March 28, 2017

Victoria on PBS

After watching The Crown on Netflix, I dove into the world of Victoria on PBS. Initially the Victoria production suffered in comparison, the first two episodes seeming a bit snoozy to me, but once Albert arrives in his red boots and military uniform, the drama takes off.

Don’t get me wrong, Rufus Sewell as Lord Melbourne and the queen’s first confidante is engaging, but the suggested emotional connection between the Prime Minister and Victoria seems to be a dramatic contrivance. The show is really about the wonderful happenstance that an arranged royal marriage could still contain romance and genuine sexual heat. Actor Tom Hughes as the serious but dashing German-born Prince Albert seems straight out of a fairy tale.

Some of the side characters (Victoria’s maid and other serving staff) have compelling story lines, but the true heart of Victoria is the queen herself, marvelously embodied by Jenny Coleman. At one point she wishes to be just an ordinary woman and not the monarch of multitudes of citizens. The tug of war between Victoria’s regal responsibilities and her personal wishes provides the drama in this series created by Daisy Goodwin, formerly an executive producer of The Apprentice and the author of a book entitled Victoria on which the current series is based.

Upcoming episodes in Season 1 show her holding firm against her husband and advisors, so I look forward to seeing her go from young queen to seasoned sovereign.

If you need car chases, guns and a fast pace to be entertained, this is definitely not your show. Victoria shines with splendid cinematography, impressive costumes, first-rate acting and well-crafted script-writing.
The series has already been renewed for a second season which is not surprising since Queen Victoria ruled for 63 years.

Terra Cotta Warriors and Moholy-Nagy: Future Present

I usually don’t write about exhibits that have just left Chicago, but I decided to write about two showings that are moving on to other cities.

It has long been my dream to see the famed Terra Cotta Warriors in their original excavation site in Xi’an, China. The Field Museum exhibit which ran from March 4, 2016 to January 8, 2017 seemed to be the next best thing.
My thumbnail review: admission and parking were expensive and the exhibit itself was rather small with very few artifacts that weren’t reproductions. If you never plan to visit China, you may want to make a spring visit to the Terra Cotta Warriors in Seattle, but I myself am holding out hope to see the real thing in Xi’an.

Terra Cotta Warriors Exhibit
Pacific Science Center in Seattle, WA
April 8 to Sept 3, 2017

A much more satisfying exhibit was Moholy-Nagy: Future Present which ran from Oct. 2, 2016 to January 3, 2017 at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Hungarian Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was a painter, photographer, film-maker, sculptor, advertising man, product designer and theater set designer. Happily, the exhibit gave us glimpses of every phase of his work. Room after room featured samples of his work from his lucite and metal chandeliers to his photos, films, paintings and graphic designs.

Moholy-Nagy holds a place of honor in Chicago history having been instrumental in creating the New Bauhaus here which morphed into the Institute of Design on the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) campus.

The Moholy-Nagy exhibit was previously at the Guggenheim Museum in New York city and now moves to Los Angeles. West coasters who admire early 20th century art and design are strongly urged to attend this fine show.

Moholy-Nagy Future Present
Feb. 12 to June 18, 2017
Los Angeles County Museum

The Crown on Netflix

I was going through a bit of Downton Abbey withdrawal so The Crown, a Netflix ten-part dramatic series seemed to be the perfect “hair of the Corgi.”

High quality production values were apparent from the opening credits, but what unfolded was impeccable acting and emotional script-writing as well as gorgeous cinematography and beautiful film music.

Claire Foy is wondrous as Elizabeth II, from her father’s death in her 20’s, through her coronation to dealing with family and national squabbles in her first years as queen. John Lithgow as Winston Churchill is surprisingly good despite being a Yank actor and is both an adversary and advisor to the young Elizabeth. Matt Smith, known for his stint on Dr. Who, is believable as the prince consort who finds himself overshadowed by his regal wife. Elizabeth’s sister, Margaret is vibrantly played by Vanessa Kirby. Their sororal relationship in this very visible British royal family provide some of the most dramatic scenes.

Friends have found the slow pace of the episodes off-putting, but I luxuriated in the elegance and grace of this production. The Crown might make a relaxing binge between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Google Arts and Culture site

google-arts-and-culture-logoWhen traveling, I love visiting museums, gardens and venues of visual beauty. Unfortunately, my wish list of places to visit continues to grow, while my time to travel remains relatively small.

Google Arts and Culture comes to the rescue with a comprehensive web site that allows the viewer to virtually visit a host of cultural and natural sites all across the world. biodivwand_c_carola-radke-mfnBio Diversity Wall at the Natural History Museum in Berlin

Some of the web site headings include Your Daily Digest, Stories of the Day, Zoom in and Explore by time and color. A seemingly endless number of virtual tours are available including Ford’s Theater in Washington,  10 Downing Street in London and the Taj Mahal in India. One can do searches by art movements, artists, historical events or places along with a host of other topics. Every visit to Google Culture and Art home page could be a different, enlightening experience.

I see from the internet address that Google Arts and Culture is still in beta-testing mode, but the site looks quite polished and professional in its current state.
On my next Google Arts and Culture experience, I plan to make virtual visits to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and to the Great Barrier Reef. Excuse me while I pack my virtual suitcase.

https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/

Barkskins by Annie Proulx

When I first looked at Annie Proulx’s 700 page tome, Barkskins, I wondered if I could keep my interest up for that long. The short answer is a resounding “yes” although I must admit the weight of the book was a negative on a recent plane trip.

Some of you may have read her Pulitzer-prize winning book, The Shipping News, Accordion Crimes or her short story Brokeback Mountain upon which the Academy Award-winning movie is based.

Barkskins is an amazing historical fiction work from the 80-year-old Proulx with some comparison to Emile Zola or Edward Rutherford as she follows the progeny of two male French immigrants to North America in the 1600’s. We follow their descendants, both of Native American and of European heritage as they experience both life and death in the coming centuries.

Against the backdrop of history, including the formation of the United States, the decimation of Indian culture and the American Civil War, we are invited into the world of forestry, its destruction and its possible regeneration. We are also taken on side trips to Europe, China and New Zealand to view the international trade of natural resources.

While some critics have complained that we are seeing these characters from an emotional remove, I would say that Proulx has endeavored to show us the macro view of these people throughout history versus the micro world of interior thought.

It would be an understatement to say that European-Americans come off very poorly in their treatment of Native Americans in Proulx’s book, but she also makes the Indian love and knowledge of nature to be a hopeful note for the future.

What a satisfying literary journey with both edification and beautiful prose found in Annie Proulx’s novel, Barkskins.

The National Parks – National Geographic Book

As a companion to our celebration of the 100th anniversary of our National Parks Service, National Geographic has published a glorious illustrated history of our national natural bounty, The National Parks. Kim Heacox, a former ranger and award-winning author, provides the informative text that accompanies the outstanding photos.

Every page is a visual delight with shots of our most beloved national parks, but pull-out panoramic photos of Sequoia National Park and Yosemite in California plus Canyonlands National Park in Utah and Haleakala National Park in Hawaii are simply breath-taking.

This would be a great addition to your coffee table, but most major libraries should have copies that you can borrow.

Let us hope that Fox and Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of National Geographic’s famed publication and television network does not mean a diminution of its quality or reputation. This lovely book gives one hope.

Graceland Cemetery, a Chicago treasure

In my last week’s article on the South Park system in Chicago, I wrote about a famous large sculpture by Illinois artist, Loredo Taft. As a co-incidence, I also visited the lovely Graceland Cemetery on Memorial Day and saw two more evocative Loredo Taft statues in this storied graveyard.

Far from being morbid and forbidding, Graceland is as much an arboretum and architectural treasure as it is a final resting place for many.

I urge you to stop at the visitor’s center when first you arrive to pick up a brochure with a map of famous Graceland “residents.” The roster reads like a “who’s who” of Chicago architecture, industry, sports and culture.

Lake Windemere Bridge - Photo by E. DoyleLake Windemere, a small body of water amidst the greenery is especially lovely with a small bridge leading to an island containing the tombstones of Daniel Burnham and his immediate family. A pleasant walk takes you to the grave sites of Louis Sullivan, John Root, Fazlur Khan, William Le Baron Jenney and Mies Van de Rohe, to name a few architects of note.

A Taft sculpture depicts a soldier from the Crusades guarding the grave of newspaper publisher, Victor Lawson. George Pullman (Pullman railroad cars), William Kimball (pianos and organs), Phillip Armour (meat-packing) and Cyrus McCormick (the horse-drawn reaper) are but a few of the industrialists buried here.

A second Loredo Taft sculpture entitled Eternal Silence marks the grave site of Dexter Graves. Looking into the face of the eerie hooded figure, according to myth, gives the viewer a glimpse of their own death.

Eternal Silence by Loredo Taft - Photo by E. Doyle

Eternal Silence by Loredo Taft – photo by E. Doyle

Other historic figures include Carter Harrison Sr. and Jr., father and son who both served as mayors of Chicago, Alan Pinkerton of the famous detective agency, Joseph Medill of Chicago Tribune fame and Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, an African-American surgeon who performed one of the first open heart surgeries.

Parents or teachers could give their children and students a pretty wonderful overview of Chicago history with a walk through this verdant retreat. This is land within the Wrigleyville neighborhood that is truly full of beauty, serenity and yes, grace.

http://www.gracelandcemetery.org/

Chicago’s Stunning South Parks: Jackson, Midway and Washington

Memorial Day seemed like the perfect time to visit some park attractions on Chicago’s South Side that I had read about but never seen.

First up was the “Golden Lady” statute at the intersection of Richards and Hayes Drives in Jackson Park on Chicago’s south side. The original statue, three times the size of this copy, was by sculptor Daniel Chester French and was placed in the Court of Honor during the 1893 Colombian Exposition. The larger original work, “Statue of the Republic” was unfortunately destroyed in an 1896 fire. This newer and smaller version is completely gilded with the lady’s right hand holding a globe with an eagle on top and the left holding a staff with a banner that reads “Liberty.”  D. C. French is more well known for his statue of Abraham Lincoln that graces the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C.

If you want to keep exploring, head north towards the Jackson Park Driving Range. Several golfers were unloading golf bags so this looks like a fun place to improve one’s swing. North of the driving range is a marked nature trail that leads to the water basin in back of the Museum of Science and Industry. Off to the west, one can see the storied “Wooded Isle,” with it’s Osaka Garden, also built for the 1893 Colombian Exposition. Alas, most of the park is under construction and several pathways are blocked for public admittance, including the island with Japanese landscaping and structures.

Photo by Elizabeth Doyle

The trail is still worth checking out with it’s verdant foliage and flowers and the spectacular view of the back steps of the Museum. Big things could be ahead for Jackson Park since it is in consideration for Barack Obama’s Presidential Library. World renowned artist Yoko Ono is also slated to install a new, permanent artwork called SKY LANDING on the Wooded Island in the near future.

Three areas, Jackson, Washington and the Midway Plaisance were actually designed as one big South Park. The Midway Plaisance joins Jackson Park on the east and Washington Park on the west. During the 1893 Colombian Exposition, the “Midway” was the site of less high-brow entertainment such as sideshows and rides. Today an ice-skating rink is on the site of the world’s first Ferris wheel which premiered during the 1893 Fair. The mile-long swath of green is next to the University of Chicago and seems part of the campus even thought it is public land.

Continuing west along the park boulevard system, the big artistic attraction on the border between Midway and Washington Park is Loredo Taft’s amazing concrete sculpture and reflecting pool called “Fountain of Time.” Inspired by the poem “Paradox of Time” by Henry Austin Dobson, the large scale sculpture features Father Time looking across water at a procession of one hundred humans. Private and public entities have donated money to preserve Taft’s national artistic treasure.

Loredo Taft, an Illinois sculptor born and bred, had his art studio nearby in a converted barn at 60th street and Ellis.

I definitely plan to be back as these three parks continue to thrive and evolve. The western area of Jackson Park holds particular interest, especially if Yoko Ono completes her art project on the picturesque “Wooded Isle.”

If you want to see the projected plans for Jackson, Washington and Midway Park areas, you may find this site interesting:

http://www.project120chicago.org/

Prisoner of Her Past, Howard Reich’s film and book

Chicago Tribune writer Howard Reich initially set out to uncover his mother’s past in hopes of understanding her erratic behavior in the present. Prisoner of Her Past is Howard Reich’s book and film about his mother’s World War II experiences creeping back into her life sixty years later.

The film is extremely moving, but the book benefits even more from Reich’s meticulous writing. Readers of his incisive musical criticism will delight in his own musical journey as he discovers Gershwin, Mendelssohn and other classical composers as well as his exposure to jazz, both live and recorded.

The book deserves a place on the shelves of readers interested in the Holocaust and World War II, of those curious about post-traumatic syndrome or of those wanting to read a son’s poignant memoir about his troubled mother.

To mark Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), the film, Prisoner of Her Past, will be broadcast on WTTW HD, the Chicago PBS affiliate on Thursday, May 5 at 10 pm and on WTTW Prime on Friday, May 6 at 4 pm.

The Heavy Water War tv series on Netflix and MHZ

Co-op productions between countries are increasing, witnessed by the Norwegian/Danish/British collaboration, The Heavy Water War, now streaming on Netflix and MHZ. The six episode series tells the story of the Norwegian factory that made “heavy water” in the 1940’s, seen from four different angles.

We are introduced to the head of Norsk Hydro trying to keep the company running while appeasing the occupying Germans. We also follow the character of Leif Tronstad who leads a Norwegian team of saboteurs tasked with destroying the “heavy water” operation in Norway. The different perspectives are rounded out with scenes of the saboteurs training at a Scottish camp and of the German scientists racing to complete the bomb.

To be sure, World War II continues to be the topic of several European television programs.

Film buffs will recognize the based-on-history story as being the general plot of The Heroes of Telemark, a 1965 British movie starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris.