Art, Music, & Film: August 2005 Archives

Brad Paisley


Some time ago TSO waxed enthusiastic about how much he liked Brad Paisley. The hit making the rounds then (and now) was "Alcohol," a song which while interesting failed to provoke interest for me. However, when I discovered that he was also the artist behind "Mud on the Tires," I knew that I needed to give more attention.

I got from the library Mr. Paisley's first album and I have to say that I was really wowed by it. What struck me first of all is the depth of humor in many of the songs. By that I mean that most country songs that are humorous are humorous because of a "catch line." Take for example Toby Keith's current hit "I Ain't As Good as I Once Was." The "humor" in the song depends upon the bending of the phrase "I ain't as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was." Okay, amusing for the first thirty-thousand times you hear it, but not much depth there.

On the other hand, the depth of humor in Mr. Paisley's work is impressive. From the first song, "The Long Sermon" in which we learn that "Nothing tests your faith like a long sermon on a pretty Sunday." To "Me Neither" in which our singer goes to embarrassing lengths to pick up a woman in a bar, using all of his lines and ultimately running out--into another thing that I think really makes the album for me--a relatively long instrumental. Honestly, I don't hear nearly enough of it in Country Music--figured it was a genre thing. But there's a long instrumental tag at the end of this song after he asks the girl he's talking to whether she thinks he ought to end his song, and he answers, "Me neither. . ."

Later there's a completely instrumental track titled "The Nervous Breakdown" and it's tremendous fun--unlike anything I've heard in this genre and most reminiscent of something like "Frankenstein."

In addition to humor, there appears to be enormous depth to Mr. Paisley's work. The usual songs of lost love becomes "Who Needs Pictures." And, there simply isn't anything to compare with "He Didn't Have to Be."

Now I know writing this is like preaching to the choir. If you like country music, you'll already have an opinion. If you don't like country music, you aren't even going to listen to this. So why bother?

I think because of this in the liner notes:

Finally, thanks be to God, for the gift of music and countless blessings. I hope only to do your will and be the person you wnat me to be. I can't do this without you. Thank for my life.

Now, you can't say an artist is great on sentiments like that. But sentiments like that are more likely to make me think the artist great because he recognizes the source of all art.

There are some artists I endure who, in spite of themselves, give me a glimpse of glory beyond them through there performances--Johnny Depp comes to mind. But what a pleasure it is to like an artist with whose sentiments I heartily concur.

And that may be another reason why I've recently turned to country music. I'm simply impressed with the number of artists who include God and Country in song. I'm tired of the relentless tearing down of our great nation and our even greater Lord and Savior. Much of country music offers at lest momentary respite from all of that.

Right now, all of Mr. Paisley's albums sit in my Amazon Wish List.

(Oh, and he not only has an advertisement for the Second Harvest National Foodbank Network, but he sang the version of "In the Garden" that reminded me of what I heard the first time I heard it.)

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Der Hölle Rache from The Magic Flute Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

This is one of the great, fascinating and incredibly difficult arias in the repertoire. As a result it is rarely sung well. But when it is, I don't know of any piece of music that can produce the thrilling effect of this one.

The Queen of Night (a baddy if there ever was one) upon finding out of the "betrayal" of an associate hands her daughter a knife and says:

My heart's aflame
with burning fiery vengeance.
Death! Death and despair are
Death and Despair are blazinge,
Burning Free!

If you cannot
bring on the pain of death upon Sarastro
Then you are nevermore my child to me.
YOu're nevermore my daught to me. Ah!
My duaghter you cannot be. Ah!
My daught you cannot be to me!
Disowned forever be!
Abandoned you will be!
Destroyed forever be!

All that nature dare.
Disowned, abandoned, be destroyed.
All that nature dare. Ah!
All that nature ever dare.
Unless. . . success. . .
Sarastro is demolished!
Hear, hear, hear!
Gods of vengeance,
Hear a mother's prayer!

(tr. Daniel Libman)

Okay, not what we'd call a role model for modern mothers. Nevertheless, this is opera and emotions tend to run a bit high in the course of things. (To hear a very fine counterbalance to this song, also listen to Papageno's song a bit later in the piece. A fine duet between two bird cathchers talking about all the children they will welcome into the family.)

Okay, once we get past the drama, what's so great about this piece of music? It is sung by a coloratura soprano--one skilled in a very ornamented and elaborate way of singing. In addition, my guess is that it must have parts that extend to the very highest vocal range of that soprano, because if the voice is good and the soprano hits the notes exactly right, they ring with flute-like tone and cease to sound as though formed by voice at all. The effect is truly astounding. From singing we get the impression that we have embarked on a flute solo. Beautiful doesn't begin to describe the impact of this piece sung well. It is, in fact, an absolute show stopper.

Now, because the piece is so difficult it hasn't found popularization in cartoons (The Barber of Seville, and "Kill da Wabbit" Ride of the Valkyries) or much other popular media. However, if you listen closely during the talent competition in Miss Congeniality the Opera singer sings this aria.

Do yourself a favor and check the disk out from the library. If you can find the performance by Lucia Popp, get it and have a listen. You'll be glad you did.

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I watched this because it was sited as one of the 100 best horror films of all time and it was actually fairly close to the top. Brought to you by the same genius that gave us The Happiness of the Katakuris, Audition is another species of salmon altogether. (My review of the former, once at Popcorn Critics is, alas, no longer.)

And frankly, I have to say that after seeing this film I had the same reaction I've had to every post Akira Kurosawa (and some pre-) Japanese film I've ever seen. Huh? What's going on? What does it mean? Why is it repeated three, four, five, six times? How did it end? What did it mean? What was the point?

Japanese films must rely upon a whole context of cultural clues to which I have no access because every time I watch one I am completely mystified. This is no exception. Girl auditions for a film role. Producer pursues girl. Girl is psychotic abused psycho-killer torturer or somesuch. Hack, slash, oops it was all a dream. Or maybe the dream was a dream and all that wasn't a dream was what was real. Paralyzed bodies, talking heads, blood and the end, plinking away on a piano.

I don't know. I suppose I liked some of the tension and suspense. But this isn't for the kiddies. And it isn't for the faint of heart. And it isn't for someone who expects a coherent story line. And it isn't for . . .

Only for crazed Japanese film afficianados. Everyone else can give it a big miss and not have missed a thing.

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There's so much I want to say in this one entry that I hope everything comes through coherently.

Let me start with a disclaimer. I have surmised that the fewer opinions I have on matters of import, the happier I generally am. I would resolve to have no opinions on any matter, but as that is out of the question (being the second most opinionated person on Earth), I have resolved to confine my opinions to matters of interest in which I can speak with, if not true expertise, at least a modicum of understanding. This would, of course, greatly narrow the scope of my discussion to golden-age mysteries and ME. Given that neither subject would have an enormous audience, today I plan to regale you with tales of Golden Age mysteries.

One of the few mysteries I recall with any sense of detail at all is A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie. I can't really account for why I recall this one, but I suspect that it was the first time I "solved" a mystery before the solution was revealed by the author. A Murder is Announced is by Agatha Christie and it features her detective Miss Marple (if the title hadn't already given this away.

I say I recall this book in some detail. I remembered as I was watching it that one of the victims was named Murgatroyd. Now, I had heard my mother say ten billion times "Heaven to Murgatroyd," and had puzzled over that expression long and hard. It had never occurred to me that Murgatroyd was a person's name. I also remember that the solution of the mystery hinged on the Shepherdess, and for me a seemingly cryptic statement from the one witness who could see anyting. In fact, this is what revealed the whole thing for me--so it wasn't really a fair solution, although, as the statement occurred a good 50 pages before the end and the discussion as to what was going on, I feel vindicated in considering this my first "solved" mystery--and solved on the clues.

A new series has come out recently featuring Miss Marple mysteries. Now, Miss Marple has not had the kind cinematic treatment of Hercule Poirot, etc. Her history starts with the delightful Dame Margaret Rutherford--who was indeed a wonderful cinematic presence but about as far from the essence of Miss Marple as one could get. She did, however, have Dame Agatha's approval. I recall a movie (The Mirror Crack'd) in which Helen Hayes played Miss Marple to the delightful strains of semi-villain Elizabeth Taylor. Finally, Joan Hickson did a very fine job of playing the "fluffy" wool-gathering old lady who is sharp as steel underneath.

The present incarnation is played by Gwendolin McEwan, and I have to say that it is certainly interesting and novel. I would say that McEwan doesn't come anywhere within fifty yards of the character as written by Agatha Christie (that was hit dead-on by Joan Hickson) and yet, as an interpretation of the Christie character, this is certainly acceptable and interesting.

What I find a bit disturbing is the proliferation of sexual antics that seems to bestrew itself across the screen in this most recent set of productions. I've only viewed two so far--Body in the Library and A Murder is Announced. In each of these there was at least one lesbian relationship and any number of adulterous assignations. Now, I probably missed a great deal in my early readings, but I don't think Dame Christie wrote a Lesbian couple into every one of her novels. And with Body in the Library it is this Lesbian "folie a deux" that gives us the denouement.

I really don't have anything against lesbians, on screen or otherwise, but I do have a problem with "reclaiming literature." One can never, with any authority, discuss authorial intention. But I suspect toleration for lesbians was not one of the chief agendas of the Agatha Christie novels, nor do I suspect that the thought of lesbian attachements so frequently crossed Dame Christie's mind.

On the other hand, I can be a seriously inattentive reader, paying attention only to what the author wishes me to look at (hence I'm not particularly good at solving mysteries because I'm always chasing after red herrings) and it is entirely possible that the whole plethora of novels is veritably overrun with lesbians and who knows what.

However, one gets the distinct impression that Miss Marple herself may be lesbian--and while that may be so, it conflicts with my understanding of the novels. Not that that should be any sort of guide or parameter. Nevertheless, it seems odd that watching a random two out of four of these mysteries, I should twice encounter lesbian couples who are integral to the action.

Oh, and Miss Marple is a sharp-tongued acidulous feminist to boot. I honestly don't recall it from the books, and frankly, it puts me off a bit to see it on the screen. Nevertheless, as with the Poirot movies, these are well done, Ms. McEwan is an interesting screen presence, and apart from these quibbles, an acceptable Miss Marple, and the mysteries are true to the books that gave them life (again apart from some of the overt lesbian themes, which may, in fact be present but to which I may be oblivious). Watch for yourself and derive an impression if you are familiar with these books. They are certainly with an hour and a half in comparison to much of the drivel churned out by television and movie producers of the present era.

Anyway, it was good to think back on A Murder is Announced even though I knew the murderer from about two minutes into the show until the end. It was interesting to see even the list Jane Marple produces before coming to the solution of the mystery. These really are, like the Poirot series, faithful to their mystery plot origin.

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The Ghost and Mrs. Muir


All those of you older than about 40 have already seen it. I became reacquainted with it last week. I had forgotten how lovely, low-key, charming, and heart-felt this film was. In addition, the cinematography is simply stunning.

Do yourself a favor and see this soonest if you have not already.

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Does anyone out there know the origin of the association of white wine with fish and red with beef? I know that nowadays not very many people pay attention to these rules, but they must have had an origin in some sort of gustatory or hygienic protocols. Does anyone have a source for this?

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Art, Music, & Film category from August 2005.

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