Beauties and beasts: A mixed bag of culture

Kind of a Chinese menu of a post today. A little theater, a little film, a little TV and some fine music.

Jean Cocteau on stage

The Artistic Home has mounted a riproaring family sex story at its venue on Grand Avenue. This Jean Cocteau farce is Les Parents Terribles—it’s two hours-plus of high-speed theater. Very funny, very well acted. My Gapers Block review is here. The play runs until April 13.

In the course of writing the review, I thought about Cocteau’s other work. His 1946 film, La Belle et La Bête, is unforgettable and visually arresting. Here’s the trailer so you can check it out. It happens that the lobby of my apartment building has a giant framed poster of Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bête, so I am reminded of it every day.

Wondrous Japanese animation

thewindrisesAnimated film has not been one of my interests, since I always connected it with dreadful cute animals. But recently I’ve been educated in the beauty and sophistication of animated film and I’ve seen three films lately by the Japanese master, Hayao Miyazaki.

My film group had a discussion on Miyazaki this week and it was fascinating because several of the members are anime, animation and Miyazaki experts. His current (and final, he says) film is The Wind Rises, which just opened in local cinemas. His work is always beautiful, rich in hand-drawn detail, and sophisticated in its use of Japanese history and mythology (most of which I probably miss because of my own education gap).

His other films are mostly works that would be of family interest, but The Wind Rises is quite adult in plot and character. The leading character is Jiro, who is enchanted with flight and idolizes an Italian aviation engineer. He grows up wanting to design beautiful airplanes that carry people—but he ultimately designs the planes that are used in World War II, specifically to bomb Pearl Harbor. (There’s kind of an Oppenheimer effect at work here. Oppenhemer and the other Manhattan Project physicists designed the atomic bomb and then were chagrined at the results.)

War is an underlying theme in the film but not the main topic. In addition to Jiro’s engineering work, there’s a love story; his fiancée suffers from tuberculosis. The film is beautiful and gets many four-star reviews. (Seeing the “rising sun” logo on the airplanes was slightly unsettling for me, a child of that wartime period.)

I recommend this film highly and would also recommend Spirited Away (2001) and Princess Mononoke (1997) as two of his more typical films. He uses strong female characters and in each case blends in Japanese history and mythological symbols. His films are enchanting and I have a list of four or five more on my list to see.

Women of Letters

The Australian literary salon known as Women of Letters is bringing its project to revive the lost art of letter-writing to Chicago. Women of Letters will be performed with local writers and artists on Friday, March 21, at the Mayne Stage. Here’s my Gapers Block preview. Sounds like good literary fun and I’ll report on it back here.

 Chicagoland: My favorite city on TV

CNN, apparently trying to become something more than just another cable news outlet, has just started an eight-part series called Chicagoland (Thursdays at 9pm CT, with several reruns). The first episode ran last night and so far Mayor Emanuel looks good—perhaps a little too good. However, given the principals involved, I believe the series will be fair and well done—and I hope I’m not wrong. The production has the Sundance/Robert Redford imprint so I’m expecting quality.

The first episode had some great footage of Chicago but the story was depressing. The reporting focused on murders and gang activity (with an emphasis on Fenger High School) and the city’s closing of 50 public grammar schools, almost all of them in African-American and Latino neighborhoods. We saw parents and teachers protesting the closings and CTU president Karen Lewis telling us what she thinks of Rahm Emanuel.

Of course, I’ll watch the other episodes, even though I know the story probably doesn’t have a happy ending. But to make up for that, I have a special Chicago musical treat for you, even though someone who shall be nameless remembers it as a song “I used to listen to in college while stoned.”

The song is “Lake Shore Drive” by Aliota-Haynes-Jeremiah. It was a big hit in 1975 and rereleased on CD in 1998. If you love the song, you can download it on iTunes and put it on your iPod, so it’s always with you, despite what the person quoted above calls “a jarring piano line.” If you’re not a Chicagoan, you may think that the LSD mentioned in the lyrics and shown in the visuals refers to a drug …. but to Chicagoans it refers to the drive that runs along the lakefront from Hollywood Avenue to 66th Street. The Lake Shore Drive Wikipedia page is a nice history of its construction, use and appearances in popular culture.

And now for some related posts….

On the subject of animation: One of the five sort of obscure movies I recommend is Richard Linklater’s 2001 Waking Life, an amazing approach to animation–and philosophy.

For some thoughts on J. Robert Oppenheimer, see my review of the current play being mounted by Saint Sebastian Players.

6 Comments on “Beauties and beasts: A mixed bag of culture”

  1. Melinda Power says:

    Interesting as always. I haven’t watched Chicagoland yet.


  2. Iris says:

    Thіs is a topic that’s neаr to my heart… Best wishes!
    Where are your ϲontact details thοugҺ?


    • nancysbishop says:

      On the About page.


      • Doralu Chanen says:

        Nancy, I just finished reading your journal and enjoyed it immensely. If I was there I would be tempted to see everything you recommended.
        Sorry you had such a crummy winter but nothing stops you obviously. We’re here until May 15th. To the thaw coming soon, Doralu


      • nancysbishop says:

        Thanks, DoraLu. Look forward to seeing you in May. i believe the thaw may be just around the corner. But you know what? I don’t believe in staying in and brooding. Just bundle up and don’t forget to layer!


  3. Marlena Ascher says:

    Fascinating Japanese story — I’d like to see that. Thanks for writing about it.

    Marlena Ascher

    President/Founder, Northwest Arts Connection (NAC)



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