Thursday, April 30, 2020

Portrait of a Survivor as a Young Man: When Time Stopped

“The past is intrinsic to the present, despite any attempts to dismiss it.” – Ariana Neumann
Ariana Neumann’s moving, beautifully-written memoir, When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father’s War and What Remains (Scribner 2020), chronicles her search to shed light on the early secretive life of her Czech-born father, Hans, whom she remembers as a successful, art-collecting, philanthropic businessman. But her account is as much a mystery as a memoir because she combines the tools of both a sleuth and historian to unearth her father’s life.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Journey Is the Reward: In Transit (2015)

A mother and daughter in Albert Maysles's In Transit (2015).

For one glorious week, the last film by documentarian and pioneer of direct cinema Albert Maysles, the posthumously released In Transit (2015), was free to watch online. In a fine bit of irony, it was Maysles’s death that threw the film’s distribution into limbo. Co-directed with Lynn True, David Usui, Nelson Walker III, and Benjamin Wu (everyone also shared cinematography duties, except True, who edited), the film boards the Chicago-St. Paul/Minneapolis-Spokane-Portland/Seattle Empire Builder, the busiest cross-country train in the U.S., in search of passengers’ stories. You think you know where this is going (sorry), and you do – but knowing is one thing, experiencing another.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Take Me to the World: Sondheim, Off the Cuff

Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration is currently streaming at

After technical screw-ups that delayed the show for a little more than an hour, last night carried a virtual concert in honor of Stephen Sondheim’s ninetieth birthday to benefit Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP). A plethora of (practically all) Broadway performers, most of whom have Sondheim shows on their résumés, sent him birthday wishes, conveyed their gratitude, and performed his songs from their living rooms – or, in the bizarre case of Mandy Patinkin, outdoors, a capella, with his dog in tow. (His choice of song was “Lesson #8” from Sunday in the Park with George: he was the original Georges Seurat, in 1984. It sounded awful.) The title of the improvised revue, cleverly alluding to the circumstances that made its catch-as-catch-can circumstances necessary, was Take Me to the World, from one of the handful of tunes Sondheim wrote for an obscure 1966 television musical, Evening Primrose. Well, relatively obscure, since in the world of Sondheim lovers no treasure remains to be unearthed; you can watch the DVD of Evening Primrose (which is based on a story by John Collier), and many people have recorded both this song and the other rapturous ballad from it, “I Remember.”