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true blood, season six finale

Writing about the series debut of True Blood in 2008, I wrote, “True Blood is more than Buffy with bare breasts, but is seems much more mundane than I would have expected from someone who said Near Dark was his favorite vampire movie (it's mine, too).” At the end of that first season, I gave the show a B+.

Catching up on Season Two: “Anna Paquin takes off her clothes at the drop of an Oscar, vampires like blood, some humans like vampire blood and others like vampire sex (and some like both), the sex and violence are surrounded by the kind of hilarious dialogue you might get from a road-company version of Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, and everyone’s accent is different. I really like True Blood, even though its occasional pretentions to being about something aren’t worth much of our time. Michelle Forbes is a regular now, which is always nice. Really, what’s not to like, here?” I ended up giving it another B+, saying “it also takes care of all those things the pre-show warning announcements mention … plenty of violence, nudity, sexual situations, and extreme language, or however they put it.”

Midway through Season Three, “I stand by my opinion that True Blood is a show that lazily allows the context of vampire mythology to create the illusion of depth in a series that is about titillation above all else. It’s a highly-entertaining show, one of my favorites. But it’s entertaining because of the shock value and violence-instilled titillation, not in spite of it.” (I also wondered if Pauline Kael would have liked the show.)

A year later, I said “True Blood gets stupider every season, but I must say, they went out with a bang this time around.” I gave the season finale an A, the season as a whole a B (“I guess I haven’t yet reached the point where my eye rolling overcomes the entertainment value”).

I wrote of the Season Five finale, “it will always have lots of beautiful men and women getting nekkid and having sex, and it will always have lots of vampire gore, and thus, it will always be worth watching, even or perhaps especially because in the end, it’s not worth watching. True Blood is a superb example of enjoyable junk.” The season grade had fallen to a B-.

And so to Season Six. I gave the premiere a B+, even though it was same old, same old. This was the first season without creator Alan Ball, and I can’t say I noticed much of a difference. There were fewer episodes (apparently part of the work-around due to Anna Paquin having twins last September … among other things, she didn’t start doing her usual nude scenes until about halfway through the season).  Some interesting guest actors turned up: Rutger Hauer, Arliss Howard, Pruitt Taylor Vince. The central “PLEASE NOTICE OUR SUBTEXT” plot, which had humans and vampires going to the brink against each other, was entertaining in its own right (and, as in earlier seasons, all the stuff about shifters, werewolves, and faeries was far more dreary). The usual suspects delivered, as actors (Alexander Skarsgård, Chris Bauer, Deborah Ann Woll) and as eye candy (Anna Paquin, Ryan Kwanten, Alexander Skarsgård, Joe Manganiello, Deborah Ann Woll). Skarsgård even managed to get a full-frontal nude scene in the last episode, a timely occurrence given the funny stuff on the Internet lately about the lack of dongs on HBO. Season Six was as good as any other season. and I’ve repeated myself on that general topic so many times that there’s no need to say more than I did in the above quotes. Grade for season finale: A-. Grade for Season Six: B.

soccer in the usa

In April of 2006, I wrote the first of many posts about the availability of televised soccer in the United States:

The time is long past when American soccer fans could complain that there was nothing for them to watch on television. Just as an example, here's what I have available to me between now and the end of next weekend (only including live or same-day-delay):

One UEFA Champions League semi-final match
One UEFA Cup semi-final match
Seven Copa Libertadores matches
One CONCACAF Copa de Campeones final match
One league match from Argentina
Two league matches from Brazil
Two league matches from Colombia
Five English Premier League matches and an FA Cup semi-final match
One German Bundesliga match
Two Italian Serie A matches
Seven Mexican League matches and one second-division Mexican match
Two Spanish La Liga matches
Two MLS matches

This doesn't count pay-per-view matches, or matches on channels I don't get.

So these days, American soccer fans have plenty to watch. Except ... today was a crucial match between AC Milan and Barcelona, and guess what? The only channels it was on are unavailable through our Comcast.

Ah, but it's 2006. Enter the Internet. Which explains why I spent the last couple of hours watching television on my computer monitor. I watched the first half of the match on a Korean station, then at half time I switched to a Chinese station that was rumored to have a better picture. Outside of the players' names (and the team names), I didn't understand a word the announcers said (although a couple of half-time commercials had English in them), but I saw the entire match.

In 1976 I wouldn't have known the match was taking place. In 2006, I can watch it from stations halfway around the world.

Things have moved rapidly over the past seven years. Now, ABC/ESPN and Univision have the World Cup, Women’s World Cup, and the recently concluded Confederations Cup. ESPN has rights to the European championships, the Women’s Euro championship, and the Euro U-21 championship. Fox has the right to the Champions League, Europa League, and Super Cup. They also have the Copa Libertadores. Univision has Copa América. beIn has CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers. Fox and Univision have the CONCACAF Gold Cup and Champions League. ESPN, NBC, and Univision have MLS. ESPN and beIN have rights to various World Cup qualifiers for the USA. NBC has USA friendlies. Univision has Men’s Team matches, as well. Univision, ESPN and Telemundo have Mexican national team matches. beIN has Spain’s national team matches. Univision has the German and French national team matches. Mexican league matches are spread amongst Univision, Telemundo, Azteca América, Fox, ESPN, and GOL TV. beIN has the English Championship league and the English League Cup. Fox has the FA Cup.  beIN has the Spanish league, ESPN has various Spanish cup matches. GOL TV has league matches from Argentina, Brazil, Germany, and the Netherlands. ESPN has Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, and Portugal. Fox has Scotland, Japan, and the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League.

And, most notably, NBC paid $250 million for three years of the English Premier League. They promise to show every single Premier League match, utilizing NBC, the NBC Sports Network, CNBC, Telemundo, and a few I’m sure I’ve forgotten. (And if you aren’t near a television, they have a mobile app for you.)

Sports fans in the U.S. have probably seen the advertising onslaught NBC has concocted to draw attention to their Premier League coverage, which starts later today. It’s a long time since 2006.

music friday: rob sheffield's turn around bright eyes

This week, I finished reading Rob Sheffield’s latest book, Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love & Karaoke. I’m such a big fan of his earlier books, Love Is a Mix Tape and Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, that I fully expected to like this new one, and that’s exactly what happened. Sheffield combines memoir with an encyclopedic knowledge of many strains of popular music, in the process illuminating the music while letting us experience “Rob Sheffield”. “Sheffield” is appealingly modest, enjoys the company of women, and writes about music with a feisty elegance. That his music taste preferences are different from mine in many ways only makes it more interesting to read him.

Love Is a Mix Tape is so heartbreaking that he may have needed to step back a bit, but Turn Around Bright Eyes works as something of a sequel to that book, with a happy … well, I hesitate to say “ending” because it feels as if his new love will be ongoing for a lifetime, but the charming way he writes about the loves of his life (female and musical) make me eagerly await each subsequent book. Luckily, he writes regularly for Rolling Stone, so there is plenty to enjoy between books.

Here are ten songs, randomly chosen, that served as some of the chapter titles in Turn Around Bright Eyes. The quotes are taken from the book, which you should buy and read immediately, if you haven’t already.

1. The Beatles, “She Loves You”. “Nobody tries it at karaoke.”

2. Nirvana, “About a Girl”. “They were mostly rocking the nineties jams – Nirvana, Hole, Snoop, Pixies, Liz Phair, Whitney, the Beasties.”

3. Missy Elliott, “Work It”. “[T]he kind of song you need in your corner to pump you up when you’re trying to put your thing down, flip it, and reverse it.”

4. The Beach Boys, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. “Jacob made sad clucking noises. ‘I never should have let you listen to that album.’”

5. Elvis Presley, “Heartbreak Hotel”. “When [my dad] was fifteen, in 1956, he would spend hours in his bedroom singing along with Elvis Presley records.”

6. David Bowie, “Ziggy Stardust”. “I sing my first song and turn into Ziggy.”

7. Rod Stewart, “Hot Legs”. “No one ever plans to turn into Rod Stewart. It just happens.”

8. Merle Haggard, “Mama Tried”. “Great karaoke pick: easy, short, fast, to the point, rousing chorus.”

9. Billy Idol, “Rebel Yell”. “My rebel yell can’t be stopped: You give me the midnight hour, I’ll give you the mo-mo-mo.”

10. Natalie Wood, “Let Me Entertain You”. “Nobody watching can tell how profound this awakening is for Natalie Wood, or why she seems like she’s in a trance.”

Bonus Tracks (these are the songs I sang the only two times I did karaoke):

Johnny Cash, “I Walk the Line”.

Ritchie Valens, “La Bamba”.

Extra Special Bonus Track (this is a song I sang as a birthday present for my niece … it was karaoke in everything but location, I suppose, since we weren’t at a bar):

Kyu Sakamoto, “Sukiyaki”. I suppose this is where I’ll confess, for folks who aren’t clicking on the video links, that most of the above links are to cover versions, a virtual karaoke if you will. And I’ll add that when I sang '”Sukiyaki” I did the Japanese lyrics.


The Chromecast arrived today. There’s not much to it, which is why this post will be short. It is pretty much as advertised, and it was only $35.

The good: it is extremely easy to setup.  You plug it into an HDMI port on your TV, attach it to a power supply (USB or regular plug), load the software onto your device (I stuck it on my Galaxy S3 and Nexus 7), take a few seconds for it to find your wi-fi, and you’re done. The video is 1080p, at least for Netflix and YouTube. That is better than either my cable box or my Roku box can deliver. As for the applications, they, too, are easy as can be. You load YouTube or Netflix or Google Play Music onto your device (say, your Android phone), start playing the media, and press a little icon that sends stuff through the Chromecast to the TV.

The not-so-good: There aren’t many apps. I’ve already listed Netflix, YouTube, and Google Play Music. Add Google Play TV & Movies and you’ve listed everything you can run via the Chromecast. OK, that’s not quite right … you can also send tabs from your Chrome browser to your TV.

But there is, as of now, no Amazon Prime, no Hulu, no Pandora, no HBO Go … considering Roku has a gazillion choices, this is pretty important.

Also, there is, as of now, no way to send the audio through your receiver, so you are left with the speakers in your TV. (There may be some complicated way to make it work, but I haven’t seen anything practical.)

So, I’ve got a new $35 toy that doesn’t do anything my Roku box can’t do (other than Google Play material), with better video but worse audio.

Of course I love it.

what i watched last week

The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2011). This is the first film by the Dardenne brothers that I have seen, and it was intriguing without ever really capturing my heart. Normally that’s not a problem for me … I don’t necessarily watch movies so I can have a good cry … but The Kid with a Bike invites us into the life of the titular kid in a way that should work well for empaths. Which I fear doesn’t describe me. I felt a distance from the film, even though it was intimate, because I didn’t connect with “The Kid” until it was too late. He has a hard life, abandoned by his father, and his moods swing wildly from aggression to simply shutting down. I recognize the tendencies, but for much of the film, I found the Kid irritating. Which he was, but he had his reasons, and the Dardennes do a good job of helping us understand his perspective. Ultimately, the movie is likely better than I thought. Cécile de France is wonderful as a woman who takes the kid under her wings, and I liked the way the directors lived in the present … there were no scenes explaining what had happened in the past, so we never knew why de France’s character gravitated towards the kid, or why (other than the father abandonment) the kid was so screwed up. It was all matter of fact, and quite believable. 7/10.

Children of Paradise (Marcel Carné, 1945). I avoided this film for a long time, ever since I was first aware of it, which was probably 40 years ago. It was an acknowledged classic, yet the idea of spending more than three hours watching a French movie that featured a key performance by a mime just seemed too, too precious. Perhaps it’s lucky that I waited, for a couple of years ago, the film went through an extensive reconstruction, and it looks beautiful now, much more than it would have in years past. The first part of the film establishes a marvelous milieu of theater folks and regular people in Paris in the 19th century, while bringing special attention to bear on five main characters: four men who pursue the same woman, and the woman herself, Garance. The second part of the movie isn’t exactly darker than the first … it is still informed by a knowing love of the theater … but as it reaches its conclusion, 190 minutes after it began, all of the various permutations of the four men and the woman have been digested, discarded, and devoured once again. You can’t say Children of Paradise has a happy ending, nor does it quite end on a cliffhanger note. But when it’s over, you already want to watch a sequel, or a prequel, or just watch the same movie once again. Two performances stand out. Jean-Louis Barrault plays the mime, Baptiste, and from his first scene, he breaks down the barriers between his performance and audience members like myself who aren’t very fond of pantomime. Barrault also speaks … he is a mime on stage, but off stage he is just another actor in love … his romantic idealism is extremely touching, even though it doesn’t make him any happier in the end than any other character. And there is Arletty as Garance. Arletty was in her late-40s when she made Children of Paradise, and she has the same combination of beauty, intrigue, sexuality, and knowingness that we see from Danielle Darrieux in The Earrings of Madame de …. It is easy to see why so many men think they are in love with Garance. There is another actress in the play, Maria Casares, making her film debut, and Casares, who was 23, is a fine beauty (unrelated trivia, but I can’t help mentioning that she had a long romantic relationship with Albert Camus). When she looks into the eyes of Baptiste, and sees that he loves Garance, she is hurt, but she also accepts the situation, as if even she understands that no one is immune to Arletty’s presence. #53 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 10/10.

music friday, 1967 edition

1. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Purple Haze”. Known for his guitar playing and showmanship, but his singing and songwriting were just as good. The video link is to something different from the usual Monterey/Woodstock material.

2. Donovan, “Wear Your Love Like Heaven”. Donovan recorded a lot of albums in the 60s. He’s remembered as a folkie who became a blissed-out hippie (the latter exemplified by this song), but he was not always bland. He cut some innovative music that felt very England to me in the States, and “Season of the Witch” is great.

3. Magic Sam, “Sweet Home Chicago”. From a great album (West Side Soul) by a great bluesman who died of a heart attack at 32.

4. Laura Nyro, “Wedding Bell Blues”. There has always been disagreement about her performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. She sounds fine in the excerpts here, without evidence that she was “booed off the stage”.

5. Buffalo Springfield, “Broken Arrow”. One of the earliest examples of Neil Young’s experimental side. Reminds me of 1967 as much as any song on this list.

6. Jefferson Airplane, “rejoyce”. Surrealistic Pillow defines the Summer of Love for me. It made #3 on the charts, and included two top-ten singles. The follow-up, After Bathing at Baxter’s, emphasized the psychedelic over the folk-rock of its predecessor. It made #17 on the charts and had no top-ten singles. No top-twenty singles, for that matter. “rejoyce” may not be as well-known as Grace Slick’s hit contributions to Pillow, but it is fascinating.

7. Albert King, “Born Under a Bad Sign”. Arguably even more influential with British blooze guitarists than was B.B.

8. Big Brother and the Holding Company, “Coo Coo”. In the spring of 1967, before the first album had been released (and a few months before Monterey), Big Brother and the Holding Company were featured in a special on the San Francisco public television station, KQED. They did short interviews, and played several songs, one of which, “Ball and Chain”, was often played on FM radio (again, this was before Monterey, and more than a year before Cheap Thrills would give the world the version of “Ball and Chain” best remembered today). But in some ways, I think “Coo Coo” better represents the San Francisco Sound in 1967. The psychedelic bands came out of folk music more than they did out of the blues. “The Cuckoo” is an old English folk song that was featured in Harry Smith’s seminal Anthology of American Folk Music, sung by Clarence Ashley. It was sung by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and the Holy Modal Rounders, Tom Rush and Peter Paul and Mary. Big Brother did what most of the SF psychedelic bands did: sped up the tempo and added lengthy guitar solos. They recorded a studio version for their debut album in 1967, but that version wasn’t released until it came out as a single in ‘68. The video, at least, is from ‘67.

9. Phil Ochs, “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends”. Ochs deserves a post of his own. No, a book of his own, a movie of his own. Some of these already exist. Christgau wrote a fine obituary after Ochs hung himself at 35. This was probably his most popular song, although he never sold many records … his 1970 album, Greatest Hits, which was all new material, had a picture of Ochs, Elvis-style, in gold lamé on the cover, while the back cover proclaimed, “Fifty Phil Ochs Fans Can't Be Wrong!”

10. Judy Collins, “Since You Asked”. The first concert I ever attended was Judy Collins at the Berkeley Community Theater on March 4, 1967. She was touring behind In My LifeWildflowers didn’t come out until later in the year. I was 13, she was 27 (this was a couple of years before “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”). I remember I needed new glasses at the time, and I spent much of the concert thinking she was really beautiful, even though I couldn’t see her very well. “Since You Asked” marked the first time she recorded a song she had written.

harold pinter's no man's land

Here are a few items gleaned from the Wikipedia page for Harold Pinter’s play, No Man’s Land.

Michael Billington, who wrote an authorized biography of Pinter, admits that he can never fully understand No Man’s Land. “Who can?”, he asks. Critic Michael Coveney, who found the play “gloriously enjoyable”, nonetheless asks, “Yes, but what does it all mean?” He also referred to Kenneth Turan’s claim that the play was full of “gratuitous obscurity”. And critic Paul Taylor takes “Pinter virgins” to see the play … one says “Obscure and exhausting”, another wonders “Where’s the joke?”

Longtime readers know that I am not a fan of “gratuitous obscurity”, although I’m less bothered by the gratuitous possibilities. I just don’t like what seems like purposeful obscurity. It’s just a taste preference of mine: I don’t mind having to think about a movie, don’t object to movies that have a core that lies hidden beneath the surface, but wonder why I should bother watching something that is made to frustrate my understanding of what I am seeing.

In short, while I didn’t know until I’d seen it, No Man’s Land is not likely to be my cup of tea.

We attended a preview performance of the play (now at Berkeley Rep, on its way to Broadway) for the shallowest of reasons. The lead actors are Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. We’ve gone to other star turns at Berkeley Rep in the past. My wife’s favorite might have been the one with Mandy Patinkin, because she has always loved Mandy Patinkin, and she is also a fan of the X-Men, so it’s not much of a stretch to know we would find ourselves at a play starring Professor X and Magneto. It was an added bonus when we learned that Billy Crudup would also be in the play. Robin was initially hesitant, saying she wasn’t a big fan of Harold Pinter, but soon enough, we had our tickets (reasonably priced, too, since it was one of the preview shows … thanks to our friend Arthur for explaining that a preview would be just fine).

It is a credit to both McKellen and Stewart that I soon forgot I was watching Gandalf and Jean-Luc Picard. Stewart was wearing a toupee that was distracting because it reminded me of the actor’s shaven head, while McKellen’s suitably shabby clothes had no such problem. But they entered their roles with enthusiasm, and they were fine throughout. Stewart’s voice can lead him astray on occasion … he has such a powerful speaking voice that it’s not always easy for him to crank it down a bit (although he is not a ham … he doesn’t try to grab the stage at the expense of the play, he just has a big voice). And we were close enough for Robin to claim that she could tell Stewart has worse arthritis in his hands than I do (which, it turns out, is true). But these were all just tidbits, not things that overwhelmed the experience of watching the play.

Ah, the play. The first act was intriguing … clearly it was a character study, not a plot-driven tale, but the characters were interesting and the acting was good. The second act, though … I was thrown for a loop fairly early on, and realized that, character study or not, I am enough of a sucker for narrative that I was almost completely thrown off by the fact that I no longer understood what was going on. The play became less intriguing and more frustrating. As usual, in our post-mortem, Robin explained the play for me, at least her interpretation, which is as good as any. She never seems to get lost in plot intricacies, the way I do.

I hadn’t yet read the Wikipedia article. If I had, I might have known that “what does it all mean” and “gratuitous obscurity” were warning signs for someone like me. I disagree with the person who wondered where the joke was, though. I mean, I still don’t know what the damn thing was about, and I don’t have the slightest idea what the overarching “joke” was, or even if one existed. But there were many funny moments throughout the play … on a couple of occasions, the actors had to pause until the audience quit laughing, and I could swear there was a scene where Stewart was having trouble not laughing, himself.

Am I glad I went? Sure, it was only two hours out of my life, and I got to see something special in the casting. Billy Crudup was good, although when he smiled during the curtain calls, I thought, “he’s the guy from Almost Famous, only with short hair, I have to watch that movie again”. Shuler Hensley, the “unknown” cast member, was as good as everyone else (“unknown” meaning “unknown to someone who doesn’t pay much attention to theater”, since he is an award-winning stage actor). But five years from now, the two things I’ll most remember are that I once saw McKellen and Stewart together on stage, and that I don’t much care for Pinter’s No Man’s Land.

by request: the sugarland express (steven spielberg, 1974)

The Facebook group a few of us created, wherein we picked out 50 favorite films, is a gift that keeps on giving. I made a promise to myself to watch every movie Jeff Pike and Phil Dellio chose that I hadn’t already seen, and I’m getting closer to achieving my goal. Phil had The Sugarland Express at #49, and I had actually seen this once, when it came out in ‘74. Since that was almost 40 years ago, I thought it was worth another viewing.

Normally, I’d save the technical aspects of my viewing experience for the end of my comments, but there were problems that should be mentioned up front. The Sugarland Express isn’t the easiest movie to find. Well, you can still get the DVD pretty cheap, but it has never been released on Blu-ray, which butts up against my Blu-ray snob factor. So I didn’t want to buy or rent the DVD. It finally turned up on HBO, but even here, there was a problem, because HBO rarely shows 2.35:1 movies at the proper aspect ratio, preferring to fill the 16:9 screen. Since part of what makes The Sugarland Express such an enjoyable movie is the way Spielberg and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond use the wide screen, I ended up watching the movie in the worst possible fashion. I should have just rented the damn DVD.

Zsigmond had been working in film for almost 20 years, but Spielberg was a relative novice who came out of TV, and who had directed only one film to that point, the fine TV movie Duel. I mention this because The Sugarland Express is a combination of the brashness and energy of youth, with a confidence that belies Spielberg’s age (he was in his 20s). It looks great, and Spielberg has quite a delicious touch with cars, a good thing since automobiles probably deserve a screen credit in the acting department for this movie. But that touch extends beyond machines; there are several very good performances by humans, as well, enough of them that you have to give the director at least some credit for bringing out the best from his cast.

Goldie Hawn gives what many (including Hawn) believe is her finest performance. Ben Johnson doesn’t get very far beyond Icon status … you get the feeling Spielberg was in awe of Johnson, and so he doesn’t ask as much from him as, say, Boganovich in The Last Picture Show (which also plays on Johnson-as-Icon, but gives the character a bit more depth), or Peckinpah, who actually lets Johnson act in The Wild Bunch. William Atherton went on to become one of those “Hey, It’s That Guy!” actors, perhaps best known for his work in the first two Die Hard movies, but here, he’s got a difficult part, and he is excellent. Michael Sacks is largely forgotten now, but in this, his second feature (his first was even more memorable, as Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five), he balances several emotional states as a kidnapped highway patrolman. (Sacks hasn’t had a screen credit since 1984, having moved into the world of finance later in life.)

The Sugarland Express isn’t worthy solely as a harbinger of Spielberg’s subsequent career. It’s good enough even without the foreshadowing. I wanted a bit more depth overall … there are obvious comparisons to Bonnie and Clyde, and speaking as someone who placed that movie at #3 on his Facebook list, it’s safe to say the comparison doesn’t do Sugarland many favors. But that’s hardly a damning critique, to say it isn’t as good as the third-best movie of all time. One key difference is that where Bonnie and Clyde are both aware of what lies ahead (Bonnie more than Clyde, but he gets it, too), here, while Atherton’s Clovis knows what’s coming, Hawn’s Lou Jean is too caught up in anticipation of good times to come to really understand it’s not going to turn out well. This isn’t worse than Bonnie and Clyde, merely different, but it wasn’t as compelling for me.

Nonetheless, it was one of the best movies of 1974. Accepting that I’m forgetting something and that something needs to be re-evaluated, I’d put it in my Top Five for 1974, with The Godfather: Part II at the top, Chinatown right behind that, and then this movie, California Split, and The Conversation battling it out for #3-5. (Various AI prediction systems tell me I’d really like Celine and Julie Go Boating.) 8/10.

love in the dark: pauline kael and the movies

First Person Singular is a “dramatic reading series” that grew out of a book store employee’s frustration with the standard format of book readings by authors. Works are read by actors, rather than authors, which hopefully allows for a more entertaining, and thus enlightening, approach to writing.

Tonight I saw Mary Baird reading as Pauline Kael. It was a mostly chronological tour through some of Kael’s highlights: West Side Story, The Graduate, Nashville, “Trash, Art and the Movies”. Baird’s readings were good enough, although I could hear Kael’s actual voice in my head (she was not one of the boring ones at readings). The selections were a bit oddly chosen … a few words about Marlon Brando but nothing from her great essay on Cary Grant, plenty of Robert Altman but only a brief mention of the Bonnie and Clyde review that solidified her reputation (and nothing of Last Tango in Paris). When introducing the play, Joe Christiano (who adapted Kael’s writing) noted the conversational tone in her work, and indeed, Baird’s various readings were easy on the ears. There was a section that portrayed an interview with Kael, which was a way to work in some of her famous one-liners.

It was something an acolyte like myself could appreciate (I found myself quoting lines silently as Baird read them), but there was something insubstantial about it all. It was hard to understand why people might still be interested in Kael 20+ years after she quit writing, and while the references to old movies charmed the mostly middle-aged-and-over audience, who nodded nostalgically, they did nothing to advance the possibility that Kael might still seem vital to some current readers.

Still, it was a nice blast of Kael, unadulterated, and the lack of big production values was appropriately intimate. Having said that, I’d note that “unadulterated” doesn’t mean “unedited” … Christiano had to decide what to put in the play, and thus was the one charged with creating a version of Pauline Kael for the audience.