Each month, our arts critics — music, book, theater, dance, and visual arts — fire off a few brief reviews.
The soloing here is excellent, and six of the nine tunes are stellar original compositions written by leader Douglas Olsen.
Douglas Olsen, 2 Cents (Self Produced)
I consider this CD a find. I’d only previously heard a couple of the players involved, but they are all highly credentialed and the group gathered here has made a very solid recording. The soloing is excellent, and six of the nine tunes are stellar original compositions written by leader Douglas Olsen. There is no filler, and the 3 standards are reshaped to fit the group.
“Tailwind,” written by Olsen, is a nice head in a post-bop vein. He is a fluent soloist who’s incorporated the lessons of the greats, most especially Freddie Hubbard. Pianist Tim Ray has recorded often as a leader and contributes a very nice solo. Mark Walker gets some space to solo on drums.
“2 Cents” is another Olsen original. It’s walking tempo has Horace Silver quality. Bassist Dave Zinno leads off the solos and he stays to walk bass on Olsen’s trumpet solo — a nice combination. The rest of the rhythm section joins and Olsen alternates simpler choruses with more elaborate boppish lines. Dino Govoni whom I’ve had the pleasure to catch live, is a marvelous saxophonist and displays his talent on his alto solo.
The Dizzy Gillespie tune “Algo Bueno,” is taken in an unusually up-tempo, which I like. Angel Subero on trombone (and guiro) makes an appearance on the track — he clearly knows his way around a Latin tune. Ernesto Diaz is also here on congas. Olsen solos, finding a nice groove akin to some of Claudio Roditi’s work. Ray and the rhythm section work out a bit on the clave and Subero and Olsen take the head out.
Another Olsen original, “Rat Race,” provides the complications one would expect of a tune alluding to the maze we find ourselves in. The leader shows some nice high chops on this solo. Govoni on alto has no trouble making and extending the changes. The two horns move into a very nice chase section, challenging each other and responding in kind.
“Miles Rumba,” written by Gendrickson Mena Diaz, was probably inspired by Miles Davis’ “New Rumba” recorded with Gil Evans. The tune brings back Subero on trombone and adds Yaure Muniz on second trumpet, which makes for nice full horn section harmonies. Olsen and Govoni, on tenor sax, solo and both make strong statements. Ray pushes on the changes in his solo and makes his own statement. The rhythm section gets busy with some long lines.
“Boperation” was written by the great trumpeters Howard McGhee and Fats Navarro. I like this version a lot. It brings back all 4 brass players and percussion and slows the tempo way down to a loping Latin. Olsen and Munoz solo then trade 4’s and their styles are similar, although Munoz quotes more from other tunes and adds small ornamentations in his solos. Together, they make a very nice job of it.
“Una Para Ti,” written by Olsen, gives him a chance to play a ballad on fluegelhorn. Like all of his tunes, this one is well-wrought, with a melodic line that surprises, but doesn’t jolt. Olsen and Ray both solo nicely.
The final tune, also by Olsen, is “Passage.” It’s a modal romp, with Govoni coming out of the gate fairly slowly on tenor, then warming to his task, intensifying and moving all over the horn. Olsen follows in kind, deftly exploring the changes and the extreme ranges of the horn. Ray draws on a wider range of tools on the piano than we’d heard from him up until then, matching the intensity of the horns.
This is an altogether satisfying session, and since Olsen, Ray, Subero, and Govoni all teach in Boston, this recording whets the appetite to see them play live — when such is possible.
— Steve Provizer
Gene Perla, 3 Trios (PM Records)
The idea…it seems a little extravagant… was to play trio music with three different pianists, all lesser known than their leader.
Bassist Gene Perla made his recording debut a little under sixty years ago. When he was at the Berklee School of Music he recorded with their student big band in 1962 and 1963. In ’63, the revered teacher/ bandleader Herb Pomeroy was in charge: the personnel included upcoming stars such as Michael Mantler, Jimmy Mosher, and Sadao Watanable. Six years later Perla made A Very Rare Evening, backing up Nina Simone on PM Records release After that, he became Woody Herman’s bass man. He recorded a session with Miles Davis in 1970: it’s Perla who plays the powerful electric bass line on the two takes of Ali which were only released on The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions. He’s very much front and center. On the second take, you can hear Miles advise Perla: “Play it loud.” I consider that a compliment.
To many of us, Perla became known as the bassist in the early and mid-’70s with Elvin Jones: his generally piano-less Jazz Machine, which featured Dave Liebman and Steve Grossman on saxophones. (Both were also with Miles Davis in that period.) He played in the oddball Sonny Rollins band that also featured bagpipe player Rufus Harley and with the Art Pepper Quartet. Now, at 81 years old, he’s back with another intriguing album that documents (on PM Records) a live concert given in Allentown, Pennsylvania on November 20, 2020. The idea…it seems a little extravagant..was to play trio music with three different pianists, all lesser known than their leader: Davis Whitfield, Leo Genovese, and Oscar Williams. The pianists chose the repertoire: the concert and the recording should be seen as a generous opportunity for these vibrant musicans show off. The veteran Adam Nussbaum was the drummer.
That repertoire is interesting. Whitfield begins with “The Japanese Sandman,” a chestnut that goes back to Bix Beiderbecke. He brings an exuberant, big two-handed style to “Sandman” and follows that with a broad and vigorous version of “Deep River.” The melody in the latter emerges from a swirling background: it seems almost hammered out, as if it needed to assert its dominance. The pianists were in what could be called a folksy mood. Genovese thumps out a version of “Wayfaring Stranger” that is as far as possible from the fragile soprano folk song versions I (and Perla) grew up with. It’s as if McCoy Tyner were being channeled. Williams seems to be a more light hearted spirit. He plays a bouncy, lyrical version of “Vilia,” which John Coltrane adapted years ago from the Merry Widow. He holds back, it would seem, on “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” leaving space for Perla’s bass to step forward. The original in the lineup is Davis Whitfield’s “John Arthur,” a tribute to the late, still lamented pianist Jaki Byard. It is based on a brightly aggressive theme that, in his improvisation, Whitfield to gleefully shed, as if it were James Brown’s capes. As I hear them, all three pianists seem influenced by Tyner, both his power and forthright left hand. But they also have their own distinctive spirits, whether they are playing “School Days” or “The House of the Rising Sun.” Good for Perla for bringing them together.
— Michael Ullman
Ojoyo: Ojoyo Plays Safrojazz (Sunnyside)
I queued up this disk on a grey Monday morning, and from the first exuberant blast on the opening track, my whole week just got better. This disk of nine originals by white South African alto saxophonist and pennywhistle player Morris Goldberg (you know him from the iconic pennywhistle on Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”) was originally recorded in 1996, but it has just been re-released with enhanced remastering by Sunnyside. Ojoyo Plays Safrojazz (as in South African Jazz) was Goldberg’s first recording with his group Ojoyo, a vehicle for infectious jazz and South African Afrobeat fusion in the style of Dudu Pukwana or Hugh Masekela (with whom Goldberg played off and on for decades). Ojoyo is perhaps a bit slicker and more commercial than some other more rootsy South African music (though well short of straight South African pop like Johnny Clegg), but the resulting sound is bright, irresistibly danceable, and instantly appealing.
Goldberg’s alto saxophone sound has the crisp clarion cry of Afrobeat saxophonists Pukwana and Fela Kuti. He has a fine jazz musician’s sense of swing, adding Latin melodicism over the percolating South African rhythms. And how much fun it must be to be a professional pennywhistlist! Is there a more joyful instrument? Its folksy, authentic, and playful sound cuts right to the top of the group dynamic. There’s just enough of it to leave you wanting more.
The surprise on this disk is the 34-year-old trumpet player. His tone is rich and mellow enough to be mistaken for a flugelhorn. He plays in perfect unison with Goldberg’s alto sax, matching every inflection and detail of phrasing. Even though he was born and raised in Oregon, he has that particular phrasing and articulation that sounds natively South African — there’s a certain way of quickly falling off a note at the end of a phrase that Masekela trademarked, the absence of Western-style vibrato, and the rhythmic instinct for syncopating with the distinctive up-beats in South African music (a connection between Afrobeat and reggae). Ready to guess who it is? No, you’re not. It’s Chris Botti!
Other standout players are Bakithi Kumalo on bass, slapping and popping like it’s 1996 and keeping everything in a bubbling groove throughout, and Anton Fig (who would go on to anchor the David Letterman Show band). Tony Cedras and Richard Cummings are on the keyboards, supplying jazz harmonies and some great solos; Cyro Baptista serves up restrained but powerful percussion.
This is a wonderful soundtrack to a year full of promise in South Africa, when Nelson Mandela was president, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began its work, and the new Constitution was adopted. May its re-release be a soundtrack of good luck to us all in 2021.
— Allen Michie
An Emerson College professor’s latest opera combines Buddhist and Christian imagery to explore love, jealousy, our destruction of nature, and much more.
Scott Wheeler: Naga (i.e., Snake)
Stacey Tappan (Madame White Snake), Sandra Piques Eddy (Young Wife), Anthony Roth Costanzo (the Green Snake Xiao Qing), Matthew Worth (Young Monk), David Salsbery Fry (Master/Abbot).
White Snake Projects Chorus and Orchestra, cond. Carolyn Kuan.
New World 80814 [2 CDs] 90 minutes
To purchase or hear the beginning of each track, click here.
Scott Wheeler is a much-performed composer of operas and instrumental works who has long taught music theater and song composition at Boston’s Emerson College. The present release offers his 2016 opera Naga (i.e., Snake), to a libretto by Singapore-born Cerise Lim Jacobs.
Wheeler’s style is instantly attractive, in ways that so much High Modernist music is not. His alert orchestration of some of Virgil Thomson’s piano works can be heard on a CD that I praised here last year. The melodic and harmonic language of Wheeler’s Naga is often easy to grasp by ear. Variety in the vocal writing helps us keep the characters distinct without having to constantly refer to the libretto.
Jacobs’s libretto blends elements of Hindu, Buddhist, and Judeo-Christian mythology into a fascinating mixture. Fry (the bass) is the Master (an abbot or old monk), Worth plays the Monk (a man in the full vigor of middle life), and Eddy the latter’s Wife. The Monk leaves his Wife to go on a spiritual journey. Along the way, he sees, in a vision: the Wife has died giving birth amid much bleeding (shown onstage as red poppies).
The White Snake (Tappan) was once a fearless female warrior. The Green Snake (Costanzo) renounced his manhood to follow her, but Madame White Snake loves the Monk instead. The two slithery creatures comment on actions occurring onstage and on human propensities generally. When the Master tries to chop up the White Snake, she is saved by her beloved, the Monk, who now sees in her a soulmate. But the Monk, in saving the White Snake, has stabbed the Master to death.
All of this is effectively supported by a colorful chamber ensemble, including such varied instruments as English horn, saxophone, harp, and rattles (helpfully suggesting snakes), and rain stick. There are lovely lyrical moments, such as the trio (with children’s chorus) for the Monk and the two snakes at the end of Act 1 or the Monk’s song at the beginning of Act 2 (reminiscent, in words and music, of an Appalachian folk ballad). For some brief excerpts, see the video trailer below:
This compact, engaging opera is a pleasure to hear, and its mythical characters feel as real and complex as human ones.
— Ralph P. Locke
Rage, to my mind, is the theme of this show — ghosts and demons being useful but superficial personae.
A few words about Them, streaming on Amazon
Yes, it’s true that it’s derivative of Get Out, Lovecraft Country, and other efforts to connect the actual horrors of American racism, as if they weren’t nightmarish enough, to conventions of the horror genre. It’s not hard to understand why: in many cases the actual horrors call out for that kind of underlining and embellishment.
But so far as Them is concerned, the problem is that the racism being portrayed and the horror extruding from it don’t fuse very well. It’s almost as if there are two movies going on at once. The one I appreciate has memorable acting. The two black children Melody Hurd, and her older sister, Shahadi Wright Joseph are superb, especially Hurd, as the younger child. She’s convincing, contained, and simply wonderful as she absorbs and confronts the racist landscape into which her family, looking to better itself, has moved. They’ve gone from N. Carolina to a suburb of L.A. looking to escape Southern hell, but are finding in a suburban Northern hell an equally eerie situation.
Their parents are another reason to watch the show. Ashley Thomas plays the father as a man who can’t escape humiliations piled on him from every side, both arbitrarily in his profession as engineer and also on his street — though he does for the most part manage to subdue his boiling rage which seems, at times, when it is unleashed, to afford him super strength.
The white guys who want to hurt him are deterred when he’s not afraid. Then they opine among themselves “Coons have the strength of apes” before dispersing for the moment.
Rage, to my mind, is the theme of this show — ghosts and demons being useful but superficial personae.
As for the acting, Deborah Ayorinda is nothing less than spectacular as wife and mother to her two kids. She’s dark skinned and beautiful and makes all the hostile white women staring at this black family from their side of the street look sepulchral at best. Ayorinda is always garbed in colorful dresses, into which she seems to merge. Her adversaries tend to garb themselves in funereal white.
As a mother, Ayorinda’s face is always full of feeling for her kids as well as barely containable outrage at the many who would demean and hurt them.
At one point, she steps across the street to confront the white woman who is in effect the grand wizard of opposition to her and her family on that suburban lane. The woman makes the mistake, on top of other insults, of calling her “nigger.” Ayorinda’s emotionally calibrated response is something to behold.
She stops; she considers. She ushers her young daughter back onto their property. Then she turns around to, as she later says, “Slap the bitch.”
It’s a concentrated slap, her face contorts as she does it.
She back hands her hard.
— Harvey Blume
For the past thirty years, in classes and on my own, I have studied Hasidism — its origins and history, its holy texts, holy sites, rebbes, you name it, I endeavored to learn about it.
Yet, somehow, I never (mentally) associated Hasidut (Hasidism) with the business of post-war New York real estate. For a year in the early ’70s I lived in Brooklyn without ever making a foray into the Williamsburg neighborhood, which seemed like an unwelcoming foreign country, though it was just a few miles away.
It took reading the meticulously researched A Fortress in Brooklyn: Race, Real Estate, and the Making of Hasidic Williamsburg by Nathaniel Deutsch and Michael Casper (Yale University Press, 408 pages, $30) to expose me to the profane, everyday dealings of Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidim. Before now, when I thought about the ultra-Orthodox sect, which had barely survived the Holocaust in Romania and Hungary, I had the sacred sanctum in mind. Satmar Hadisim followed their rebbe (rabbi/teacher) Yoel Teitelbaum,(1887-1979) to NYC at the end of World War II. The group settled in what they called “the holy community” of Williamsburg, living among Puerto Ricans and African-Americans. At the time, the area was one of New York’s notorious slums: the Satmar Hasidim struggled, along with their neighbors, with street crime, drug dealers, youth gangs, inadequate education, rundown housing, and the general malaise generated by the “politics of poverty.”
Turf wars lasted for six dreadful decades. The rebbe believed in the “apostasy” of all non-Hasidic Jewry and was actively hostile to Israel. He survived World War II by developing what he called “a martial sensibility.”As a 1973 article in The New York Daily News put it, “the gentle people get tough… The Hasidim are no longer frightened by threats. If this is to be their Armageddon, so be it.” The rebbe that the best way to defend his insular community was to turn it a “fortress,” immured from the outside world and its decadent influences. Williamsburg was to be “a holy camp in the desert” that would protect the Satmar Hasidim from both modernity and the secular Jewish community. Moving away from home for members of the Satmar Hasidim, which grew to be one of the largest Hasidic groups in the world (with an average of 8 children per family), was not an option. Aggressively insular, the Satmar enthusiastically accepted their rebbe’s disdain for luxury, bicycles, bicycle lanes, and baseball.
Much of the roughly second half of the book is devoted to gentrification. However, to readers like me, with little knowledge of Brooklyn’s geography, the authors’ authoritative take on Williamsburg and its real estate history is challenging — it made me feel like a curious, gawky onlooker.
Gentrification in these pages is primarily linked to housing. The book details how, beginning in the ’80s (and up to the 2000s), a small “colony” of working artists moved into the area, their displacement of the inhabitants proceeding inexorably, building by building, block by block, year after year. After the artists came a second wave, mostly of hipsters, and they eventually created a playground that rivaled Manhattan: there were an increasing number of shops and restaurants, cafes, musical venues and yoga studios. Between 2003 and 2007, the number of upscale bars, restaurants, and clubs increased from 9 to 53. The third wave of ‘settlers’ priced out the hipsters: they were deep-pocketed workers from the city’s booming financial and real estate markets, as well as “trust funders” (or “trustafarians”) who were largely subsidized by their parents. The decades of culture war are fascinating to follow: The artists who cane in the ’80s were regarded as a moral and mortal dangers, their free ways exposing adults and children to licentiousness. Then, what had been considered an erstwhile slum was transformed into a hipster’s paradise. Despite all the radical change, the Satmar Hasidim stayed firmly planted in Williamsburg, coiffed and dressed like their European ancestors.
This captivating book is well worth reading as a kind of time capsule, a glimpse back into the not-so-distant past. What was Williamsburg like before today’s chic, upper class paradise? A Fortress in Brooklyn tells the tale.
— Susan Miron
Song of Ourselves: Walt Whitman and the Fight for Democracy by Mark Edmundson. Harvard University Press, 240 pages $29.95.
American democracy could use some serious help at this perilous time, and who better to call on for prophetic inspiration than our bard Walt Whitman? Mark Edmundson, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, draws primarily on the 1855 version of “Song of Myself” and tells us early on that he will not treat the poem like your usual literary critic. Whitman would no doubt heartily approve; he once said “No one will get at my verses who insists on viewing them as a literary performance.” Edmundson “is far less interested in who Walt was and how we ought to judge him than what Walt can do for us here and now.” It turns out that what he can do is serve as a model for a visionary state of mind.
The political subtext to the volume is obvious: in what ways can Walt assist us in warding off the appeal of authoritarian in America and abroad? “If democracy is only legislative and legalistic it will fail,” Edmundson argues. “Democracy, Walt felt, must also be spiritual. In the transition to spiritual democracy, the poet is crucial.” Edmundson explores, step by step, Walt’s dazzling discovery of a radical egalitarianism: he rejects tribalism, tosses aside feudalism and history’s ghosts, embraces the common man, disdains competitive classifications of any kind, insists on the multifarious joys of existence and the concreteness of the body, and celebrates open-mindedness, kindness, and accepting others no matter their status. Then and now Walt offers a vision of hope: “that this new form of social life can succeed and thrive and give people access to levels of happiness and freedom that they’ve never enjoyed before.”
Given the ferocity of contemporary cultural fragmentation that dream seems farther away than ever, but that’s why Edmundson’s thoughtful homage Whitman’s utopian fervor is so stirring. It is refreshing to be reminded of the poet’s primal demand that we should empathize with everyone (every fellow blade of grass) around us, “the mashed fireman, the hounded slave, the old artillerist.” The critic’s passionate analysis of “Song of Myself” features plenty of up-and-at-’em verve, though it contains its share of heavy-handed exhortations and breath-taking generalizations. Song of Ourselves is at its most powerful when Edmundson asserts the democratic value of Whitman’s dedication to visiting the Civil War wounded: “In Washington, at the hospitals, Whitman effectively completed “Song of Myself.” He became a version of the individual that his poem prophesied.” In this interesting interpretation, “democratic happiness” turns out to be medicinal, rooted in service, in helping the ill back to health, in giving solace to the sick and dying and their loved ones. Edmundson concludes that “the most original writer America has ever produced spent time writing letters in behalf of young men to their grieving parents. If in all of literary history there is an example of comparable largesse of spirit, I do not know where it’s to be found.”
Edmundson notes that Whitman’s generosity was not boundless. He envisioned sin as “abasement — abasement of others and the self. When one stands above another, cruelty is the inevitable result.” But, by focusing so single-mindedly on Whitman’s hatred of rank, the critic ends up overlooking another particularly valuable thing that Whitman can do for us here and now. Perhaps because it does not fit neatly into his enthusiasm for Whitman’s expansive notion of acceptance. About three years before his death, the poet had this to say about his legacy:
Whatever may have been the case in in years gone by, the true use for the imaginative faculty of modern times is to give ultimate vivification to facts, to science, and to common lives, endowing them with the glows and glories and final illustriousness which belong to every real thing, and to real things only. Without that ultimate vivification — which the poet or other artist alone can give — reality would seem incomplete, and science, democracy, and life itself finally in vain.”
Comradeship by all means, a joyous unity that nurtures all. But for Whitman there is also the responsibility of poetry to invigorate our perception of reality, to put us in intimate touch with the “glows and glories” of science and facts as well as democracy. And that means battling, rather than embracing, those across the intellectual and ideological spectrum who live to abase what Wallace Stevens called “the plain sense of things.”
— Bill Marx
Like Oliver Stone’s The Doors, Oskar Roehler’s Enfant Terrible is a kitschy, excess-drenched portrait of an out-of-control artist. Sit back and enjoy the decadence.
In a creative burst that lasted from 1968 to 1982, filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder churned out a series of innovative, sumptuous melodramas that became a vital part of the German New Wave. Unlike compatriots such as Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, Fassbinder worked at breakneck speed, and this frenzy propelled his work in theater, film, and television. Despite all that he produced, Fassbinder found time to live large and fast: he enjoyed cocaine, barbiturates, temper tantrums, Cuba Libres, and an army of lovers.
Director Oskar Roehler’s biopic about Fassbinder, suitably dubbed Enfant Terrible, tells the artist’s life story in a swift two hours. Oliver Masucci portrays Fassbinder with a zestful energy that is focused on capturing the realities of Cold War Germany: “Wherever you go is material that is about how people see their dreams and how their dreams get destroyed. The theater can’t do it; only cinema can do it.” Masucci, who is best known for playing Hitler in 2015’s Look Who’s Back, is asked for and delivers manic intensity. He brings a kind of devilish honesty to the times the director confides to his fictional muse, Gudrun (an avatar for Fassbinder’s heroine and confidante, Hannah Schygulla?). We hear about his attempts to find love, his excess-fueled ambitions, and his desire to be as recognizable in the world of cinema as his two idols, Orson Welles and Jean-Luc Godard.
Rather than shooting at multiple locations, Roehler has decided to embrace his subject’s studied aesthetic artificiality; Enfant Terrible was shot on a soundstage that looks similar to the set of Fassbinder’s final film, Querelle. Within the confines of this studio, we see Fassbinder recreating scenes in his movies, from the famous slapping scene in Love is Colder Than Death to the transgender masterpiece, In a Year with 13 Moons. When not making movies, Fassbinder’s Masucci drinks a lot and fuels his always ripening paranoia with cocaine and politics. His lovers and business partners are pushed to the margins. The director is humorously benevolent when he is introduced to Michael Baulhaus, the celebrated cinematographer, who enters with a spotlight focused on his back; his Bavarian cardigan contrasts sharply with Fassbinder’s all-leather ensemble.
Masucci’s leather-clad, chain-smoking presence as Fassbinder is pretty much the show in Enfant Terrible. There are no revelations or controversy, no scandal that didn’t hit the headlines when the director was alive. Don’t expect a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Berlin Alexanderplatz or an in-depth examination of his friendship with Andy Warhol, which gets two minutes of screen time. Like Oliver Stone’s The Doors, Roehler’s Enfant Terrible is a kitschy, excess-drenched portrait of an out-of-control artist. Sit back and enjoy the decadence.
This documentary is far more than an inspiring time capsule that details a period in which the government supported American artists in need. It is a blueprint for what should be done today
Wieland Schultz-Keil’s New Deal For Artists is a riveting, in-depth look at the Federal Art Project (FAP) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Originally released on PBS in 1981, this restored documentary (available from Corinth Films from May 21) celebrates the ’30s artistic output from the WPA through reflective interviews from those who were changed with healing an impoverished nation (as well as providing income for artists) through the financial support of theater, paintings, and photography. From Dorothea Lange’s breathtaking photos of the Dust Bowl to clips of integrated productions featuring White and Black actors performing Shakespeare on stage, the film looks at the all-too-brief cultural revolution powered by Franklin Roosevelt and The New Deal. Needless to say, the film has enormous relevance today.
Narrated by Orson Welles, whose involvement in the Federal Theater Project is noted by collaborator John Houseman, New Deal For Artists focuses on the engaged art spurred by the WPA — before America’s attention shifted to defeating fascism in WWII. Harrison Begay, one of the leading Navajo painters of the period, invites us to view his paintings from his home in Gallup, New Mexico. Before they were hailed as America’s leading abstract expressionists, painters Willem De Kooning and Jackson Pollock were funded by the WPA.
Of course, not everyone was happy with federally funded cultural rejuvenation. Cartoons from the conservative Chicago Tribune newspaper regularly demonized the New Deal, a hostility that turned to racism when the publication decried miscegenation within the Federal Theatre Project. Three years before his death, left-wing film and theater director Joseph Losey reflects on his controversial Broadway production (a “Living Newspaper” play) about the plight of farm laborers, AAA Plowed Under. Losey, among others involved in the WPA, were blacklisted during the Cold War because of their ‘radical’ political views.
Before his assassination in 1968, Robert Kennedy said, “Timing is everything; in politics, art, and life itself.” Given the resonances between Joe Biden’s recent expansive job proposals and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, New Deal For Artists comes at a significant time. The pandemic has decimated large swathes of the arts and culture sector. This documentary is far more than an inspiring time capsule that details a period in which the government supported American artists in need. It is a blueprint for what should be done today, an invaluable reminder of the necessity of art in a democratic society.
— David Stewart