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Archive for November, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon
Starring Jay Baruchel and Gerard Butler

Pixar is still tops when it comes to animation, but don’t overlook Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon, recently out on DVD. The movie’s unlikely hero is Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, a scrawny Viking who uses brains over brawn to befriend a wounded dragon.  The real star, however, is legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, who directed the 3-D flight sequences.  The whoosh-bang joy of fire-breathing dragons soaring through the sky is a reminder of why we still go to the movies.

– Derek L. John

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For our next American Icon, Studio 360 is headed to Southfork Ranch…via Estonia!

After the premiere of nine new stories this fall, our second series of American Icons episodes is nearly complete.  There’s just one more show left to make – yours!  Throughout the broadcasts, we’ve been asking listeners to nominate their own Icons.  We got some great ideas, but none impressed us more than Laura Detre’s suggestion of the television series Dallas, which ran from 1979 – 1991 on CBS.

The original cast of Dallas.

Laura says Dallas presented an alluring, glamorous vision of capitalism that may have had an even larger impact abroad than here at home.  Especially in the old Eastern Bloc.

Movie still from "Disco and Atomic War" - courtesy of Icarus Films

How much impact could one American soap opera have?  A lot, according to Jaak Kilmi a film director who grew up behind the Iron Curtain in Tallinn, Estonia in the 1970s and 80s.  At one point during the Cold War, Tallinn began receiving Western television programs from a giant transmitter in nearby Finland.  Kilmi told us no television program was more loved or influential than Dallas:  “It was a substitute for a nice life that we didn’t have.  We wanted to believe that people live in skyscrapers and have beautiful cars.”

Jaak had even more to say about Dallas and the fall of Communism.  We’ll share that when our American Icons story is broadcast in the spring.  In the meantime, Jaak’s movie about American soft power in Soviet Estonia (including David Hasselhoff’s modest contribution)  is out now in limited release.  It’s called Disco and Atomic War, and it recently won Best Documentary prize at the Warsaw International Film Festival.

-Michael Guerriero

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Lee Friedlander, Montana, 2008, from the series America by Car, 1995-2009. Collection of the artist; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco © Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

In the 1960s and 70s, the photographer Lee Friedlander took his family on summer road trips.  Along the way, he took pictures that established him as one of the most acute, celebrated, modern chroniclers of America.  He captured vast swaths of the American landscape, lonely billboards, drive-thru kitch in stark black and white.

Forty+ years later, he’s still at it — and these new images feel just as remote and nostalgic, maybe more so.  “Lee Friedlander: America By Car” (featuring work from 1995-2009) is on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, through Sunday November 28.

For those initial expeditions, Friedlander’s young son Erik was sitting in the back seat.  He grew up to be an innovative cellist – and he made an entire album of music inspired by those trips, all performed on solo cello: Block Ice and Propane.  The tracks recall Erik’s summers on the road: picking up big blocks of ice to keep the food fresh; sitting above the cab with his sister, watching the stars as his father drove through the night.  It’s a quiet, varied album ranging from rootsy Americana to tracks that sound dissonant and modern.  Much of the music was generated while improvising in the studio.

Back in 2007, Kurt asked him to improvise in our studio.  We were working on episode around the theme of “On the Road” (it was the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s novel).  When Erik came by to talk about his album, Kurt asked him to riff on a passage from Kerouac’s travelogue.  The result was pretty terrific:

(Kurt reads the passage at 8:30, followed by Erik’s response at 9:25)

– Jenny Lawton

In the 1960s and 70s, the photographer Lee Friedlander took his family on summer road trips.  Along the way, he took pictures that established him as one of the most acute, celebrated, modern chroniclers of America.  He captured vast swaths of the American landscape, lonely billboards, drive-thru kitch in stark black and white.  You can see some of those photos in “Lee Friedlander: America By Car,” an exhibition now on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, through November 28.

Friedlander’s young son Erik was sitting in the back seat.  He grew up to be an innovative cellist – and he made an entire album of music inspired by those trips, all performed on solo cello: Block Ice and Propane.  The tracks recall Erik’s summers on the road: picking up big blocks of ice to keep the food fresh; sitting up in the cab with his sister, watching the stars as his father drove through the night.  It’s a quiet, varied album ranging from rootsy Americana to tracks that sound dissonant and modern.  Much of the music was generated while improvising in the studio.

Back in 2007, Kurt asked him to improvise in our studio.  We were working on episode around the theme of “On the Road” (it was the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s novel).  When Erik came by to talk about his album, Kurt asked him to riff off of a passage from Kerouac’s travelogue.  The result was pretty terrific.  (Kurt reads the passage at 8:30, followed by Erik’s response at 9:25)

– Jenny Lawton

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Jonathan Safran Foer's new novel

To the list of labels Jonathan Safran Foer has acquired over the years–wunderkind author, outspoken vegetarian, one of those Brooklyn “Jonathans”–  we can now add “literary sculptor.” This month he’s turned the paperback novel into an interactive sculpture which needs no battery power or wifi. Foer’s new book will *never* be able to fit on a Kindle or Nook and that’s kind of the point.

Published last week by Visual Editions, based in Britain, the book takes a pre-existing text — Bruno Shulz’s Street of Crocodiles, a 1934 short story collection translated from Polish — and transforms it into a surprising reading experience.

It’s like a shuffled deck of Swiss cheese slices: every single page has holes in different places. But the holes are blocky and rectangular. Trying to read an individual leaf won’t do you any good, a page needs to be resting on the stack so the words peeking through from beneath complete the narrative. Foer’s title for the new book is Tree of Codes (get it?).

The physical concept for Tree of Codes was so outlandish (and daunting) every printing company the publisher approached said that the book was “unmakeable.” But the Belgian printers Die Keure accepted the challenge, and went about crafting a unique die-cut for every page of the book.

A die-cut page from "Tree of Codes."

They even made a video showing how the elaborate printing process jammed their machinery.

With the design world abuzz about the book (thank you swiss-miss! ) it’s easy to let the ingenuity (um, gimmick?) make us forget it’s literature. We’re hoping to get our hands on a copy soon to see if the story’s any good.

– Michele Siegel

Jonathan Safran Foer has always had a thing for kooky sculpture. Back in 2006 he told Kurt Andersen about his love of the artist Joseph Cornell’s boxes.

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This just in: Two-time Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis will play Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming biopic.

No doubt the English actor will hit it out of the park… But our heart belongs to David Strathairn, who played Lincoln throughout our American Icons episode about The Lincoln Memorial. His stately performance of the Gettysburg Address (engraved on the Memorial) is a sober, powerful end to the hour.

You can listen to the entire program below – Strathairn’s reading starts at 44:35.

The new movie is based on the book Team of Rivals by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who was also part of our hour.

By the way, we found Stathairn such a compelling commander in chief, we recently asked him to play our 3rd president for this season’s Icon Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

– Jenny Lawton

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Broadway audiences were probably not familiar with the term “choreopoem” when “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf” arrived at the Booth Theatre 1976.  But Ntozake Shange’s dynamic and revealing series of poems (set to music and movement) was a giant hit, winning a Tony and a Drama Desk Award.  “All sorts of people who might never have set foot in a Broadway house—black nationalists, feminist separatists—came to experience Shange’s firebomb of a poem,” remembers Hilton Als, now the theater critic for The New Yorker.

The play went on to be adapted into a TV movie and interpreted in countless regional and amateur productions.  Now it’s a major motion picture, with direction and a screenplay by comedy mogul Tyler Perry.

This weekend, the 13th annual African American Women In Cinema Film Festival concludes with an event honoring Shange.  “for colored girls” launched a generation of spoken-word and performance artists – and Shange has proved prolific since then, publishing dozens of plays, poetry collections, and other books.  She’ll receive the African American Women In Cinema Pioneer Award.  The 1982 PBS version of the work, starring Shange, will be shown.  I’m particularly curious to hear Shange’s conversation with Felicia Lee of the New York Times: I hope to hear how Shange feels her choreopoem fared in the hands of a filmmaker perhaps most famous for wearing a fat suit and playing “the gun-toting, insult-hurling grandmother” Madea.

RELATED: Our colleague, WQXR host Terrance McKnight, recently talked with Ntozake Shange and vocalist M. Nahadr (who wrote a song for the new film) about whether “For Colored Girls” is still relevant for the modern African-American woman:

– Georgette Pierre

TITLE: The Steady Rise of “For Colored Girls”

Broadway audiences were probably not familiar with the term “choreopoem” when “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,” hit Broadway 1976.  But Ntozake Shange’s dynamic and revealing series of monologue poems (set to music and movement) was a giant hit, winning a Tony and a Drama Desk Award.  “All sorts of people who might never have set foot in a Broadway house—black nationalists, feminist separatists—came to experience Shange’s firebomb of a poem,” remembers Hilton Als, now the theater critic for The New Yorker.

The play went on to be adapted into a TV movie and countless regional and amateur productions.  Now the work has entered a new phase of life as a major motion picture, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, Janet Jackson (among many other greats), and produced by entertainment mogul Tyler Perry.

So it strikes me that this is a particularly fitting time to revisit the source of it all. This weekend, the 13th Annual African American Women In Cinema Film Festival concludes with an event honoring Shange.  “for colored girls” launched generation of spoken-word and performance artists – and Shange has proved prolific since then, publishing dozens of plays, poetry collections, and other books.  She’ll receive the African American Women In Cinema Pioneer Award – and the 1982 PBS version of the work, starring Shange, will be shown.

But the part of the event I’m most interested to see is the “Conversation with Ntozake” (moderated by Felicia Lee of the New York Times).  I hope she’ll share her thoughts of Perry’s adaptation of her work and whether a man can really tell a woman’s story.

Related: Our colleague, WQXR host Terrance McKnight, recently talked with Ntozake Shange and vocalist M. Nahadr (who wrote a song for the new film) about whether For Colored Girls is still relevant for the modern African-American woman.

– Georgette Pierre

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/notebook/2007/03/05/070305gonb_GOAT_notebook_als

http://www.forcoloredgirlsmovie.com/

http://aawic.org/Home_Page.html

http://culture.wnyc.org/articles/features/2010/nov/19/mcknight-interviews-ntozake-shange-and-m-nahadr-about-colored-girls/

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Last week on the show, we heard about Mark Twain’s new autobiography, released (at Twain’s expressed direction) a century after his death: “It has seemed to me that I could be as frank and free and unembarrassed as a love letter if I knew that what I was writing would be exposed to no eye until I was dead and unaware and indifferent.”  It’s kind of a doorstop.  Robert Hirst, one of the book’s editors, told Kurt that the volume — which is only one of three — is about as long as they can get it and still be able to bind the thing.

You can hear their whole conversation here:

If you don’t love Twain enough for 743 pages, here’s a treat.

Ward Sutton boils it down to just 19 frames – it’s Mark Twain, the graphic novel.  Sutton strips the book down to its essentials, retaining strong doses of Twain’s wry sense of humor, and injecting some of his own.

Sutton’s column “Drawn to Read” appears monthly in the Barnes & Noble Review. He covers a variety of books in a variety of styles: from a psychedelic take on Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice to The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh rendered in tongue-and-cheek brushstrokes.  If only all reviews could be as clear and colorful.

– Jenny Lawton

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