Thursday, August 2, 2012

Music & a movie … in & around manhattan

Most readers are fully (and experientially) aware that New York City is a summer festival featuring all kinds of outdoor events & mini-festivals occurring on a regular basis all summer long in or near parks throughout the 5 boroughs …  and reflective of the areas of dance, theater (free Shakespeare in Central Park now for a 50th season at The Delacorte Theater!), food (are you booked yet for the current NYC Restaurant Week, July 16th - August 10th ?), music, literature & literary talks, and more. A great many of these events are free and major “acts” and major talents appear weekly not only in Central Park … but in Bryant Park, Battery Park, Rockefeller Park (the River to River, or R2R, Festival, for example), Prospect Park, and Tompkins Square Park (the upcoming Charlie Parker Jazz Festival).

But the venue and weekly event we seem to love the most – at least this summer – is the Madison Square Park outdoor concert series – The Oval Lawn Series – with FREE world class performances on Wednesdays from June 20th through August 8th.  This past Wednesday evening, August 1st, the scheduled event, “An Evening of Folk,” with Suzzy & Maggie Roche, Sloan Wainwright & Lucy Wainwright Roche, was, miraculously, not cancelled despite the periodically intense (& scattered) thunderstorms, but was, apparently, moved to a covered (sheltered?) area near The Shake Shack, closer to the 23rd Street & 5th Ave. entrance to the park.  (We never made it, however, having determined that we’d be drenched even before arrival.)

We were on hand at Madison Square Park on Wednesday, July 25th (7:00 pm, sharp) for one of our favorite performers, Ms.Regina Carter (called “one of the finest violinists of her generation”) and a program entitled “Reverse Thread(also the title of her latest CD). With her new group, including accordion and kora (a 21-string West African harp, “traditionally played by village storytellers”), the focus was on a range of traditional & contemporary African, Latino & (so-called) Worldrhythmical music, with tones, color, harmonies & beat rarely heard in the world of western jazz, and calling to mind the work of the Kronos Quartet (and African composers like Dumisani Maraire) and their album, “Pieces of Africa,” and, also, the lively, notable, “gorgeous & tough” work within Paul Simon's celebrated South African-inflected album, “Graceland. 

Kudos, of course, go to Regina Carter, herself, and to Yacouba Sissoko, the kora virtuoso she brought in to help recreate and reinforce the traditional aspects of a kind of native narrative music superbly soothing & simply intriguing to the western ear, and, according to the website notes, rendering a “haunting & beautiful compliment to Regina’s sumptuously seductive violin.”  Indeed, it proved to be a sumptuous evening, in all, just sitting on our blankets soaking in this unique, lively & accessible music performed almost non-stop by these exquisite performers!

Draft beer and a short list of interesting sandwiches & small plates are available in the park (right near the Oval Lawn stage) and provided, not inexpensively, by Fatty ‘Cue (I chose the smoked Brandt beef brisket, with cilantro, roasted mushrooms, charred onions & chilies on a soft roll and a Belfast Bay “Lobster” ale).  

The Shake Shack, the allegedly outstanding & “major” food source in Madison Square Park (not your typical burgers, shakes, cold drinks & fries), is, unfortunately, a decidedly negative option at peak times … owing to the incredibly (seemingly never-ending) lengthy line of would-be customers extending, perhaps, a ½ mile in front of the purchase-order window.  Maybe next time, though, and just a bit earlier ... to sample a cheeseburger topped with Niman Ranch, all-natural applewood-smoked bacon, a stack of crinkle-cut Yukon fries, and a Hopscotch shake (with vanilla custard, caramel sauce & chocolate truffle) … at The Shack!

On another note entirely, and on another rain-clogged night in Manhattan, we very recently saw the new Benoit Jacquot film, ”Farewell,My Queen.” Told from the point of view of the Queen’s young (female) “reader,” the film bears witness to the final days of Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) – and the decayed & increasingly decaying members of the Ancien Regime residing for years at the Palace of Versailles – following the taking of the Bastille in July, 1789, and just prior to the storming of Versailles itself in early October of the same year.

The film focuses, primarily, on the “noble”-women and serving women surrounding, and ostensibly attending to, the needs (and physical demands) of the otherwise hated Queen. While we do see the King (Louis XVI) in a very few of the film’s frames, a passel of male members of a government in decline, and the male royal archivist, M. Jacob Moreau (Michel Robin), this film is, centrally, an examination of the women at Versailles (including the Queen’s lover) ... those that worship her, those that love her, those who would die for her … and those, en attendant, that seethe with hatred & envy of this, to them, egotistical monster.

But, forefront, is the Queen’s reader, a young woman, Sidonie Laborde (Lea Seydoux), who adores the Queen, her proximity to the Queen, and her proximity to the center of late 18th-c. French power.  She simply cannot fathom – and will not believe – that this privileged world will shortly come to an end.  (In fact, she, the reader – Miss Laborde – will survive it all as she poses, late in the film, as the Queens’s lover, Mme. de Polignac [Virginie Ledoyen], and in the clothes of that lover, so that Mme. de Polignac will escape the coming deluge, just as the Queen would have it.)

If you are interested in the early days of the French Revolution – and, possibly, in the “infected” royals (we see an image of a dead rat in this film more than once), and royal hangers-on, inhabiting a rotting & debilitated Versailles – then this naturalistic treatment of the place, period, and its inhabitants are a must for you to witness. The acting, all around, is superb; the photography stellar, precise (in some frames a bit washed out, in other frames lusciously inviting & colorful); and Ms. Seydoux’s own performance as the devoted & somewhat naïve reader, Sidonie Laborde – who suggests literature or journals to entertain the Queen, selects specific titles for her from the palace library, and reads snippets of prose or drama to her each morning – pitch perfect.

(“Farewell, My Queen” is based on an historical novel of the same name by Chantal Thomas.)

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