Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Listening like Going to the Movies

Why can't we just go to concerts and let the music transport us as we are transported at the movies?

One of the greatest compliments I ever experienced was in the form of an argument between two young audience members after a performance in Savannah, GA with tenor Richard Dyer-Bennet of Schubert's Lovely Milleress (D-B's masterful English-language version).  They were arguing about who was the true villain in the piece: the other man or the river.   Such an argument would certainly never have taken place had they been distracted by having to read translations of the text.  They took it in -- how could they not?  Dyer-Bennet was a masterful storyteller.

I experienced an utterly magical transformation of time and attentiveness the first time I saw Jean Vigo's early talkie film L'Atalante, in a scene in which the hero, distraught because his young wife has run away, soaks his head in a bucket of water and conjures up visions of her loveliness.  The scene seemed to last forever.  I was in heaven.  Going back to see it a second time it turned out to last only a few moments.

The opposite happened with the scene inside the boiler room of the The Battleship Potemkin, the great film by Sergei Eisenstein.  Most of the time this scene is cut and its impact severely lessened.  When I first saw it restored, uncut, at the Museum of Modern Art I was stunned at the power of this interminable depiction of a most vivid unescapable hell.