Simple Rocks

I watched a couple of things this week that were polar opposites and pretty interesting , juxtaposed against each other. First, I signed up to usher a bunch of performances at UMich. Every year, I look at the season, see about 20 things I’d love to get to – and then when it comes time to buy a ticket, I can never justify the expense or the energy. But I’m always glad when I get to see live music, dance, or theater, and so the usher gig is perfect: no expense, and a guaranteed good seat, and I can’t really bail and whine about not having energy because I’m obligated.

So this week, Mark Morris and his dancers were in town. They performed two separate suites of dances to Brahams waltzes, which were sung by a quartet and accompanied only by piano. Just the audio would have been worth it – and I was basically feeling like I did with the first show I ushered, glad I saw it but also glad I didn’t pay for it for a good part of the first suite. When I watch modern dance, I always feel similar to the way I do when I watch a movie in English but with a heavy dialect like Scottish or Cockney; it takes me about 20-30 minutes to get acclimated, stop trying to so hard to figure out what’s going on and just get absorbed. But one piece finally got the door open: 3 couples lay on the floor and rolled around on each other; the dance was almost entirely horizontal. This is what Bob Fosse wanted to do but could never realize without being tacky and a bit cringe-y. Morris made it all at once beautiful, erotic, filled with longing.

From there in, I was glad to be there. And…the third piece started, 4 movements of Lou Harrison for violin and piano. I love me some romantics, but nothing quite gets me going like 20th century classical (for lack of a better term). The music was gorgeous, heavily rhythmic, moving like a snake through the prelude as the dancers began perfectly still except for one hand each, all of which had their own pin spotlights and looked like flames The final movement was amazing, all unison in a circle, hard core athletic, perfectly synchronized and clearly rehearsed until the dancers had it hard coded into their bones. The piano chords sounded like they were played with a fist, the violin kept the piece fluid on top of the heavy percussion from the dancers feet and the pounded keys. I forgot everything but what was in front of me. Amazing. That’s why you go to these things.

The next day, I checked out the Coen Bros latest, Burn After Reading. Yes, Dargis was all shitty about it, but I like most of the cast and I just like to go to movies and there hasn’t been anything much out in a while.

The Coens deal a lot with the clusterfuck. Big Lebowski, which I just watched all the way through a week ago (the spouse adores it), is basically about everything possible going wrong and one poor schmuck in the middle trying to do the best he can despite all that. But that movie has Jeff Bridges being utterly likeable and empathetic at its heart. This movie doesn’t really give you anyone like that. The violence is realistic and nasty and performed against the only characters you can possibly get with, Brad Pitt (weirdly brilliant at playing a guy who’s only half stupid) and a really great character actor whose name I don’t know. George Clooney, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton all do exactly what they’re supposed to do and are all good, but the characters are such jerks you don’t care.

I tend to love antiheroes, depressing movies, and all shades of black comedy, but the movie left me luke-ish – not cold by any stretch, and wanting to warm to its weirdness, and not sorry I sorry I saw it, but in the end having to agree (argh!) with Ms. Dargis that it’s a pretty sadistic exercise. But that’s not so bad. These are ugly times, and mean-spirited expression is appropriate. A B- from the Coens is still a hell of a lot better than the shite the spouse picked up from HBO and Starz while convalescing on the couch over the weekend. (This may be the only use for all the thousands of shitty movies that have been made over the year, providing pap for the ill that takes their mind off the pain. Oh, yeah, and also all the money they make. Go figure.) Anyway, Burn actually hit #1 at the box office a couple of weeks in a row, which is sort of grimly satisfying. All those folks who think they’re in for Oceans 14 are getting their clocks cleaned a little, aren’t they?

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