Monday, February 4, 2013


I managed to skip all the day-long Super Bowl build-up shows Sunday but indulged myself Saturday by enjoying the movie Quartet.  If you haven't yet read about it, it's Dustin Hoffman's first directorial stint and it's all about retired opera singers. Oh, yes, they're all Brits.  Not exactly a prescription for a bang-up modern smash film. And yes, it's somewhat indulgent and not very wonderfully plotted. The famous soprano (Maggie Smith, naturally) gives in first by going to the musicians' retirement home and then finally agrees to join three old colleagues in presenting the Quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto as the finale in a benefit to save the home.

This could be a rather predictable sappy scene but the performances and the music, of course, save the day. The Scottish comic, Billy Connolly, provides most of the light relief and is charming as a rascally retiree, but the truly bravura performance came from Tom Courtenay, who's been notable for having been in precious few movies over the past decades.  He has aged very well and remains a terrific actor. In the movie, Doctor Zhivago, remembered best (by me, at least) for the wonderful presences of Julie Christie and Rod Steiger, seeing Courtenay at the end of the train as the first half ended remains one of the memorable cinematic images.

Unlike Les Miz, where the actors were required to sing for their suppers through the whole picture, no one expected these folks in Quartet to tackle one of opera's glories. Instead, the film slowly introduces strains of the piece in different versions beginning about halfway through the movie; then, as the four take the stage, you hear a famous recording play over the credits.  They show pictures of all the supporting cast -- many of whom were great singers or actors -- as they originally appeared and then just pictures of the real four singers you are hearing. However, you must stay through all the credits to watch the music listings carefully to catch the identities of the actual singers, who were no less than Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Sherrill Milnes. and Huguette Tourangeau.  And yes, I do have that recording, still marvelous to hear, even if on vinyl.

And then there was the Super Bowl, which turned out to be quite a contest. The 49ers came out cold, the Superdome proved to be a tarted-up high school gym that couldn't keep the lights on, and then the Ravens went into a daze after the delay. On the other hand, I give the Baltimoreans full credit for pulling a valiant four-down goal-line stand that cinched the game. And my only complaint about Ray Lewis is that for all his carrying-on with dancing and the like, much less his checkered past, he proved to be a shadow of his former mighty defense self in his last appearance on the field where, in the words of the Morning Telegraph cryptic racing reports, he was "not a factor"--well, for most of the time, it seemed.

Most of the vaunted commercials were desultory and the controversial ones hardly worth getting excited or upset about. The half-time show was as tedious as always--the NFL has a way of making every pop or rock star, from Bruce Springsteen to this year's Beyonce, seem boring. It took Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake to wake up the echoes of show business a few years back.

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