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Links for the Day: Ornette Coleman Dies at 85, David Edelstein Remembers Christopher Lee, Adam Nayman on Seinfeld, 45 Years Trailer, & More

Ornette Coleman Dies at 85, David Edelstein Remembers Christopher Lee, Adam Nayman on Seinfeld, 45 Years Trailer, & More.

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Links for the Day: Ornette Coleman Dies at 85, David Edelstein Remembers Christopher Lee, Adam Nayman on Seinfeld, 45 Years Trailer, & More

1. “Ornette Coleman Dies at 85.” The composer and saxophonist who rewrote the language of jazz died on Thursday in Manhattan.

“His early work—a personal answer to his fellow alto saxophonist and innovator Charlie Parker—lay right inside the jazz tradition, generating a handful of standards for jazz musicians of the last half-century. But he later challenged assumptions about jazz from top to bottom, bringing in his own ideas about instrumentation, process and technical expertise. He was more voluble and theoretical than John Coltrane, the other great pathbreaker of that jazz era. He was a kind of musician-philosopher, whose interests reached well beyond jazz. He was seen as a native avant-gardist, personifying the American independent will as much as any artist of the last century. Slight, Southern and soft-spoken, Mr. Coleman became a visible part of New York City’s cultural life, often attending parties in bright silk suits. He could talk in sometimes baffling language about harmony and ontology, but his utterances could also be disarming in their freshness and clarity.”

2. “Ornette Coleman’s Revolution.” Richard Brody remembers the jazz legend.

“Coleman was a musician who always thought of his music in philosophical terms; in Shirley Clarke’s film, Ornette: Made in America, from 1985, Coleman discusses some of those ideas in detail; he does so, too, in this conversation with Jacques Derrida, from 1997. But the essence of Coleman’s philosophy connects it to the defining trait of philosophical thought from Socrates onward: the puncturing of shibboleths, the rational devaluation of concepts considered essential, the proof through reason that ideas and categories believed to derive from nature are merely convenient artifices and social markers and can easily be dispensed with. But those ideas and categories are dispensed with by those who cherish their freedom of spirit, and often at the cost of their social position. To expose familiar habits as fusty fabrications is to expose oneself to ridicule, as a weirdo, and to persecution, as a threat to the established order.”

3. “The Last Living Horror Icon.” David Edelstein remembers Christopher Lee.

“The day before his 80th birthday, Lee—remarkably hale despite a bad fall a few months earlier—told me he wasn’t certain he had much time left but that he’d endeavor to remain alive until the release of Star Wars Episode III. That would come in 2005. In the bonus decade, he joined Mick Jagger as a Knight of the Realm, though I have no idea if he ever gave the Rolling Stones a listen. He did, in his 90s, release an album of heavy-metal covers, which suggested he’d loosened up quite a bit. Perhaps the title made that easier. I hope he knew he had nothing left to prove.”

4. “Ornette Coleman’s Uncompromising Genius.” Unfamiliar with Coleman’s music? This obit by Glenn Kenny is a good primer on where and how to begin.

Dancing was not just a springboard for what Westerners now, for better or worse, call World Music, it also served as a prominent informal introduction to Harmolodics, Coleman’s attempt to construct a theory of free playing. There are many different explanations of Harmolodics out there, some more comprehendible than others, but the most useful way of defining it might be to say that it sought to destroy hierarchies within musical expression. To say, in other words, that the particular noise you make through the sax or the guitar is of equal value to the chord or melody you attempt to articulate with it. Maybe. The best appreciation of Harmolodic music is achieved by listening to it, and some of the best of it was made by the various iterations of Ornette’s ‘70s electric group, Prime Time, which spawned such monster musicians as bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma, guitarists Bern Nix and James ’Blood’ Ulmer, drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, and more. Body Meta, Of Human Feelings—as rocking as these ‘70s records are, they sure as hell were not ’fusion,’ and indeed, their rollicking freedom proved perhaps more inspirational to the New Wave musicians of New York’s downtown scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s than to any old-school or fusion jazzers. See, for instance, John Zorn.”

5. “Jerry Rigged.” Adam Nayman on why Seinfeld’s comedic brilliance relied on a privileged perspective.

“Never was this particular strain of gluttony more apparent than in Seinfeld’s finale, which saw Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine sentenced to communal jail time for criminal indifference—a nicely sideways evocation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit and its ’hell is other people’ kicker that gave the final pullout from the gang kibitzing behind bars a slight fritz of existential resonance. The trial was meant self-reflexively as a referendum on the show, and even though the characters were found guilty after a parade of surprise witnesses claiming victimization, the case was actually being made for the defence: the only thing that Seinfeld (and Seinfeld) is truly guilty of, Your Honour, is nine years of hilarity. Any objections on moral or intellectual grounds are beside the point, because there’s nothing you can say about our clients that they haven’t already admitted of their own volition—and with nice, big, shit-eating smiles on their faces, too.”

Video of the Day: Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years gets a trailer:

Links for the Day: A collection of links to items that we hope will spark discussion. We encourage our readers to submit candidates for consideration to ed@slantmagazine.com and to converse in the comments section.

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Awards

Oscars 2019: Who Will Win? Who Should Win? Our Final Predictions

No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them.

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Roma
Photo: Netflix

No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them. Cut out the montages, bring back honorary award presentations, give stunt performers their own category, let ranked-choice voting determine every category and not just best picture, overhaul the membership ranks, hold the event before the guilds spoil the surprise, find a host with the magic demographic-spanning mojo necessary to double the show’s recent audience pools, nominate bigger hits, nominate only hits. Across the last 24 days, Ed Gonzalez and I have mulled over the academy’s existential crisis and how it’s polluted this year’s Oscar race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again. We’re spent, and while we don’t know if we have it in us to do this next year, we just might give it another go if Oscar proves us wrong on Sunday in more than just one category.

Below are our final Oscar predictions. Want more? Click on the individual articles for our justifications and more, including who we think should win in all 24 categories.

Picture: Green Book
Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Actor: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Actress: Glenn Close, The Wife
Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Supporting Actress: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Original Screenplay: Green Book
Adapted Screenplay: BlacKkKlansman
Foreign Language: Roma
Documentary Feature: RBG
Animated Feature Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Documentary Short: Period. End of Sentence
Animated Short: Weekends
Live Action Short: Skin
Film Editing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Production Design: The Favourite
Cinematography: Cold War
Costume Design: The Favourite
Makeup and Hairstyling: Vice
Score: If Beale Street Could Talk
Song: “Shallow,” A Star Is Born
Sound Editing: First Man
Sound Mixing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Visual Effects: First Man

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Picture

The industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again.

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Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

“I’m hyperventilating a little. If I fall over pick me up because I’ve got something to say,” deadpanned Frances McDormand upon winning her best actress Oscar last year. From her lips to Hollywood’s ears. No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them. Cut out the montages, bring back honorary award presentations, give stunt performers their own category, let ranked-choice voting determine every category and not just best picture, overhaul the membership ranks, hold the event before the guilds spoil the surprise, find a host with the magic demographic-spanning mojo necessary to double the show’s recent audience pools, nominate bigger hits, nominate only hits.

But first, as McDormand herself called for during her speech, “a moment of perspective.” A crop of articles have popped up over the last two weeks looking back at the brutal showdown between Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare In Love at the 1999 Academy Awards, when Harvey Weinstein was at the height of his nefarious powers. Every retrospective piece accepts as common wisdom that it was probably the most obnoxious awards season in history, one that indeed set the stage for every grinding assault we’ve paid witness to ever since. But did anyone two decades ago have to endure dozens of weekly Oscar podcasters and hundreds of underpaid web writers musing, “What do the Academy Awards want to be moving forward, exactly? Who should voters represent in this fractured media environment, exactly?” How much whiskey we can safely use to wash down our Lexapro, exactly?

Amid the fox-in-a-henhouse milieu of ceaseless moral outrage serving as this awards season’s backdrop, and amid the self-obsessed entertainers now wrestling with the idea that they now have to be “content providers,” all anyone seems concerned about is what an Oscar means in the future, and whether next year’s versions of Black Panther and Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody have a seat at the table. What everyone’s forgetting is what the Oscars have always been. In other words, the industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again, and Oscar’s clearly splintered voting blocs may become ground zero for a Make the Academy Great Again watershed.

In 1956, the Oscars took a turn toward small, quotidian, neo-realish movies, awarding Marty the top prize. The correction was swift and sure the following year, with a full slate of elephantine epics underlining the movie industry’s intimidation at the new threat of television. Moonlight’s shocking triumph two years ago was similarly answered by the safe, whimsical The Shape of Water, a choice that reaffirmed the academy’s commitment to politically innocuous liberalism in artistically conservative digs. Call us cynical, but we know which of the last couple go-arounds feels like the real academy. Which is why so many are banking on the formally dazzling humanism of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and so few on the vital, merciless fury of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.

And even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the academy’s new members, there’s that righteous, reactionary fervor in the air against those attempting to “cancel” Green Book. Those attacking the film from every conceivable angle have also ignored the one that matters to most people: the pleasure principle. Can anyone blame Hollywood for getting its back up on behalf of a laughably old-fashioned but seamlessly mounted road movie-cum-buddy pic that reassures people that the world they’re leaving is better than the one they found? That’s, as they say, the future that liberals and Oscar want.

Will Win: Green Book

Could Win: Roma or BlacKkKlansman

Should Win: BlacKkKlansman

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

After walking back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing here.

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BlacKkKlansman
Photo: Focus Features

Eric and I have done a good job this year of only selectively stealing each other’s behind-the-scenes jokes. We have, though, not been polite about stepping on each other’s toes in other ways. Okay, maybe just Eric, who in his impeccable take on the original screenplay free-for-all detailed how the guilds this year have almost willfully gone out of their way to “not tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film.” Case in point: Can You Ever Forgive Me? winning the WGA’s adapted screenplay trophy over presumed Oscar frontrunner BlacKkKlansman. A glitch in the matrix? We think so. Eric and I are still in agreement that the race for best picture this year is pretty wide open, though maybe a little less so in the wake of what seemed like an easy win for the Spike Lee joint. Nevertheless, we all know that there’s no Oscar narrative more powerful than “it’s about goddamn time,” and it was so powerful this year that even the diversity-challenged BAFTAs got the memo, giving their adapted screenplay prize to Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott. To bamboozle Lee at this point would, admittedly, be so very 2019, but given that it’s walked back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing.

Will Win: BlacKkKlansman

Could Win: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Should Win: BlacKkKlansman

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