy last December. A great night and a British invasion.
Live music is always better and here’s why.
How did I become a movie geek? It started either with Roger Ebert or Netflix. On Netflix I discovered I could get DVDs of dozens/hundreds of old/classic/foreign films I had missed or not seen in decades. Roger educated me about how to view movies (although perhaps that wasn’t his intent). And I started exploring the auteur theory of film criticism, which views the director as the primary creative force behind a film, as defined by Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris (h/t Roger Ebert).
So I began working my way through the films of Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Robert Altman, Luis Bunuel, Pedro Almodovar, Kevin Smith and Christopher Guest. Then later I discovered Krzysztof Kieslowski and Andrej Tarkovsky, Lars von Trier and Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee and Guy Maddin. Both the ridiculous and the sublime.
Recently I joined a Meetup film group. Many of the members are incredibly knowledgeable about film of all kinds, from all periods, in all technologies. The meetings where we dissect and trash or adore a film at a bar or coffee shop are great fun – and informative as well.
As a result of my movie geekiness, I’ve seen a lot of quite wonderful, bizarre and obscure films. Here are five of my favorites in no particular order; I’ll explain why you might like them too. None of the five is available for streaming on Netflix, although several are on Amazon Instant Video.
Night on Earth, 1991, Jim Jarmusch, 129 minutes
This is one of those “anthology” movies, where we get to share taxi rides with five different drivers and five different passengers in five cities — Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki — over the course of one night. There’s always a clock involved to position the story in the night. The cinematography is beautiful and there are some great surprises. Like Roberto Benigni talking (and talking and talking) to his priest passenger in Rome. Giancarlo Esposito trying to get home in New York. Winona Ryder as a tough driver in LA, who really doesn’t want to be in the movies. A few drunks in Helsinki and an African driver in Paris who learns something from a blind passenger. Cumulatively, we learn a little about race, sex, kindness and money. And time. Jarmusch must have had an unusually big budget for this film compared to his other work. Not only did he travel the world to film but also he had some actual big name stars, not his usual style. (May I recommend his Stranger in Paradise, Down by Law and Mystery Train?) Oh and there’s music by Tom Waits too. Perfect combination of tragically urban cool combined with nutritious pop culture.
Waking Life, 2001, Richard Linklater, 99 minutes
My film group discussed this on a night I couldn’t attend. There was a group consensus that we should discuss an animated film. I thought oh, ok, I don’t really like animated films so I don’t mind if I have to miss this meeting. Then I decided to watch the film anyway – and I was so sorry I missed the meeting. Waking Life is a remarkable film. It isn’t an action hero or cute animal cartoon. Linklater has woven together a series of cultural, philosophical and personal discussions about life, time, dreams and reality. A nameless single character played by Wiley Wiggins is part of each segment; he may be awake or he may be dreaming and he’d like to know which. He talks with or listens to professors in classrooms, artists in coffee shops, writers walking down the street, people who are passionate about ideas. In one segment, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy talk about reincarnation in a scene that might have been part of Linklater’s “Before” trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight). The situations and characters are different in each segment. This often-existential talk could easily become pretentious but it’s playful and there’s plenty of humor to break the serious mood. How does this become animation? Linklater filmed each segment and then invited 31 different artists to digitally draw or paint over the footage of one segment in their own styles. Art director Bob Sabiston was the genius who managed that.
Waking Life is talky, provocative, beautiful, and quite sophisticated—both visually and conceptually. One reviewer said it is a “wondrous talky roundelay about and for people who love life.“ I just put it into my Netflix queue again, but maybe I’ll actually buy a copy. (I rarely buy DVDs; just Bruce Springsteen concerts and films; and several by Christopher Guest.)
Duel, 1971, Steven Spielberg, 90 minutes
This is a terrifying movie about a traveling businessman (Dennis Weaver), who passes a giant, smoke-spewing truck while driving toward his next appointment on a two-lane rural highway outside Los Angeles. The truck then passes Weaver’s beatup red sedan in a way that feels almost belligerent—and that’s how the duel begins. Weaver tries to pass the slow-moving truck again and the truck cuts him off. An early example of road rage. We never see the driver of the truck; we just feel the suspense and the animosity of his driving. The truck becomes an evil character. Weaver stops at a roadside diner and there are several trucks in the lot. He tries to figure out which guy at the counter is the driver. He calls his wife and we learn that he has to be home at 6:30, so that adds to the tension. This is Spielberg’s first film, made for television from a short story that first appeared in Playboy. It’s low budget and masterful. The ending is spectacular.
After watching Duel, you will never look at a semi on the highway the same way again. I was driving on the TriState on a rainy night, feeling like my Beetle was about to be sandwich meat smashed between two giant semis.
Russian Ark, 2002, Aleksandr Sokurov, 99 minutes
Russian Ark is a technological and artistic masterpiece, despite being plotless. Every review mentions first that it was filmed in one take. Yes, one take, one straight-through 99 minutes of digital video. No editing. But it’s so mesmerizingly beautiful that you almost forget the role of the Steadicam operator in capturing it. The premise of the film is that a 19th century French aristocrat is visiting Russia, which he has previously excoriated in his memoirs. With the unseen narrator, he visits the former Winter Palace, now the State Hermitage Museum, and views and comments upon the art. We see many of the paintings and sculptures in the museum as well as the people, in one scene even in contemporary style. There’s an exquisite scene where Czar Nicholas and Alexandra dine with their children in a magnificent dining room, where costumes and décor are in shades of white. The film includes some whimsical scenes of the Russian aristocracy at work and play. Most beautiful are the final scenes where some 2,000 actors dance at a grand ball, in military fancy dress and beautiful gowns and jewelry. At one point, the camera seems to sweep up in to the orchestra as it gets a rousing ovation from the attendees. Finally, there’s a grand processional down an elaborate staircase as the guests depart, chattering amongst themselves as the camera moves smoothly among the sea of beautiful people. This really should be seen on a big screen in a movie theater, but if you missed the run of Russian Ark at the Gene Siskel Film Center, renting it on DVD on your own flat screen HDTV will still be rewarding.
Nights of Cabiria, 1957, Federico Fellini, 110 minutes
This is a wonderful film and a worthy addition to this list. But the main reason I include it is to counteract the sickening saccharine sweetness of its supposed spinoff, the musical Sweet Charity. Gag me. This musical has been hanging around way too long and it’s the main reason I stopped subscribing to Writers Theatre in Glencoe, which is otherwise a fine theater. But they had to produce this lollipop when they should have shown the real thing — the Fellini film — instead. Fellini’s wife, Giulietta Masina, is Cabiria, a sweet and naïve prostitute, who wanders Rome looking for business and for love. She has worked hard, saved her money and owns a small house. Over and over again, men deceive and mistreat her. Her boyfriend Giorgio steals her purse. One night, she meets a famous movie star in a bar and goes home with him. She is astonished at his lavish lifestyle and at first he is kind to her. Then his girlfriend appears and Cabiria must hide in a closet. On another night, she goes to a magic show and the magician lures her on stage and hypnotizes her. She confesses her desire to be married and have a happy life. The audience laughs at her. Afterwards, Oscar, one of the men in the audience, wants to meet her. At first she’s cautious but after a few dates, she is in love with him and he proposes to her. On their wedding day, she has sold her house and brought all of her savings for their future. Later they walk in the woods; he takes her purse and abandons her. In the final scene, she is in tears, walking down the road back to Rome. A parade of happy young people forms around her, playing music … and Cabiria smiles sweetly through her tears. It’s a dramatic and poignant black-and-white film, with no egregious singing and dancing. You can view the 1998 restored version.
If you like–or hate–any of these movies, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about your favorite quirky, bizarre film favorites too.
I had to restrain myself to stick to five, so I will do this again some time. I had to leave out Children of Men, The Saddest Music in the World, Rome Open City, Wings of Desire, Holy Motors, The Earrings of Madame De ….. I might even include Gloomy Sunday – A Song of Love and Death (Ein Lied von Liebe ind Tod). It would be an amazing pairing with the Guy Maddin film, The Saddest Music in the World.
Whether I’m reviewing for Gapers Block or not, I revel in seeing a lot of plays. On one recent weekend, I went to the theater four nights in a row. And then more the next week. Here’s a recap of my recent theater feast. Most of these plays are still showing, so get thee to a theater!
Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey at Remy Bumppo Theatre at Greenhouse Theatre Center; through November 10.
The Jane Austen play gets a delightful, charming and funny presentation by the reliably solid Remy Bumppo. The set is used wisely; costumes are simple and elegant. Outstanding performances by Sarah Price as Catherine Morland and Greg Mathew Anderson double cast as Valancourt and Henry Tilney are supported by a uniformly excellent cast. It’s particularly fun to see Catherine’s love of books and her reader’s imagination translated into stage action. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Zinnie Harris’ The Wheel at Steppenwolf Theatre; through November 10.
The reviews of this play are mixed to say the least. Of nine reviews, only one is highly recommended; the others are somewhat recommended or recommended. One of my neighbors warned me it was “dreadful.” So of course I went to the theater with low expectations … and was wowed.
The play is directed by Tina Landau and stars Joan Allen, an original Steppenwolf ensemble member. And yes, it’s a sprawling mess as Beatriz (Allen) leaves northern Spain to wander the world from war to war, from century to century, with two children in tow, trying to find their parents. Sound a little familiar? Yes, it’s Brechtian and a little reminiscent of his masterpiece, Mother Courage and Her Children, written about the Thirty Years War.
There’s some magical realism, of course, and the events of the play make us ask moral and ethical questions of ourselves. The dialog is clever and evocative and the occasional music by the actors themselves adds a great deal. Plus it’s always a pleasure to see Yasen Peyankov on stage. Tim Hopper and LaShawn Banks also do excellent jobs, as do the two children. At the end, Beatriz is back in Spain, but the wheel keeps turning and she finds herself facing the same problems. It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking play.
Paddy Chayefsky’s The Goddess at The Artistic Home; through November 17
My Gapers Block review of The Goddess was just posted. The play concerns the childhood, dramatic rise and fall of a doomed blonde movie star. Chayefsky says he wasn’t writing it about Marilyn Monroe but it might have been Kim Stanley. The play is a bit choppy but the performances are excellent. The costumes are gorgeous and worth the price of the ticket alone. Artistic Home, at 1376 W. Grand Ave., helps Chicago deserve its rep as the home of great storefront theater. The 1958 movie starred Kim Stanley and Lloyd Bridges.
The Balcony and 12 Nights
Jean Genet’s The Balcony at Trap Door Theatre; closed October 12. Not Exactly Shakespeare’s 12 Nights at The Hypocrites; closed October 6.
These are two of my very favorite small theaters. Both are amazingly inventive. I always look forward to their productions.
Trap Door comes out of the legacy of European Repertory Theatre, the late lamented theater of the 1990s. For both ensembles, many of its members are or were European born or trained. I still remember how the ERC production of Steven Berkoff’s Agamemnon sent shivers up my spine. Trap Door chooses European classic and contemporary scripts and performs them with great wit and panache in a tiny space. The Balcony, set in a brothel and making fun of politics and society, is a great example of their work.
The Hypocrites is reliably crazy, quirky and never boring. Sean Graney, the former artistic director, created and directed 12 Nights out of Shakespeare and a few other sources. His work is literate, witty and imaginative. The new artistic director, Halena Kays, is a worthy successor. Her production of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of Author was imaginative and riveting.
What’s up next
Next week I’m reviewing two openings:
- Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at Eclectic Theatre
- Good Thing by Jessica Goldberg at Poor Theatre
I’m taking my grandson James to see William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, part of Steppenwolf’s young adult series, this weekend. More on that later.
I want to see Killer Angels, a Civil War play by Michael Shaara, at Lifeline Theater through November 24.
And Trevor by Nick Jones is a dark comedy about a chimp. It’s at A Red Orchid Theatre through December 1.
This is madness! Chicago Ideas Week. Open House Chicago. Chicago Humanities Festival. Chicago International Film Festival. SOFA Chicago. The Internet Cat Video Film Festival.*
How can all these fabulous activities be happening in one month? There are at least five or six other months in Chicago when timid tourists would not have to worry about snow, ice and temps below freezing. Why is all this stuff smashed into one month?
I tried but didn’t partake of everything. Here are a few things I liked recently; some weren’t even part of October Madness.
Walking the Mies staircase
At the Arts Club of Chicago, I walked up and down the iconic Mies staircase. I held my breath and appreciated every step. That was a special experience for an architecture aficionado. I attended a UIC event introducing the new dean of architecture, design and the arts. (I’m writing about that for Gapers Block, so I’ll post a link here later.) The Arts Club was one of the Open House Chicago locations. (You can see an image of the staircase on the Arts Club’s home page.)
A.T. Kearney’s Chicago office, where I worked for 20+ years, has a similar “floating staircase” linking the firm’s original four floors. I remember occasionally being able to watch the workers install the cables and stairs when it was being constructed in 1992. It is a stunning staircase and certainly the highlight of the firm’s beautifully designed office. It was meant to create spaces for casual and random meetings and enhance socializing among consultants. I didn’t realize at the time that the architect was surely influenced by the Mies design.
Jumping into The Pit at the Chicago Board of Trade
Pocket Guide to Hell tours performed a sterling reenactment of a scene from Frank Norris’ novel The Pit about commodities traders in Chicago in 1898. I’ve been gobbling up the novel on my Kindle in preparation. The performance was a 45-minute scene with costumed traders, authentic props, music and play-by-play announcing by Alex Keefe from WBEZ and two color commentators. Bertolt Brecht even made an appearance to explain his interest in Chicago commodities trading and why he never finished that play. I previewed this in Gapers Block this week.
Hannah Arendt: A film made for discussion
The 2012 German film, Hannah Arendt, directed by Margarethe von Trotta, just finished a two-week run at the Siskel Film Center. Barbara Sukowa does a superb job portraying political theorist/philosopher Arendt in this docudrama. My book group had an intense discussion last year about Arendt’s book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, which the film focuses on. Arendt asked The New Yorker to assign her to cover the 1961 trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, captured in Argentina and taken to Israel for trial as a war criminal. Her coverage appeared in a series of articles in the magazine and then was adapted with minor changes for the 1963 book. The film uses actual trial footage of the defendant in his glass cage, the prosecutor and some of the witnesses along with Sukowa as Arendt viewing and reporting on the trial. (The image is the cover of the first edition.)
Her writing developed the concept of the “banality of evil.” She grievously offended much of the American Jewish community by describing Eichmann as an ordinary man, a bureaucrat concerned most with his own advancement, with no personal motives or imagination; he was following orders—the Nuremberg defense. He was banal, not even sinister, and incapable of thinking, she wrote. (Does that mean we are all capable of such horrendous acts?) A brief comment on the Jewish Councils ignited further controversy. She described a group of Jewish leaders who apparently were trying to work in the best interests of local Jews, but in effect collaborating with the Nazis.
The reaction to Arendt’s coverage, and her reaction to that, is the crux of the story. The film isn’t exactly subtle, but it poses some important questions. Questions that deserve discussion.
Wish I was in New York….
If I was in New York this month, I would be sure to see The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution, showing at the New York Historical Society. The show presents more than 100 works from the original show in one long gallery. Some of the famous European pieces are included, such as Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) and Matisse’s Fauvist Blue Nude. A New York Times review describes how the American work on one wall seems to be very conservative in comparison to the more explosive nature of the Europeans’ on the opposite side. The show runs until February 23, so maybe I will see it after all. Just not in October.
* Really. A festival of cat videos. The first Internet Cat Video Film Festival was a smash hit when the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis inaugurated it last year. Thousands of people came to sit outside and watch cat videos for hours. The Chicago version was held October 19 at the Irish Heritage Center; a $10 ticket bought you an hour of cat videos. Much as I love kitties, I didn’t go. And I don’t have cats because I have allergies.