Should artists be called on to solve murders? In the classic romantic conception, the artist is an outsider, a wounded soul whose recompense is the pleasure of creation. While others live their lives, the artistic personality derives pleasure from recording it. Everything is gris for the mill. What’s painful for others is merely a diary entry and if beauty is truth as the poet says, then artists who are natural voyeurs and whose one degree of separation confers on them a certain objectivity surely make good detectives. This is the case for L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) in Rear Window, which is one of today’s offerings in the current Hitchcock retrospective at Film Forum. "Jeff" is a photojournalist who’s been put out of commission by a broken leg. The injury sets up the story line, but we are given hints that the wound is symbolic of something more profound that has always sidelined him. Now with his ability to get around impaired, he has nothing to do but look out his window at the lives of others. Urban settings are filled with windows that are like televisions screens, but it’s as if Jeff were on an acid trip watching reality TV. Jeff's fiancé Lisa (Grace Kelly) whose only problem is that she’s everything a man could possibly want (she arrives with lobster from “21”)recedes before him as he becomes captivated by a pair of newlyweds, who are constantly pulling down their shades and a Miss Lonelyheart (Judith Evelyn), a lonely young woman who serves candlelit dinners to imaginary male callers. Rear Window takes place during a New York Heat wave and we even have a couple sleeping out on their fire escape with an alarm clock. Among the cast of characters is a convalescing woman (Irene Winston) and her husband Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) who chops her into little pieces. Stella (Thelma Ritter) the nurse sent by Jeff's insurance company is there to help him with his leg, but she’s really the resident shrink. In a Greek tragedy she’d have been the seer. “We’ve become a race of peeping toms,” she tells Jeff. “People ought to go out of each other’s house and look in.” Significantly many of the people who Jeff is spying on are suffering from a complementary disorder They’re exhibitionists to his voyeur. Jeff shares his Greenwich Village courtyard (which resembles bohemian redoubts like Patchin Place, the home of both E.E. Cummings and Djuna Barnes) with Miss Torso (Georgine Darcy) a ballerina who parades around in her underwear, a temperamental musician (Ross Bagdasian) who drunkenly swipes his scores off his keyboard and a sunbathing sculptress. Besides manifesting opposing spectrums of the same pathology Jeff and his subjects, at least initially, are united in the pursuit of art at the expense of life, which may account for the fact that though the courtyard is reminiscent of the Village, it also exudes the artificiality of a stage set. Rear Window like North by Northwest and Strangers on a Train, is a thriller that’s also a romantic comedy and there's something almost Shakespearean about the way it flips so effortlessly from tragedy to comedy, from hi to lo. The problems Jeff and his esthetically inclined friends have with life are resolved faster than you can ask, who done it?
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Monday, March 10, 2014
What about that baby in Carrie Cracknell’s Young Vic production of A Doll’s House at BAM? You don’t see too many live babies on stage these days and this one was remarkably well behaved. However besides the baby, the production has much to commend it including Hattie Morahan in what can only be defined as a phenomenological interpretation of the character of Nora, to the extent that it doesn’t address her femininity or lack thereof, but the confines of her being. Actually the current production centers around both Morahan’s Nora and the family friend, Dr. Rank (Steve Toussaint). There are three key scenes in this regard. In the first Nora reveals her big secret to an old childhood crony, Kristine (Caroline Martin), a widow left with “not even grief for a sense of loss to nurture." For the sake of present happiness Nora's mortgaged her future. In plain terms she’s signed a fraudulent loan to accommodate a yearlong trip to Italy. Whether she's making a sacrifice for Torvald (Dominic Rowan) who has been ill or merely using his illness as an excuse is ambiguous. Supposedly it’s her husband who treats her like a child addressing her as his “hamster,” his “skylark,” his “humming bird,” his “most treasured possession,” but her actions are plainly impulsive and childish and a reflection of her own ability to quell her appetites. Ingmar Bergman’s production of A Doll’s House, which played at BAM a number of years ago emphasized the notion of self-realization. The Bergman Nora could have been a man as well as a woman. But the brilliance of this Nora is the way it’s influenced by Hedda Gabler, introducing the death instinct in its exploration of the feminine mystique. The two scenes exploring Rank’s being both occur with Nora. In the first he talks about life as fulfilling the need “to continue feeling tormented.” In the second he unveils another layer of the onion. He’s consumed with love and is critically ill. While Nora is lying, Rank is dying. These two leitmotifs say more about the play then the famous denouement when Nora walks out--which considering the modernity of the interpretations provided seems almost anticlimactic. Yes, Torvald’s narcissism and selfishness are revealed. Nora is just a piece of the puzzle. But so what? Is Nora any less directorial and narcissistic in her machinations. The revelation is almost Newtonian in a production that’s well situated in the world of relativity. The rotating set is like an old vinyl record revolving on a turntable and the feeling it creates is one of synchronicity. Rather than a succession of epiphanic moments, the varying scenes unfold complete and complex lives. The circularity is mirrored in Morahan’s rendition of the play’s famed tarantella which foreshadows her so-called liberation. The current A Doll’s House, with its emphasis on subjectivity and intention, is a brilliant and out of the box approach to the Ibsen classic.
Friday, March 7, 2014
In a review of Andrew Cayton’s Love in the Time of Revolution: Transatlantic Literary Radicalism and Historical Change, 1793-1818 (“Emotions in the Balance,” TLS, 1/17/14), Rachel Hewitt quotes from Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments thusly, “if you have either no fellow feeling for the misfortunes I have met with, or none that bears any proportion to the grief which distracts me; or if you have no indignation at the injuries I have suffered, or none that bears any proportion to the resentment which transports me, we can no longer converse upon these subjects.” Hewitt points out that this concern with empathy might be surprising for the author of the bible of capitalism, The Wealth of Nations. But actually it’s actual the understanding of emotion that seems to allow for free trade, in Smith’s world view. “The emotional subject’s passionate heat becomes tolerably warm; the spectator’s cool impartiality gives way to concerned compassion,” Hewitt explains. “This perfect but delicate balance of reason and compassion is ‘rational affection.’” In this regard it’s easy to see how the tolerance and equanimity of Dutch society became a breeding ground for the mercantilism of such giants as the East India Company. Smith’s thinking is also significant in the way it combines the micro with the macrocosm, ontogeny with phylogeny. Spencer coined the term Social Darwinism and free market capitalism exemplifies the survival of the fittest. But Smith obviously regarded empathy and altruism as market forces too. Hewitt isn’t the first critic to point out The Wealth of Nations had been preceded by a treatise (The Theory of Moral Sentiments) of such uncommon humanity. In this age of narrow Tea Party party politics that’s a far cry from true Burkean conservatism, it’s nice to be reminded that the father of modern capitalism regarded prosperity as deriving from something more than just the struggle to survive.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
|Eugene Delacroix, The “gravedigger scene” (1839)|