Saturday, April 23, 2011


The most dramatic baseball news of the brief spring season has been financial. Major League Baseball has judged principal owner Frank McCourt to be operating the Los Angeles Dodgers in a manner detrimental to the best interests of the game, and has taken over his club while seeking a new owner. Meanwhile the last-place New York Mets have obtained a loan of $20 million from the same entity -- their owner, Fred Wilpon, was reported to be a major investor/victim of pyramid schemer Bernard Madoff. Apparently all this is fine because the hated government is not bailing them out like car companies or investment banks. The teams will continue to meet their staggering payrolls and keep the scoreboards lit at their home fields while charging upwards of $50 for an average seat and some appalling amount for a medium-size beer.

Unnoticed by the national news media, the Philadelphia Orchestra has filed bankruptcy. The petition states that they cannot meet their relatively modest payroll and considerable pension obligations without dipping into their endowment, which amounts to slightly more than the annual salary of Alex Rodriguez. No one has stepped forward to help, not Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, not the National Endowment for the Arts (slogan: "Because a great nation deserves great art"), not the Koch brothers, certainly not the belt-tightening city of Philadelphia or state of Pennsylvania.

Charles Dutoit bobble-head dolls? The cast of Jersey Shore in "Jeanne d'Arc au Bucher"? Sell the orchestra to China?

Someone has probably thought of all those.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Prince of the City

I will always be grateful to Sidney Lumet for one of my favorite films, The Sea Gull. It's probably not anyone else's favorite, and it isn't even available on video, but I cherish it. I taped it when it was shown on Bravo years ago, back when Bravo was the cream of cable TV; now it's the New York Post at the bottom of the NBC parrot cage, so don't bother to check your listings. So it goes.

The many Lumet obituaries have listed the many Lumet classics, and a few made sure to mention his misfires, including The Wiz. How do you get from Twelve Angry Men and Serpico to a musical? Here's what happened: In 1968 Carol Reed, director of such noirish masterpieces as Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol and The Third Man, had a huge success with Oliver! For years afterward, every heavyweight director had to make his Musical, no matter how far from his comfort zone the genre fell. The only unqualified success was Bergman's The Magic Flute, which is also the finest example of opera on film (actually Singspiele, the musical comedy of eighteenth century Vienna). The rest range from John Huston's Annie, a watchable mediocrity; to Martin Scorsese's New York, New York, which feels longer than Parsifal; to such ten-car-pileups as Kenneth Branagh's Love's Labour's Lost and Francis Coppola's One From the Heart. By that standard -- and certainly not that of, say, the Freed Unit -- The Wiz is highly watchable. It has some terrific dancing, and I always feel dancing is more important to a movie musical than singing. You can't dub dancing.*

When a Sidney Lumet movie comes on, you know you won't be bored. Maybe exasperated -- all that Chayefsky hollering out the window can wear you out in Network, and Albert Finney's big wrapup in Murder on the Orient Express goes on for ten minutes too long --
but you don't feel you've wasted two hours of your life. The man could tell a story, without CGI or fart jokes, and I'm glad he left so many movies. Like Woody Allen, he loved New York City; unlike Woody, he didn't need to spell it out. Just look.

*Now, apparently, you can, to judge by the controversy surrounding The Black Swan. Back when they made Oklahoma!, there was nothing to do about a non-dancer like Rod Steiger but get him out of the way; now a computer can put Steiger's face on the body of Savion Glover -- or better still, Eleanor Powell. Don't you love technology?