Thursday, April 9, 2015

Favorite Films: Contributor Update

Huge congratulations to Amy Williams on being named a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow in Music Composition. You can read about the inspiration for Amy's Cinescape pieces, and find links to recordings of Amy's music and performances here,

Ellen Wade Beals, "A Delectable Madness," continues to delight with her own writings and photographs on her blog, Solace in a Book.  We all seem to need solace these days, and you can always find it in abundance on Ellen's site.

"A Classic Scare" author, Victoria Johnson created Purple Passion Press in 2014, and their first anthology, (After)life:  Poems and Stories of the Dead, will be available for pre-order soon! The anthology features the work of numerous award-winning writers, including Favorite Films contributor, Joan Corwin ("Hindsight"), and Music and Prose contributor, Kathleen Lombardo ("Gesualdo Describes Afterlife"). While you're waiting to read this amazing collection of stories and poems, I hope you'll take another look at Joan's meditation on the film, Grand Illusion"Renoir and Paradox," and reacquaint yourself with Kathleen's love poems in "A Poetic Shift."

I'll be back with more in the not-too-distant future....

Monday, February 9, 2015

Music and Prose: Making Much out of Little

There's a moment in the fourth movement of Brahms's piano quintet in F minor where, if one is listening closely, they will be able to hear fragments of the first movement's opening theme.  If one has never heard the piece before, they might think, "Oh, that sounds familiar," and let it go. But as the movement progresses, and the fragments reappear, they might think, "Yes, I've definitely heard that before," and want, at some time, to listen to the whole piece again to confirm their belief.

On a second, or third, or fourth hearing, they might begin to hear similarities between the themes in each movement, and realize that the entire quintet is built on a very small amount of material.

And so, I've been a bit obsessed lately, spending most of my time at my other keyboard, the wooden beast in my living room, sweating over the two piano version of the Brahms quintet.

I can't help but marvel at the economy and emotional impact of this piece. It is spare yet lush, controlled yet heart-rending. Its adherence to classical ideals—repetition, development, and permutation of motifs over extended periods—foreshadows the reactionary minimalism of modern times, but it never stalls; it moves and breathes with the force of living art.

The first movement of Opus 34B, for two pianos, is below. As you listen, think of the fiction you've loved. Are there motifs throughout it? Ideas that recur in one form or another that make the writing cohesive? Imagery patterns that emerge, either obviously or subtly?

The techniques are not that different....

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Review: Premiere by Tracy Ewens

Premiere by Tracy Ewens

Genre: Fiction

Sub-Genre: Romance

“‘Do you ever they stop the movie before you see the complications of the romance?’” This question, posed late in Tracy Ewens’s new novel, Premiere, by the book’s heroine, Samantha Cathner, serves as a knowing wink to both the title, and its theatrical focus—an unfinished play written by the throb in Cathner’s broken heart,  Peter Everoad.  Like all good romances, Premiere begins by challenging Samantha’s certainty that she has gotten over Peter by thrusting him back into her life with his return to their home town of Pasadena to supervise the production of his new play. Once she sees him, she finds the old attraction rekindled, and all her old hurts and doubts about him resurfacing, especially when he decides to pursue her.  It is the kind of situation one finds in many of the classic film romances Cathner adores. Yet despite the similarity, Premiere is a modern love story, the kind that does give readers a look at the “complications of...romance.” Samantha and Peter flirt, dance around each other, come together, and pull apart.  And as they do, they try not to lose themselves. Ewens has pulled off a delightful feat in Premiere, a work which has more in common with Richard Linklater’s Before… film trilogy, than An Affair to Remember. She has created characters as witty, childish, irritating, and engaging as any two people who are deeply in love and trying to navigate through the challenges in their relationship. The fact that she accomplishes this within a dramatic framework makes every minute spent with them all the more enjoyable. Don't miss this chance to fall in love.

Buy Premiere

Monday, October 27, 2014

Alternative Chills

Halloween is coming. And with its approach, have come the abundance of lists with recommended reads. While I am a fan of many of the books appearing on those lists—The Haunting of Hill House, Turn of the Screw, Ghost Story, The Shining—I thought I'd offer a few alternatives....

The Portrait of Jennie (Robert Nathan) — While the film version of this novella about a struggling artist who finds his muse in a rapidly aging girl is lovely, melancholy, and romantic, it does not convey the foreboding of time out of joint that Nathan's writing does.  Ray Bradbury said it best, "It touched and frightened me when I was twenty-four. Now, once more, it touches and frightens."

The House Next Door (Anne Rivers Siddons) — One of the best evil house books I've ever read. This one packs a wallop as a new home claims owner after owner while the neighbors who witness their fates are brought to the brink of madness.  Read it for the horror, and come back to it for its deliciously biting sub-text.

The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters) — A doctor is called to treat a young maid in the decaying English estate where he lived as a child. Gradually, he comes to suspect a malevolent spirit of invading the structure and targeting its inhabitants. With obvious nods to Poe ("The Fall of the House of Usher") and James (The Turn of the Screw), this post WWII tale will keep you riveted.  One note: much has been said and debated over the "importance" of a likable protagonist in fiction.  Waters's main character, Dr. Faraday, is neither immediately nor consistently likable.  But, as a product of his upbringing, time, setting, situation, and flaws, he is, at all times, fascinating.

The Other (Tom Tryon) — Brilliant psychological horror about identical twins (you know I have a fondness for twin stories), with one exerting an increasingly dark and dangerous influence on the other.  Oh, my...this one was the cause of many sleepless nights, during the read and after. You may want to save it for the daylight hours....

Mickelsson's Ghosts (John Gardner) — A dense and multi-layered tale about an alchoholic philosophy professor who buys a house with a history. Fair warning: if you're looking for a fast read, skip this.  But if you want a novel you can dig into, Gardner's book will reward you with intricate and complex characterizations, a wealth of images and symbols, significant allusions to Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra (you may want to read or re-read Zarathustra after you finish), local myths, and, yes, ghosts, too.   As close to a masterpiece as any book can come.

Happy Halloween.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Guest Post: Jerry Lewis by Sherri Rabinowitz

For those of us who grew up in the '50's and '60's, Labor Day will forever be associated with Jerry Lewis and the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.

Today's guest, Sherri Rabinowitz, offers a loving and nostalgic post about her memories of the man, his telethon, and his work.

So, in honor of the approaching holiday, It's my pleasure to offer: 
Jerry Lewis: He is part of the fabric of my life…
by Sherri Rabinowitz
Jerry Lewis has always been rather special to me. When I was a child,  I remember seeing him in Cinderfella. I loved that movie. We also saw the telethon in my home every year. I would watch it Sunday night 'til my folks made me go to bed, then wake up early on Labor Day to see what was happening and if he made his goal that year.

I had gotten up really early one Labor Day morning when I was about 8 years old and called the telethon, I told the lady I wanted to give my whole savings, which was five dollars. I was really proud of myself. The lady on the phone could tell I was a child so she asked me to get my Mommy.

So I jumped on my parents bed and said I had Jerry Lewis on the phone. My two sleepy parents looked at me like I was crazy. My Dad said, “Jerry Lewis is on the phone?” “Well one of his ladies.” I answered.

My folks just stared at me, but my Dad picked up the phone by his bed and said very carefully, “Hello?” The lady, who was working the telethon explained what happened. My dad’s big blue eyes got watery, he called me over with his hand. I crawled over and was pulled into a one-armed hug. He said, “Yes, put down her donation and add a $20.00 donation from our family.” He explained to my Mom that I had donated all my money and she hugged me too. I felt very special.

My next Jerry encounter was several years later. I always watched the telethon, including when Frank Sinatra brought Jerry and Dean Martin back together. My Mom was so excited because she had watched them live when they were together. Back in the day, when my Mom was a teenager, they used to have a show with the stars of a movie before the movie. You could spend all day in the theater, watching it over and over again with a picnic lunch and snacks.

Apparently my Mom and her friend with their picnic lunches grabbed the stars' attention. Jerry called out to them asking for part of their lunch. They became a part of my Mom’s memory forever so she was excited when my brother was a part of a bowl-a-thon for Muscular Dystrophy and the Man himself was going to be here.

I was about 15 years old, and stood watching my brother bowl with my family.  After the first line was over for the bowlers, Jerry took a mike and did one of his amazing comedy routines. We all laughed and applauded then I went to the ladies room. When I came out I saw the poster child.  I love kids so I chatted with her about her school, and Jerry. Suddenly someone was tickling my ribs. Thinking it was my Dad,  I was going to slap him on the arm. But about half way around I realized it was Jerry.

He had a huge smile and said, “Didn’t mean to scare you.” I explained I thought he was my Dad, because my Dad used to tickle me like that. He nodded and then asked me about school, and my brother’s bowling. We also talked to the little girl. It was a really great five minutes. I never forgot it.

I have now seen every movie he made, and really have supported his cause all my life. So it was with great sadness when he left the Labor Day telethon forever. It broke my heart.
 I was excited to watch him on PBS this weekend though in his special, “An Evening With Jerry Lewis; Live from Las Vegas.” Jerry is now 87 years old so I was very curious about him headlining a show at his age. Well, I was very pleasantly surprised. He still has it! He is still current and funny. No curse words or shock comedy. He was just purely funny, just as I remembered him. He remembered his life with pictures, films and routines. There were surprise guests and it was really amazing. If you get a chance to watch it on PBS, I recommend it. I also recommend watching his old movies, yes even the ones in black and white because The Errand Boy is a true classic.

He is a special man, who brings special memories. Cheers Jerry.
About Sherri:
Sherri has been writing since she was a small child. She was inspired by Ray Bradbury and Agatha Christie. She had always loved writing but has had to make a living in a varied number of ways. She worked as an actress, a travel agent and in several forms of customer service. Her passion though has always been writing. She loves and enjoys both reading and writing fan fiction. Fantasy Time Inc. was nominated for The Global eBook Award!
Visit Sherri's blog

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Book Review: The Whales Know: A Journey Through Mexican California

Title: The Whales Know: A Journey Through Mexican California

Author: Pino Caccuci

Translator: Katherine Gregor

Publisher:  Armchair Traveller at the Bookhaus

Genre: Non-fiction

During a period described as “the the history of relations between our species and Mother Nature,” Italian author Pino Cacucci embarks on a journey through the Baja Peninsula to visit areas which serve as sanctuaries for gray whales. The narrative which unfolds in this compact book is rich with description of towns visited and roads traveled, as well as tales handed down through generations, Mexican and American history, and, of course, details of the author’s experiences with the subjects of his search. The effect these graceful and gentle whales have on him is a profound one, inspiring justifiable anger at a long and shameful whaling history, which, sadly, continues in many parts of the world, along with a deep respect and admiration for all cetaceans. English-speaking readers owe a debt of gratitude to Katherine Gregor for translating Caccuci’s text so beautifully, and to the publisher of this translation. In an era where so many texts have been reduced to pixels, The Whales Know, with its hard, fabric-bound cover, simple, elegant graphics, lack of blurbs and advertising, substantial paper, and satin-ribboned placeholder, is as lovely to touch as it is to read. More than just an “Armchair Traveller,” it is a perfect gift for yourself and the nature-lovers in your life.

Buy The Whales Know

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Music and Prose: Holding Back


It's been on my mind lately—what I've thought but haven't said, what I've written and removed.

And I've thought about the lack of it—when I've said too much, or clung, shamefully, to too many words.

I've always been lured by understatement, suggestion, what is left unsaid.  And I've been spellbound by the tense spaces between notes and words, phrases and action.

Listen to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's and Christa Ludwig's exquisitely controlled performances of Mozart's "Porgi Amor" from Marriage of Figaro, and Brahms's "Sapphische Ode".  Both artists exercise tremendous restraint, rein in their instruments to highlight the music's subtlety and spare, quiet beauty.  They understand that when they hold back, the audience listens...

...and sometimes, they forget to breathe....

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