Saturday, September 27, 2008

Jon Secada at Ronald Reagan

By the Queen of Free

Jon Secada at Ronald Reagan?


Yes, at the last summer outdoor concert of 2008, sponsored by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities as part of its DC Grooves concert series.

People, dogs, and lights were all agroovin’ on a recent Friday night at the Woodrow Wilson Plaza, for sure. Even the guards inside Ronald Reagan were moving their bodies to the music.

It’s hard to keep your person still when the music is apoppin’ and agoin’ and the musicians are L I V E and not taped and as good as Jon Secada.

He was hot. He’s got a voice, too, able to hit the way high notes and as good in person as you’re afraid he might not be. (At first, the base almost drowned him out, but that was soon corrected.)

He sang all his signature hits, including "Just Another Day," "Do You Believe in Us," many, in Spanish in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (or is it “Cuban American Heritage Month”?) although few Latins were there.

When Secada came out, he urged the crowd to come closer to the stage, and it did, standing throughout his songs, dancing, clapping, gyrating, waving arms, moving in time with the beat, singing along with Secada urging the singalongs.

His band was a smash.

There was plenty of room for dancing like the man and his dancing partner, his pooch which he carried around all night, found out. They danced to the notes in between his screams for the crowd to sit down so they could see better.

Or, there was the butterfly woman in white pants who flew continuously around the plaza alighting here and there, almost carrying a wand as she danced to the music like a fast-moving cloud unencumbered by the notion of a partner.

The wind was a bit testy at times, exhaling its first breath of fall.
It rustled the leaves in the large, planted plaza trees, and the tiny white Christmas lights strung on the branches moved with the music of the wind, and twinkled, adding to the romance of the night and another marvelous evening in D.C.

Crowd estimate was about 300, I suppose. Promotion was not the best. What government has the dollars for advertising free concerts? Which explains part of the paltry attendance, but D.C. has a lot going on every night, and competition for evening attendees is keen.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Richard Avedon at the Corcoran Gallery of Art: Portraits of Power

It's a great show. Well worth the price of admission ($14; less for students, seniors and children under age 7).

The Avedon opening for members was crowded, but, at least, we were able to see the photographs standing not ten deep.

Rather than 9 p.m. (the announced closing), we left at 9:50 p.m. with no rush by the guards. (Obviously, not the Smithsonian guards who could give lessons to NASCAR.)

Anyway, the photographs! Many, stern, serious, few smiles. Most are quite unflattering. White backgrounds. Black and white. Severe. Large.

One of the few smiles is on Robert McNamara. Why is he smiling? He should never smile again.

Almost everyone looked far worse than you have them pictured mentally, except, John Kerry. In a picture taken in 2004 he's the only one who looked handsome and better than reality which is mean to most of the subjects.

(Henry Kissinger (in the second photo of him in the show) might have had the flu. The pain and agony on George Wallace's face (in the third picture of him) makes a viewer wince. If he had not died before Dick Cheney erected his Torture Chamber, he could have been sitting on boiling water at Guantanamo.)

Come to think of it, the show is pretty darned depressing overall.

Standouts in the crowd: Several shots of the Chicago 7, George Bush the First, Rudolph Nureyev, Jimmy Carter (was handsome), Barack Obama (in color), Dwight Eisenhower (with eyes seemingly rolling around his head), the Rosenberg boys. (Where are they now? Twice in the news in a week).

I cannot recall a more uncomely photograph of Ronald Reagan. Avedon easily (to a viewer) captures the arrogance of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Few women grace the exhibit. But the outrageous, the charming Dorothy Parker with her personality and wit flowing from the frame is there, contrasted with, a few galleries away, the eternally injured Vietnam woman who is too painful to look at for more than a second or two.

Richard Avedon died in 2004 from a cerebral hemorrhage.

I recently upgraded my membership to get invitations to the members' previews with wine and hors d'oeuvres, and the upgrade has been a splendid value.

Plentiful treats and drinks amidst seeing the shows without the hordes. Plus, additional benefits, like free admission to Mt. Vernon (expired at the end of July. Yes, I went.). Plus entrances without charge at other fee-based museums.

This coming Thursday night I return to the exhibit and to hear the curators, Frank Goodyear and Paul Roth, deliver a lecture about the show, another membership benefit. The exhibit ends January 25, 2009.

Monday, September 15, 2008

An Inverse Ratio at the Cosmopolitans Friday Night

If you are single, over age 50 (the invitation says 40 but never mind), like to dress up (black tie optional), and dance to a live band and not a DJ, you will like the Cosmopolitans dances held four times a year for $50 each (advance) especially if you are male.

Females: N O T

Friday night's soiree, if it can be called that, was at the Austrian Embassy, a good place to dance and a lovely venue with free parking nearby, located amidst several embassies off Van Ness.

The band, "Tapestry," was good, playing the oldies to the crowd, and the food, a value for the price (heavy
hors d'oeuvres, a nice substitute for dinner), and a male/female ratio of 33.3/66.6 more or less.

In the "group" dance the ratio changed to approximately 10/90. Take a look at the pictures at the web site for proof.

Most (95%) of the crowd was Caucasian.

Cash bar.

Another typically social evening in Washington, D.C. where females vastly outnumber males. C'est la vie!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Starry Night with Herman Wouk at the Library of Congress

By the Queen of Free

If the public had known the presenters at the Herman Wouk award ceremony at the Library of Congress this week would include Martha Raddatz, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ,William Safire, and Jimmy Buffet performing, it is likely a mob scene would have ensued.

Wisely, the Library of Congress press office kept the names of the celebrities (is that a dirty word now?) off the press release, and so the Coolidge Auditorium was almost SRO anyway.

Mr. Wouk received the first award bestowed by the LOC for "lifetime achievement in the writing of fiction." And he received another honor, too: Henceforth the award will be called the Herman Wouk Award. He has written 12 acclaimed novels, plays, and nonfiction, many of which were displayed in a lighted glass case in the foyer of the auditorium.

Herman Wouk is a delightfully charming 93-year-old who looks, speaks, walks, dresses, and acts like someone in his mid-70s, seriously.

When he made his entrance onto the stage the audience stood and clapped for several moments. Mr. Wouk wore a sharp suit and red tie, and sat and listened for two hours to the presenters who read at length from his novels, sang, and gave him special gifts including a framed letter from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D- CA) commemorating Mr. Wouk's achievements, and a framed facsimile of four leaves from a Hebrew illuminated manuscript.

The ceremony began with a taped segment from the television show, "What's My Line," broadcast in the 1950s and 1960s, featuring Mr. Wouk who tried to "stump the panel." It was a show filled with laughter and reminiscences of times and people past. And the Coolidge audience loved it. (Are there re-runs anywhere?)

Except for reading some of Mr. Wouk's War and Remembrance, Martha Raddatz of ABC News seemed a reluctant participant for she barely said any words other than those in the book. William Safire made the crowd laugh with his remarks and his reading from Inside Outside. Justice Ginsburg, as fragile as a porcelain doll and weighing about as much, made you proud of Bill Clinton who nominated her to the U.S. Supreme Court. She read excerpts from The Caine Mutiny.

And Jimmy Buffet! Whew! He bounded on stage, removed his jacket and gave the history of his and Mr. Wouk's collaboration on Don't Stop the Carnival before he took off his shoes and played the guitar and sang several numbers from the play in bare feet. Maybe that's another first for the stage of the Coolidge.

The event ended with Mr. Wouk reading in an affirming, strong voice excerpts from his personal journals which he has donated to LOC along with several manuscripts.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Book: "The Professor and the Madman" by Simon Winchester

Finally, I get around to reading this book. Ten years after its publication..

What has this got to do with Washington, D.C.? A little about St. Elizabeths Hospital is told.

The subtitle is: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Alas! Midway through I discovered it was not documented! Horrors. What have I been wasting my time on? Is the word "Tale" in the subtitle a clue?

Oh sure, there are mentions at the rear of the book about conversations Mr. Winchester had, and the hospital records he read, and the places he visited, and the people he knew, and his Internet searches, and "further readings," but what's to keep a writer from creating fiction from an unusual story and claiming it's non-fiction? I don't know. Seems like a great way to craft a novel and claim it is real. Like that guy on Oprah a couple of years ago.

Mr. Winchester found assistance from the good folks at the National Park Service and the National Archives, etc. etc. But nowhere is found one footnote, one link, one date, one specific reference to any of the information Mr. Winchester used to tell his story. There is no index.

Despite several attempts, the author was not successful trying to pry hospital records from St Elizabeths Hospital about a key character in the book, the "madman," Dr. William C. Minor. Mr. Winchester gloats that he was able to get the files another way via the Internet and says: "It was more than gratifying to be able to telephone St. Elizabeths the next day and tell the unhelpful officials (he had found the records)...They were not best pleased" (sic; he is British). St. Elizabeths is no longer a federal institution but under the jurisdiction of the District of Columbia "a government that has experienced some well-publicized troubles in recent years," he writes.

Makes one wonder about the privacy act, your own medical records, and how they can become public property. Perhaps records of prisoners are not safeguarded as well as those of others .

Mr. Winchester was able to obtain Dr. Minor's records from other medical facilities with no attribution, other than general attribution, made about any of the records (dates, persons, descriptions). Nor are conversations with archivists, historians, a family member of Dr. Minor's, or sources Mr. Winchester used listed, dated or described in detail.

Quite a few pages are taken up with Mr. Winchester's acquaintances and friendships which enabled him to write the story.

The book is so short I thought it must be an abridged edition, but no.

Where are the pictures of the key players and places? Mr. Winchester mentions pictures and papers revealed to him by Dr. Minor's great-great-nephew, but none are included, and there are no citations of the papers used, if they were.

The line drawings which are included are nice and suggestive, reminding me of Nancy Drew mysteries I read long ago. The name of the artist who made the drawings for this book is not included anywhere that I could find.

Am I the first one to raise these questions about lack of documentation and citations? This is hard to believe since many years have passed since it was published.

This book is definitely not worth the time. With more embellishment, what a movie it could be!

Mr. Winchester is a prolific author: Since the publication of The Professor, he's brought out about a book a year, and many more before that.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Free Movies at Mary Pickford Theatre, Library of Congress

By the Queen of Free

Yes, they are free.

No, you can’t just walk in and expect a seat if all the reservations are taken and there are no seats left. Call 202-707-5677 no more than one week ahead to make a reservation for no more than two shows.

Yes, without a reservation it is possible to get a seat since they are released 10 minutes before show time, but there are only 60 seats.

Last Friday night ”Rock Around the Clock,” released in 1956 in black and white was first up, and starred, of course, Bill Haley and the Comets.

In 25 words or less: The plot depicts the group’s growth from a small town band to the country’s most popular, led by a developing promoter who forms a romantic relationship with the young female dancer of the group, complicated by money and “another woman.” (Well, all right: 40 words.) Imagine. Who in 2008 is watching this for plot?

Moviegoers want to hear and see the music, and we were satisfied. You rock in your seat and love it. Who were Freddie Bell and The Bellboys? Just hearing their name suggests music which was delightful, and their antics! Try “riding” a base, why don’t you? Why didn’t they “make it”? Maybe they did, and I just never heard of them.

Anyway, the original Platters sing several numbers in their distinctive style showing their grace and class. Wikipedia lists the songs sung in the movie.

The second feature, “That’ll Be the Day” also features 1950s music and stars David Essex who delivered an incredible, magnificent performance. Good night; I am still thinking about the movie two days later.

Remember the song? I always associated it with a happy message. Not! Music of the 50s era infuse the movie throughout. It is a British film set along a coast, and several paintings came to mind while watching the show. Have I ever seen a British film I didn’t like?

Although it was produced in 1973 , the cinematography, the sepia tones, the quick changes from one scene to the next, give it a contemporary air. The acting and direction are absolutely superb.

It’s a haunting story about a characterless, shallow man raised by a single mom. Through flashbacks and chronology his life from a young boy to a 20-something evolves, and he always takes the low road. The movie is quite disturbing about his lack of moral fiber which never improves. Ringo Starr plays a major part in about one-third of the film and performs flawlessly. Despite the dark nature of the movie, I found it astonishing , and evocative of personalities encountered today. Highly recommended!

These two movies are part of the series devoted to films before the Beatles (but 1973 came after the Beatles' advent). Check out the schedule for other upcoming films, but please: Do not take my seat. Thank you. (September is included in the schedule section "July - August 2008".)