Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Lion, the Werewolf and the Harlequin

I was expecting theatrical magic from The Lion King, when I watched it with my family on July 4. The show was engaging, but proved to be less than enchanting. When I watched the parade of puppet-animals on YouTube, accompanied by the song "The Circle of Life," I cried. At the Minskoff Theatre, the song sounded tinny, and the puppets by Julie Taymor, beautiful individually, were too few to really impress. Only one elephant? One rhinoceros? Everything seemed smaller than the YouTube video had led me to imagine.

The less heralded stage design, by Richard Hudson, was for me much more impressive. Pride Rock rose in a majestic spiral from the stage floor. In contrast, Scar's cave was a slanted bed of rock limited by a triangular ceiling. The staging of the wildebeest stampede, during which Mufasa fell to his death, was wonderfully imaginative.

The singing, by the ensemble as well as by Dashaun Young (Simba) and Chauntee Schuler (Nala), did not do justice to the Elton John music and Tim Rice lyrics. The songs were belted out when the notes came within the singers' range. Gareth Saxe was a suitably nasty Scar. Cameron Pow wielded Zazu the parrot with comic flair. The hyenas, Shenzi (Bonita J. Hamilton), Banzai (James Brown-Orleans) and Ed (Enrique Segura) were my favorite characters as well as puppets.

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Tom Matlock, in the Huffington Post, made the observation that The Twilight Saga movies are made not so much for teenaged girls as for their mothers who fantasize over raw boy meat (Taylor Lautner) and old-fashioned chivalry (Robert Pattinson). Liberated and successful, these grown women do not want their men to be vulnerable and sensitive. They themselves can be that, thank you very much. Instead, they want strong men who will protect them so that they, the women, can be vulnerable and sensitive, while beating the men at their game.

It's hard to imagine other reasons why in this post-feminist era women wish to identify with Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), who spends most of New Moon mooning over the boys. The very young teenage girls may romanticize Edward, safe in the knowledge that he would never ask them to show him how much they love him. Grown women, however, can romanticize the boys and imagine making out with them too. In this they are not very different from mature gay men, who want to feel rejuvenated by a bout of passionate sex with a hot young stud. No prize for guessing whom I would choose. A werewolf over a vampire any day, or night.

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Sexual power gives artistic power. That is one lesson from the Picasso show at the Met. As a young man, Pablo frequented brothels and feared becoming blind due to syphilis. He was always hungry for the next new thing in art, and his style changed as he moved from love to love. Germaine Pichot was painted in his early figurative manner. Olga in his neo-classical style. Dora Maar in his Cubist period. Also striking was the series of poses he chose for himself: harlequin, saltimbanque, bullfighter, chevalier, musketeer. He was constantly re-making himself.

This self-invention should resonate with me, but it doesn't, and I don't understand why. I admire enormously the energetic creativity, but individual paintings seldom capture me the way a Matisse canvas would. They are too frenetic. Even the linoleum cuts, reminiscent of Matisse's paper cut-outs in their simplified shapes and blocks of primary color, are too full of stuff. The last suite of prints, made during the last six months of his life, displayed his continuous invention. They are exhausting to look at.

The paintings that mean most to me show tight composition of figures, like La Coiffure (1906):





or simple but graceful abstraction like this 1922 Head of a Woman.


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