Tuesday, April 30, 2019

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Once again, I'm called in as emergency fill-in reviewer of an SFS concert I was going to be attending anyway. And the reason I was going? The chance to hear Samuel Barber's First Symphony, which used to be considered one of the cornerstone rocks of the modern Americanist repertoire. But not at SFS, I guess, where it hadn't been heard since 1963, under the guest baton of Howard Mitchell, a conductor even more forgotten than the Barber Symphony is. Wow, it takes me back to my student days, when names like these were still current.

Anyway, how this tough piece, which hearing live finally got me to feel acquainted with, wound up on the end of a program of Mozart, Beethoven, and Wagner, I don't know, but I'm glad it did. Here's the review.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

concert review: Stockton Symphony

Stockton? Yes, at over 300,000 one of the larger cities in California's flat and fertile Central Valley, it was founded as a river port to support the Gold Rush and named for the US Navy officer who directed California's capture in the Mexican War. It flourished for many years, but its civic profile in recent decades hasn't been sterling: blight, unemployment, school shootings, civic bankruptcy. For most in the Bay Area, there's not much reason to visit except to drive past on the way somewhere else.

But I found a reason. Stockton compensates with civic pride. It has pride for its symphony, which turns out to be a pretty good orchestra, performing in a community college auditorium with subtle amplification. And it has pride for its multi-cultural, uh, culture, which expressed itself in this ingenious concert program: seven works, each representing one of Stockton's sister cities around the world, most composed by someone who came from within hailing distance of that particular city. It attracted me for its sparkling variety, and turned out to be worth the trouble.

One of the sister cities, Parma, Italy, was easy. Parma is the urban center around the home town of Giuseppe Verdi. So the concert concluded with the triumph scene from Act 2 of Aida, brightly performed by the orchestra, with a collection of three local choruses (two of them from the two local colleges) singing powerfully behind them.

Stockton's sister city in Mexico is in Sonora, and that's the home state of Arturo Márquez. But instead of his famous Danzon No. 2, we heard his Conga del fuego nuevo, which applies the same vivid dance character to a conga.

Some of the compositions were themselves multi-cultural. The great Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu was represented, for instance, not by any of his characteristic impressionist mysticism, but by a couple pieces of his 1950s-60s film music, which evoked their movies' settings by being a jazzy blues and a melancholy Viennese waltz.

The impressionism came in a movement from the African Suite by Fela Sowande, applying that technique to a folk melody from his native land of Nigeria.

Chen Yi was born in the Cantonese region of China (sister city, check) but now lives in the US, having taught for many years in Kansas City, for whose anniversary she wrote a KC Capriccio, which turns out to be a raucous work with chorus that, while rather modernist, is so lively and good-humored as to be fun to listen to.

Cambodia's king Norodom Sihanouk was also a songwriter and jazz musician, and some of his work was arranged by Andre Kostelanetz into a suite which sounds like typical Kostelanetz pops work with just a bit of what must be Cambodian flavor to it.

The ringer in the bunch was Bernard Green, an American tv composer who did once produce an Overture on Philippine Folk Songs, some of which came from the Visayas region where the sister city of Iloilo is.

There were also a couple fanfares by local Stockton composers, one of which had some historical note. The city's port director in the 1930s, Benjamin Allin, was also an amateur composer, and in their files was a piano score of his Port Stockton March, which current Symphony conductor Peter Jaffe arranged for orchestra to bring out both its Sousa-like energy and an allusion to the Aida march that he spotted in the central section accompaniment. It too was great fun.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

things I'd like to tell authors

The ones who write scholarly articles for journals, of course. (The one thing I want to tell fiction authors is: if your characters are British nobility, they can't be Lord First-name and Lord Last-name at the same time.)

1. Ellipses indicate omitted words from within a quote. Therefore they serve no logical purpose at the beginnings or ends of quoted passages, so don't put them there.

2. Also, don't put brackets around ellipses. That was an innovation the MLA came up with some thirty years ago, as a way to distinguish supplied ellipses from ones in the original quoted text. But soon enough they realized that 1) original ellipses are uncommon, and can easily be handled with a note reading "ellipses in original"; 2) the brackets are bone-ugly. So they eliminated the rule. Get the message; it's been decades now.

3. Check the names of people you cite. Especially check Tolkien character names for accents and other diacritics.

4. Use the editions of Tolkien's books listed in our style sheet. If you don't have access to those, use ## for page numbers and we'll insert them. And for the sake of Ilúvatar and all the little Valar, if you're going to quote from The Book of Lost Tales, DON'T USE THE DEL REY PAPERBACKS! Like every mass-market paperback reprint ever made, they have entirely different pagination from the originals. And especially don't use them without telling us. You will just confuse people.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

bibliography project

I'm slowly reaching the end on this. I have only three more items I have to look at to determine bibliographical details or read to see how relevant they are, and they're all being fetched from storage (where Stanford keeps most of its relevant material, from which it takes at least 2 days to fetch it out) or on quickie interlibrary loan.

Meantime a lot of editing and correcting. Authors' names mangled in the databases. An article whose title implies it's about the movies but also discusses the book (and which flabbergasts me by praising the movies enthusiastically for their "faithful adaptatation", even singling out for favor that most cringe-worthy feature, Sean Astin's acting), and another whose title clearly includes the phrase "Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings" but which turns out to be entirely about the movies. A huge anthology from an Inklings conference which turns out to have only two papers partially about Tolkien. They prefer discussing Lewis.

I've also remembered to scan or download articles as I find them, so that I'll have copies handy for the Year's Work next year. I'm now down to a mere 7 articles I'll have to submit to heavy-duty ILL, which will eventually e-mail me PDFs.

Prepping for the Year's Work is an ordeal of its own. When I was first asked to write this, many years ago, I looked over the previous year's bibliography, which would be my source list, and then pulled out from my shelves all the books I had that were on it. I had most of them, and had already read most of those, so I was confident I could do this.

But I kept doing that from scratch every year. As I acquired new books, I'd shelve them in appropriate spots on my Tolkien shelves, or tuck them in a corner if there was no room. Then I'd have to find them all when it came time to write. This year I had three rare and otherwise unavailable items I needed for the bibliography that weren't in the obvious spot. I found them all, but I said: enough. I have some old cubbyholes originally intended for current projects. I cleared out two of them and designated them: one for the current Year's Work, and one for future years including the bibliography. From now on everything goes in there.

That went well, but not everything has. I edit the bibliography this way: enter data into the computer, print it out, take the printout to the library, add corrections and new info to it by pencil as I work over the day, take it home, enter the pencilled notations into the computer, reprint the file, start over with the next library the next day.

Last night, having come home from the library via my piano concert, I went straight to bed but awoke around 3, as I often do. Deciding to get some work done, I couldn't find the printed bibliography with its invaluable notes. Despair. Then it occurred to me: on my way home I'd fueled the car, and thrown out some newspapers I'd had in the passenger seat. Had my annotated printout gone with them?

Despite the hour, I immediately dressed and drove the 30 miles back to the gas station. And in the trash bin, underneath assorted later additions, I found my newspaper and then, now coffee-stained but still legible, my 8 sheets of paper. I had neither noticed they were there nor had they subsequently come to mind until I needed them. Yow. I don't ever want such a close call again, but it's not possible to keep constant track of everything at once. But this is why I have sympathy for people who forget to fetch things you wouldn't think they would forget.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

concert review: Alexandre Tharaud, piano

So after two long and full days at university library research, I got to head up to the city for a piano recital. This was a replacement for the one on my series that was cancelled when the pianist fell ill. I'd signed up for it because he'd been going to play Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, an enormous work that I'd really wanted to hear.

So Tharaud, the replacement, played instead Bach's Goldberg Varations, an equally enormous work (it took 70 minutes to play) not quite as high on my personal want list. But he played it very nicely, with great distinction and separation among the canonic voices and a firmness that only the transfer to piano from harpsichord can provide. Without a break, that was enough, except for a brief encore.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Tolkien bibliography

That's what I've been working on for the last couple days: the annual bibliography of Tolkien studies for the journal of the same title. This year we're covering 2017 (just long enough in the past to let the references settle down).

First thing is to go through all the specialty indexes and known Tolkien-related journals, and then turn to more general indexes. This is my first time using Google Scholar, which I added to my list of sources last year. I like it a lot. Its article listings are more detailed than WorldCat's, and it has a lot more material, though there's a lot of scholarly sources it omits, and there's plenty more work to be done. It's a very high-recall index, which means there's lots of dross to sort through, and despite using a relevance ordering there's no obvious spot where the dross entirely takes over; that comes from the intensity and depth of the recall. It's a good thing I'm working on an author with an exceedingly rare surname; if I were working on Charles Williams, I wouldn't be able to proceed this way.

Biggest problem is: what possibly relevant items to omit? I omit anything about the movies that isn't directly about comparing them with the books: this is Tolkien Studies, not Jackson Studies. Similarly with other derived and inspired material. Accordingly, I also omit an article about tiny neopagan groups who've modeled their religion on The Silmarillion: it's fascinating, but it turns out to have nothing to do with Tolkien's book, just on what these people did with it.

Theoretical linguists seem to be taking to using Tolkien to provide examples for their airy discussions. There's an article on the difference between the truth values of "Frodo lives in the Shire" (which is a fictional statement already) and "Frodo lives at 221B Baker Street," and what happens if you add "Imagine that ..." to the front of either of them. I decided this was just N to fill the space and had nothing to do with Tolkien.

Equivalently, I've decided to stop listing the trickle of articles, mostly from Eastern Europe, that use translations, usually of The Hobbit, as source material for usually rather vague analyses of how particular forms of expressions or types of words are translated from English into Bulgarian or some other such target language. Any Tolkien content has been sucked out in the process.

There are a lot of things, however, that I add as tentative because there's no full text accessible online and I can't figure out from the citations if they're relevant or not until I can get to a library and figure them out. Already out, from a view at the public library, is a book of tales of famous authors' childhoods whose story of Tolkien and the tarantula is full of made-up detail, because there isn't any that isn't made up. It also says he remained terrified of spiders, which he wasn't.

Besides topic, there's also nature of publication. We don't list unpublished theses. I'm trying to be chary of undergraduate term papers stuck without additional formatting into their school's online journals. Self-published books can go in if they're substantial. Something with no library holdings, no proper title page, and a single Amazon customer review saying it's a worthless ripoff of Tolkien fans' money, no. Frantic e-mails to obscure Tolkien publications: why does your website not list an issue from you, but WorldCat says there is one?

Now to spend the rest of the weekend thinking about making food - there's visits to both a Pesach seder and an Easter dinner on the calendar; that's what comes of being an interfaith couple - and I'm bringing food to both of them. Come Monday, it's down to the trenches of the university libraries for a couple more days' bibliographic work.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Beard

The most light and enjoyable topic to come out of a day spent releasing the Mueller report was the obsession with The Beard: the one on the guy standing behind Attorney General Barr at his press conference.

Here is both the answer to "Who is he, anyway?" (he's a deputy AG) and a collection of various tweets and comments about his appearance, of which the second best is
“This is going to be tough. Get me a guy with a cool beard to stand behind me.” -William Barr
and the best is
Breaking News: Attorney General Barr brings former President James A. Garfield to press conference in order to distract reporters with his magnificent beard.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


A kindly person on my Dreamwidth FL referred readers to this post about Buttercup in The Princess Bride. Mostly the movie, but also the book. She lacks inner character, that's basically the problem.

I think the writer is on to something here. I noticed two things about Buttercup in the movie that bothered me from the first time I saw it:

1) The movie, unlike the book, offers no explanation for why Buttercup gave in and agreed to marry Humperdinck. All she gets is denounced for it. That seemed to me the one big plot hole in the movie.

2) Buttercup was played by Robin Wright. It was close to her first movie, certainly the first time I ever saw her. I didn't like her. She was the only actor in the movie I didn't like. Everybody else I thought was terrific. Cary Elwes, whom I'd also never seen before, was better than I could possibly have imagined. But not Robin Wright.

I figured at the time that she was just not a very good actor. But I've liked her in everything else I've subsequently seen her in. (What really sold me on her was not so much Forrest Gump, an annoying movie, as two obscure but terrific films, Toys with Robin Williams and The Pledge with Jack Nicholson.) Either she got a lot better as an actor, or else the part was so badly-written that a good actor couldn't do anything with it.

The former is possible, but I now think the latter is more likely. Buttercup is a cipher. She gets to order Westley around and utter a few defiant lines that - as the post points out - come out of nowhere, but otherwise she's mostly just hauled around and reacts to things. What can Wright do with this?

I've become more aware of how screenwriters and directors who don't comprehend the characters in their movies can kill the actors' performances since the Lord of the Rings movies came out. The only good performance in that mess is Sean Bean as Boromir, because Boromir is the only character in the story that Peter Jackson understands. We know from other movies that Elijah Wood and Viggo Mortensen can be good actors, so why are they so lifeless and inert in these movies? Because their parts are badly written and badly directed. Just like Buttercup.

Monday, April 15, 2019

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

I had tickets to two concerts while B. was gone, both of them evening events in the City. Which created a logistical difficulty, as if she's not coming home from work I have to be home to feed the cats. This shouldn't be done earlier than 5 pm, which doesn't leave much time for driving up to the City in evening traffic and finding a parking space and getting something to eat before showtime. It can be done, but it's challenging.

Fortunately for my schedule, if for nothing else, the piano recital's performer became ill and had to cancel his tour. As for the other concert, my regular Thursday SF Symphony, I decided just to skip it. While I'd have loved to have heard Emanuel Ax play the Brahms Second Concerto, that wasn't enough by itself, and I wasn't drawn to the second piece, Zemlinsky's enormous Straussian tone poem The Mermaid. I'd heard that once on the radio, and once was enough.

Then on Friday I got, as I sometimes do, a call from my editor. Other plans had fallen through, and since I'm usually available, he's turned to me to review the SF Symphony. Often enough my response is, "I just heard that last night," and I can write a review on the spot. Other times, of course, I have to go to one of the later performances.

This time I was glad I hadn't gone. I don't think I would have been able to give The Mermaid a fair or knowledgeable review without having given it some extra attention. So I scheduled myself for the Sunday matinee, both because B. would be back by then and to give myself time to study this monster. I re-read the H.C. Andersen fairy tale on which the music turns out to be very closely based, and I listened to a recording with score, which confirmed for me what I had disliked about the work.

Which put me in a good position not just to evaluate the work, but to appreciate the specific virtues of Andrey Boreyko's conducting of it. I wrote most of the review in my head while walking down to dinner afterwards, and it was merely a matter of remembering my wording.

I was very happy to hit upon the word "grandiloquent" to describe this genre of music. That combines several different words I'd have used to describe it into one adjective. The wording implies Zemlinsky aimed at this quality deliberately, and I seriously think he did, given that what I'd call grandiloquence he'd consider a virtue.

I'm equally pleased with "warm vibrancy" for the cello solo in the Brahms, as a polite description of a style of cello playing I don't care for.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Look, Mr Darcy! An opera!

The best outing B. and I have had recently was last Saturday's concert premiere - it was called that because it was just singers before music stands, nothing staged - of Kirke Mechem's opera of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I hadn't heard any of Mechem's other operas - he's adapted Tartuffe and Sheridan's The Rivals - but I do know some of his choral music and have admired it.

I've been looking forward to this for a year or so since the Redwood Symphony announced it was forthcoming. And the Redwood Symphony has been looking forward to having me review it, and they've been on me for quite a while about that.

And here's the review. It has some critical observations, but the Symphony's marketing director was very pleased upon reading it.

It was a vivid and enjoyable experience to attend. I took lots of scribbled notes, but found I didn't have to consult almost any of them to write the review.

I do regret, however, that space limitations required leaving out some things. When I wrote that, towards the end, "too many threads need to be wrapped up at once, and too much is left to the viewer’s memory of reading the book," I was thinking in particular of, after Jane's relationship with Bingley had been left hanging in the air, a scene arrives in which we gradually learn from incidental references that they are now happily engaged. I don't think Mechem intended that to come as quite the unveiled surprise that it would be to the untutored viewer. I think he expects you to remember that from the book. Earlier scenes don't make that kind of assumptive leap.

When noting that "a jig at Netherfield catches up the vocal lines into its lively rhythm," I was thinking also of an earlier sarabande, to a tune derived from Handel, where the vocal lines conspicuously stay apart from the simultaneous dance, and I wondered why the difference.

I also regret not mentioning all of the soloists. Amy Goymerac as Charlotte was almost as strong as Amy Foote. James Cowing as Mr. Bennet had lots of character, but was not as fluent a singer as his large part required. Bradley Kynard as Wickham had a lovely tenor voice; pity his part was so small.

I should have noted also that the audience was clearly having a good time throughout. Austen's humorous lines consistently got laughs. I'd tried to alert the local English Regency group to this show, but I didn't see any of them show up. (They would have been conspicuous, as they'd probably have worn period costume.) Maybe some of them came to the Sunday matinee.

Friday, April 12, 2019

the history of my website

I got my own personal website when I went to work for a library at Stanford and was put in charge of maintaining the department's internal website (manuals, project status sheets, etc.). To help me do this, I was sent to a staff training class that taught us how to hand-code HTML - this was 20 years ago, and web design programs were still rare - and had us practice this by creating our own personal pages on the university server. I put in a then-new photo of me at work, and links to a few pieces of mine that others had already loaded onto the web.

I gradually added more pages to the web site, especially before I got a new outlet by starting a blog. Design and color scheme, as I previously mentioned, were chosen with the help of Vonda N. McIntyre. I was looking for a background color as dark and unglaring as possible that black type would still be easily visible on, and she helped me with that. When I left Stanford, I moved the site over to the web-hosting of my personal e-mail provider, Earthlink, and there it's sat ever since, occasionally updated. I keep my personal bibliography and list of concert reviews updated, and add things as they come in to other lists like the one of the Inklings in fiction. Other projects I've let fall behind. But it's still all (except outside links) my own raw hand-coded HTML.

So things were until a month ago, while I was in New York, and found that the whole Earthlink web site was down while it was being migrated. Eventually it came back, but at first my web site didn't. It was only after receiving a cryptically-phrased e-mail and getting some clarification from phone help that I learned that Earthlink was phasing out the customer web pages that were being kept on their own server.

They were, however, still offering web hosting; you just had to get your own domain. It's taken me four long phone conversations with the web hosting people (all very helpful and intelligent; all men with the same voice and the same heavy Indian accent; each with a different name like "Frank") to get this up and running - not uploading the files; that was the easy part; but getting the web site recognized and available as one glitch or omission or another got addressed - but it's up now. I love the direct file uploader, which is much smoother and less gnarled than the FTP I used to use, and I am now the proud owner of https://www.dbratman.net. Please change any previous URLs you have for me, and let's hope this gets propagated onto Google and such in searches for me.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Mayor Pete

The politician of the hour is Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who - unusually for a politician with such a workaday job - is running for President, and making some hay out of it. To my mind, this is the most insightful article I've seen yet on the serious implications of his candidacy.

But never mind that, how do you pronounce his name? Buttigieg has been putting out that it's "BOOT-edge-edge" which doesn't strike me as very helpful. Run together it's a tongue-twister, and at least one of the cascade of mispronunciations collected in this Daily Show segment is by someone who's apparently seen that version and avoided the tongue-twistiness of it by pronouncing it as three separate words. No; that can't be right.

"BOOT-edge-edge" doesn't even parse very well. If that's it, then why is the first "edge" spelled "ig" and the second one spelled "ieg"? That's very puzzling.

But in fact that's not it. Wikipedia offers "BUU-deh-jij", which not only makes a lot more sense in terms of spelling (now the last syllable is spelled "gieg"; OK, that kind of works), and it flows more easily off the tongue, it is - from the same Daily Show segment - much closer to the way Buttigieg pronounces it himself.

Interestingly, to me at any rate, I've actually been to South Bend since Pete took office as Mayor - twice, in fact, once with snow and once without. It struck me as a modestly nice place. Here's what I wrote about it:

South Bend, although a noted university seat, comes up short in the bookstore department. ... Besides Notre Dame, South Bend appears to be notable for two things: it's where Studebaker autos came from, and it makes chocolate. Chocolate being more portable than universities or obsolete cars, of course I brought some home.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

in the political arena

The slow job of transitioning our city from at-large to district council elections continues. I'd already been to a session designed to inform citizens about the issues; now we're in a stage of holding workshops to solicit citizen input on some of the major issues involved.

I went to the first workshop 3 weeks ago, in a large room at the community center. Each participant was randomly assigned to a round table for discussion, so there were 4-5 of us per each of 7 tables, plus each had a facilitator from the consulting firm the city has hired. My table had, besides me, one woman from the bitter anti-politics faction I'm well familiar with from neighborhood politics, but not so bitter that she couldn't be negotiated with; one Hispanic guy from the other end of town; and one white guy who claimed to have nothing to say but actually offered some cogent comments.

I actually found our discussion useful. Our first question concerned the mayor. By our charter, this person is chosen by council from among its members, chairs council meetings and serves as city spokesperson, but has no other executive function ("weak-mayor system" is the customary term). Our question was, if council goes to districts, should the mayor, who represents the city as a whole, be elected separately at large? I came in not knowing what I thought, but we concluded that having the mayor voted on by everybody was outweighed by the at-large seat being contrary to the spirit of district elections. Anti-politics woman said it'd make the seat more susceptible to influence from real-estate developers, which is what the anti-politics people always say, but I proposed the more general language of the previous sentence and she accepted that. It was at this point that she suggested I speak for the table when we gave our reports at the end of the session.

Second question: on what basis - besides equality of population, of course - should district lines be drawn? A number of criteria were listed, but we found that all our ideas fell under the category labeled "community of interest". School districts, neighborhood associations. Council districts are being proposed to increase ethnic diversity on council, but one problem is that there aren't any real geographic concentrations of ethnicities here. There is one neighborhood that's heavily (though not overwhelmingly) Hispanic; in another form of division, there's a part of town full of mobile home parks. All we could do about those is say that they should be the centers of districts, not divided between them.

At the end the table spokespeople all stood up and went to the microphone to deliver brief reports. (This was videotaped, and was supposed to be put up on the election website. I've been waiting for it to appear before posting about this, but it's been 3 weeks and I still don't see it there.) Most though not all of us were in agreement. I hobbled slowly over, not realizing until the next morning that the cause of my difficulty walking was not my usual leg problems but a small cat toy stuck in the toe of my shoe.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Hobbit deconstruction

I watched most of the first episode of Lindsay Ellis's Hugo-nominated film critique "Hobbit Duology" (which is actually in three parts), but stopped there, because although my sympathy for a harsh criticism of Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies is vastly extensive, my tolerance for listening to one is severely limited.

I don't disagree with much that she says about the Hobbit films, except in the brief section where she finds aspects to praise. She likes the change of making Bilbo being visible to Smaug, but that only increases the intensity of the question of why or how Smaug fails to incinerate the entire company, about which Ellis complains vociferously later. She likes the joke about the dwarves disliking eating Elvish greenery. Jokes about Elvish cuisine originated with Bored of the Rings. Turning Tolkien's story into slapstick is merely one of Jackson's lesser persistent flaws. I think she's dead wrong that The Hobbit should have been two 2-hour movies; one 3-hour would have been more than enough.

Much of what Ellis says about Tolkien is inaccurate, but rarely significantly so. For instance, most of the changes in the text of The Hobbit, aside from the rewriting of "Riddles in the Dark," date from 1965-66, not 1951 as she says, and again aside from that they are very minor; but that doesn't matter. Contrary to her claim, Bard does appear in the story before he shows up to kill the dragon, but that doesn't matter because she's right that he could use more development, at least in a version of the story that's not about Bilbo. She seems extraordinarily irritated by the insertion of the White Council's attack on the Necromancer, considering that she acknowledges that the movies have to tie themselves to The Lord of the Rings as the book did not. It's true that the Necromancer's only function in Tolkien's story is to get Gandalf offstage, but it isn't true as she says that he wasn't then identified with Sauron. Even when writing The Hobbit, Tolkien was certain that the Necromancer was the same as the character from the Silmarillion then usually called Thû. But again, that's not very important. References to the Silmarillion in The Hobbit were private hints to himself, as his children hadn't then read the Silmarillion.

What I do disagree with Ellis with is her comparisons with The Fellowship of the Ring movie, which she holds up as a standard of virtue by contrast with The Hobbit series. And yes, the Lord of the Rings movies are not quite as extensively awful as the Hobbit ones, but they are bad in the same way. I've been struck by the number of people who, since the Hobbit movies were released, have approached me about my criticisms of the Lord of the Rings ones that I made at the time, and said, "Now I understand what you were complaining about."

In particular, Ellis claims that, while the Hobbit movies added much extraneous material that wasn't in the book, Fellowship added very little. What is she talking about? True, there's more of the actual book in it; but by the standards of the list she provides for The Hobbit, the list of superfluous additions in Fellowship is just as long. She calls it "tight and streamlined," which is ludicrous for a movie which adds a bad fan-fiction story of Pippin and Merry at the Party; which undercuts Tolkien's steadily increasing spookiness of the Black Riders by having them chasing the heroes at top speed from the start; by making the Watcher in the Water wave Frodo around in the air a while; by inserting a completely pointless fall of another bridge just before the encounter with the Balrog; and much more that I've probably mercifully forgotten.

Even Ellis's specific praises of Fellowship reveal its flaws. She likes that the movie folded Glorfindel in to Arwen, and I agree that makes sense for a present-day movie's purposes. But she says that each character "rescues Frodo," and that phrasing reveals that she hasn't noticed how Jackson changed Tolkien. Arwen in the movie does rescue Frodo: she rides the horse, she confronts the Riders in the stream. Frodo is just an inert lump in her saddlebag. But Glorfindel in the book does not. He puts Frodo on his horse, but Frodo rides the horse, Frodo speaks the lines of defiance against the Riders. Tolkien's Frodo is the hero of his own story; Jackson's has his agency stripped from him, and becomes luggage for other characters to haul around. This is not the only case of that, and it's parallel to the way Bilbo is shunted off to the side of the Hobbit movies, which is one of Ellis's main complaints.

Ellis thinks Jackson's Boromir is actually an improvement on Tolkien's. Well, sure he is. Boromir's error is that he thinks he's the hero of a different kind of story than the one Tolkien wrote. Tolkien has trouble because he isn't at home with that other kind of story, the sword-and-sorcery thud-and-blunder adventure. Jackson succeeds with Boromir, better than with any other character, because Boromir is the only character in the story that Jackson understands.

Ellis admits that her love for the Lord of the Rings movies may be due to her having been young and impressionable at the time they came out, and I'm sure that's so; but she uses them in her critique as if they're objectively good, and that's not so. They're just not quite as bad.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

on geography

B. will be driving off soon to a several-day workshop in a town a couple hours drive from here, which is considerably outside our regular traveling orbit. (I've been to the area a few times.) As I am geographically enabled, while she is not, I wrote out detailed step-by-step driving directions to the specific locales to which she's traveling.

Looking over and marking up these directions, she asked me, "Do you memorize directions to where you're going?"

I said: "No. I keep a little map in my head and I navigate off of that. Directions of the kind I gave you I don't find very helpful. If someone gives them to me, I look them up on a map and memorize the map. But I know that a lot of people prefer written directions, so I'm happy to provide those if that's what they want."

And that's what it means to be a spatially-oriented person.

Friday, April 5, 2019

theatrical review: Shakespeare, mashed up and sent up

Silicon Valley Shakespeare, which normally puts on its plays during the summer in an insect-infested amphitheater up in the mountains, did something different, in a small pre-fab hut in a city park that some other local company has set up as a 70-seat indoor playhouse.

The topic was "Greatest Hits from the 48-Hour Play Festival," and I gather that the rule of these festivals is that a general premise is chosen, and the playwrights and actors have 48 hours to write and perform a short play taking off from Shakespeare using that premise. This greatest hits included two plays from each of four premises. All the concepts were good, but whether the play worked depended on the quality of the writing, which varied greatly. The acting was mostly good, lively without being anxious, though a few of the actors were having trouble remembering their lines. This was the first of three performances.

The offerings were:

1. Epilogues to Shakespeare plays. (In both of these, all the characters were dead.)
A. Most of the characters from Hamlet work out their problems with each other in purgatory. Hamlet Sr. is pleased that his murder was avenged, but not at the number of other people Hamlet Jr. managed to off, directly or indirectly, in the process.
B. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (more Tom Stoppard's than Shakespeare's) meet Richard III. He didn't seem at all like Shakespeare's character either, and I found most of the dialogue in this one merely incomprehensible.

2. Mash-ups of two Shakespeare plays. (Apparently 1B above didn't count.)
A. Lysander and Hermia have a marriage counseling session with Dr. Hamlet (Ph.D., Wittenberg). This was the funniest play of the set, due to the vast number of Hamlet's famous lines aptly salted in to the dialogue, revealing him prejudiced in favor of Lysander ("See, what a grace is seated on this brow") and against Hermia ("O most pernicious woman").
B. Viola and Friar Laurence pour out their troubles to a bartender (who turns out to be Shakespeare himself), who gives them lousy advice.

3. Shakespeare and cyber-technology.
A. Romeo and Juliet friend each other on Facebook the morning after the party. With both on stage at once reacting to each other's postings, and Mercutio and the Nurse along to kibitz, this was hilarious, and would doubtless seem even funnier if I knew anything about Bookface, as the Nurse keeps calling it.
B. Viola rescues Sebastian's Samsung Galaxy from the shipwreck, but the main point of this one is to short-circuit the play's plot and have Viola and Orsino acknowledge their love in a jiffy.

4. Shakespeare and sports.
A. King Lear rewritten as the retirement of a baseball manager. This was not improved by trying to stuff the entire plot of the play on a weak premise, though Lear's speech in the storm scene with baseball references added ("Blow, winds! Crack, bats!") was pretty funny.
B. All the characters in Hamlet place bets with a bartender (who again turns out to be Shakespeare himself) on a curling match between Hamlet's team and Claudius's. The bartender keeps making curling jokes which the other characters don't get, and I didn't get them either, because I didn't even know what curling is. (OK, I looked it up on Wikipedia when I got home.) From the brief part of the match that slips onstage, the game appears to be played with broomsticks and a Roomba.

With two genuinely funny plays and four more that were OK, this was almost worth the trouble of sitting through nearly two hours of. Highest marks in playwriting, then, to Doll Piccotto for Hamlet, marriage counselor, and to Melissa Jones for Romeo + Juliet + Facebook.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

an unusual concert

A percussion quartet, at Herbst. Third Coast Percussion, it's called. All of the ten pieces played are recent compositions, some of them by members of the ensemble. Most were for, or largely for, marimbas and/or other tuned mallet instruments, and were largely soft, gentle, and peaceful, even the one titled "Death Wish." One piece (by Augusta Read Thomas) was for a set of tuned Tibetan prayer bowls: that was very peaceful.

The only one that used much conventional orchestral untuned percussion - wooden blocks, snare drums, tambourine, that sort of thing - was the newly commissioned piece by the senior composer of the bunch, Philip Glass. Titled "Perpetulum," it only sounds like typical Glass in a few eruptions of Glass-like themes from those tuned mallet instruments. It wasn't otherwise at all minimalist; the only one that did sound at all minimalist was by an English pop musician named Devonté Hynes.

The one piece I'd heard before was Mark Applebaum's Aphasia, which is for pre-recorded soundtrack (mostly electronically-processed vocal sounds) to which the musicians silently mime. I thought it was funnier and more imaginative the previous time.

A few of the quieter pieces were enhanced with ambient sounds from outside the hall (which is in a building also used for other purposes) or, from inside the hall, the same stentorian snoring from audience right that also enriched the string quartet concert on Monday. Either wake up, or do your sleeping somewhere else.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

two concerts

Sunday I went to the Australian Chamber Orchestra at Bing. I had been thinking of taking this in anyway, and then my editor asked if I'd like to review it. Sure, I said.

Monday, up to Herbst for the Elias Quartet. Like the ACO, this was a softer and more gentle group than the last time I heard them. Their Schumann 41/1 was light-textured and shining, and so was much of their Britten Second, gnarly though that piece often is. And again, as with ACO pulling out a firmer and grittier sound for their new piece, so did Elias for a new quartet by Sally Beamish. This was inspired by the Schumann, in the sense that Beamish bases each of her numerous short movements on a tiny fragment taken from the Schumann piece. It helps to have the Schumann immediately in your ear when listening to this (in the playbill, they were going to play the Beamish first, which would have been odd), but it's listenable to on its own. Eclectic, but not totally disjointed. For an encore, this proper British ensemble played a Scottish folk waltz with an intriguing air of American bluegrass to it. I suppose that's where that originally comes from.

women here today

I'd just like to point out, regarding this year's Hugo nominations, that 80% of the finalists in the five Hugo prose fiction categories are by women. Eighty per cent. I think that's a new high.

Even in the Retro Hugos, covering a much more male-centric time in SF authorship, counting co-authored stories as half a story for each author, 23% are by women, which would have been a very respectable percentage in the regular Hugos almost any time before 2010.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Vonda N. McIntyre

died today.

The obituaries have a lot, not just about her great fiction - Dreamsnake remains a classic, and don't miss The Moon and the Sun, and much more - but on how much of a pillar of the sf community she was.

In particular, as its webmaster. Among other things, she got her close friend (and sometime collaborator) Ursula K. Le Guin online. That led to many good things, including UKL's last essay collection. Vonda even gave me a lot of helpful and patient advice on layout and design when I was setting up my personal website. Her goal, too, was to help me figure out what worked for me that was aesthetically well-designed, not to push me into a standard template.

And I wasn't even a particular friend of hers, just a long-time casual acquaintance. She was most generous with everybody she knew. A real treasure.