Geoffrey O’Brien is Editor in Chief of the Library of America. He is the author of The Phantom Empire and Stolen Glimpses, Captive Shadows: Writing on Film, 2002–2012, among other books. (February 2017)
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.
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.
an opera by Richard Strauss, directed by Patrice Chéreau, with Vincent Huguet
There is no music as the curtain goes up on the Met’s new production of Richard Strauss’s Elektra—the last testament of director Patrice Chéreau, who died in October 2013, not long after this production’s premiere in Aix-en-Provence. The silence continues for what seems like a long time as we take …
Darryl Pinckney’s Black Deutschland begins and ends with a book, a book its protagonist Jed Goodfinch tells us from the start was “the wrong book”: Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories, whose vision of gay life in Weimar Berlin has imparted to this young black man “the daydream of being the rootless stranger in Berlin who seduced tough German boys.”
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.
Julie Taymor declared recently that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is “unfilmable.” The remark was intended not to disparage her own just-released movie version of the play, but to define what it is: a record of a stage production. Cinematic art direction and special effects, however cunning, cannot adequately substitute for the very different kind of magic that actors can create out of the tension of being live on stage.
Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh needs its pauses and its slowdowns and even its moments when the whole play feels like an enormously heavy contraption that has slipped off its base and is about to come crashing down. It needs the nearly five hours of stage time that it takes up in Robert Falls’s exemplary production, now playing at BAM’s Harvey Theater.
To say that Paul Thomas Anderson has faithfully and successfully adapted Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice to the screen is another way of saying that he has changed it into something entirely different. The words in Anderson’s film are mostly Pynchon’s; the plot elements too, however freely they have been culled and transposed; the free-associative multiplicity and ricocheting mood changes are carried over with a miraculous lightness of touch.
Noah Isenberg discusses his new book, Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins, with critic Geoffrey O’Brien. Despite the success of films like Detour (1945), Ulmer spent most of his career as an itinerant, overlooked filmmaker.