Sunday, January 29, 2006

Roving Mars in IMAX

Saturday night I went to the Metreon to see the short documentary featuring images from Mars on the IMAX screen. The movie was long on visuals but short on explanations. The NOVA documentary & Steve Squyres book are more informative about the technical & personal stories behind the mission. For me the most impressive images in the IMAX movie were the rovers being built & tested, the parachutes being tested & the computer animated sequence of the rocket launch.

But there was not enough explanation. I wanted to know more about all the stuff that was on the rovers. I wanted to know why the early parachute designs were flawed. I wanted to know what the heck all the stages of that rocket were for. It's pretty wild to see that huge rocket jettison more & more components, until it's just a small disk flying through space. & I wanted to know how they came up with that crazy bouncing landing gear. To me, these would be compelling stories.

Rick Miller's MacHomer

I caught MacHomer at the Roda Theatre in Berkeley on Thursday night. This frantic & wacky one-man show presents Macbeth as done in the voices of the Simpsons cartoon characters. It assumes equal familiarity with both the Simpsons & Shakespeare. Rick Miller does an impressive job mimicking all the characters as well as other celebrities, switching from one voice to another in rapid fire. The show never stops coming at you for 70 minutes. I was starting to feel sorry for the performer; he had so much to do. During the final musical number, he apologized to the audience for dropping out briefly to cough.

The show is never unfaithful to any of the Simpsons characters. It feels like it could be animated as a Simpsons episode with no problems. In fact, there have been episodes where the Simpsons are historical characters & even Shakespearean characters, & I wondered if these episodes were actually inspired by this show.

The melding of the Simpsons with Shakespeare is spot-on: "Is this a dagger I see before me? Or a pizza? Mmmm, pizza..." Early on, the show veers off into King Lear for a few moments, & it's amazing how appropriate it sounds to hear King Lear's first speech done by Mr. Burns. Whole speeches from Shakespeare in the voice of a cartoon character can actually sound great.

It's a high-tech show. Rick Miller performs in front of a rear-projection video screen, which displays constantly shifting cartoon drawings which illustrate the settings & the character being impersonated. There is also a witches' cauldron on stage which has a video camera in it, so that the performer can play to this camera & have his face or crude paper cut-out puppets projected onto the screen.

The show was sold out, & there were quite a few kids in the audience.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Radu Lupu

On Tuesday night I heard Radu Lupu's recital at Herbst Theatre. Just him, a piano, works by Schumann & Schubert, & an attentive sold-out audience.

He's become a very weird performer. He's almost disdainful of the audience, like he doesn't even want us to be here while he plays. He just sits down, leans back & starts playing. He plays the pieces with no breaks between movements. He hums audibly while he plays. He sits leaning back in a chair instead of on a piano bench, with his arms extended. At times his arms barely seems to be moving. He occasionally sits up to do a fortissimo.

His playing is so beautiful, controlled & refined. For the Schumann Wawldszenen he created many different colors & moods, some of them supernatural & eerie. He's a Rasputin of the piano for me. I was in a trance for 2 hours. I didn't want to leave the hall after the concert & go back to listening to the sounds of traffic & noise in the outside world.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Menschen am Sonntag

This night caught screening of Menschen am Sonntag, a 1929 German silent, as part of the Berlin & Beyond festival at the Castro. Slice-of-life story of 4 young Berliners out for a day of leisure. Sexual attractions & jealousies ensue. Reminiscent of the leisure sequences in Sunrise & The Crowd. Shot on the streets of Berlin & on Wannsee. Fresh, modern & youthful. Naturalistic in the way of a French New Wave movie. Live organ accompaniment was uninteresting.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Gardiner Conducts Mozart

On Monday I went to Davies Hall to hear John Eliot Gardiner conduct the Mozart Mass in C minor & Mozart Requiem, with this Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique & the Monteverdi Choir. Modest forces playing major works: 30 singers & about 45 in the orchestra. Soloists come from chorus, giving a communal feeling. Fleet tempos. Clean & balanced sound. Ideal music.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Katy Grannan at the Fraenkel Gallery

Portrait photos of people in various states of undress, reminiscent of Diane Arbus. The models seem like exhibitionists, the photographer a voyeur.