Monday, December 24, 2012

On encouraging children in the arts

Jackie Evancho is a 12 year old child with a Sony recording contract for doing classical crossover albums. Her dreams have come true in part because she worked hard to achieve them--but all that hard work would have gotten her nowhere if she was born with a tin ear and a wispy voice. 

It takes both gumption AND natural talent.

My objection is to encouraging kids who aren't going to get there no matter how hard they try because they weren't born with what people like Jackie was born with.

We should all have our dreams, and our parents should have helped us realize the realizable ones. When our parents give us dreams we can't achieve no matter how hard we try--and which we try to achieve instead of working of what we actually can accomplish--then like Simon Cowell I'm the one being kind to tell them the truth and you're the one being cruel, by setting them up for a fall.

It is true that nearly everyone who has achieved great things has had people who didn't think they could. Every best-selling novelist has a shoebox full of rejection slips. 

But it is equally true that everyone who reached for something beyond their grasp also have the equivalent of a box full of rejection slips--only they reflect reality.

We should all pray for the discernment to let us encourage everyone we meet to achieve the dreams they have or could have or should have...that are realizable. OTOH we should also pray for the discernment to not encourage dreams we know are hopeless.

That's one reason why I've never wanted to teach a writing class. I'd have to tell most of the students to write journals but don't try to publish anything because they can't achieve that. 

You shouldn't be cruel to people whose dreams you know will fail. And you can take the easy way out and just make polite noises when they're obviously begging you for encouragement in their Quixotic quest. But you'd be kindest if you Simon Cowell'd them.

It's not the adult's job to be the child's friend. They have friends their own age. It's your job with children to at least be the guide on side if you don't wan to be the sage on the stage. But steer them toward the spot where the fish are. Don't give them a bum steer.

EDIT ADD: When I did my student teaching in several grammar schools, my instructors told me I taught 3rd grade as if it were 4th grade, 4th as it it were 5th, and so forth. I challenged them and stretched them, tried to find what they were capable of. I was both demanding and encouraging. I just never told someone they were something they weren't.

re: Les Miz--the movie--my fears confirmed by NPR

I just heard David Biancouli's (sp.?) brief review of Les Miserables the movie on today's episode of Fresh Aire. He called it an abomination, just as I feared, in part because the actors weren't good enough singers to sing their roles, and in part because so much of the camerawork consisted of the camera coming in at different angles for tight closeups on their faces as they're singing badly (by "badly" I don't mean by church choir standards, but by professional musical theater standards).

What a pity. I think of myself as a sophisticated listener and of Les Miz as high art for the masses--but I still wept when I saw it live. So very sad that the movie version won't be iconic, but instead a very expensive tribute to bad judgments.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Is Les Miz: The Movie...musical?

I've seen several clips from stars of Les Miz touting the movie on talk shows. And as usual for movie musicals, they cast stars and had them sing rather than casting singers and having them star.

That's why you saw the astonishingly beautiful Natalie Wood open her mouth in West Side Story and Marnie Nixon's astonishingly beautiful voice would emerge.

AutoTune has made this less necessary.

And of course you have many actors dubbing themselves, especially when they're required to sing while they're running around.

Now we have the most anticipated movie-of-a-musical in decades, Les Miserables. In which a selling point is that the performers are neither other-dubbed nor self-dubbed. What you see is what you hear, so to speak.

Which would be great if what you heard was what we've heard in its stage productions.

It's so not. Take Amanda Seyfried's Adult-Cosette. She is gorgeous, can act, and looks the part. She can sing on pitch--I'm no expert on detecting AutoTune unless it's done on purpose, but it doesn't matter, because what's wrong with her voice, AutoTune can't fix. Her voice is as un-beautiful as her face is beautiful.

Her tone is not better than what you'd find in the average church choir soprano, plus she has one of those high-speed quavers that I find nearly unlistenable to.

And this isn't a bit part. It's Adult-Cosette.

I heard Ann Hathaway too. Someone I'd be delighted to have in the choir of the church I attend. But Fontine? Uh-unh.

They showed a bit of Hugh Jackman speak-singing his way through a duet with Cosette.

I was just stunned. Les Miz has some of the best music of any musical since the Richard Rogers/Frank Loesser days. The music isn't incidental to Les Miz--it's the heard and soul of it.

They could have done a movie of the book, using the same cast as this movie, and I'd have had no complaints.

And the emotional honesty of the story does call for the voices you hear emerging from the mouths you see.

Just not these voices.

Maybe the other parts fare better, but thus far my impression is that Hollywood picked Hollywood's own for the cast. They could have had their pick of Broadway stars for this, but instead we get...what we got.

I hope and pray that the few snippets I've heard are the musical exceptions to a better rule.

I doubt it.

And if I'm right, I have to ask: why do a musical if you don't care about the music?

Normally Hollywood botches musicals. It "opens up" the setting, taking the extreme artificiality of people bursting into song every few minutes, and superimposing that artifice on realistic settings--on location or on big sound stages.

But at least Hollywood used to make sure you heard really good singing, whether from someone who had the complete package, like Shirley Jones, or a team who divvied up the whole package between them, like Natalie Wood/Marnie Nixon.


What I don't get the most is that Les Miz's creators are still alive. And they've overseen Les Miz being produced all over the world. So it's not like they don't know their way around a contract. So how did they let this happen?

Wouldn't it be interesting if, a decade or two from now, someone re-did the soundtrack of this movie, dubbing in the voices of great Broadway singers, offering that as a viewing option?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advice for female celebrities appearing on talk shows

It's easy: don't wear anything that makes you feel the urge to tug on it (up down or sideways), and whatever you do wear, don't tug on it constantly during your interview.

Case in point: Olivia Munn, 32, beautiful actor who has appeared in Maxim (a so-called "lad's magazine" in teensy outfits) and suchlike. If you Google her name and pick Images you can see that while she's no Lindsay Lohan, she isn't prudish either.

Yet on Jay Leno's talk show last night she appeared in a dress that was practically Amish by late night talk show standards--long sleeved, high necked, no holes--but it was gathered up on one side, as you can see.

Munn was onscreen 8 minutes, and she spent much of her airtime trying to not be in that dress. She tugged down on it repeatedly, tried to pull the longer part over the shorter part, put her hands over the exposed thigh, went back to tugging it down, and so forth.

It made her look neurotic and also made it hard to pay attention to whatever she was saying. Jay Leno didn't make her wear that dress. The stores are full of attractive outfits for famous women--outfits that show less leg. Thus not only neurotic but a little dimwitted. And she's known for being smart--college-educated. But she made herself look ridiculous--and her constant dress-tugging is already appearing all over the Internet.

She just has no excuse. Whatever glamorous effect she was shooting for by wearing the dress in the first place was lost by her onstage antics. She could have put duct tape over the slit and it would have looked better than she did.

This has been going on since forever. Minnie Driver's first movie role seen widely in the states was the starring role in Circle of Friends (1995), for which she gained quite a bit of weight. Then she made the rounds of the talk shows to promote it. I think first was the Jay Leno show. She appeared with all the weight gone, & obviously so because it was a minidress.

Spent the whole time tugging the top up and the hem down.

There's a broader lesson here--if you're conscious of your self, you won't be self-conscious on any occasion.