Zorn Noir

6a00d8341f7e1253ef017eea0b4f7b970d-800wiJohn Zorn. I was thinking John Cage before I went to the Walker Art Center tonight to hear the first set of John Zorn’s “The Hermetic Organ”. So, since I had heard plenty of Phillip Glass’s minimal, almost meditative compositions, I was ready for just that. Then again, it couldn’t be John Cage since, well, he died in 1992. This was actually the first time I had heard John Zorn’s music. Better late than never, I guess!

The stage was set with a lot of instruments, most of them string instruments like a cello, violin and a stand up bass. To the left we could expect, maybe, to hear Zorn play the piano or the organ. A drum set occupied the back of the stage and a full set of congas to the right, accompanied by a huge drum on its side and a gigantic gong.

6a00d8341f7e1253ef017d42970655970c-800wiA young, 30s-ish dude entered the stage in a black t-shirt with some Chinese characters arranged vertically up the back and green fluorescent camouflaged cargo pants. He waved the cellist, Erik Friedlander, onstage for the first solo performance. The solo cello music reminded me a bit of Kronos Quartet at first, but they took on a very interesting Middle Eastern, sort of gypsy Klezmer sound.

The next set brought the bass player, Greg Cohen, cellist Erik Friedlander, violinist Mark Feldman, and the dude in the camouflage pants back to the stage. The dude in the camouflage pants simply sat on the floor with his back to the audience, alerting the musicians to begin playing. Okay, so now I realized that the dude was really John Zorn who is celebrating his 60th birthday with this amazing composition and fabulous ensemble of master musicians. Later on, percussionists Cyro Baptista and Kenny Wollesen and electric guitarist Marc Ribot entered the stage.

I’ll have to say that I was on the edge of my seat the entire set. I was expecting a musical contemporary of Phillip Glass, but found that John Zorn’s piece was part improvisational jazz, influenced by Klezmer music and taking full advantage of the many sounds of traditional Middle Eastern music. There were a lot of complicated half notes; thankfully no major keys. As the set evolved, It really sounded like a musical score for a Coen Brothers film, Lone Star or a classic spaghetti western. It turns out that Zorn has a twenty year history of musical scores for mostly art house films. I could certainly envision a Zorn musical score for the next season of Breaking Bad.

Too bad we didn’t have tickets for the set at 10pm when the organ and piano will be played and several other musicians will add to the mix. But we will catch the final set at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, across the street from the Walker Art Center. To top off his birthday celebration, John Zorn will be performing a free midnight solo organ concert at the church.


John Zorn became established in New York City in the mid-1970s and has composed and performed with a wide range of musicians working in diverse musical areas. He has an amazing way of borrowing musical influences from many cultures and transforming it his into his own unique mix. He spent this teenage years listening to classical music, film music, and, “listening to The Doors and playing bass in a surf band.” He taught himself about orchestration, transcribing scores and using them in his own compositions, a procedure he calls “plagiarizing, stealing, quoting, or whatever you can call it”, of collage and transposition into his own world, that he has been using throughout his career.

Master manipulator of character: Kevin Spacey

“The less you know about me, the easier it is to convince you that I am that character on screen. It allows an audience to come into a movie theatre and believe I am that person.” – Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey has indeed played a long line of dark, manipulative
characters; we love to hate his well executed villains. Here are some
of my favorites:

Se7en (1995)
His “John Doe” is mostly a voiceover. Do we ever actually see him? His mere absence from the film actually makes his
character all the more intriguing. Seven is a film about two homicide detectives’ hunt for Spacey’s serial killer who justifies his crimes as the world’s ignorance of the Seven Deadly Sins. John Doe’s victims involuntarily play a role in his version of the Seven Deadly Sins: Wrath, Envy, Greed, Pride, Lust, Sloth, and Gluttony.

The Usual Suspects (1995)
A boat has been destroyed, criminals are dead, and the key lies with the only survivor, Verbal Kent, and his convoluted story incriminating five career crooks in a police
lineup. The mysterious Keyser Söze, the mastermind of the big heist, remains at large until the end.

American Beauty (1999)
6a00d8341f7e1253ef017d4197968c970c-800wiLester Burnham is a middle-aged corporate cog in the middle of a mid-life crisis. He decides to turn his life around after quitting his job. He chides his wife, relishing in her dissatisfaction with his new attitude.

6a00d8341f7e1253ef017ee90b5d37970d-800wiLester and Carolyn Burnham appear to be the perfect husband and wife, in a perfect house with untouchable upholstery, in a perfect neighborhood. But Lester finally snaps when he becomes infatuated with one of his daughter’s friends. It’s refreshing, in a strange sort of way, to watch him rebel against this perfect suburban enclave.

House of Cards (2012)
Francis “Frank” Underwood is a conniving congressman from South Carolina who loses his chance at being the next Secretary of State. He does what it takes, with his wife’s undying support, to get what he wants, crushing everyone in his path. He develops a relationship with young Zoe who releases media scams along the way via social media, and contributes to their dysfunctional sexual relationship.

6a00d8341f7e1253ef017ee90b5e6b970d-800wiHouse of Cards is one of a handful of series put up by Netflix. The first 13 episodes were released at the same time to addicted series
viewers. Netflix’ twitter feed tempted us all with their tweet:“How far into House of Cards are you? Don’t forget to shower, eat something, stretch! #watchresponsibly.”

Kevin Spacey definitely has his roots in theater. In February of 2003, he made a major move back to the theatre. He was appointed Artistic Director to save the famous Old Vic theatre. His first production was the September 2004 British premiere of the play Cloaca. He also made his UK Shakespearean debut in the title role of Richard II in 2005. He starred in Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten along with ‘Colm Meaney’ and Eve Best, and in 2007 that show went to Broadway. In February 2008 Spacey put on a revival of the David Mamet 1988 play Speed-the-Plow.

“I was beginning to feel I just didn’t want to go through another 10 years of living in hotels, making three or four movies a year. I long for the ritual of theater. I adore it. And I want to do plays that challenge me. The movies are not my first priority – the theater is.” – Kevin Spacey

Whatever the case, he thrives in both theatre and films. I’ll be looking for his next villain – to love to hate.

The secret addiction of a series

Ever since we got rid of our network TV and all those extra cable channels, I’ll have to say that I don’t miss it one bit. I can get all my news on public radio and the internet. We now have cable for the internet and Apple TV. I don’t miss the commercials and the wasted time spent watching dumb sit-coms and those shows and movies you just happen to land on and end up watching the entire thing.

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I’ve come to like the series; multiple, commercial-free episodes. The Brits and Swedes do it really well, especially their murder mysteries and casting of real characters who actually fit the part. They don’t pair a 20-something beautiful woman with a seasoned, well known actor just to bump up the ratings. I find myself watching one episode after another, and looking at my partner for the same craving to just watch one more. Once all of the seasons have been seen, I feel like I need to find another series.

Some of my favorite series are:

  • The Killing – Follows the police investigation of the murder of a young girl, tying together three interlocking stories as investigators chase a variety of leads. View the trailer
  • Homeland – Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody returns home eight years after going missing in Iraq. Carrie Mathison, a driven CIA officer, suspects he might be plotting an attack on America. View on MDB
  • Wallander (Swedish original, British version trailer Starring Kenneth Branagh)
  • Annika Benktson: Crime Reporter – Annika Benktson is a very motivated crime reporter, even putting herself in danger to get the best story. View on MDB
  • Breaking Bad – Informed he has terminal cancer, an underachieving chemistry genius turned high school teacher uses his expertise to secretly provide for his family by producing the world’s highest quality crystal meth. View trailer
  • Foyle’s War – As World War II rages around the world, a police inspector fights his own war on the home-front in investigating murder, robbery, and espionage on the south coast of England. View on MDB
  • Luther – “Luther” follows the cases of a troubled yet brilliant English police detective, DCI John Luther (Idris Elba). Luther is a highly charged emotional man who is not above stretching the law to solve a case or save a life. View the trailer

Walker Film Festival

abramovitz-soldiersErnesto and I spent some time, in between films, in the sculpture garden. I still miss those politically-charged, headless soldiers standing at attention next to the brick wall by Magdalena Abakanowicz. Unfortunately, they were not intended to be part of the permanent collection. Too strong a subject for a Midwestern audience perhaps?

We’ve seen a lot of films at the Walker this month during the film festival honoring women in the director’s chair. “Writer of O” is a documentary about Dominique Aury, the French author and publicist who wrote the “scandalous” erotic novel “Story of O”. After forty years of secrecy, she revealed that she was the author. She was quoted to have said that after so many years, now an elderly lady of ninety years, the scandal had less of a sting.
Last night, we saw the film “Yes” by Sally Potter, starring Joan Allen and Simon Abkarian. I loved this film because, even though it was done in six weeks on a tight budget, the cinematography was incredibly creative, merging images in slow motion to convey dream sequences that meshed very well with its abstract, poetic dialogue. There was always a secondary presence of the “cleaning staff” who knew what was going on, talking directly to the camera, much like the Tilda Swinton character in “Orlando”. Joan Allen was on hand after the film. She was very tall with long blonde hair and, just like anyone in film, she looked much thinner in person. She seemed very friendly and non-pretentious. Then again, she’s a great actor, so we’ll never know!