Wondering about what to give the arts and culture lover on your gift list? No problem—the sage writers for The Arts Fuse (with an assist from our readers) come to the rescue with thoughtful suggestions.
With gift season comes the existential quandary: What to give the culture lovers on your list? This season the writers for The Arts Fuse help fend off the crisis by recommending items that will delight the heart and stimulate the mind. Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section.
This page will be updated as more selections come in . . . .
Bill Marx, Editor
The Arts Fuse
Give the film buff on your list the gift of Criterion:
At long last, Satyajit Ray’s breakthrough trilogy has been given the Criterion treatment. Ray’s captivating story of a young Bengali boy’s impoverished upbringing and his Antoine Doinel-like journey towards adulthood is presented in a new box set featuring pristine transfers of each film and loads of extras, including interviews with the director and largely non-professional actors. There are making-of documentaries on the films and Ravi Shankar’s soundtrack. No less a filmmaker than Akira Kurosawa once said that not having seen the cinema of Ray is like never seeing the sun and the moon — and how could you possibly allow yourself to miss that?
David Lynch’s surreal, seductive, and unnerving exploration of Hollywood’s allure is just as provocative as it was when it was first released at the beginning of the century. As compelling as it is opaque, the film stands up to repeated viewings for no reason other than to try and figure out what the hell is going on. This edition includes interviews with the enigmatic director, the cast, and includes an excerpt from a critical analysis of Lynch’s work.
Now that he’s been the star of several commercials, graced the cover of the AARP magazine, and released an album of Frank Sinatra songs, it might be a good time to revisit the early days of Bob Dylan. D.A. Pennebaker’s fly-on-the-wall camera follows the young, pissed-off troubadour on tour during the first decisive stage of his career; he had just evolved from his folk roots into electrified rock n roll, which means he has to deal with booing audiences and prying journalists.
During the Nazi occupation of France an idealistic, Francophile German officer is billeted in the home of an elderly man and his young niece. He spends his days and nights in earnest monologue with the pair, whose only form of resistance is to embrace a bitter silence. Based on a popular underground occupation-era novel, Jean-Pierre Melville’s first feature is a suspenseful, evocative portrayal of life during wartime.
After they sat down for their wide-ranging and intellectually stimulating dinner in New York’s Upper West Side (My Dinner with André), Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn collaborated on unique reinterpretations of classic plays by Chekhov and Ibsen. The Master Builder, directed by Jonathan Demme, reckons with the dangers of artistic creation for an aging male, while Vanya on 42nd Street features a terrific cast that movingly performs (in front of a small audience) David Mamet’s adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. This was the last film of the great director Louis Malle.
— Matt Hanson
For the psychology or Central European history buff on you gift list:
I’m often asked to ghost-write memoirs and almost always decline. But I could not turn down 91-year-old psychoanalyst Dr. Paul Ornstein.
When we first met in Brookline in 2000, I learned that Paul was born in small Hungarian town had encountered Freud and Ferenczi as a 15-year-old student in Rabbinical Seminary of Budapest high school. He had taken his entrance exam on September 1, 1939 — the official start of World War II — and graduated in May of 1944. He reminded me that Germany and Hungary were allies in the war; his graduation was attended by the Hungarian Minister of Education! The new grad was, however, immediately conscripted to a forced labor battalion for Jews on the Russian front.
Paul survived the war as did his father Lajos, his high school sweetheart Anna, and his best friend Steve. They all reunited and, in 1946, escaped from by-then Communist Hungary to Vienna. Paul was determined to go to med school and become a psychiatrist.
Through five years of medical school in the U.S. Occupied Zone city of Heidelberg, with classmates and professors who had been Nazis, Paul kept his sights set on becoming a psychoanalyst. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1951 and finally graduated from the Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis in 1964. He and Anna became nationally and internationally prominent psychoanalysts from their home base in Cincinnati, Ohio.
As Paul moved into his 80s and our friendship entered its second decade, I didn’t realize, at first, that I was interviewing him. I just enjoyed listening to his stories. It wasn’t until 2005 that I began to record them. I urged him to write a memoir, but he wasn’t interested; he preferred to focus on editing his professional papers and write a couple of new ones on Kafka and Dostoyevsky.
Then Paul became sick. The illness affected his lungs, then his memory. He didn’t lose his sense of humor or storytelling ability, but he had to search for words. When he turned 90, I persuaded him that it was time to write his story.
The short and fascinating memoir we produced is titled Looking Back: Memoir of a Psychoanalyst. It’s available now as an ebook and will be available as a paperback by the end of the month from Plunkett Lake Press.
Make your holiday gift a netflicks night at home with good food and drink. Some of my favorite films to screen are:
Freeheld, a largely-overlooked release set in Freehold, NJ that boasts nuanced performances by Julianne Moore and Ellen Page as a same-sex couple fighting a conservative town board for pension benefits. It features an outrageously over-the-top cameo by Steve Carell as a Jewish gay activist.
Spotlight is, of course, the sober account of the Boston Globe‘s 2002 outing of the abuse of children by Catholic priests. As a journalist, I found this film true to life, yet dramatic in its own way, with excellent ensemble acting, including Liv Schrieber, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Rachel McAdams.
On the international film front, the Chinese film Coming Home, an intricate and subtly performed drama starring the magnetic Gong Li as Feng Wanyu, whose professor husband was taken away during the Cultural Revolution. She has been raising their ballerina daughter alone. The film is a beautiful and unusual story of a family’s struggles — as well as how another culture responds to PTSD.
Israeli films reached a new level of excellence and originality this year. One that left a lasting impression on me was The Farewell Party, a disconcerting black comedy about the right to die, set in an Israeli old-age home. It stars some of Israel’s favorite actors and is directed by young writer-directors Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit.
Veteran Israeli director Eran Riklis’ Dancing Arabs (A Borrowed Identity) is adapted from autobiographical work by journalist Sayed Kashua, who is now living in Illinois. He was recently profiled in the New Yorker. The film is a rare look at the Arab-Israeli conflict through the lens of a Romeo and Juliet story set in a Jerusalem exam school. Here, Romeo is an Israeli Arab and Juliet is an Israeli Jew. But it is a third teenager, whose Jewish ID card Romeo acquires, who dies. The film was so intriguing I was moved to read Kashua’s books.
Happy holidays to all
— Helen Epstein
The perfect gift for those who love Jane Austen and beautifully illustrated books.
The Jane Austen Annotated Editions, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
This series of annotations editions of the beloved 19th-century novelist’s six complete novels is a must-have for anyone who loves or studies Austen’s work. Edited by prominent Austen scholars, the sumptuously illustrated books present annotations that add historical depth and context to the novels. By explicating obscure (to us) word usages and references, illustrating the various settings where the novels’ events unfold with contemporary paintings, drawings, and prints, and filling in the historical and literary background, the editions enhance the reader’s understanding of Austen’s world and time and deepen appreciation of her work. Those who love beautiful books will be impressed by the gorgeous covers, silky endpapers, creamy uncoated paper, and full-color illustrations. Currently available volumes are Pride and Prejudice, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks; Persuasion, edited by Robert Morrison (Arts Fuse review); Emma, edited by Bharat Tandon (Arts Fuse review); Sense and Sensibility, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks; and Northanger Abbey, edited by Susan Wolfson. Forthcoming in fall 2016 is Mansfield Park, edited by Deidre Lynch.
For the music lover: three outstanding new albums by vocalists that are sure to please.
Cecile McLorin Salvant, For One to Love. Mack Avenue.
This is the third album by Salvant, winner of the first prize in the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, and it’s a wonder. It features five of her own impressive compositions—including the stunning opener, “Fog,”—as well as exciting arrangements of show tunes like “Stepsisters’ Lament” from Cinderella and “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story. She unearths a gem by Blanche Calloway (sister of Cab), Growlin’ Dan, and gives a sassy, ironic reading to Mad Men–era sexist lyrics of “Wives and Lovers.” I was skeptical about her choice of this tune, but she does it so well it’s now one of my favorite cuts. Her voice is incredibly versatile, with hints of Nancy Wilson and Sarah Vaughan, and she wrings every nuance out of each word. Nominated for a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album, it will win you—and your giftee—over.
Becca Stevens Band, Perfect Animal, Universal Music Classics.
The immensely talented Becca Stevens and her band blend jazz, folk, and indie rock sensibilities on this addictive album full of gorgeous harmonies, the rootsy sounds of ukele, acoustic guitar, and accordion, and odd meters and syncopated rhythms. In addition to Stevens’s excellent originals, the album features outstanding covers—reimaginings, really— of Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You,” Usher’s “You Make Me Wanna,” and Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love.” Your giftee will not be able to stop listening to this one.
Joyce Moreno, Raiz, Far Out Recordings.
On Raiz, the great Brazilian singer, composer, and guitarist Joyce Moreno (known for most of her lengthy career by her first name alone) goes back to her roots (the meaning of “raiz”) with a tribute to her bossa nova and samba predecessors. As always, Joyce and her crack band manage to make even the most oft-recorded songs sound new—a languid version of “O Barquinho,” featuring its composer, Roberto Menescal, on guitar, that underscores the lyric’s lazy day of gliding on the sea; an arrangement that cleverly mashes-up Jobim’s “Desafinado” and Ary Barroso’s “Aquarela do Brasil”; a swinging, up-tempo version of Johnny Alf’s “Ceu e Mar.” If your giftee loves Brazilian music and jazz, this stellar collection of Brazilian classics by one of Brazil’s best is a sure bet.
— Evelyn Rosenthal