Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Yankees Say Goodbye; Remembering our Old Ballparks

The New York Yankees have played their last game at the old stadium and are now moving on in history. Well, so long old ballpark. I have been reading essays about childhood memories, and viewing television essays, all weekend long that would make you think that New York is the only city with a rich baseball history. Sure, New York baseball history is rich. But guess what? Baseball history exists elsewhere, and we also have stories passed down to us from fathers, grandfathers, and uncles, concerning that “great old park.”

In my family, that ballpark is “League Park” in Cleveland, Ohio. Its rich history had come and gone before I was even born. Many who grow up in New York will be hearing stories about Yankee Stadium for the rest of their lives, and will never have their own memories of it. It will move into the realm of myth. Unfortunately for them, the old stadium is going to be torn down. In Cleveland, you can still go to the location of League Park and see an empty lot. You can imagine the ballpark. It can still be created in your mind at the corner of 66th Street and Lexington Avenue. The original ticket office still remains and was converted into a recreation hall. There is a historical maker in an open lot, which is the only way you would know that such history took place at this spot.

Cleveland had a team in the National League. They built a park in 1891 for them. The grandstand was made of wood and was placed behind home plate. In 1910 it was dismantled and rebuilt of steel and concrete. We like to think of old ballparks in America as being unique. League Park was all that and more. It was basically a rectangular shape. This was because the owners of the property in right field would not sell. So the right field fence ended up being a very short 290 ft. with a 40 foot wall.

A double deck grandstand extended from the right field fence to home plate, and went around to the left field post. There was a small section in left-center field made of wooden bleachers. The baseball diamond is in the same spot that it was when the Indians played on it.

My uncle William Van Aken, used to tell me stories about how he would skip school and take the train from Shaker Heights down to the park to watch games. Back then all the games were played during the day. There was never a game played at night in League Park. My dad’s stories were all about the “knot hole” gang in Columbus, Ohio. His team was the Redbirds (minor league team for the St’ Louis Cardinals).

Here are just a few of the things that happened there:

Cy Young pitched the first game, on May 1, 1891.

It was a National league park until 1900.

Balls hitting the 20-foot-high screen above the 40-foot-high-right field wall were still in play.

When seats were added in center field for the 1920 World Series, the distance shrank from 460 ft. to 420 ft.

Bill Wambsganss made the only unassisted triple play in World Series history on Oct. 10, 1920, in game five against the Brooklyn Robins. In the same game, Elmer Smith hit the first grand-slam and Jim Bagby became the first pitcher to hit a home run in World Series history.

Joe DiMaggio set a record by hitting safely in his 56th consecutive game, in 1941.

It was where baseball legend Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run on August 11, 1929.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nude Opera

The Metropolitan Opera is going to stage Strauss’s “Salome,” featuring one of the HOT BABES of opera, Karita Mattila. The “Dance of the Seven Veils” is the highlight of the production. During the dance, Salome slowly removes each of her sheer veils, ending the dance in the nude. So you have to have a singer that has a nice figure (no big voice in a big body).

To some with a sense of propriety, this might be a little challenging—because first, Salome is supposed to be a teenage girl; and secondly, they are mixing scripture with sex.

Nudity is not new to opera. Years ago, the New York City opera introduced American audiences to nudity in Arnold Schoenberg’s “Moses und Aron.” They were threatened with the withdrawal of funding, if they presented a work that might be considered obscene under the Supreme Court’s definition of obscenity, included in its 1973 ruling in Miller vs. California. A key to this decision was whether a work “appeals to the prurient interest.” They went ahead with the production anyway.

Trust me—Karita Mattila performing a veiled strip tease definitely appeals to my prurient interests. Remember, she is HOT and stripping.

The argument that the world of theater has used forever, concerning nudity in plays, can be summed up by Heather Haney, when asked about being in a nude Shakespeare production—“The nudity in this play is not at all sexual or titillating. It’s about being completely human.”

WHAT in the world does that mean?

Theater has blazed the trail that opera seems to be following. When certain plays have been performed so many times, the director feels the need to put his stamp on it or do something different to fill the seats. The Washington Shakespeare Company’s director of “Macbeth,” said about nudity in their production, that he was inspired to create a radically different visual presentation after reading the same histories of Scotland that Shakespeare could have read before writing “Macbeth.” They described “a really tribal, almost animal like clan and society.” I guess that means—really nude society.

I have no doubt that the use of explicit nude scenes have been used to compensate for shallow writing. But the classics do not have shallow writing. The great playwright will use verbal means and brilliantly crafted words that are precise, to produce the emotions he or she wants in each scene (including sexiness and vulnerability). They convey their presence through the ear and not the eye. Physical nudity interferes with this. The same is true with music.

Dance, on the other hand, is a different story. The instrument of dance is the human body, including all of its beauty and expressivity. Nudity, when not used to eroticize a mediocre piece, is quite valid.

And then there is the “just plain” silly. In Germany, there was a recent production of Verdi’s “A Masked Ball,” where thirty-five nude, pension-age, people come on stage wearing nothing but Mickey Mouse masks. There were also lots of naked young women and a woman in a red swimsuit sporting a Hitler moustache. Get this—“The naked stand for people without means, the victims of capitalism, the underclass, who don’t have anything any more.”

You know, you didn’t have to tell me that. I could have figured that out by myself—OR NOT.

If opera ventures down this same path, it will also have to grapple with the same questions of relevance, gimmickry, and inflated shamelessness that have plagued the theater. When some audience members were asked to comment on the “Macbeth” production, it tuned out that many quickly got used to the nudity, while others merely blocked it out of their minds--which to a certain extent deadened its intended impact.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sarah Palin Screen Test or How Linda Lamont Went to Washington

I have been off-line for awhile, finishing a novel. Since my absence, the internet has become filled with different angles on the Republican V.P. pick.

So here’s my take on the Sarah Palin story:

The majority of blog angles have related to the “Disney” bad script scenario. I like this because it is so American and so true.

Being a film buff, my film theory quickly focused on two in particular: 42nd Street and Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington. Let’s see if we can’t combine them.

In 42nd Street, we have two onscreen stars, Don Lockwood and Linda Lamont, who are romantically linked. In the background is Cosmo Brown, who used to work with Lockwood before he became a big silent movie success. The movie The Jazz Singer is a huge hit and ushers in the new era of the “talkies.” Silent film actors at first mock the new genre, but eventually find themselves taking speech and singing lesson. Don has no problem. Linda on the other hand has one of most irritating voices imaginable (Do you see where I’m going here? I don’t, but Palin’s voice reminds me of Lamont’s).

Enter Kathy Seldon, the chorus girl, who is hired to overdub Lamont’s voice (Don’t forget that lip-syncing is still alive and well). Not soon after this, Lockwood falls head-over-heals for Seldon. Lamont does her best to break it up. [There has to be some fodder here for the script we’re working on, don’t you think?]

In the movie the humor is cruel, with much of it at the expense of the voice and character of Palin (I mean Lamont). Her character was a stereotyped portrayal of many of those who failed to transcend to the world of sound. Many had thick foreign accents and were forgotten by the moguls who had made millions off of them previously (I can’t remember any of them becoming Governors of a major economy). In essence, Linda Lamont is portrayed as an IDIOT-VILLIAN.

Segway: Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington. It starred James Stewart and Jean Arthur. Now, some of you movie buffs might actually be aware of the fact that Jean Arthur started her career in the Silent era. She also had a quirky, funny voice, not suited for the “talkies.” When the “talkies” came in, she had an affair with David O. Selznick (hmm, now there’s an idea for you—slept her way to the glass ceiling). He got her slightly better parts, until her break came—playing many roles as a more than competent career woman that could be romantically vulnerable but had just not met her match yet (so to speak).

In the movie Stewart’s character represents the images we saw on the giant screen in St. Paul, this summer—American freedom, democracy and morality over repression and evil, while being what the republican pundits would term: na├»ve, idealist, patriotic, mature in wisdom, fights political corruption within the governments political machine, and guards American values as a moral hero (Wow, that was a mouthful).

So now we have the funny voiced Idiot-Villain, the Uber-Patriot, and a convoluted script with all kinds of potential for mayhem, madness, and of course--a couple of kooky neighbors thrown in for good measure.

So please help me out here: Can you put this all together and fill in the blanks? I know we’ll make it huge in Hollywood and we can split the royalties (that is, if you have a green-card).