I’m rather liking this vlogging business. It’s challenging and it’s forced me to think about my relationship to music in new ways. I’ve also had to learn a lot of new technical junk, which is always fun.
I find myself attracted to questions that might be asked by someone totally unfamiliar with the world of classical music and orchestral procedure, with answers that may seem obvious at first, but which open the door to insights that may surprise seasoned professionals. To wit:
Look, I’ve hesitated to write about my obsession with Martha Stewart’s instagram up until now because it just doesn’t seem like something a serious composer/conductor should admit to (much less a 31-year-old man period) but she just dropped 3 pictures that perfectly encapsulate the main categories of her online persona. It’s like she was begging me to provide the commentary.
#1: Poorly Lit Pictures (nothing a flash can’t solve!) of Expensive Food at Upscale Restaurants that Make the Food Look Disgusting
This post is also part of a bonus category: Unintentional Poetry. (Martha frequently flirts with the haiku.)
#2: Selfies with Celebrities Who Seem Like They Should Be Way Outside Her Social Sphere (which I presume includes only Charlie Rose and Michael Bloomberg)
#3: Martha Doing the Domestic Goddess Thing We Know & Love Her For
accompanied here by outlandish claims to innovation. Who ever heard of “flooding” a cookie in the first place?
Now anybody who follows me on twitter knows that I frequently retweet her (you’re welcome), and I love her instagram for the same reason: Martha does not give a FUCK. Homegirl’s done Time, and she’s not about to waste the rest of her life punctuating and capitalizing. For someone so wealthy and so prominent, it’s refreshing to see an online presence that hasn’t been totally manicured and by her PR lackey.
OK, the well is deep and I could go on for hours, but here’s one last little bon-bon. Pay attention to the time stamps.
Martha went to the opera one night and had a meal 2 hours before it started:
In between her meal and the opera, THIS IS WHAT SHE POSTED:
It’s scary when a favorite artist comes out with a new album, because you want that perfect balance of the familiar and the new.
And it’s in that regard that I think Vulnicura knocks it out of the park – after the third track. It’s not that I don’t like “Stonemilker”, “Lionsong”, and “History of Touches”, but I do feel like they’re a retread of Björk’s previous (though excellent) material. I know she can do better.
And damn, does she ever: once we get to “Black Lake”, this album hits its sweet spot and doesn’t stop. That particular track has the epic scope of “The Dull Flame of Desire” but the soundscape of a muted “Vespertine” (with some new sizzle and flare thrown in.) I love the pacing and I dig the senza vib. in a big way.
“Atom Dance” is my favorite track on the album, but let’s all take a moment to acknowledge the utter badassery of that cello break on “Family”:
It’s hard for me to imagine anyone coming up with a better 30 seconds of music than that in 2015.
Since people are already asking me what I thought, here you go:
Meryl Streep was lackluster. Her opening rap lacked the big theatricality that number demands (much like the energy-sapped Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett.) “Stay With Me” was better, and “Last Midnight” was actually pretty good. Who could have done better? My top choice would be Joanna Gleason, but Donna Murphy would do in a pinch.
Anna Kendrick was OK, but a few too many contemporary/AI-style scoops, and not enough real understanding of the lyrics and characterization in her songs.
James Corden was very good as the Baker as was Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife. It’s a shame that Rob Marshall staged “It Takes Two” in such a goofy way.
The Princes were good! “Agony” was funny, but could have been SO much funner with better direction.
Little Red Riding Hood was OK, but just over the line of being too Aspbergersy.
The role of the Wolf was completely wasted on Johnny Depp. If they really needed him to get the film made, I suppose this how he could do the least harm, but hasn’t he destroyed Sondheim’s music enough? “Hello Little Girl” is such a Ravelian blues masterpiece, and was a big missed opportunity. Plus, his costume should have been wolfier. He basically came off as a child molester, which I know is the point, isn’t art about disguising such things?
I’m not going to complain about Christine Baranski being in anything, but I would have preferred a Brit in her role (paging Joanna Lumley!) and in most of the others as well.
I could have sworn the giant was Matthew Crawley’s mother from Downton, but it turns out it was that woman from The History Boys.
Jack was good. I thought it was really cute how he couldn’t say his ‘R’s. Tracey Ullmann was a surprisingly good choice for Jacks’ mother.
Everyone said that this is really a movie, but I’m not sure that I agree. I thought the staging of the musical numbers was very theatery and generally weak, with a few exceptions, notably the duet of “No One is Alone” which I found very effective (and filmic).
There were way too many tight shots, especially at beginning, and many scenes were blocked in such a way that I couldn’t tell what was going on.
I did NOT like the ending, which was rendered too maudlin without the return of the bubbly score. Yes, I know that it was in the credits, but sorry, that doesn’t count, and it sucked. And I hated Cinderella’s final “I wish”.
The score itself is, of course, a miracle and one of the great artistic masterpieces of all time. Sondheim is like Beethoven for me, in that the most satisfying way to engage with his music is to read the score; no staging/filming/presentation could ever come close to the genius he put on the page.
I had no problem with the lack of the narrator and “No More”. It’s a great song, but I’m willing to sacrifice it for the movie.
The key changes bothered me, especially when they occurred mid-song.
The additional music score added for the movie was pretty weak, certainly when compared to the Glory of Sondheim.
Did everyone catch that Easter Egg of “The Night Waltzes” from A Little Night Music being played at the ball?
Some tempi (especially the Witch’s numbers and “Your Fault”) were too slow. I think they could have been just a notch faster and we still would have understood the words.
The orchestrations sounded true to the original overall, and of course Jonathan Tunick always fits Sondheim like a glove. But I wonder what his name in the credits really means. Did he actually do anything for the movie, or did he just hand over his original score sheets and let these people do their stuff?
At the very least, I think we can be safe in our knowledge of what Daniel Bhattacharya’s contribution amounted to amounted to.
Overall, it was good, but not great, and certainly the best of the Sondheim film adaptations. There were so many missed opportunities, and plenty of ways that they could have presented the music and lyrics in a way that would have elicited their inherent humor, charm and poignancy to greater effect. I’d give it a solid B – definitely worth seeing, but do yourself a favor and listen to the Original London Cast recording.
Oh, and p.s. I was crying from start to finish just thinking about how tight the motivic construction of the score is.