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About Last Night
TERRY TEACHOUT on the arts in New York City
(with additional dialogue by OUR GIRL IN CHICAGO)


    “A wise old cynic once observed that hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Had he lived three centuries later, La Rochefoucauld might have added that biopics are the tribute Hollywood pays to real art. Anyone who chooses to make a movie about a great artist, be it good or bad, is making an implicit declaration of faith in the enduring significance of Western culture. Hence it says something of interest about the state of American culture that pictures like Lust for Life and The Agony and the Ecstasy, in which Charlton Heston played Michelangelo, have become so rare in recent years…”

    “Sightings,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 19, 2006. An essay on Vincente Minnelli’s Lust for Life and middlebrow culture.GO TO THE STORY


    "The e-book is back. So are the technophobes who swear it'll never catch on. They were right last time, and they might be right this time, too. Sooner or later, though, they'll be wrong—and when they are, your life will change..."

    “Sightings,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 21, 2006. An essay on the coming of the e-book.GO TO THE STORY


    “You don’t pour years of your life into writing a biography unless you feel an initial bond of sympathy with the subject, and, though many a biographer has grown disillusioned along the way, it’s obvious from reading Mencken: The American Iconoclast that Rodgers still admires and, just as important, likes the man about whom she has written. But how closely does that man resemble the real H.L. Mencken? Have Rodgers’s sympathies led her to smooth his rough edges, or downplay less palatable aspects of Mencken’s work that might not sit well alongside her frank admiration? The answer, I suspect, will depend on how much you yourself like Mencken…”

    The New Criterion, December 2005. A review of Marion Elizabeth Rodgers’ Mencken: The American Iconoclast.GO TO THE STORY


    "Scott was secure enough to let his colleagues do the talking, knowing that his gritty, hard-faced on-screen presence would speak for itself. The dashing young leading man of the Thirties now looked as though he’d been carved from a stump, and every word he spoke reeked of disillusion. Yet he continually found himself forced to make moral choices that were always clear but rarely easy. What Scott should do at any given moment is never in doubt, but we also understand that doing it will never make him 'happy' in any conventional sense of the word: he must do the right thing for its own sake, not in the hope of any immediate reward…"

    An essay from A Terry Teachout Reader, reprinted on the American Cowboy Web site this month.GO TO THE STORY


    “A couple of hundred bloggers now write about the arts on a fairly regular basis. I've been following their work since I started my own ‘artblog,’ ‘About Last Night,’ in the summer of 2003, and I believe the same technological revolution that has already transformed political journalism is about to have a similarly galvanizing effect on regional arts journalism…”

    “Sightings,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 12, 2005. How artblogs are affecting regional arts journalism in America.GO TO THE STORY

    "Just as an old-master painting never looks better than when it hangs in the home of a private collector who gazes at it lovingly each day, so are Frank Lloyd Wright's houses meant to be experienced, not merely visited. Wright himself said that the Schwartz House was 'a house designed for utility and fecund living....in which there is no predominating feature, but in which the entire is so coordinated as to achieve a thing of beauty.' Now more than ever, I know what he meant..."

    The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 18, 2005.GO TO THE STORY


    “I find myself less interested in writing about film, not because my love for the medium has diminished but because American filmmakers are now making so few movies worth seeing. These things happen in the arts—ballet and modern dance have also been going through a similarly bad patch—and rather than continue to rail against the self-evident each month, I’ve decided to till greener pastures. What makes me especially sad is that the first few years of this column (which I started writing in 1998) were a wonderful time for film in America, a time that now seems to have passed…”

    Crisis, October 2005. A valedictory film column.GO TO THE STORY


    “I'm not sure how fully July has plumbed the deeper social implications of her beautifully nuanced portrayal of life after marriage. I find the world she shows us to be almost too sad to contemplate, which is why the optimistic conclusion of Me and You and Everyone We Know is so powerful in its effect—and why I wonder whether that effect might be to some extent a matter of wishful thinking…”

    From the September 2005 issue of Crisis, a review of Me and You and Everyone We Know.GO TO THE STORY


    "Now it's possible to live in almost any large or medium-sized American city and be regularly exposed to a wide range of high-quality artistic activity. Yet this deprovincialization of the arts in America has been accompanied by what can only be called the reprovincialization of arts journalism. Not only has network TV largely given up on the fine arts, but surprisingly few newspapers now take the trouble to hire staffers familiar enough with the arts to cover them well..."

    "Sightings," The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 17, 2005. The inaugural edition of a new column about the arts in America.GO TO THE STORY


    "Forty years ago, Sears, Roebuck & Co. was selling Picassos and Chagalls, not to mention Rembrandts, Dürers, Goyas, Whistlers, Mondrians and Wyeths, all of them bearing the imprimatur of a celebrated connoisseur who was better known for making such grisly movies as 'The Fly' and 'House of Wax.' Vincent Price is now best remembered for his supporting role in the classic 1944 film noir 'Laura,' but in the '60s he was a full-fledged movie star, albeit one who never got the girl—at least not while she was still alive. An elegantly campy gent who in his later years specialized in playing pardon-me-sir-while-I-cut-off-your-head psychopaths, Price was also one of Hollywood's most passionate art collectors..."

    From The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 23, 2005, an essay on the Vincent Price Art Collection and the middlebrow moment.GO TO THE STORY


    “No one in Look at Me is wholly good or bad—but neither is Agnes Jaoui implying that there's no such thing as good or bad. On the contrary, she offers a nuanced portrayal of the corrosive effects of power on the human heart, one that is at once troubling and hopeful. What Lord Acton said about power can never be quoted often (or accurately) enough: Not only does it tend to corrupt, but mere proximity to its insidiously seductive influence can soften the integrity of the strongest of men. As Look at Me reminds us, we are all vulnerable, we must all choose—yet even when we choose wrongly and suffer for it, the entreaties of a broken and a contrite heart will not be despised…”

    From the July-August 2005 issue of Crisis, a review of Look at Me.GO TO THE STORY


    ”The anti-heroes of classic film noir may have lived on the outskirts of hell, but at least they knew how to find the road out of town, even if they never took it. Not so in Chinatown, where there are no roads and no right choices, only the comfortless words of Noah Cross, the evil millionaire who is Jake Gittes's nemesis: 'Most people never have to face the fact that, at the right time and the right place, they're capable of anything.' Anything, that is, but redemption…”

    From the June 2005 issue of Crisis, an essay on film noir.GO TO THE STORY


    "Turning messy fact into orderly fiction necessarily entails simplification; turning it into artful fiction demands as well that this simplification acknowledge the full complexity of human nature and human experience. These seemingly contradictory requirements can easily be fumbled by the artist whose principal goal is to persuade an audience of the rectitude of his cause. We do not expect him to portray the world creatively, but to tell us the unadorned truth about things as they really are. Yet propagandists are rarely prepared to tell the whole truth and nothing but. They alter reality not in order to 'make everything more beautiful' but to stack the deck..."

    From the Spring 2005 issue of In Character, an essay on the problem of political art.GO TO THE STORY


    “So far as I know, the only Hollywood Western in which not a single shot is fired, in anger or otherwise, is Four Faces West, and wonderful though that little-remembered Joel McCrea film may be, I can't say it's typical in any obvious way of the Western genre as a whole. But even though my progressive neighbors may recoil from the prospect of packing a six-shooter—you can't even buy a water pistol at the toy store around the corner from my front door—they're more than happy to partake of on-screen violence, so long as it comes in a sufficiently arty wrapping. So why did Manhattan evolve over the years into a Western-free zone?...”

    From the May/June 2005 issue of American Cowboy. GO TO THE STORY


    “Is there anything so unintentionally amusing as ill-concealed autobiography? When I heard that Martin Scorsese had made a three-hour-long biopic about Howard Hughes that portrayed the crazy billionaire-recluse as a misunderstood artist brought low by vaulting ambition, I laughed out loud. The director of Goodfellas is widely thought to be a genius, a word I stumbled over more than once in newspaper reviews of The Aviator. Er…no. Jean Renoir was a genius. Alfred Hitchcock had his moments, and Orson Welles could have been a contender…”

    From the April 2005 issue of Crisis, a review of The Aviator and Being Julia.GO TO THE STORY


    “Though his acting is narrowly limited in range, Bill Murray is a kind of comic genius when it comes to embodying accidie on screen. Twice before, in Groundhog Day and Lost in Translation, he has played terminally disillusioned characters whose souls are deadened by sloth, and done it brilliantly. He does the same thing—no less brilliantly—in The Life Aquatic, playing a contemporary cynic whose feelings are so thickly encased in a shell of irony that it’s depressing just to look at him…”

    From the March 2005 issue of Crisis, a review of The Life Aquatic.GO TO THE STORY


    “Unlike the makers of Ray, I don’t look to the lives of artists for moral edification, though sometimes it can be found there. A film about Ray Charles’s youthful struggle to make his way in the world, for example, might well have been stirring. But to sculpt a tinsel epiphany out of his adult life is to twist it beyond recognition, and in addition to obscure the never-to-be-forgotten fact that great artists are not always good people…”

    From the February 2005 issue of Crisis, a review of Ray.GO TO THE STORY


    The Incredibles represents the most technically advanced use to date of digital animation, and though the folks at Pixar still haven’t worked through all the inherent problems of the new medium—they still can’t ‘draw’ a plausible-looking crowd of human beings, for instance—it’s obvious that they’ve come a long, long way from Finding Nemo. No matter how committed you may be to the survival of traditional pen-and-ink animation, I expect you’ll be impressed by most everything you see on screen…”

    From the January 2005 issue of Crisis, a review of The Incredibles and Sideways.GO TO THE STORY


    "The theme of Vile Bodies is the despair to which modern life inevitably reduces those who live by its antinomian code. When he wrote it, Waugh had not yet found his way out of the twisty maze of modernity. That’s why Vile Bodies, like Bright Young Things, lurches to an ultimately unsatisfying close: It is a chamber of horrors without an exit sign..."

    From the December 2004 issue of Crisis, a review of Bright Young Things.GO TO THE STORY


    “Twenty years ago, an NBC executive named Brandon Tartikoff handed a two-word memo to a TV producer named Michael Mann. 'MTV cops,' it said, and Miami Vice was born. After the show had become a success, someone asked Mann what made it distinctive, to which he replied with equal terseness, ‘No earth tones.’ Tartikoff is dead and forgotten, and Miami Vice has long since vanished from the air, but Mann continues to make films that partake of its now-ubiquitous sensibility. Collateral, for instance, could be summed up with much the same brevity: It’s a buddy movie in which one of the buddies is a sociopath…”

    From the November 2004 issue of Crisis, a review of Collateral and Paparazzi.GO TO THE STORY


    “Evelyn Waugh declared ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ to be ‘more realistic’ than ‘Remembrance of Things Past,’ not to mention ‘much funnier.’ Such fulsome praise inevitably recalls the anonymous wag who described ‘Dance’ as ‘Proust translated by Wodehouse.’ While it is no small thing for Anthony Powell (whose last name is pronounced ‘pole’) to have been compared in one fell swoop to the creators of the Baron de Charlus and Bertie Wooster, I doubt his sense of humor was quite robust enough for him to have appreciated that double-edged crack….”

    From the New York Times Book Review, Oct. 31, 2004, a review of two new books about Anthony Powell.GO TO THE STORY


    "More often than not, I know exactly what I think of the films I see. I can understand why this statement might strike you as odd (after all, why wouldn’t a critic know?), but it’s not quite so simple as that. Great art is full of ambiguity: It leaves you room to make up your own mind. Commercial art, by contrast, seeks to make up your mind for you—and most American films are made for purely commercial purposes...."

    From the October 2004 issue of Crisis, a review of Garden State.GO TO THE STORY

    “’No man,’ Dr. Johnson assures us, ‘is a hypocrite in his pleasures.’ I try never to disagree with the good doctor, so I’ll freely admit that along with hot dogs, fireworks, small-town parades, and old-fashioned country music, I dote on the kind of lowbrow comedy that can best be described as dumb, as in ‘Oh, why don’t we just rent a dumb movie tonight?’”…

    From the September 2004 issue of Crisis, a review of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Napoleon Dynamite, and Before Sunset.GO TO THE STORY


    "Costello doesn't need to write large-scale orchestral works to be taken seriously as an artist. Rock has produced no better songwriter. But if he really wants to set up shop as a part-time classical composer, he'll need to polish his craft still further. After the unexpected success of ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ Gershwin toiled for 11 years and ended up with ‘Porgy and Bess.’ Is Costello in it for the long haul? Or will ‘Il Sogno’ turn out to be a fluke?…"

    From the Washington Post, July 19, 2004, a review of Elvis Costello’s Il Sogno.GO TO THE STORY

    "Younger readers who only know Buckley the urbane elder statesman probably don't realize that, in his heyday, he was a full-fledged celebrity who made the cover of Time and was sought after by Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. ‘Firing Line,’ his own PBS talk show, and ‘On the Right,’ his syndicated newspaper column, made him the prototype for today's cable-TV opinion merchants—though his sharp-witted repartee had little in common with the raucous gabble that now dominates the airwaves…"

    From the Baltimore Sun, July 18, 2004, a review of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s Miles Gone By.GO TO THE STORY


    "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for all the unabashed postmodernity of its narrative techniques, is anything but nihilistic. On the contrary, its characters labor desperately—and touchingly—to find meaning in a seemingly chaotic world in which reality itself can be altered. Good Bye, Lenin! also takes as its subject the manipulation of reality, albeit in a homelier, less malign manner..."

    From the June 2004 issue of Crisis, a review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Good Bye, Lenin!GO TO THE STORY

    "I've long been impressed by the unflagging resourcefulness with which John Scofield puts together fresh settings for his superlative playing. Maybe that's the best way to think of ‘EnRoute,’ not as a return to his improvisational roots but as simply another facet of his complex creativity…"

    From the July 4, 2004 Washington Post, a review of the John Scofield Trio's EnRoute.GO TO THE STORY


    "Is there anything Bob Brookmeyer can't do? His sinuous, blunt-toned valve trombone has been one of jazz's best-known sounds for the past half-century, while his composing and arranging have won him plaudits for nearly as long. In addition, he's a part-time pianist whose highly personal playing is far more than functional. But my guess is that his current incarnation will prove to be the most memorable of all..."

    From the May 30, 2004 Washington Post, a review of Bob Brookmeyer's Get Well Soon.GO TO THE STORY

    "It’s revealing, I’m sure, that The Ladykillers, like O Brother, Where Art Thou? before it, makes extensive use of gospel music for parodistic purposes. Once again, the music itself is terrific, but the uses to which it is put are both ironic and quintessentially postmodern: We are clearly supposed to be amused by all those benighted believers rocking joyously in their pews, even though Dey Got Rhythm and we sorry white folk don’t. That’s how postmodernism works—it plays both sides of the street, winking in either direction…"

    From the May 2004 issue of Crisis, a review of The Ladykillers.GO TO THE STORY


    "Just as Kellaway has never fit into any known stylistic pigeonhole, so is ‘Roger Kellaway Cello Quartet’ all but uncategorizable. To be honest, I'm not even sure it's jazz, though much of it sounds like jazz. ‘The idea that anything can go with anything is very appealing to me,’ Kellaway told me in a 1995 interview, "and classical music has taught me that the options are infinite." This album proves his point, gorgeously and gloriously…"

    From the Washington Post, May 16, 2004, a review of Roger Kellaway Cello Quartet.GO TO THE STORY


    "Visually speaking, The Triplets of Belleville owes a lot to the late Chuck Jones. (Keep The Grinch Who Stole Christmas in mind and you’ll see what I mean.) The main difference is that Chomet is more inclined to grotesquerie—occasionally bordering on outright grossness—than sentimentality. This gives Triplets an astringent flavor that serves as a counterpoise to its oh-so-French touches of whimsy, for me the film’s only weakness…"

    From the March 2004 issue of Crisis, a review of The Triplets of Belleville.GO TO THE STORY

    "Not since Ahmad Jamal's legendary trio of the 1950s has there been a jazz combo that blended uptown and downtown so seamlessly as does the Bill Charlap Trio. It's equally at home in smoky nightclubs and I-kiss-your-hand-madam cabarets. You don't have to know anything about jazz to enjoy its polished, elegant renditions of show tunes, but if you do, you'll marvel at the savoir-faire with which the group saunters through Charlap's quietly intricate arrangements…"

    From the Washington Post, Mar. 28, 2004, a review of Bill Charlap's Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein.GO TO THE STORY


    "Like Lost in Translation, The Station Agent is noteworthy for the fact that its principal characters don’t sleep together—a credibility-wrecking hole into which a lesser writer-director than Thomas McCarthy would surely have stumbled. Instead, he takes it for granted that friendship can be as interesting as romantic love and allows us to watch as his lonely characters are brought back to life by the not-so-simple act of getting to know another person..."

    From the January 2003 issue of Crisis, a review of The Station Agent and The Cooler.GO TO THE STORY


    "I’ve seen any number of first-rate movies made out of novels I’ve never read. To Have and Have Not, In a Lonely Place, The Night of the Hunter, Vertigo, True Grit—all are important to me in their varied ways, and I’m sure the books on which they were based are worth reading, too. (Well, maybe not To Have and Have Not.) So why haven’t I checked out the originals? Because the films are so satisfying in their own right that I feel no need to know their sources..."

    From the December 2003 issue of Crisis, a review of The Human Stain and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.GO TO THE STORY


    "There’s more to a movie than how it looks, and that’s the part Eastwood often gets wrong, perhaps because he isn’t a writer. It’s odd that so unpretentiously professional a director should be drawn to portentous scripts, but Eastwood seems to love them, and that’s his downfall. Unforgiven and A Perfect World, the best of his other 'serious' movies, are marred by a similar need to be bigger than they are, and even such exercises in pure entertainment as Honkytonk Man and Space Cowboys would have been better off had their director let out a couple pounds of hot air..."

    From the December 2003 issue of Crisis, a review of Mystic River and School of Rock.GO TO THE STORY


    "Gerry Mulligan once wrote a song called 'Just Want to Sing and Dance Like Fred Astaire.' Alas, he couldn't, but he was a miraculously light-footed player of the cumbersome baritone saxophone, and when he put together a big band in 1960, it was in his own gracefully swinging image. At 13 pieces (three trumpets, three trombones, five reeds, no piano), the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band was smaller than most postwar big bands, and Mulligan and his arrangers favored spare, airy instrumental textures…"

    From the Washington Post, Nov. 23, 2003, a review of box sets by the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band and Count Basie.GO TO THE STORY

    "Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation started generating buzz within what seemed like hours of its initial limited release in a handful of big-city theaters, and I confess to having been more than a little bit suspicious of the hype. (As Pauline Kael once asked, 'Was there ever a good movie that everybody was talking about?') But I went anyway, and I’m glad I did, for Lost in Translation is a thoughtful, elegant, miraculously self-assured piece of work…"

    From the November 2003 issue of Crisis, a review of Lost in Translation, The Secret Lives of Dentists, and American Splendor.GO TO THE STORY


    "A tiny woman with a nose ring, a charmingly gap-toothed grin à la David Letterman and a face whose smooth planes might have been carved by Brancusi on one of his very best days, Ms. Carter plays an instrument that inspired some of the hottest improvisers of the 20th century. Yet even though Stéphane Grappelli, Stuff Smith and Joe Venuti played it unforgettably well, the violin still strikes many people as not quite the thing for swing..."

    From the New York Times, Nov. 2, 2003, a profile of jazz violinist Regina Carter.GO TO THE STORY


    "Westerns are not about their plots (though they have to make a certain minimal sense, just like a 19th-century opera libretto). They are morality plays, ritual reenactments of the unending struggle to do the right thing in a wrong world, and they work because they are familiar, just as life itself is familiar. We expect Duvall and Costner to avenge their dead partner and restore order to a town whose people long for it, and we cheer them on because they do so without crossing their fingers..."

    From the October 2003 issue of Crisis, a review of Open Range.GO TO THE STORY


    "I wouldn’t be surprised if Spellbound did so well in part because reality TV has habituated American audiences to the once-unfamiliar notion of nonfiction entertainment (though it had far more in common with 'mockumentaries' like Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind and Waiting for Guffman than with the witless fare to which the major TV networks are becoming increasingly addicted)..."

    From the September 2003 issue of Crisis, a review of Finding Nemo, Spellbound, and Hollywood Homicide.GO TO THE STORY


    "The effectiveness of Thurber's cartoons arises less from their clever slice-of-suburban-life captions ('Well, I'm disenchanted, too. We're all disenchanted') than from the drawings themselves. Little more than inspired doodles, his lumpy, ill-centered 'creatures' are nevertheless rendered with a nervous liveliness of line well suited to the often surrealistic situations into which their creator puts them..."

    From the Aug. 10, 2003 issue of the New York Times Book Review, a review of The Thurber Letters, an overweight collection of uneven correspondence by the man who was Walter Mitty (sometimes).GO TO THE STORY


    "After Warhol, you could pass off anything as art, from hardcore porn to gangsta rap to the most vapid of sitcoms, secure in the knowledge that you’d be lauded as a subversive innovator by trend-snuffling critics and philistine academics secretly relieved not to have to grapple with the subtleties of the real right thing..."

    From the Aug. 6, 2003 issue of The Wall Street Journal, a more than slightly jaundiced tribute to Andy Warhol on his 75th birthday.GO TO THE STORY


    "Needless to say, camp has its place in comedy (I’ve watched All About Eve more times than any straight man I know) but only as a condiment, not a main dish. Peyton Reed, who clearly thinks otherwise, has substituted camp for content in Down With Love, which is like eating a can of frosting in lieu of baking a cake..."

    From the July/August 2003 issue of Crisis, a review of Peyton Reed's Down with Love. A parody-homage of the Doris Day-Rock Hudson movies turns out to be strangely reminiscent of Far from Heaven. (That's not a compliment.)GO TO THE STORY


    "A new generation of scholars, born too late to be seduced by Kennedy's charm, took a closer look at his life and legacy, and discovered that the crown prince of Camelot was a reckless womanizer who installed a secret taping system in the Oval Office, was soft on civil rights and won the Pulitzer Prize for a book he hadn't written..."

    From the July/August 2003 issue of Book Magazine, a review of Robert Dallek's An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963 (Little, Brown). Honesty or hagiography? A little bit of both, actually.GO TO THE STORY


    "All this suggests that when it comes to post-postmodern art in America, it doesn't much matter where you do it or what you call it, so long as the results are beautiful. And it is no coincidence that post-postmodern artists are increasingly willing to use that word without encasing it in the protective quotation marks of irony..."

    From The Arts in America: New Directions, an online journal published by the U.S. State Department, an overview of the state of the arts in post-postmodern America. What do Diana Krall, Mark Morris, Lowell Liebermann, and Kenneth Lonergan? Answer: they all believe in beauty.GO TO THE STORY

    "Like all of Christopher Guest’s addled characters, Mitch and Mickey feed off their fantasies, never once eating from the Tree of Knowledge. They are trapped in Eden, doomed to live forever in a world of innocent illusion, blissfully unaware that we are laughing at them—and at ourselves..."

    From the June 2003 issue of Crisis, a review of Christopher Guest's A Mighty Wind. It's a wickedly accurate spoof of a group of foolishly self-absorbed folkies...so why isn't it cruel?GO TO THE STORY


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Terry lives in Manhattan. He's the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal and the music critic of Commentary, but he writes about... More

This is a blog about the arts in New York City and elsewhere, a diary of Terry's life as a working critic, with additional remarks and reflections by Laura Demanski (otherwise known as Our Girl in Chicago), who is also, among other things, a critic. It’s about all the arts, not just one or two... More

Terry's latest book is All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine... More



(syndicate this AJblog)


“The Beatles were the first rock-and-roll musicians to be written about as musicians. Elvis Presley, for instance, had attracted vast amounts of attention from the press, but for the most part he was treated as a mass-culture phenomenon rather than as an artist, and so were the other rock musicians of the 50’s and early 60’s (and the swing-era band-leaders and vocalists who came before them). Not so the Beatles…” More


"Terry Teachout, author of 'All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine,' 'A Terry Teachout Reader' and 'The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken,' started writing 'Second City,' a monthly column about the arts in New York, in the fall of 1999. In September, after six years and 64 columns, he filed his final report for The Post. 'I can't even begin to tell you how much I'll miss Second City,' he says. 'Not only was it a pleasure and a privilege to report to the readers of one great city about the artistic doings of another, but I learned to love Washington along the way.'...

"It's profoundly unsettling for a Manhattanite to be following the news these days. I've found it all but impossible to tear myself away from the televised scenes of mounting chaos in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast, though I did take a quick look the other day at the first 'Second City' column I filed after 9/11. It started like this: 'We're all right, thanks. It took a week or two for us to pull ourselves together, but New Yorkers have finally started to emerge from their holes, looking for all that art offers in times of trial: inspiration, diversion, catharsis, escape.' It will take a lot longer for the victims of Hurricane Katrina to reconstitute their lives, and longer still, I fear, for them to regain access to the solace of art..." More

“Respighi is known in this country for 'The Fountains of Rome', 'The Pines of Rome' and not much else, but in Italy he's rightly admired as a witty, wonderfully lyrical composer. 'La Bella Dormente' is all that and more, and Basil Twist's magical staging commingles singers, puppets and puppeteers to tell the familiar tale (at the end they all dance together, in a breathtaking piece of theatrical wizardry). The puppets were bewitchingly characterful, the singers first-rate. How sad to think that this show received only a half-dozen performances! It belongs in an off-Broadway theater, where it would surely run until the end of time…” More


A list of things we've liked (subject to unexpected and wildly capricious updating).

To purchase or investigate, click on the link.

  • DVD: Metropolitan. Whit Stillman’s 1990 film debut, now on DVD (at last!) in a full-featured Criterion Collection version complete with outtakes, deleted scenes, and commentaries by Stillman, Luc Sante, and cast members Chris Eigeman and Taylor Nichols, who play the priggish preppies who take an insufficiently monied Upper West Sider under their wing and introduce him to the mysterious world of the urban haute bourgeoisie. The quintessential early-Nineties indie flick, still perfect sixteen years later (TT).

  • BOOK: G. Edmund White, Oliver Wendell Holmes (Oxford, $17.95, out Feb. 28). A pellucid brief life of the legendary Supreme Court justice who read Proust (and Nero Wolfe), knew (and disliked) Theodore Roosevelt and Henry James, was shot three times in the Civil War, sat on the bench until he turned ninety, and wrote like a writer, not a lawyer. The best first book for anyone who wants to know why Justice Holmes still matters (TT).

  • CD: Rosanne Cash, Black Cadillac (Capitol). Achingly sorrowful musical reflections on the deaths of two parents and a step-parent—two of whom just happened to be famous. If you’ve seen Walk the Line (and you should), Black Cadillac will have special resonance, but Johnny Cash’s greatly gifted daughter long ago moved beyond the compass of country music to carve out a spot for herself as one of our best singer-songwriters, regardless of genre. This is her strongest album yet (TT).

  • BOOK: Brian Priestley, Chasin’ the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker (Oxford, $28). A readable, musically aware short treatment of one of the saddest and most significant lives in the history of jazz. Until a full-scale primary-source biography of the self-destructive saxophonist is finally written, this is a good place to start (TT).

  • CD: Sweeney Todd (Nonesuch, two CDs). The original-cast album of John Doyle’s current Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, in which the instrument-playing cast members double as the onstage orchestra. Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone are formidable, and Sarah Travis’ ingenious chamber-orchestra reorchestration of Sondheim’s score is surprisingly effective, though by no means a substitute for Jonathan Tunick’s 1979 full-orchestra version, which remains available on CD. That one’s better, but this one is far more than a mere souvenir (TT).
  • More on the Top Five


“A wise old cynic once observed that hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Had he lived three centuries later, La Rochefoucauld might have added that biopics are the tribute Hollywood pays to real art. Anyone who chooses to make a movie about a great artist, be it good or bad, is making an implicit declaration of faith in the enduring significance of Western culture. Hence it says something of interest about the state of American culture that pictures like Lust for Life and The Agony and the Ecstasy, in which Charlton Heston played Michelangelo, have become so rare in recent years…” More

"The e-book is back. So are the technophobes who swear it'll never catch on. They were right last time, and they might be right this time, too. Sooner or later, though, they'll be wrong—and when they are, your life will change..." More

“You don’t pour years of your life into writing a biography unless you feel an initial bond of sympathy with the subject, and, though many a biographer has grown disillusioned along the way, it’s obvious from reading Mencken: The American Iconoclast that Rodgers still admires and, just as important, likes the man about whom she has written. But how closely does that man resemble the real H.L. Mencken? Have Rodgers’s sympathies led her to smooth his rough edges, or downplay less palatable aspects of Mencken’s work that might not sit well alongside her frank admiration? The answer, I suspect, will depend on how much you yourself like Mencken…” More


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