Geoffrey O’Brien is Editor in Chief of the Library of America. His books include Sonata for Jukebox and Stolen Glimpses, Captive Shadows: Writing on Film, 2002–2012.
 (September 2017)

IN THE REVIEW

Five Magnificent Years

Otis Redding performing at the Monterey Pop Festival, June 1967

Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life

by Jonathan Gould
Jonathan Gould has written an absorbing and ambitious book about a life cut short, a life devoid of the melodrama and self-destruction that enliven the biographies of so many of Otis Redding’s contemporaries. He was far from an overnight success, but from the moment he began pushing toward a musical career—as far back as his formation, with some childhood friends, of a gospel quartet calling themselves the Junior Spiritual Crusaders—he moved only forward. He lived by his own precept: “If you want to be a singer, you’ve got to concentrate on it twenty-four hours a day. You can’t have anything else on your mind but the music business.”

Let’s Face the Music and Dance

Barry Jenkins, the director of Moonlight, accepting the Oscar for Best Picture with the film’s cast and crew, after La La Land was incorrectly announced as the winner, Los Angeles, February 2017

La La Land

a film written and directed by Damien Chazelle
The day I went to see Damien Chazelle’s La La Land I was blissfully uninformed of anything about the film except for the fact that it was a musical and that some early viewers had been well pleased by it. My mood was dark for reasons both personal and public—the …

Spielberg: The Inner Lives of a Genius

Steven Spielberg and Henry Thomas on the set of E.T., 1982

Steven Spielberg: A Life in Films

by Molly Haskell
From a certain angle one can see Spielberg as one of those archetypal children of the mythic suburbs, cheery on the outside and nervewracked on the inside, a myth on which his own films have worked variations time and again.

The Genius of James Brown

James Brown at the Olympia music hall, Paris, September 1969

Kill ’Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul

by James McBride
There are as many James Browns as people to talk about him: “Brown was crazy. Brown was a genius. Brown was a woman basher. Brown was abused by gold-digging women. Brown was cheap. Brown would give away his last dime.” Multiple versions exist of almost every episode of James Brown’s life, and some of the contradictions can be traced back to the man himself.

NYR DAILY

Shakespeare’s Pornography of Power

Thomas Jay Ryan as Angelo and Cara Ricketts as Isabella in Simon Godwin’s production of Measure for Measure at Theatre for a New Audience, 2017

Measure for Measure invites updating, but it’s in the nature of the work that whatever contemporary analogies are invoked cannot quite make sense of what happens. The play is a perpetual questioning machine, exquisitely functional, set to a relentless tempo, yet a machine that bristles and crackles in its joints with contradiction and discomfort.

The Magician of Delight

May McAvoy as Lady Windermere and Ronald Colman as Lord Darlington in Ernst Lubitsch's silent film adaption of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, 1925

The Ernst Lubitsch retrospective about to unfold at Film Forum will offer a most welcome occasion to gauge the dimensions of the world he celebrated, and sample Lubitsch’s very particular pleasures. He offers a parallel domain of buoyant elegance, a theater of free-floating desire and inextinguishable humor ingeniously stitched together out of the fabric of Austrian operettas and French farces and the plot devices of a hundred forgotten Hungarian plays, flavored by delicate irony and risqué innuendo, where sex is everywhere but just out of sight.

O’Neill’s Strange Vaudeville

Obi Alibi as Brutus Jones in Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones, directed by Ciarán O’Reilly at the Irish Repertory Theatre, New York City, 2017

Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones and The Hairy Ape are not autobiographical plays, but they are pure and altogether personal distillations of the destructive and disorderly forces that hovered around O’Neill’s life early and late. As it happens, both works are currently being performed in New York, in vigorous productions that demonstrate how much disruptive energy these two familiar, and in many ways complementary, plays are still capable of stirring up.

Next Stop, Valhalla

Gerald Finley in the title role of Rossini's Guillaume Tell, 2016

Rossini’s Guillaume Tell—now being staged at the Metropolitan Opera for the first time since 1931, and for the first time ever there in its original French—is as powerful a piece of operatic machinery as Parisian opera had to offer in 1829. The opera is stirring in the most deliberate and efficient way, unified in theme, unambiguous in its narrative. It feels like a monolith, yet is never monotonous. The simplicity of the dramatic arc only emphasizes Rossini’s untiring search for one further variant or extension, one additional unlooked-for flourish.

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