Sir James MacMillan conducts his own works, as well as Elgar and Vaughn Williams at Kennedy Center


Name: The Sacrifice” (interludes); “Miserere“; also a cello concerto and Symphony 4
Author: MacMillan, Elgar, Vaugn Williams
Released: 2006, 1919, 1034
Format: concert
When and how viewed: Kennedy Center, 2016/5/12

On Thursday, May 12, 2016, the Kennedy Center offered a concert by Scottish conductor Sir James MacMillan.

The program opened with Three Interludes from his 2006 opera “The Sacrifice”, to a libretto by Michael Simmons Roberts based on a Welsh myth (maybe epic poetry) called Mabinogion.  Probably English departments know this stuff.  Following a Romeo and Juliet like plot, lovers Sian and Evan must part and accept arranged marriages in a heavily tribal world.  Conflict leads to tragedy, in a somewhat complicated plot.  My own father used to say, “To obey is better than to sacrifice”, and maybe this opera proves the point.  Does the movie 1973 “The Wicker Man” come to mind?

The three interludes follow the example of Britten (“Peter Grimes”) with a passacaglia for the second movement. The outer movements are called “The Parting” (of the lovers) and “The Investiture” ( a ceremony that confers rank, maybe related to the historical “Investiture Controversy” of the Church in European history). The music is more dissonant than Britten, although similar in spirit.  The ending of the last piece is violent.

The second work was the Cello Concerto in E Minor of Sir Edward Elgar, Op. 95 (1919), with cellist Alban Gerhardt. The work is in four continuous movements, starting with a Moderato stating a unifying theme. The scherzo may be the most familiar part.  There is a brief Adagio, and the finale tends to wind down before a brisk ending in a minor key. At one point, it seems to quote the Schumann Cello Concerto in A Minor.

The main course, after the intermission (and reason I attended) was the Symphony #4 in F Minor by Ralph Vaughn Williams (1934).  The work is notorious for a case of Vaughn Williams “being mean”.  The four note motive suggests Shostakovich, maybe, and also Scriabin in using the minor ninth and half-step dissonances – but in this work the orchestral color will enable the composer to bring the dissonance into balance with his normally pastoral style.  There are four short movements, totally 30 minutes, the last two connected, working up to a violent fugue on the 4-note motive, and ending abruptly on one loud minor chord. It’s interesting that Scriabin’s “Black Mass” piano sonata is based on some of the same harmonics, and is centered on the same tonality (F).

There was a post-program.  I was taking notes on my cell phone because the printed supplement had not been included with my copy of the Playbill.  There was a panel discussion, with MacMillian and Gerhardt, and a “choral postlude” with the University of Maryland Concert Choir.  The group sung four a cappella works by MacMillan.  These were Two Strathclyde Motets: “Factus Est Repente” (“Suddenly a Sound Came”), for Pentecost, and “O Radiant Dawn”, for Christmas.  There followed a complete mass “Miserere” (or “Missa Verde” or “Green Mass”), 15 minutes, with a little more dissonance than in the motets.  Then there was the song “The Gallant Weaver”, which would remind us of “Silas Marner” from high school English literature (but based on a poem by Robert Burns).

In the QA, the cellist said he plays with earplugs, because the sound from the other players is very loud.


There was a pre-show on the Millennium Stage, where the Washington National Opera presented the “Ring” singers in a concert with piano.  One of the arias was from Rossini’s “Italian in Algiers” with humorous lyrics about women taming men, and even whether women prefer “smooth” men (“thmooth”) to hunks or brutes (“hairy”).  Later there was some Sondheim, as well as Offenbach, Puccini, Leoncavallo, Verdi.

(Published: Thursday night May 12, 2016, 12:45 AM after midnight EDT (Friday)).

“Sitka: A Piano Documentary” shows the rebuilding of a Steinway by master craftsmen



Name: “Sitka: A Piano Documentary”
Director, writer:  H . Paul Moon
Released:  2010
Format:  Vimeo
When and how viewed:  Vimeo
Companies: Zen Violence
Link: link

The movers (rather burly, like out of Wagner’s Ring) take the piano to a workshop lab in Gaithersburg, MD, where they rebuild and replace the wood sound board and pin blocks.  The company involved is called Pianocraft.The Phillips Collection offers a 30-minute documentary “Sitka: A Piano Documentary”, directed by H. Paul Moon, showing the labor required to rebuild the Steinway Concert D 542016 piano used in the Music Room.

Then French pianist Olivier Cave tries it out.

During the film, music by Scarlatti and from a Piano Sonata in D by Haydn is played.

The technicians are, among other things, master carpenters.  This is indeed a “trade”.  The value of “trade” work gets mentioned in the next-to-last story in my own “Do Ask Do Tell III” book, the story called “Expedition”.


As a supplementary short film, watch “What If Money Did Not Exist?” (Jared Lee, 2014, Malaysia, 7 min, Grim Film).  There are plenty of proletarian values as the lives of an auto mechanic and a doctor are traced.  In the end, the mechanic does the work for nothing but “gratitude” and gets his girl.  The premise sounds fir game for science fiction, for a scenario about an alien abduction and fitting in to another civilization.

(Published: Thursday, May 12, 2016, 12:34 PM EDT)

Below: Me at the piano, age 10


“Das Rheingold”: a mammoth “prequel” to Wagner’s Ring Cycle, at Kennedy Center; is Wotan a proxy for Donald Trump?



Name: Das Rheingold” from “Der Ring des Nibelingen”
Author: Richard Wagner
Released: 1869
Format: stage opera
When and how viewed: 2016/5/10, Kennedy Center in Washington DC

As I picked up a will-call ticket for Richard Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” (or “The Rhinegold”) at the Kennedy Center later Tuesday afternoon, I said that this was like an airline ticket.  The host said, “no, more expensive than an airline trip”.  Indeed, $334, including “convenience fees”, for an orchestra seat on the right side, totally sold out.

I then went to the 5:15 lecture on the Millennium Stage by a member of the San Francisco opera (don’t have the name).  The presentation showed the musical excerpts, which are often based on simple triadic intervals with their mathematical relationships.  The rising and descending triads, in various keys (starting in E-flat) would become a leitmotif for the opera.  The lecture also notes that Wagner wrote his own librettos, and that he worked backwards as he composed.  The Ring cycle would introduce the idea of the darkened audience hall.

The opera is, of course, the “prequel” for the entire Ring cycle, “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (“The Ring of the Nibelung”).  It is the shortest of the operas, in one continuous act and four scenes, running 2-1/2 hours.  The performance offered no intermissions and no late or return seating. (The other three operas all have two intermissions).  It started at 7:30;  a 7 PM start would sound in order, but then, the café upstairs was so crowded after the lecture.

The plot of the entire cycle seems to anticipate Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”, including the New Line film franchise directed by Peter Jackson.  Is Siegfried more or less comparable to Frodo?  Maybe, but Frodo lives on, even after screaming “The Ring is mine” near the end of the third film, over a volcano pit.

I could even mention one more allusion, which is Clive Barker’s “Imajica”, which may become a sci-fi series soon.  There is a connection here even to the concept of Wagner’s cycle. But let’s get back to the opera.

The first scene starts with the famous “drone” prelude based on E-flat major triads depicting the Rhine River in Germany (or in a parallel world). The content seems simple at first, as river maidens tease the dwarf Alberich (Gordon Hawkins) about his (sexual) unattractiveness and oafishness. We could moralize on this right away.


The rest of the opera happens in Wotan’s (Alan Held) castle and in the gold mines.  It seems that gods have business contracts just like humans, and that hit men or debt collectors will come by if they don’t pay.  So there is human collateral from kidnapping and a near live burial (Freia, Melody Moore).  There is the hope to mine some more gold (read, bitcoins) to challenge Alberich, holding the ring that can rule the world or the universe.


Toward the end, Wotan realizes if he gives up the ring, he can make his enemies fight over it – a concept known not just to Tolkien and Clive Barker, but also to Donald Trump.  Given the current state of US presidential election politics, the airing of the opera cycle in Washington this year seems particularly appropriate and prescient. Maybe Donald Trump will attend.

The “giants” (I thought, the New York Giants beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl a couple years back) are interesting; their artificial hooks for hands suggest disfigurement.  But when I see a familiar face (from the Blade) of someone almost 80 inches tall (and fit) reading a college philosophy text on the DC Metro (before recent fiascos) I’m intrigued.  Or likewise by another similar person outside a concert in NYC Lincoln Center of the Bruckner Eighth some months back.

The background scenery, while often shown alpine views, gets interesting, sometimes looking like an alien planet surface, in one place with appearance colorful hurricanes.  Is this Titan?

The conductor was Philippe Auguin.

The opera ends with a triumphant coda based on the triad theme.  By contrast, “Twilight of the Gods” (with the sunrise following Armageddon) ends with a sweet theme that finally concludes on one huge D-flat Major chord that swells and subsides.  That same theme would get reworked in Scriabin’s “Divine Poem” which turns the desolation into final triumph.

It’s only fair to say that some people consider the concepts behind the Ring to be anti-Semitic.


The video above from YouTube shows a performance by Rattle at Baden Baden.

Wikipedia attribution link for photo of Markgafliches Opera House in Bayreuth, Germany, by Avda, under CCSA 3.0.

(Published: Wednesday, May 11, 2016, at 1 PM EDT)

“Untouchable” documents a socially unmentionable issue



Name: Untouchable
Director, writer:  David Feige, Jary Arthur Sterrenberg
Released:  2016
Format:  movie, 1.85:1, 106 minutes
When and how viewed:  In MICA theater, at Maryland Film Festival in Baltimore, 2016/5/7, nearly sold out
Companies: Racing Horse, Blue Lawn, Meerkat Media
Link: Official site  (includes Vimeo trailer)

Untouchable” documents a nearly unmentionable subject, the misapplication of sex offender laws and registries.

The film traces the lives of several registrants.  One man is forced to move out of his own Miami home when distance-laws are tightened and gets assigned a tent shelter underneath an outdoor bridge (albeit in a warm climate), banished into homelessness.  When he is late returning from curfew because his bus from work is late, he is thrown back into prison on a “technical violation” of probation. A woman in Oklahoma is severely restricted for the rest of her life for sleeping with a 15 year old boy when a teen herself. Another man, also in Oklahoma, actually disordered with pedophilia since boyhood, lives in a trailer and describes his treatment.


The film documents the public hysteria, fueled by demonstrations (and sometimes counter demonstrations) in Florida, spurned by the activism of local attorney and legislator Ron Book, whose daughter Lauren was abused as a child.  Toward the end, Ron and Lauren have a big booksigning party event in New York for Lauren’s book “Lauren’s Kingdom” as well as the earlier “It’s OK to Tell: A Story of Hope and Recovery”.


The film does mention the excesses in the use of these laws, as for cell phone sexting (as in the documentary “Addicted to Sexting” (2015) by Joseph Tosconi), and for teens close in age (when there are no applicable “Romeo and Juliet’ laws in a particular state), as with a recent case in Michigan where a 17 year old was convicted and forced to register when a 14 year old girl lied about her age online, and that was no excuse (link ) ; the sentences has since been reduced and registry removed, according to more recent news reports, such as this one from Elkart, IN).

The film doesn’t cover some critical areas, like the spate of cases surrounding chat rooms covered by NBC’s TV series “To Catch a Predator” with Chris Hansen, along with his book. It also doesn’t cover the possibility of child pornography possession prosecutions for owners of computers or sites deliberately infected by malware inserted by other criminals or possibly enemies.  These cases haven’t happened often yet, but could become dangerous in the future.  There was some media attention to this grim possibility in 2013  and one horrible case in Arizona as far back as 2006.

The film was followed by a brisk with the director David Feige, co-producer Adam Pogoff and one other filmmaker.

The film won the Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award at Tribeca in 2016.  Feige is the former Trial Chief of The Bronx Defenders and a former public defender himself.

On the whole subject matter, Reason has 2011 a piece by Jacob Sullum “Perverted Justice: sex offender laws represent the triumph of outrage over reason” (which Ron Book certainly shows in the film).  In fact, “Perverted Justice” or “Peej” was the name of the civilian “vigilante” group that helped NBC set up the stings on “To Catch a Predator”.  And Slate refers to this article in its own 2011 piece by Emily Yoffe, “Reform ‘child porn’ laws”.  In a real world, few state-level politicians can afford “reason” when faced with real parents.

Q and A clips (each < 1 min)

Clip 1

Clip 2

Clip 3

Clip 4  In this clip, Feige describes Ron Book’s attitude, that someone who didn’t have kids doesn’t understand and has no say in pleas for “rationality” in the use of the law.  Being a parent calls for outrage, I guess.

Clip 5  In this clip, Feige describes the difficulty of funding the film, for which most support came from one donor;  most people didn’t want to touch this subject matter.

This is a good place to mention the film “L.I.E.” (“Long Island Expressway”), 2001, by Michael Cuesta.  I saw this film at the Lagoon Theater in Minneapolis on 9/11/2001, and met the director at a bar afterward as he was stranded by 9/11.  The film tells the story of a somewhat naive pedophile played by Brian Cox.  Subsequent editing before the DVD came out removed the shots of the WTC in the distance.  The film was actually used in a screenwriting class in Arlington VA in 2004.

Pictures:  Tampa, FL, mine, 2015;  Arbuckle Mountains, OK, mine, 2011.

(Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2016, at 10:30 PM EDT)

Phillips Collection offers unusual concert that involves walking through museum as music plays in different rooms (Ciupinksi, Cerrone, Matthusen)



Name: Brownstone“, “Memory Place“, “Between the Smell of Dust and Moonlight“:
Director, writer:   Jakob Ciupinski, Christopher Cerrone, Paula Matthusen; Metropolis Ensemble directed by Andrew Cyr
Released:  2014 through 2016
Format: live music concert, unusual museum walthrough experience simultaneous with music
When and how viewed:  Phillips Collection, 2016/5/8
Companies: NA
Link: M.E.

The Phillips Collection in Washington DC (near Dupont Circle) offered a penultimate concert event for its 75th season Sunday afternoon, May 8 (Mother’s Day), a concert from the visiting Metropolis Ensemble (say, this is “New York Mets at Washington”, with the Mets winning) in which, for two of the three compositions, the musicians played semi-solo in various rooms in the museum easily accessed by patrons from the Music Room. On the way to the rooms, patrons could pass a painting of old Griffith Stadium with the old Washington Senators hosting the New York Yankees in 1953, when Mickey Mantle hit his record shattering home run.


In fact, when we were seated, most of the places were seat cushions.  All of the “seats” were reserved, but as an elder, I was seated near a corner.  The various percussion groups, which included wood slats and burned beer bottles, were laid out around the room.  Photography seemed to be permitted (no flash, please, as oil paintings abound).

The first piece was “Brownstone” (2010, 15 minutes) by Jakob Ciupinski (b. 1981  ), composed to simulated the lifestyle of a Brooklyn Heights (or maybe regentrified “Bed-Stuy”)  brownstone townhome. The music tended to comprise little descending fragments, especially in strings and harp and maybe xylophone, that accumulated into a theme that somewhat suggested the opening toccata of my own third Sonata (unpublished but discussed openly online), a curious experience for me.  There were little chamber snippets that vaguely suggested a motif from the finale of Mahler’s Fifth.  It finally accumulated into a climax before we went back downstairs. The woman next to me said that the piece suggested John Cage to her.

The piece was commisioned by the Metropolis Ensemble.

The second composition was performed in the music room and seemed to be the most substantial and organized of the three.  That piece was “Memory Place” (2012), by Christopher Cerrone (b. 1984), winner of a Samuel Barber Rome Prize and a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer.  The percussion groups, arranged around the room, included wooden slats (sawed precisely in something like my own father’s old workshop), glockenspiel and a restrung guitar, and various electronic gear.  The 22-minute piece has five movements, each evocative of a major public issue or perhaps of a movie, as well as a place.  The first is “Harriman” (a mountain park north of NYC – the piece opens with bird chirping sounds, almost evocative of David Lynch and “Blue Velvet”); then follows “Power Lines” (that is to say, Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out” or the fusion work of Taylor Wilson), then “Foxhurst” (to recall the “Foxchase” movies and Du Pont tragedy, maybe), then “L.I.E.” (a notorious film set around the Long Island Expressway that I’ll cover again soon) and “Claremont”.  For me, that’s the name of a street in Montclair, NJ where I worked for Univac back in 1972, and somehow the title (and music) brings to mind the hand-held horror film “Cloverfield” (2009).

This piece was commissioned by the American Composers Forum.

Cerrone’s other recent work needs noting here.  One is the opera “Invisible Cities” which has an unusual way of being staged (like in the Los Angeles Union Station). Another is “The Pieces that Fall to Earth”, which would remind me of Nicholas Roeg’s sci-fi film “The Man Who Fell to Earth” (1976), with David Bowie as the gentle alien and business entrepreneur.  Another piece that says something socially important is “I Will Learn to Love a Person” (2015), video below.

The last piece was “between the smell of dust and moonlight” (2016, caps off, deliberately, about 25 minutes), by Paula Matthusen (b. 1978), a world premiere, commissioned by Phillips. The violinists started playing in the Music Room, and I couldn’t be sure that Cerrone’s piece had ended (except for musical context). Then we did another tour of even more rooms. The overall compositional ambience to my ear sounded like Jakob’s and was not as distinguished to my ear as Cerrone’s – but I may be biased, having become familiar with Cerrone’s work in the past so my ear is already trained for him. Matthusen added some other percussive devices, to recall our use of older technology, such as 78-rpm vinyl records. The title of the piece reminds me of Reid Ewing’s song for “Modern Family”, “In the Moonlight (Do Me)”, but then that refers back to Beethoven’s famous Piano Sonata #14 in c# Minor, “Moonlight”.


The performers include director Andrew Cyr, Kristin Lee (concertmaster, violin), Ian Rosenbaum (solo percussion), Siwoo Kim (violin), Karen Kim (violin), Michael Katz (cello), Jessica Han (flute), James Riggs (oboe), Brad Balliett (bassoon), Britton Matthews (percussion), Sean Statser (percussion), Jacqui Kerrod (harp).  The group has performed on Jimmy Fallon in NYC before.  If it gets another chance, maybe I should try to go.

Does this compositional style exemplify “Gebrauchsmusik”  a term associated with German composer Paul Hindemith?  Today young composers get commissions to write music that seems clever and depictive (like program music) or modern life and even modern social or policy issues (like, here, the power grid, for one thing). But a lot of times it is less “expressive” emotionally, and less “thematic” than the classical music I grew up with and compose myself.

The whole experience reminds me of the 2002 film “Russian Ark” by Alexsandr Sokurov.

I first visited the Phillips Collection for a couple piano concerts (Chopin and the like) in the fall of 1962, when I was a “patient” at N.I.H. in Bethesda, MD, and going too GWU, a narrative I cover in detail elsewhere.

(Published: Monday, May 9, 2016 at 12 Noon EDT)



Salero: a stunning journey to the salt flats and industry in the Bolivian Andes


Name: Salero
Director, writer:  Mike Plunkett
Released:  2016
Format:  M (1.85:1)
When and how viewed:  At Maryland Film Festival, Baltimore, 2016/5/7, at Single Carrot Theater, show sold out
Companies: Cinereach
Link: Site

The word “Salero” literally means “salt shaker”. The documentary by Mike Plunkett, in 76 minutes, gives us a visit to what looks like the surface of an alien planet.  That is, the salt plains among the Andes (part of the “Alteplano”) at 12000 feet in Bolivia.  The famous Lake Titicaca is a few hundred miles away.

The film traces the changes in life there through the eyes of Moises Chmabi Yucra and his family. Moises has worked the salt flats his entire life.  Salt, as an industry, is left over from the colonial Spaniards. But the discovery of lithium ore underneath the salt (and apparently in nearby mountains) will change everything.  This will be Bolivia’s own industry, making it a “Persian Gulf” for the whole worldwide tech industry for a few hundred years.  It will also affect how Moises earns a living (now his work has more to do with constructing new hotels and homes) in Uyuho or toward Cochabama), as well as his daughter’s future.  She will get to go to college and work in tech.


This film would have been a good candidate for Imax 3-D.  There are many shots of the plains, with the salt almost as white as snow, but chunkier and more textured.  The mountains are distant. In some shots, irrigation water (as land use changes to farming) mixes in to produce a surreal effect, truly alien in look.


The director said that the film crew had to wait out protestors to get to the filming site in one case.

Wikipedia attribution link for Travel and Stuff, under CCSA 2.0.  typical salt picture.

There was a QA at the Maryland Film Festival with the director Mike Plunkett.  A particularly interesting comment concerned the demonstrations which hindered getting to the site and filming for a while. A previous demonstration had taken 90 days.  It took 10 hours from La Paz by bus to get there, but now there is a small airport.

A few short QA clips (each < 1 min):

Clip 1

Clip 2

Clip 3

Clip 4

(Published: Sunday, May 7, 2016, at 12:30 PM EDT)

“Papa: Hemingway in Cuba”: great storytelling, but a naive view of authors


Name: Papa: Hemingway in Cuba
Director, writer:  Bob Yari
Released:  2016
Format:  M, 2.35:1
When and how viewed:  theater, Cinema Arts, Fairfax VA, sparse audience, late night
Companies:  Yari Group
Link: Facebook

“Papa: Hemingway in Cuba: A True Story” brings back the Yari Group into film distribution, as Bob Yari himself directed this engaging film.

It seems like simple storytelling. The protagonist, a twenty-something Miami Herald reporter Ed Myers (Giovanni Ribisi) starts the narrative by telling how his father suddenly abandoned him on the streets during the Great Depression.  He grew up wanting to be a “writer”.  What sounds hokey is that on his first job he couldn’t spell, and even got temporarily fired.  Later, working in Miami, he admires Ernest Hemingway and keeps struggling with a typewritten letter.  His girl friend (Minka Kelly) mails it behind his back, and Hemingway calls.  It’s the best personal letter ever typed.


So Ed makes repeated visits to Cub, as Papa Hemingway (Adrian Sparks) takes Ed under his wing as a substitute daddy, forming a family with a latter-day wife (Joely Richardson).  Castro’s rebels are beginning to make progress, and the film dutifully makes Batista’s forces into villains.  Myers, who has covered the Korean War as a correspondent, doesn’t flinch at running with Ernest in the gunfire.  Later, a Mafia-type contacts Myers (inviting him to the notorious Hotel Ambos Mundos ), enlisting Myers as almost a double agent, telling Myers about J. Edgar’s plan to get Hemingway for (Communist-supporting) gun running because Hemingway was in a position to expose J. Edgar Hoover’s covert homosexuality with Clyde Tolson. It’s ironic that the Cuban Missile Crisis, threatening all of western civilization, would occur in just three more years.

Yari’s work brings to mind several other films. One reference is through Hemingway’s playing the song “Je ne regretted rien”, used in the closing credits of the soundtrack of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” (2010). Another would be Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” (2011).  And, of course, there is Andy Garcia’s “The Lost City” (2005).

The film makes effective use of locations in Cuba, including the famous coast of Havana, and Hemingway’s actual estate.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Havana by Crisjuan0

(Published: Saturday, May 7, 2016, at 9 AM EDT)

“All Work, All Play”: how geeky gamers can play in the big leagues


Name: “All Work, All Play”
Director, writer:  Patrick Creadon
Released:  2015
Format: M, 1.85:1  M, 1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant, also available on Amazon
Companies: O’Malley Creadon, Filmbuff
Official site: Facebook

All Work, All Play” certainly educated me on the idea that computer gamers have their own pro circuits. The best gamers can make over $1 million a year.

And they live together in team houses, mostly around places like San Jose, before and during the tournaments.  Players, largely young white men (some clean cut, some with tattoos) interact like programmers in the crash houses in the early days of Facebook in Palo Alto.  Entire ice arenas are rented and set up with holograms to show the audiences the progress of the games (rather like “The Hunger Games” in appearance, maybe?)


In fact, a good deal of the footage if this 93-minute film shows the insides of the fantasy world of these lacrosse-like battles, often in medieval-looking settings.

The whole idea of big gamer tournaments makes me think of chess championships (all over the world, but especially in big East Coast cities), and also of poker “world series” events in Las Vegas (which sounds like a good place to hold a gamer event).

One thing that’s interesting is that now, it seems that games – and an interesting in designing game characters with personalities – have been around for a long time, since the 80s.  Remember the film “Pixels” (Chris Columbus)?


So, you don’t have to be Bryce Harper or Jake Arietta to be a star in a “sports” world. Geeks can do it too.  Remember that the hero of NBC’s “The Event”, Sean (played by Jason Ritter) is a gamer whose geek skills help him become a clean cut super-hero of the series – and Sean doesn’t even know that he is an extraterrestrial alien, destined to live a millennium himself. OK, maybe Mark Zuckerberg really is an alien himself.

“The Meddler”: helicopter parent of a young screenwriter sees a lot about “the business”


Name: The Meddler
Director, writer: Lorene Scarfia (dir, wr)
Released: 2016
Format: film (2:35.1)
When and how viewed: theater, Angelika Fairfax, light audience
Companies: Sony Pictures Classics, Anonymous Content, Stage 6
Office site: link

There is a scene late in “The Meddler” where lonely, recently widowed Marnie (a rather Hitchcock-like name, as played by Susan Sarandon) has really gotten into interacting with a bedridden old lady as a hospital volunteer, where she explains the career and job of her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne) as a television sitcom screenwriter. Writers pitch storylines (and loglines), get contracts to write scripts – often pilots and initial episodes of television series – and may get the work, and it may get released on commercial television or, if a movie, get money, get into the festival circuit, and finally get distribution.

It’s “Risky Business” (to refer to the 1983 movie with Tom Cruise), and there are more stable ways to make a living.

The film doesn’t mention that television writing may be harder than movie scripting, because scenes have to be of such precise length for commercial breaks.  Imagine writing for a soap opera (like my favorite “Days of our Lives”) for a living.


But the film does make a loop-the-loop trip back to New York to show the actual taping of a television sitcom Pilot, and how the work is done.  (I know a little about this, having worked “strike duty” when NABET was out in 1976, on the soap opera “Somerset”, while employed in I.T. by NBC.) She’s even careless to overlook double entendre in front of the TSA when returning to LA and says she had “shot a pilot”.


Anyway, Lori shows mom her home office, and says, “I need to write”.  And she begs to get her own life back. There’s actually a smartphone app based on the Twitter handle “#need-mom”, but this film didn’t “need” it.

Marnie is the opposite of me. (Lori is of my personality type – too bad I’m not hetereosexual.)  She needs social validation, so she has moved from New York (or New Jersey) to Los Angeles after her husband’s passing to “get to know her daughter”, and she certainly makes herself unwelcome.

It’s pretty predictable that the way out is to meet another man, the wiry ex-cop Zipper (J. K. Simmons. The nemesis band teacher from “Whiplash”).   Does Lori go on to earn an Emmy? I’d rather do an Oscar.

First picture: View of the 405 from Angelino Hotel in LA (my trip, 2012).

Second picture: NYC near the Park Central Hotel around 56th (mine, 2015)

Third picture: Over AZ desert (2012, from plane)

(Published: Thursday, May 5, 2016, at 5 PM EDT)

“The David Dance”: Don Scime’s play (and now a film) about “unchosen” family responsibility for a gay man


Name: “The David Dance”
Author: Don Scime  Don Scime
Released: stage play, 2003
Format: stage play legitimate

stage play

When and how viewed: At Trumpet Vine Theater in Arlington VA in May 2006, directed by Vincent Worthington, 125 minutes + 15 min intermission

The play “The David Dance” really goes into the philosophical innards of the cultural wars like few dramas do, and with quite a lot of didactic brilliance. At the same time, it is compelling, largely because the protagonist, David, comes off as such a strong thirty-something adult male lead. The play, even on stage, moves around. It is easy to imagine it as a film, with winter locations around Buffalo, NY and then the sugar cane country in Brazil.

There is a set up. David Patrone (Don Scime) is a gay radio talk show host, and he gets into a midnight “graveyard shift” debate with syndicated religious right host June Handley (Anne Paine West). She seems to be pummeling him down, not so much with the Biblical passages (he can answer those, with David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi) but with the cultural thing, that complementarity and “legacy”- based heterosexuality is the proper way to getting in to taking care of people (this is essentially the Vatican’s philosophy). But David’s older sister Kate (Liesyl Franz) has decided to adopt an orphan from a convent in Brazil as a single parent. Now many states actually encourage adoption by single parents because the need is so great and in practice there is a shortage of heterosexually married potential parents for minority babies. Kate is a financial professional and wants to fulfill her life before it is too late. When she goes down to Brazil she is killed in a plane crash. She has suggested that David share the parenting, at least as an uncle or perhaps an attending godparent. In the mean time, David has paid visits to a Catholic hospital and had some practice holding infants that poop. (I am reminded by all this — the nun is played by Ms. West — of the epic film The Nun’s Story).  I think we know that the flow of the play will demand that he take on the responsibility of becoming a parent. It is not really a totally voluntary choice, and that is a point that has profound political and ethical implications to think about. The young playwright obviously wants us to get this.  In the soap opera “Days of our Lives” the gay character Sonny deliver’s Gabby’s baby in the woods when they are running from a villain, and later Sonny becomes a second dad (although tragedy follows in that soap).

There is a lot of other material in the play, in which events are sometimes present out of time sequence or as flashbacks. His show is threatened with ratings cancellation – a common issue in talk radio. (This reminds me of a talk radio program by gay host Scott Peck in Washington in 1993, during the gays in the military debate – his dad was a Marine colonel who outed him before Congress—and Scott’s show lasted about ten months; his book, published by Scribner in 1995, was All American Boy). His boyfriend Chris (Jon Heffner) keeps him going, as does the sister, who in one touching scene finds him outdoors partially “opened up” and gaybashed.  Kate has sent her piano to Brazil, so that the girl learns to play, especially music by Schumann, as in the “Album for the Young.”

My own GLIL Quill editorial “Talk Radio” is available at this link.

The play has been made into a film directed by April Winney (from Brave Lad Films), and it was shown in the Northern Virginia International Film and Music Festival on April 25, 2016.  Unfortunately, I missed the performance.  I’ll watch it online, on a DVD or in a theater as soon as it is available.

Picture: the Arlington VA Food Assistance Center, near the site of the theater (2014)

(Published: Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 6 PM EDT)