Two NY weeks, 5 artists

By Caitlin Kelly

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Sometimes you’re lucky enough to witness artistic history.

That happened to us last week at Carnegie Hall, in a fully sold-out audience, listening to 71-year-old jazz pianist Keith Jarrett.

That’s 2,804 people of all ages, listening for two-plus hours and three encores in rapt silence, as the show was being recorded, (so, eventually, you can hear it too!)

We were seated up in the nosebleeds, (aka the second-highest balcony); even those tickets were $70 apiece.

If you haven’t heard of him, or his music, you’re in for a treat.

From Wikipedia:

The studio albums are modestly successful entries in the Jarrett catalog, but in 1973, Jarrett also began playing totally improvised solo concerts, and it is the popularity of these voluminous concert recordings that made him one of the best-selling jazz artists in history. Albums released from these concerts were Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne (1973), to which Time magazine gave its ‘Jazz Album of the Year’ award; The Köln Concert (1975), which became the best-selling piano recording in history;[15] and Sun Bear Concerts (1976) – a 10-LP (and later 6-CD) box set.

I was in college when the Koln Concert came out, and I was introduced to it by a boyfriend. I still have that album and still cherish it.

This week’s entire concert was improvised.

From Wikipedia:

Jarrett has commented that his best performances have been when he has had only the slightest notion of what he was going to play at the next moment. He also said that most people don’t know “what he does”, which relates to what Miles Davis said to him expressing bewilderment – as to how Jarrett could “play from nothing”. In the liner notes of the Bremen Lausanne album Jarrett states something to the effect that he is a conduit for the ‘Creator’, something his mother had apparently discussed with him.

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That was Wednesday night.

I barely had time to process what a magnificent evening it had been when a generous friend offered two free tickets to hear authors Colson Whitehead and George Saunders read and answer audience questions at the 92d Street Y, another Manhattan cultural institution.

Back into the city!

I had never read either of their works, but had read rapturous reviews of their new books — Lincoln in the Bardo and The Underground Railroad. Each read for 30 minutes and it was mesmerizing. Afterwards, answering audience questions written on note cards, they were funny, insightful and generous.

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It is one of the great pleasures of living in and near New York City — a place of stunning living costs — to be able to see and hear artists of this stature.

I’ve been writing for a living since college but this was Writing, fiction of such depth and emotional power it takes your breath away.

In a time of such political instability and anxiety, it was also healing to remember that art and culture connect us to one another and to history.

We escape. We muse. If we’re a fellow creative, we leave refreshed and inspired. We recharge our weary souls.

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On our main street, a terrific concert hall

On Saturday, we went to hear Bebel Gilberto, a Brazilian singer. Our suburban New York town has a fantastic music hall, built in 1885, where tickets are affordable and the variety of performances eclectic. Of all the shows we saw, this one was the only disappointment. The rest of the crowd loved it, but not us.

The week before, I heard director Kelly Reichardt being interviewed by fellow director Jonathan Demme after a screening of her 2010 film Meek’s Cutoff at a local art film house, the Jacob Burns Film Center.

She’s directed five feature films in a decade — no big deal for a guy, maybe, but a very big deal for a woman; only 13 percent are female.

As someone who’s a huge fan of movies, and of her films, this was a huge thrill. She was tiny, low-key, down to earth.

As a creative woman, it’s such a delight to see and hear another woman who’s carved such a great path for herself.

I went up later to say hello and was a total fan-girl, and she was warm and gracious.

Do you love culture?

What have you seen or heard lately that knocked your socks off?

The 20 Coolest Film Roles For Women; DVD Ideas For Your Holiday

Cover of "Erin Brockovich"
Cover of Erin Brockovich

Always open for debate, of course, here’s my vote for the 20 coolest female characters in film; here’s the Alliance of Women Film Journalists’ list of the top 100.

1. Alien, and its later versions, with Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, who got to say some of the best lines ever in her calm, patrician way, even as a clone. “I thought you were dead!”, says one. “I get that a lot,” she coolly replies. Whether wielding a big-ass flamethrower or her compassion, Ripley remains one of my favorites: the definition of sangfroid amid unimaginable terror, droll in the face of acid-spewing monsters.

2. Doctor Zhivago, 1965Julie Christie as Lara, a complicated, tough woman who starts out selling her body as a desperate teenager to the creepy Komarovsky and ends up living with her doctor and lover Yuri in the wilds of Varykyno. She’s forever the adaptable survivor, cool enough at 17 to stash a pistol in her fur muff and shoot the man who controls her. Heady stuff for the times.

3. Queen Christina, 1933, with Greta Garbo in the lead role. It’s not easy being Queen.

4. Terminator, 1984 Linda Hamilton, big guns, serious biceps.

5. An Education, 2009,  Carey Mulligan. This fantastic new film about a young British girl — based on a true story — who falls for a handsome older con man is as much about her education as that of her parents, eager to marry her off, out and up.

6. Brick Lane, 2007, Tannishta Chatterjee, from the terrific book by Monica Ali. The choices made by the protagonist defy conventional wisdom about docile, male-ruled South Asian lower-class immigrant women.

7. Water, 2005, Lisa Ray. A film so controversial that filming in India was shut down by protestors and moved to Sri Lanka. Directed by Canadian woman director Deepa Mehta, it’s a powerful look at the lives of widowed Indian women. An exquisitely beautiful film with a haunting soundtrack, it’s both joyful and despairing about women’s lives within the most restrictive constraints.

8. Whale Rider, 2002, Keisha Castle-Hughes. I love this New Zealand film about a feisty 11-year-old Maori girl, Pai, who desperately wants to be accepted into the male-only rituals of her people. She is so touchingly, stubbornly insistent and persuasive. Haunting visuals and a great performance.

9. Erin Brockovich, 2000, Julia Roberts. One of the few films in which she doesn’t play a ditz but a tough, funny, compassionate woman, a real-life heroine.

10. Norma Rae, 1979, Sally Field. Who can ever forget her standing on a table in that deafening textile mill, holding up a sign saying “Union”? Based on the real life of union organizer Crystal Lee Sutton.

11. Silkwood, 1983, Meryl Streep. Another profile of a real-life fighter,  killed while trying to reveal information about an unsafe nuclear power plant; one of Nora Ephron’s earliest screenplays.

12. Notorious, 1946, Ingmar Bergman. Alicia Huberman moves into a mansion and marries a Nazi in Rio while secretly spying on him. The scene where she is rescued does me in.

13. Million Dollar Baby, 2005, Hilary Swank. Not an easy film to watch, and the ending was deeply controversial. I love how this film shows the incredible power a coach can have on a female athlete, for better or worse.

14. Silence of The Lambs, 1990, Jody Foster. Another difficult film to watch. OK, terrifying! Clarice Starling is a compelling character, a young woman in a man’s world as a novice FBI agent chasing a serial killer. Her relationship with her boss is as powerfully revealing of her own vulnerabilities.

15. The Piano, 1993, Holly Hunter. A woman married to a brute breaks free in colonial-era New Zealand.

16. Out Of Africa, 1985, Meryl Streep. Writer Isak Dinesen had it all, on paper — a coffee plantation, a farm in the Ngong Hills of Kenya, an aristocratic Danish husband and a dashing British lover. A powerful portrait of love, independence and compromise.

17. Juno, 2007, Ellen Page. Many people found this film nauseatingly anti-abortion. I loved the character of Juno, joking her way through the physical and emotional madness of bearing a baby while still in high school.

18. Rachel Getting Married, 2008, Anne Hathaway. She totally should have won the Oscar for this searing role of Kym, the narcisisstic, needy little sister. It takes guts to play a character so annoying and memorable.

19. Cabaret, 1972, Liza Minelli. “Divinely decadent,” darling!” As a lonely American cabaret singer, Sally flashes her dark green fingernails and blusters her way through life and love in pre-war Germany.

20. Charlotte Gray, 2001, Cate Blanchett. No one seems to recall this film, about a British woman who goes behind enemy lines in France to work with the French Resistance and falls in love there. I loved it.

20a. The Reader, 2008, Kate Winslet. Based on a best-selling German novel, she plays a female you can’t ever forget, tough and vulnerable and terrifying.

Do strong female characters really scare away movie-goers?

Who are some of your favorite women characters of the cinema?