Joe’s Violin

We are now in the midst of “awards season”, and for those of us who didn’t get to the movies at all last year, we have no preference to root for “La La Land” or “Manchester by the Sea” or any of the nominated feature films or actors’ performances. But I will have something to root for during the Academy Awards broadcast on February 26th; a nominated film in the Best Documentary Short Subject category. “Joe’s Violin” is an extraordinary story of survival, hope, and music’s capacity to provide comfort during hardship. Directed by Kahane Cooperman, the film tells the story of Joe Feingold, a 91 year-old Holocaust survivor and how he came to form a bond with Brianna Perez, a 12 year-old schoolgirl from the South Bronx.

I am an avid listener of WQXR, New York’s classical music station. For the past couple of years they’ve been organizing an instrument drive, in which people donate used musical instruments to be distributed to music and arts programs at under-resourced schools in the area. Joe Feingold donated a violin to the program – a 70 year-old violin that he came across while living in a displaced persons camp in Germany. He acquired it by trading for a carton of cigarettes. Through the instrument drive, Joe’s violin ended up in the hands of Brianna Perez, who lives in one of the poorest congressional districts in America.

I don’t usually post lengthy videos on the blog, but I’ve made an exception in this case because the story, and the filmmakers’ deeply-felt telling of the story, is poignant and remarkable. If you have 24 minutes to spare, watch the movie in full here, for our Music Monday:

Dogs of War

“thou bleeding piece of earth” . . . “the ruins of the noblest man” . . .  “over thy wounds now do I prophesy” . . . “carrion men groaning for burial”

I would never suggest that we have no outstanding actors working today. We certainly do. The incredible Daniel Day-Lewis comes to mind. But the above phrases from William Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar” require a performance that communicates fury, intensity, and revenge, by someone who oozes magnetism and charisma, an actor who consistently nails it no matter what the role. In 1953 that actor was the one and only Marlon Brando.

Today is the Ides of March . . . beware! For this notorious day on the Roman calendar which marks the assassination of Julius Caesar, this is Brando as Mark Antony delivering the “Dogs of War” monologue, moments after Caesar was killed by conspirators. He is smoldering and ferocious, and gorgeous to boot 😉

For a slideshow of political assassinations throughout history check out this page from TIME.

Dali in Character

In Woody Allen’s latest film “Midnight in Paris”, the actor Adrien Brody does a memorable cameo as Salvador Dali. It’s a very funny scene in which Owen Wilson’s character, Gil, finds himself sitting at a cafe table in Paris with the Spanish artist and his surrealist buddies Luis Buñuel and Man Ray. Gil shares with the men his confused feelings about his life and career, his fiancee (played by Rachel McAdams) and his bizarre delusions of time-traveling back and forth from the 21st century to the 1920s. Brody’s Dali, speaking in almost indecipherable heavily-accented English, starts babbling on about drawing and rhinoceroses fornicating. Man Ray seems to think there is nothing peculiar at all about Gil’s strange fantasies. It’s amusing to watch Gil try to distinguish dreams from reality  while commiserating with a group of surrealists. They are of course no help to him at all.

Salvador Dali is one of those characters who was in real life just as offbeat and cartoonish as he is perceived. He cultivated that image. We’ve all seen pictures of him with his bulging eyes, outlandish moustache, looking completely crazy and off his rocker. He even made odd appearances as a contestant on TV game shows in the 1950s. In “Midnight in Paris”, Adrien Brody almost seemed to underplay Dali’s weirdo persona, yet still managed to communicate the artist’s eccentricity to a tee. I’m a fan of both Brody and Dali so the cameo was a special treat for me. I recounted a personal story about Salvador Dali from my childhood in an old Museworthy post.

While Salvador Dali will forever be a colorful cult figure in popular culture, his expert artistic talents should never be overlooked. The man was an amazing draftsman and painter. His works are absolutely masterful in their use of geometry, symbolism, space, and vivid imaginings. I especially like Dali’s treatment of religious themes. Look at his version of the Ascension of Christ, from 1958. That is some serious foreshortening!

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Happy Birthday America!!!   🙂

The Fourth of July falls on a Monday this year, so you know what that means – a patriotic Music Monday! I’ve got a great one for us. It’s a clip from the classic 1942 film “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, starring the amazing, multi-talented, iconic, beloved American actor James Cagney, one of my favorite guys. The epitome of a natural talent, Cagney was a native New Yorker, born in 1899 on the Lower East Side, and lived through a scrappy childhood of poverty, odd jobs, and the occasional street brawl. Cagney’s strong belief in hard work, self-reliance, and resourcefulness took him from working as a custodian to a bellhop, to a night doorman, pool hall attendant, amateur boxer, to a versatile vaudevillian and song-and dance man, all the way to Hollywood. This movie, which began filming the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, won Cagney an Oscar for his portrayal of George M. Cohan, the American composer, entertainer, and producer. Enjoy this incredible, delightful performance, especially the great “Cagneyesque” footwork.

Happy July 4th, everyone!

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Jivin’ and Publicizin’

Hello dahlings! Hope everyone’s had a good week. Just a quick post to promote the super-cool, inventive and ambitious film composer that is my big brother Chris Hajian. Chris has been out in LA for the past week promoting the new documentary “Unraveled”, for which he composed the original music. The film, directed and produced by Marc Simon, profiles Marc Dreier, an attorney under house arrest prior to sentencing, who masterminded a giant hedge fund fraud, embezzled over $400 million, and committed crimes that almost rival those of Bernie Madoff. Chris spoke often and enthusiastically about this film project while he was working on it. I cant wait to see it. Check out this review in the Hollywood Reporter, especially the last sentence which reads “Chris Hajian’s plaintive score adds to the poignancy of this American odyssey.” My brother! 🙂

As for me, I was asked by my friend Emily Rapp to write a guest post for her blog Little Seal. Gosh, I was so flattered! My first “guest post” as a blogger. And of course I am approaching it in a very serious, sincere, and conscientious way. Someone asked me to write for them. I take that as a big deal, an honor, an expectation I want to fulfill. Right now my piece is still a work-in-progress. I go to it every day, stare at it, read, stare some more, cut, add, reword and rework. The usual writing process. It’s getting there. I will let you all know when it’s published.

That’s all for now, my friends. Until next time, and for no reason whatsoever, here’s Marlon Brando shaving 🙂

All That Jazz

On Cape Cod last week,  my family and I were sitting at a big round table enjoying a wonderful dinner. The champagne flowed as freely as the conversation. As is typical among our gang, the discussion was dominated by the arts, and on this particular night, film, theater, and music were the main topics.

My brother Chris is a composer and his standards for what make a quality musical are very high- higher than most peoples’. Chris is a guy who was happy to see Rent finally close! Anyway, he stated that he felt Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret was one of the best, if not the best, musicals ever produced. That led to a discussion of the film version starring Liza Minnelli, who won a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar for her performance. Another Oscar winner for that film was the director Bob Fosse. I happen to be a huge fan of Bob Fosse. From his films to his choreography, his overall creative vision, Fosse made memorable contributions to the performing and visual arts.

Besides his talent and impressive body of work, the late Bob Fosse signifies something else that is personal to my family. In his 1979 autobiographical film All That Jazz, my father made a small appearance! It was really exciting at the time. In the nightclub scene, my Dad was a musician on the bandstand in the background, and he was directed personally by Bob Fosse. Cool! I believe he instructed my Dad to act bored, a musician on a break reading the newspaper, and then pick up his horn to play when the act came onstage. The funny thing is that I wasn’t even allowed to see the R rated film at the time. I was only eleven years old and my father forbid it. But I have of course seen it since then 🙂

All That Jazz has one of the best opening scenes of a movie ever. Terrifically shot, it captures the grueling pressure of a Broadway audition and is set to the hit song “On Broadway” by George Benson. As a kid I remember loving that song, and playing the record over and and over again in my room, dancing as if I had big Broadway dreams. It’s a great, groovy track. I’m posting this video for “Music Monday” but it could easily be a “Dancing Monday”. That’s the excellent Roy Scheider (an actor I love) dressed in black, depicting the film character “Joe Gideon” based on Bob Fosse himself.

“The Cove”

To all Museworthy readers; if you have the opportunity, if a theater near you is showing it, I urge you to go see the movie “The Cove”. I saw it yesterday here in New York at the Angelika, and I am still stunned, heartbroken, angered, and profoundly moved by what I saw. I can’t even fully describe what I’m feeling. I just bumped my planned blog post to put this one up instead, that’s how strongly I am compelled to get the word out.

You know how most movie trailers make a movie look better than it really is? Well that’s not the case here. This is harrowing, impassioned filmmaking. Check out this trailer.

If you care about the earth, animals, and the environment, if you want to know the ugly truth beneath the surface and the deceitful actions of government, or if you just appreciate extraordinary documentary films, then you must see “The Cove”.

Check for screenings and read reviews at The Cove website.