CBC Cutting Classical Music Programs

What a shock it is for me to learn that our national radio station CBC Radio 2, is choosing to axe more classical music programs to appeal to a ‘wider audience’.  Why, aren’t we who have been enjoying the arts and music, who have cherished the long tradition of these CBC productions, who have raised our children on them, teaching and nurturing them to appreciate their content, not a part of the general public? 

Click here for Russell Smith’s article in The Globe and Mail on March 13, 2008, “No classical?  Then kill Radio 2 and get it over with.”  Just let me try to fathom the motives behind these further cuts:

1.  Diversity.  If it’s diversity they are aiming at,  they should all the more leave the classical edge in because CBC Radio 2 is the only nation-wide English radio station in Canada that offers classical music.  Which station can I tune in for such extensive and in-depth coverage of the arts and artists, classical music and musicians, live concerts, commentaries, CD reviews and even an audience requests program? What alternative do I have when the only classical music station in Canada decides to go with the flow and become just another dial for easy listening or contemporary pop?  I feel like I’m a CBC copywriter doing a promo for the station…but why would they need me to tell them this?   To CBC Radio: Respect your role in the Canadian cultural landscape.  What ‘diversity’ are you offering if there are no choices in genre? If ‘diversity’, and ‘choice’ are such powerful words nowadays, honor the real meaning of these terms and not just utter them for political correctness. 

2.  Multicultural. The term “Classical Music” has often been misconstrued as being monocultural.  Are CBC program researchers and management not aware that many so called “classical” composers, especially the more contemporary ones, are from a diverse cultural background including not only Western European, but Central and southern European, Scandinavian, Russian, North American, South American, and Asian?  And do they not know that for this last group here, Asian-Canadians, especially appreciate classical music and particularly in the teaching of their young, the next generation of music lovers?  I for one can speak out on this issue where I personally and know and have come into contact with countless parents of Asian descent who have involved their children in the learning of classical music, and have nurtured numerous talented young classical musicians here in Canada.  Jan Wong in her recent book Beijing Confidential notes that there are 30 million piano students and 10 million violin students in China today.  Two of the most popular music icons among the young are Lang Lang and Yundi Li, both world renowned classical pianists in their 20’s. Wouldn’t it be odd that one can enjoy classical music on radio in China but not be able to in Canada?

3.  Education. If it’s just for the sake of our young, we owe them a great heritage if we do not nurture them to appreciate the roots of modern music. Without going deep into music theory, isn’t it true that our contemporary music evolves from classical foundations?  Calling it ‘classical’ sounds so politically incorrect, as it wrongly conveys ‘elitism’ or simply connotations of being passé. But, would you avoid teaching our next generation Canadian history just because history is passé? 

4.  Business. If it’s for marketing reasons, why add one more ‘easy listening’, ‘pop’, ‘jazz’ or ‘contemporary’ station to the already competitive business, why fight for market share while you can distinctly offer something very different and unique, a real alternative to the radio audience in Canada.  If you wish to morph into a more hip mode to appeal to the young, look for younger DJ’s for your classical music programs. If George Stroumboulopoulos (previously of MuchMusic) can become a Canadian news icon on CBC Television, I’m sure you can find young blood equally well versed in the classical music sector.  

5.  Identity. And if it’s Canadian identity they are seeking, trying to appease the ‘general public’ (as if we are not), then CBC Radio 2 should all the more realize, as a publicly owned radio station and a national institution, the classical music they are eliminating is not just a part of Canadian identity, but human civilization…and I suppose western or eastern, old or young, we are a part of that.

Enough said here.  My teenaged son who alerted me to this piece of incredulous news has sent me a link to the on-line petition.  Click here to sign.

Other reactions to this announcement:

 http://www.cbc.ca/arts/media/story/2008/03/04/radio-two.html

http://www.friends.ca/News/Friends_News/archives/articles03200802.asp

A Facebook group has already been formed:  “Save Classical Music on the CBC”, has gathered more than 8,000 members and counting.

The Easter Message

 

dominus-flevit-mt-of-olives.jpg 

 

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God,
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down,
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

—– Isaac Watts, 1707

 

   ***

Photo: Dominus Flevit Church, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem.  Taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, www.rippleeffects.wordpress.com, November 2007.  All Rights Reserved.

Away From Her Movie Review

Update March 4: Away From Her won 7 Genie Awards last night in Toronto, Canada.  Among them are Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

In light of all the awards Julie Christie is garnering in this Awards Season, first winning the Best Actress Golden Globe, then getting an Oscar nod, and just now winning the Screen Actors Guild’s Best Actress Award all for her role in Away From Her, plus director Sarah Polley’s Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, I’m re-posting here my review of the movie I wrote 8 months ago in May, 2007.  For those who missed the movie released in theatres last year, it’s timely to read the review and watch the DVD of this beautiful Canadian film, in preparation for the Oscars coming up February 24, 2008.

Away From Her

Away From Her (2006)–How can you turn a good short story onto the screen without compromising its quality? … By turning it into a screenplay written by an equally sensitive and passionate writer, and then, through her own talented, interpretive eye, re-creates it into a visual narrative. Along the way, throw in a few veteran actors who are so passionate about what the script is trying to convey that they themselves embody the message. Such ‘coincidents’ are all happening in the movie Away From Her.

Sarah Polley has made her directorial debut with a most impressive and memorable feat that I’m sure things will go even better down her career path. What she has composed on screen speaks much more poignantly than words on a page, calling forth sentiments that we didn’t even know we had. As Alzheimer’s begins to take control over Fiona, what can a loving husband do? Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent stir up thoughts in us that we’d rather bury: how much are we willing to give up for love, or, how would we face the imminence of our loved ones’ and our own mental and physical demise.

Based on the story by Alice Munro, ‘The Bear Came Over the Mountain’, Polley brings out the theme of unconditional love not with your typical Hollywood’s hot, young, and sexy on screen, but aging actors in their 60’s and 70’s. It may not be as pleasurable to watch wrinkled faces hugging and kissing, or a man and a woman in bed, bearing age spots and all, but such scenes effectively beg the question: why feel uncomfortable?

Why does love has to be synonymous with youth, beauty, and romance? It is even more agonizing to watch how far Grant is willing to go solely for love of Fiona. Lucky for us, both writers spare us the truly painful at the end. It is through persistent, selfless giving that one ultimately receives; and however meager and fleeting that reward may seem, it is permanence in the eyes of love. And it is through the lucid vision of a youthful 27-year-old writer/director that such ageless love is vividly portrayed….Oh, the paradoxes in life.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

***

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly (2007)

DivingBellAndTheButterfly

Update Feb. 23: Julian Schnabel just won the Best Director Trophy and Janusz Kaminski the Best Cinematographer at the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica today.

Update Feb. 11: Ronald Harwood just won the Best Adapted Screenplay at the BAFTA (British Academy for Film and Television Arts) Awards in London last night.

Director Julian Schnabel is an established New York artist/painter. Adhering to the ‘neo-expressionist’ style, his work has been exhibited at galleries around the world.  In The Diving Bell And The Butterfly,  Schnabel has turned into a master of realism as he vividly captures the traumatic experience of Jean-Dominique Bauby, not with a paintbrush, but with the potent use of the camera.

Jean-Do Bauby was the Editor-In-Chief of Elle magazine in France. At the age of 43 he suffered a stroke. His whole body was paralyzed except his left eye. He became a sufferer of a rare condition of “locked-in syndrome”: while he was able to comprehend what others were saying to him, he could not communicate with them. As if trapped inside a diving bell deep in the ocean tethered to life by a single chord, he was encased in his own body, completely isolated from the outside world.

With the help of his speech therapist Henriette in the hospital, Bauby learned to use what was left in his ability: the blinking of his left eye. With this minimal movement, he opened up a portal of his inner world. By painstakingly blinking to select the letters of the alphabet, Bauby was able to dictate to his therapist his memoir, completed a few days before his death. This film is the visualization of the book.  To read my review and excerpts of the book, click here.

Imagine watching a movie with blurry camera work, frames cutting off the full head of people, and sometimes camera angle so close-up to a face you feel suffocated, …blurry shots, indefinitive dialogues…This is the realism of Julian Schnabel, the film director. He wants the viewer to look out from the left eye of Jean-Do Bauby.

Fortunately viewers are spared lengthy display of such realism, because in the memory of Bauby’s past experiences and in his imagination, we are able to see sharply focused and beautiful scenes… reality may be blurry and shaky, memories and dreams are clear as crystal.

From the artist eye of Julian Schnabel, to the blinking eye movement of Jean-Do Bauby, the film captures the poignant struggle of a human striving to live every single minute of everyday. It depicts the power of the mind and spirit, the humor that sustains, the painful yearning for love and intimacy, the daily human condition magnified a thousand times due to debilitation, the whole physical being tethered on the blinking of an eye and the inner searching of a soul alive.

Mathieu Amalric has a demanding role to play as the paralyzed Bauby, for his whole acting is confined to his one left eye. I must say he has done a remarkably engrossing and convincing feat.

Marie-Josée Croze (Best Actress at Cannes for The Barbarian Invasions, 2003), by taking up the role as therapist Henriette Durand, has the equally demanding task of looking into the camera and reciting the French alphabets numerous times, and each time, with passion, pathos, and persistence, each time transmitting a new beginning, a new hope.

Max von Sydow (with film credits too numerous to mention), the veteran actor playing the role of Bauby’s 92 year-old father, equally shut-in, yet ever alive in spirit, the only character seeping sentiments, however restrained. It is exactly because of such restraints that pathos gets through.

And Emmanuelle Seigner, the ex-wife of Bauby, the mother of his three children, the keeper of memory, creator of new experiences, and the butterfly for the soul trapped in the diving bell. A marvellous character.

Very poignant acting, a very dynamic and powerful movie, and, despite its subject matter, an uplifting film for every living, breathing, and feeling soul.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is nominated for 4 Oscars: Best Cinematography, Best Directing, Best Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay. For the full list of Oscar Nominees, click here.

~ ~ ~ ½ Ripples

Atonement: Book Into Film


The Book

Imagine my surprise as I finished Austen’s Northanger Abbey and opened up Ian McEwan’s Atonement to find this epigraph in the beginning of the book:

“Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained.  What have you been judging from?  Remember the country and the age in which we live.  Remember that we are English: that we are Christians.  Consult your own understanding, you own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you.  Does our education prepare us for such atrocities?  Do our laws connive at them?  Could they be perpetrated without being known in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads, and newspapers lay everything open?  Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?”

They had reached the end of the gallery; and with tears of shame she ran off to her own room.

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Henry Tilney’s somber words to Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey sets the stage for the story in Atonement.  Not only that, these words prove to be the most tragic irony as the plot unfolds, turning Austen’s satirical parody into heart wrenching reality.

The story starts off in the 1930’s, on a hot summer day in the idyllic country estate of the upper-class Tallis family.  The misinterpretation of a couple of incidents by imaginative 13 year-old Briony sets off the events that ultimately rip the whole family apart.  Later in the evening, Briony witnesses a crime but falsely accuses the wrong man, who happens to be her older sister Cecilia’s secret lover Robbie, the housekeeper’s son.  Is it merely the misunderstanding of a young girl that drives her to bear false witness? Or is it jealousy…or even revenge?  Maybe even Briony herself, as she recollects at 77, is baffled by her own motive. The heart is indeed an unsearchable deep to fathom.

Regardless of the cause, it is the consequences of her misdeed that has tormented her all her life: the breakdown of family relationships, the innocent sent to jail, and later to a horrific war zone, and a pair of lovers torn apart.  As she cannot undo the past, Briony re-creates in the sanctuary of her own novel writing an alternative ending to a tragic story. Fantasy or realism?  As she reaches old age and dementia sets in, the line between the two has also blurred, and yet her inner torments stay as sharp as ever.

Through Briony’s story, McEwan has poignantly shown that remaining unforgiven is probably the harshest punishment of sin.  No matter how hard one works to be redeemed, the act of forgiveness lies with the one who has been wronged.  In the latter part of the story, we see Briony’s painful strive for peace and atonement, and her realization that redemption comes only when sin is pardoned.  Without the forgiveness of sin, there is no end to guilt.

But the story is not only about Briony’s desparate attempt to come to terms with her past, it is also a love epic.  It is the heart-wrenching chronicle of the perseverance and loyalty between two lovers, Cecilia and Robbie, who, sustained by love, are able to withstand the searing pain of separation and atrocities. It is about the absurdity of war, that in the chaos of a war zone, everyone is guilty, and yet, everyone is a victim. It is also about the essence of a family and the fragility of relationships.  The multi-layered structure of the plot and characterization give rise to the complexity and depth of the story.

Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan has written 11 novels and won numerous literary awards.  The novel Atonement has garnered four since its publication in 2001.  McEwan has shown himself to be a master of descriptive and incisive writing.  His story is riveting.  At times I have to read slowly, going back to re-read a passage several times, in order to capture all the details and savour the intricacies of the description and characterization.  At times I read it quickly to capture the flow of the plot, eager to find out where it would lead me.  The author has my emotions in his grasp.  I have to admit, this is one of the rare occasions that I highlight as I read a novel.  Overall, a very engrossing and satisfying read.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

The Film

Atonement the movie

Update February 11:  Atonement just won Best Picture and Best Production Design at the BAFTA (British Academy for Film and Television Arts) Awards in London yesterday.

Update January 22:  Atonement is nominated for 7 Oscars at the 2008 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Original Score.

Update on January 14:  Atonement won the 2008 Golden Globe Best Picture (Drama) and Best Original Score Awards announced at the HFPA News Conference last night.

With such a masterpiece in their hands, the screenwriter, director, actors …the whole lot, have a tall order to fill in turning the book into film.  I must say they have done an extraordinary job in this adaptation.  The film is nominated for 7 Golden Globe, including Best Picture (Drama), Best Actress and Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Score.

Unlike many movies based on literary work, this is one of the rare ones that truly depicts the essence of the book and keeps the integrity of its plot.  Screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Oscar winner for his screenplay of Dangerous Liaison, 1988 ) has gleaned the pivotal episodes and remained loyal to the work, keeping the epic span intact; although the war section can be dealt with more details and depth as the novel has rendered.

Thanks to the great work in film editing, the audience can readily capture the flow of the story and benefit also from the seamless flashbacks to see the same event from another point of view, hence, understanding Briony’s misinterpretation. I’m sure even for those who haven’t read the novel, the storytelling is still clear and equally intense.

Director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, 2005) uses the elements of film powerfully to bring to life an excellent script. The music and sound effects (who would imagine the typing sound on an old Corona can be used so effectively in a musical score), the cinematography and the visual flashbacks, the costumes and set all work together to create a masterpiece of cinema artistry worthy of McEwan’s work.  Kudos to Dario Marianelli (The Brave One, 2007; Pride and Prejudice, 2005), who has composed a most riveting score heightening the intensity and poignancy of the film.  I must also stress that, while the music is a powerful element in the movie, the silent moments are equally engrossing.

Young Briony, 13 year-old Irish actress Saoirse Ronan (I’ve read different versions of how her first name should be pronounced so I’m not including any suggestion here) well deserves the Golden Globe nod for a Best Supporting Actress nomination.  Veteran actress and Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave is brilliant and her poignant summing up at the end is both needed and satisfying. I’m afraid to say the weak link is Briony at 18, played by Romola Garai (Amazing Grace, 2006), where she could be more intense and affective.

And for the lovers, Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean, 2007, 2006; Pride and Prejudice, 2005) and James McAvoy (Becoming Jane, 2007; The Last King of Scotland, 2006) as Cecilia and Robbie, may well go down in movie history as a memorable pair of star-crossed lovers. Their acting is superb and their chemistry, charismatic.  The passionate scene in the library just confirms that it doesn’t need nudity to convey love, desire, or sensuality.  I had in mind the movie Lust Caution (Ang Lee, 2007) as I was watching this scene.

Knightley and McAvoy are nominated for a Best Actress and Best Actor award at the Golden Globes.  For their very moving performance in Atonement, I’d like to see them continue the ride all the way to the Oscars, and I wish them well.

Overall, an excellent adaptation of an enthralling novel.  Don’t wait to read the book, go see the movie.  But I’m sure after that, you’ll want to get hold of the novel right away.  This is one of the rare examples of both book and film are worthy of complementing each other.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Jane Austen’s Bath

CLICK HERE to read my newest post on Bath:  Bath’s Persuasion

In early December, my travels took me to another World Heritage Site: Bath, England.  Jane Austen lived there from 1801 – 1806 after her family moved from her birthplace Steventon when she was 26.  The City of Bath at that time was a meeting place of high society, the centre of fashion and the hub of stylish urban development, with elegant and spectacular Georgian buildings and Palladian architecture.  What’s interesting is, today’s Bath remains more or less the same as it was in Jane’s time.  The buildings have been maintained in such immaculate condition that a visitor to Bath today can actually walk the paths of Jane’s and behold the city and landscape she had seen, and eat at a place that she could have frequented, the Sally Lunn’s.  This little bakery and eatery is located in the oldest house in Bath, dating back to the 1400’s, a historical site even for Jane.

Jane Austen chose Bath as the setting for Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both novels published posthumously.  According to sources, in particular Claire Tomalin’s biography Jane Austen: A Life, Jane did not like the City of Bath.  The superficiality and frivolity of high society were met with her satirical critiques.  Further, her disdain could well be caused by the very purpose she suspected of her parents’ decision to move there:  opportunities to meet favourable suitors for their daughters.

Nevertheless, for me as a modern day visitor to Bath, and a Janeite at that, I’m impressed to learn that most of what I see have lasted through hundreds of years.  The Roman Baths, the Bath Abbey where the first king of England Edgar was crowned in 973 A.D., the Pump Room, the Gardens, The Royal Crescent, Queen’s Square, The Pulteney Bridge, the same streets and architecture are situated just as they were in Jane’s time.

Here are some of the famous places in Jane Austen’s Bath.

Jane Austen’s first residence in Bath 1801 – 1805, No. 4 Sydney Place:

Jane Austen’s Residence 4 Sydney Place

Jane Austen’s Residence No. 4 Sydney Place

Jane Austen’s second residence in Bath, No. 25 Gay Street, now a dentist’s office:

JA’s second residence No. 25 Gay Street

Gay Street:

The Street Where Jane Lived

Queen’s Square across from Gay Street: Good spot for people-watching for Jane and Cassandra:

Queen’s Square across from Gay Street

The Pump Room: The meeting place of the Who’s Who in Jane Austen’s Bath:

“In the Pump-room, one so newly arrived in Bath must be met with…”  –Chapter 9,  Northanger Abbey

The Pump Room

The Pump Room Exterior

The Royal Crescent:  Georgian buildings spectacularly arranged in a crescent form, where the rich and fashionable took their Sunday afternoon stroll in Jane’s time.  Jane’s view is satirically clear:

“…they hastened away to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company.” –Chapter 5,  Northanger Abbey

The Crescent

Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon:

Pultney Bridge Over the River Avon

Sally Lunn’s:  Famous buns since the 1680’s:

Sally Lunn’s

All photos originally taken by Arti of www.rippleeffects.wordpress.com

Text and photos All Rights Reserved, December, 2007.

More interesting posts coming up…and for Janeites, look for Lacock Village in my next post.

Update:  Due to the keen interest from readers of “Jane Austen’s Bath”, I’ve published another post, “Bath in December“, with more photos of my recent visit to that beautiful City.  After you’ve finished reading this post, you’re welcome to visit “Bath in December” and… enjoy!

Petra: Indiana Jones On Location

I’m still travelling in far off places, but just a few pictures to whet the appetite of those who have been so eagerly waiting.  Thanks for your patience.  I’ve been longing to share with you all my experience, the sights and sounds of distant lands, obscure to North Americans but definitely very popular places to explore for those in other parts of the world.  I feel like a wanderer in the Tower of Babel, hearing a myriad of unknown languages, not only from the natives of those lands, but from the crowds of visitors around me.

 The most amazing sight so far I must say is Petra, the city carved out of rocks, right in the red mountains of southern Jordan, about 3 hour’s drive southwest of the capital city Amman.  Petra was the land of the Edomites, descendants of Esau, twin brother of Jacob in the Old Testament of the Bible.  The ancient city was first constructed by the Nabataeans, and later came under Roman rule.  Earthquake and flooding had destroyed much of the city and it remained obscure for centuries until rediscovered by a Swiss explorer in 1812.

The ancient ruins of Petra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.  Excavation has been an international effort towards which Brown University’s archaelogy and anthropology departments have contributed substantially.  Follow this link to their fabulous website  http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Anthropology/Petra/

Petra was the location for parts of the film Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989).  You might recognize the famous facade of the ancient temple (The Treasury) which is the entrance to this amazing city in the rocks.

(First a word about COPYRIGHT:  I’ve travelled far, walked great distances and ridden on a donkey to take the following pictures, PLEASE DO NOT COPY.) 

Entering the red mountain region:

Entering the Mtn Region

A glimpse through the crack:

beginning-glimpse-through-a-crack.jpg

Beholding the real wonder:

the-temple-facade-at-the-entrance-of-the-city.jpg

The City carved out of rocks:

 the-city-carved-out-of-rocks.jpg

out-of-the-red-rock.jpg

Again, photos taken by Arti of www.rippleeffects.wordpress.com 

November, 2007.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. 

More to come in future posts.  Thanks for waiting.

But is this Art?…But is this Prodigy?

The comments in my last post have spurred some insightful ideas on the whole notion of what Art is, and whether a child’s production can include such inherent elements as soulful expression, and purposeful creation driven by theoretical stance.

I think a more appropriate question is, “But is this Prodigy?”

In his review of the documentary My Kid Could Paint That, New York Times film critic A. O. Scott acknowledges that it is natural for parents to cherish their children’s work. Those doodlings and finger paintings posted on the fridge door are priceless. He goes on to say:

The untaught sense of color and composition that children seem naturally to possess sometimes yields extraordinary results, and the combination of instinct and accident that governs their creative activity can produce astonishing works of art.

Except that these magical finger-paint daubings and crayon scribblings aren’t really works of art in any coherent sense of the term, but rather the vital byproducts of play, part of the cognitive and sensory awakening that is the grand, universal vocation of childhood.

The influential abstract art critic Clement Greenberg had made the following controversial remark: 

In visual arts, prodigies don’t count. In music and literature, yes, but not in art.”

The statement reiterates his view that:

The making of superior art is arduous.”

I tend to agree with him. 

I have seen music prodigies, not having reached the ripe old age of 10 or 12, performing complex pieces of classical compositions.  In contrast to a child pouring paint and spreading it out intuitively with her fingers, I saw behind those performances the countless hours of excruciating practice, the intricate and sometimes impossible eye-hand coordination, the mastery of the theory and the appreciation of the structure of the work, to ultimately evoking the very spirit intended by the composer as they perform. 

Not only that, the best of them make it deceptively simple.  They make the audience feel that they are watching a natural, born with such ability and talent, rendering hard work an oxymoron.  I’m not doubting there’s intuition and instinct involved.  But in every superb playing I see intuitive musicality alchemized with extraordinary mastery of skills and discipline. 

As for literary prodigies?  Maybe because of my limited exposure, I have yet to read one.

My Kid Could Paint That

If you type in “Marla Olmstead” in your Google search, 37 pages of information will come up. From these pages, you’ll know that she is a painter, born in Binghamton, New York. Her paintings have been compared to Wassily Kandinsky (the pioneer of modern art) and Jackson Pollock (the legendary drip artist). You’ll also learn that her works have been sold for tens of thousands of dollars. And soon enough, you’ll learn that Marla Olmstead is 7 years-old.

Nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year, My Kid Could Paint That is director Amir Bar-Lev’s quest to find out the true story behind this little girl who has been hailed as a “pint-size Picasso”. In the film, we see her using professional paintbrushes and other art accessories to work on canvases over 5 feet tall.

The first half of the documentary we see Marla Olmstead having her first showing in a NY Gallery, she was only 4 then. Her paintings sold like hot cakes, with a waiting list of more than 200 buyers, ready to snatch up anything she would produce. No need to worry about getting work for the next few years. As a 4 year-old, Marla had already earned more than $300,000, which her parents said had been put aside in a college fund. (Would she be going to college?)

Marla Olmstead Marla’s Burning Blue Ball

Then came the bombshell half way into the film. In a February, 2005, CBS’s 60 Minutes reporting, Marla and her parents were painted in a very different light. In the program, Charlie Rose interviewed Ellen Winner, a psychologist who has studied gifted children and specializes in visual arts. She saw a video tape taken by a hidden camera in the home of the Olmstead’s, unobtrusively recording Marla at work. What she suspected was a coach behind the child, someone prodding her on, even directing her moves. After the airing of the CBS program, a once beautiful art prodigy was overnight turned into an ordinary child with manipulative parents in the background steering her purposefully towards financial gain.

Sales began to drop, and warm praises turned into damning accusations. Loving parents are now seen as manipulative frauds. The Olmsteads have since made their own DVD to disprove the detrimental claims. You can see some of the clips showing Marla painting at home in the website http://www.marlaolmstead.com/

Director Amir Bar-Lev has successfully captured the emotional reactions Marla’s parents had in response to the 60 Minutes interview, and their attempt to defend their name in denying their invovlement in Marla’s artistic productions. Interestingly, the film does not take a stand. Rather, it has raised more questions than provided answers:

For those of us who are parents, what are our motives in raising our children? How can we decide what’s ‘best’ for them? How much influence should we or do we have over our children’s development? Where is the line between nature and nurture, pleasure and porfit? What’s more, what is art anyway? And the definition of modern art? Or, talent, for that matter? Does talent has to be associated with a monetary value or fame before it can be recognized?

Every one would have very different view of this story, and his/her own personal set of queries. I went to see this movie with a painter friend of mine. Not surprisingly, as we came out of the theatre, we had very different reactions to the film. Well one question I know I have, and it’s for my mom. Mom, if you’re reading…why wasn’t I given the big canvases and professional paintbrushes and those huge tubes of paints when I was a kid? How come I only got pencil crayons?

~~~3 Ripples