Posts Tagged ‘roz chast’

In this week’s New Yorker

April 5, 2014

There’s some fine reporting by Evan Osnos on West Virginia’s environmental crisis, George Packer on recent examples of war literature, and Emily Nussbaum on Norman Lear and his impact on TV. But nothing beats “Elicitation,” John McPhee’s essay on the craft of reporting, specifically of conducting interviews. I associate McPhee exclusively with long and, frankly, boring New Yorker pieces (a three-part series on sand!), but he was a staff writer at Time magazine writing about entertainment in the 1960s, and his reminiscences here include succinct and fascinating portraits of Woody Allen, Jackie Gleason, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Maggie Smith (the last three on the set of The V.I.P.’s), along with a well-placed dig at Truman Capote.

Here’s a choice passage about Taylor: “In comparison with a great many of the actresses I had met in my years of writing about show business, she was not even half full of herself. She seemed curious, sophisticated, and unpretentious, and compared with people I had known in universities she seemed to have been particularly well educated. From childhood forward, she was tutored in the cafeteria at M-G-M.”

And, of course, another great Roz Chast cartoon:

27-year itch cartoon

In this week’s New Yorker

March 5, 2013

new yorker pope coverThe best thing about this week’s New Yorker is Barry Blitt’s cover, titled “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi,” though I also read with interest Jeffrey Toobin’s profile of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Larissa MacFarquhar’s post-mortem on the troubled, enigmatic Aaron Swartz. (One of the many benefits of subscribing to The New Yorker Out Loud podcast via iTunes is that I now know how to pronounce Larissa MacFarquhar.)

While I’m at it, let me mention the highlights of last week’s issue, starting with the great Roz Chast cover, “Ad Infinitum”  (below):
rox chast ad infinitum cover
Then there’s “Hands Across America,” David Owen’s piece on the rise of Purell hand sanitizer, a detailed description of how one small company has managed to get rich capitalizing on the weird germ-phobia that has taken over America;

also Ryan Lizza’s piece on Eric Cantor, one of the Republicans most in charge of obstructing any political progress in Washington;

and John Colapinto’s fascinating article, “Giving Voice,” on the surgeon who repaired Adele’s vocal cords (and those of many other famous pop singers).

And the odd cartoon or two….
internet and get scared

Culture Vulture: January 2013

February 18, 2013

1.29.13 –

Theater: Nature Theater of Oklahoma, founded by Pavol Liska and Kelly Cooper, is definitely one of the most compelling downtown theater ensembles these days. I saw their first two productions (a very condensed Three Sisters at CSC and the four-hour No Dice, produced by Soho Rep), and I find their mission statement extremely beguiling. “NTOK has been devoted to making the work we don’t know how to make, putting ourselves in impossible situations, and working from out of our own ignorance and unease. We strive to create an unsettling live situation that demands total presence from everyone in the room. We use the readymade material around us, found space, overheard speech, and observed gesture, and through extreme formal manipulation, and superhuman effort, we affect in our work a shift in the perception of everyday reality that extends beyond the site of performance and into the world in which we live.”

life and times

I knew I didn’t have the stamina for all ten hours of their most recent four-part show, Life and Times, produced at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival in conjunction with Soho Rep, but I thought I could deal with at least the four hours of Episode 1. Alas, I only made it through half. I saw what they were doing – got the Gertrude Steinian continuous present, locating the world in mundane speech (the text is based on a lengthy interview with a woman telling the story of her extremely ordinary life in great excruciating detail); got the Brechtian staging; got the Jan Fabre-like concept of putting performers through a boot-camp-like physical ordeal. But setting the banal text to music – every ah, um, you know – was deadly.

Restaurant: Decamping at intermission provided the occasion to check out Aroma Wine Bar around the corner on East Fourth Street, where I had a delicious bowl of unusual pasta (strascinati with wild mushroom sofritto and spicy lamb sausage) and a glass or two of a rugged Pugliese red wine new to me.

puglia wine
Music: While I was in the neighborhood, I exercised my nostalgia for record stores and stopped into Other Music, still going strong after all these years, and found myself buying the latest album by Toro y Moi (aka Chaz Bundick), Anything in Return. Fun, sonically rich pop tracks with the kind of lovely vocal harmonies that always get labeled Brian Wilson-esque. The lyrics don’t stand up to close scrutiny but I can attest the album supplies an excellent soundtrack for getting stoned and having sex.

Film: The Rubin Museum presented a special screening of Sherwood Hu’s film adaptation of Hamlet, Prince of the Himalayas. I took a special interest because the Rubin’s whip-smart curator Tim McHenry booked the Wooster Group’s Elizabeth LeCompte to have a conversation with the director after the screening. I had the thrill of sitting between Hu and LeCompte (below), who was there with her own Hamlet, Scott Shepherd. The movie was fantastic, provocative and revelatory – Hu drew out interpretations of the story no one else ever has. Most notably: the reason Gertrude married Claudius so quickly after her husband’s death is that they’d been lovers before Gertrude’s marriage, and Claudius killed him because he was abusive to Gertrude. And Ophelia dies in the river (here a lake) giving birth to Hamlet’s son, who turns out to the title character. Set in ancient Tibet and shot on location mostly outdoors, the film is ravishingly beautiful and very well-performed. In the interview afterwards, though, the director came off badly. LeCompte kept asking him excellent questions, and he kept giving generic, bland blah-blah-blah answers; she was very persistent and kept asking him again, to no avail. And of course in her modest but unerring way, she noted that the child might have received a very different reception had it been a girl.

hu and lecompte1.31.13

Restaurant: I had a lovely dinner with New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, whom I’ve known since I did a cover story for Soho News about her in 1980. I was happy to turn her on to one of my favorite restaurants in my neighborhood, Radiance Tea House on West 55th Street, with its yummy dumplings, rice bowls, and spectacular menu of Chinese teas.

me and roz

Theater: I’d never seen or heard any version of Fiorello! so was delighted to accept a friend’s invitation to the Encores revival at City Center. Unfortunately, we arrived a little before 8 and the show had started at 7:30, so we missed a few scenes. For all its reputation as Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, I found Jerome Weidman and George Abbott’s book pretty thin and the Bock and Harnick score only medium. Danny Rutigliano made a strong impression as the Little Flower hisself, Kate Baldwin did a lovely rendition of the sweetest ballad (“When Did I Fall in Love?”), and Erin Dilly and Jenn Gambatese stood out among the rest of the ensemble.

In this week’s New Yorker

February 28, 2012

Aside from Roz Chast’s wonderful cover and a handful of funny cartoons (see my favorite, by Emily Flake, below), this issue is noteworthy for William Finnegan’s satisfying report on how Minnesota governor Scott Walker’s anti-union crusade has backfired on him and Nick Paumgarten’s entertaining depiction of the social scene at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

In this week’s New Yorker

September 24, 2011

This week’s Style Issue is one of those exceptional issues, stuffed with goodies, that reminds me why I revere this magazine. The writing is so excellent that the magazine frequently serves as a writing manual. This issue alone has five exemplary non-fiction reporting stories that are marvels of fine prose that I would hand out to students if I were teaching a writing class.

Take, for instance, the lead of David Owen’s “Survival of the Fitted”: “On my first day in Colombia, two women in an old Toyota drove me to an industrial park on the outskirts of Bogota. There, in a building that from the outside looked like a warehouse, the man I’d come to interview — early forties, black hair, not tall — shot me in the abdomen with a .38-calibre revolver.”  The story is about bulletproof couture, and it’s vintage David Owen, who has made a name for himself by focusing on fascinating and unpredictable array of little-scrutinized pockets of contemporary culture. His writing style is both crisply journalistic and full of facts but also endearingly droll. For instance, he discusses cultural differences in armored clothing, which cultures have to deal with knife attacks more than gun attacks, and casually mentions that “Most ammunition used by soldiers…goes right through the kinds of bulletproof material that are worn by cops and recording artists.”

I’d never heard of Daphne Guinness and wouldn’t have thought I would be interested in reading about an eccentric aristocratic fashionista, but Rebecca Mead is such a good writer that I never lost interest in reading her engrossing story about this creature who clomps through the world in crazy designer shoes without heels, who was a close friend and customer of the late Alexander McQueen, and whose grandmother was Diana Mitford. Mitford, Mead reminds readers, married Sir Oswald Mosley, the founder of the British Union of Fascists, at the home of Joseph Goebbels. Among the wedding guests was Adolf Hitler, with whom Diana’s sister Unity was very close. Mead reports: “When [World War II] broke out, Diana spent three years in London’s Holloway prison. ‘She told me she read a lot of Racine,’ Guinness said. Meanwhile, when Britain declared war on Germany, Unity Mitford short herself in the head. ‘Why didn’t Unity shoot Hitler instead of herself?’ Guinness said. ‘Then we’d be descended from heroes instead of villains.’ “

Whenever this annual issue rolls around, I always think to myself, “I don’t care about fashion,” and I don’t really. But again I could not resist reading every word of Susan Orlean’s profile of Jean Paul Gaultier (above). Among the exotic creatures we meet in this story are Donna and Meghan Spears, who own a designer boutique called Consortium, in Oklahoma City, and Gaultier is the best-selling designer in the store. “I admitted to the Spearses that I wouldn’t have guessed that Gaultier had many fans in Oklahoma, but Donna said, ‘Oklahoma City is much more progressive than people think. In our target market, everyone has more than one home, more than one airplane. In the past, everyone went to Dallas or Aspen or La Jolla to shop. Now they come to us. At the end of the season, we never have any Gaultier left.’ ” Plus — and I guess this is a generational thing — I never get tired of noticing how matter-of-factly fashion writers for the New Yorker and the New York Times (most of them women) write about the personal lives of famous designers (most of them gay men). There was a time when gay private lives were just never mentioned in the pages of these magazines. Just saying.

There are also two emotionally affecting gay life stories mentioned in passing in Peter Hessler’s terrific article “Dr. Don,” which focuses on a small-town pharmacist in a hippie-dippie utopian enclave in southwestern Colorado, a world I would never have imagined or known about before reading this story.

Anytime Janet Malcolm writes something for the New Yorker, you know that inevitably she will find some way of referencing some awkward complicated relationship between the journalist and her subject, and that does indeed show up halfway through her profile/essay about German photographer Thomas Struth, whose portrait of the Queen of England and the Duke of Edinburgh she dissects meticulously. I also learned from her the typically German compound expression Vergangenheitsbewältigung, which means “comes to terms with the past.”

Hilton Als has been thinking a lot about Stephen Sondheim recently. His Critic-at-Large piece about Diane Paulus’s new production of Porgy and Bess carefully and thoughtfully rebuts Sondheim’s now-famous letter disparaging the remarks Paulus and playwright Suzan-Lori Parks made about the Gershwin opera in a New York Times Arts & Leisure story several weeks ago. Perhaps not surprisingly, he sides with Paulus and Parks in their revisionist take on Porgy and Bess and ever-so-gently trashes Sondheim for championing DuBose Heyward. That doesn’t stop Als from also writing a beautifully considered review of the current Broadway revival of Follies.

I also liked Jenny Diski’s piece on the history of shoplifting and Anthony Lane’s review of Drive. And, of course, there’s always Roz Chast:


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