Thursday, January 12, 2006

While We Wait...

The theatrical season is revving up the engine these last two weeks and we are waiting as the new shows kick into gear.

No Exit at the ART and Liasons at the Huntington are the centerpieces of this month and the reviews should hit soon on those shows. Until then we are in the doldrums that hang over from the Christmas dearth of new theatre.

There is some value in the No Exit promo piece by Louise Kennedy, but otherwise theatre journalism in still hitting the snooze alarm.
Aside from PR pieces like the Huntington's costumes and a dissapointing piece about the influential and important Jacqui Parker and her African American Theatre festival, (basically 2/3rds of the piece is Parker's resume and only a sliver of her actually talking about her art,) we get a completely scathing Phoenix review of the Solo piece at Merrimack Rep.

Bill Marx's review of Carey's new book, What Good Are The Arts? is an interesting companion piece to the review of Squeeze Box. According to Marx:

In his ballyhooed book "What Good Are the Arts?" Carey argues that the benefits of the arts have been inflated for centuries by self-proclaimed elitists, who think the high arts are an absolute good, elevating the few in the know into realms of the transcendent. Carey sees this as highbrow snobbery: "The religion of art makes people worse, because it encourages contempt for those considered inartistic."

As proof, Carey apparently says that many things are considered art, from video games to Monet, and value all boils down to personal taste. Carey's conclusion is that arts are only useful as social programs.

However, Bill's review concludes:

Alas, Carey's crude notion that almost anything can be defined as art leads to a confused polemic. If video games and Matisse paintings are of equal value, then what criteria are to be used when deciding what kinds of art prisoners and students should be taught?

Mr. Marx is right to perceive a mission creep with regards to arts criticism. I have long believed that the last battlefront for commercial takeover of the arts is on the field of academic and critical aqueiescence. These polemics against any kind of standards are invading the middlebrow circuits on a regular basis. ( Books like Everything Bad is Good For You are a prime example.)

The most insidious culprit, the full-featured DVD, is an absolute miracle of digital dramaturgy which can turn the remake of Dukes of Hazzard into Citizen Kane. Read Grady Hendrix's rundown of the special features about Jessica Simpsons jeans and the General Lee at Slate and you will see what I mean. I love the closing line:

My viewing done, the question remained: Is The Dukes of Hazzard a modern day masterpiece? Have we returned to the great, auteurist-driven cinema of the 1970s? Judging by the all the extras, the answer has to be yes. But I haven't actually seen the movie and I never will. I don't want to ruin the special features.


In his review of Squeeze Box, Steve Vineberg taps into some of these issues, with questions about what the show is really about.

More some other time.

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