Books and Arts

I write to correct some inaccuracies in Helen Vendler’s recent article about Tomas Tranströmer. Monica Tranströmer did indeed read out her husband’s poem “Från mars – 79” at the Nobel ceremony last December, but the English translation was not by Robin Fulton. Rather diplomatically, the translation that she read was not Fulton’s or Robert Bly’s, or Robin Robertson’s; instead, it was nearly—but not quite—that of John F. Deane.

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The Iranian film A Separation, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, seems to me the best film of 2011. It is one of the Academy Award nominees for Best Foreign Picture, but by any sense of justice in any nation (let alone the self-assessed greatest in the world) it would have been nominated for Best Picture before anything else. The ways in which the characters in A Separation struggle for truth and honor, while yielding sometimes to compromise and falsehood, is not foreign to us. Few other films made last year give such a striking sense of, “Look—isn’t this life?

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For a moment, the crowd that was constantly amassing around the painting singled out by the organizers of the MOMA’s Willem de Kooning retrospective as the masterpiece of his early period—Excavation (1950)—had dispersed. So my husband and I positioned ourselves in front of it to take advantage of what we knew was a rare moment of unobstructed viewing.

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In a recent article published in Sight & Sound just days after the death of Theo Angelopoulos, the director is quoted: “The only place I really feel at home is in a car next to a driver. I don’t drive myself, but I find the simple act of passing through landscapes very moving. The way I look at the world on my various travels is what essentially defines my filmmaking.” Sometimes artists die in what might be incidents from their own work.

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With Hugo, Martin Scorsese reclaims some of Hollywood’s old power as the great unifier, uncomplicated and sophisticated at the same time. This hymn to the unfettered imagination—Scorsese’s first work in 3D—is terrific popular entertainment, a magnificent children’s adventure story, with heroes and villains so delicately drawn that even the melodramatic moments have a comic wit.

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The fashionable take on Diane Paulus’ new production of Porgy and Bess on Broadway is that it is a triumph by Audra McDonald, as Bess, surrounded by an underpowered but respectable production. Unsurprisingly, the Times’ Ben Brantley, with his eternal weakness for grande dames, has led in this vein. Terry Teachout at the Wall Street Journal has been less polite, deeming the thing “emotionally null” and warning that anyone who has seen the piece before will be appalled. Teachout is closer to the mark.

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I adore Crazy Horse, Frederick Wiseman’s documentary about the Crazy Horse Saloon, the Parisian nude revue putting on a show called, appropriately, “Desirs.” Like many of Wiseman’s earlier films, this one uses shadows to illuminate its subject—in this instance, the intense anguish and the fantastical, melancholy, delicious illusions underlying carnal love.

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If sensation-gorged sound movie audiences think about silent films at all, it is in that narrow category bounded by the ridiculous on one side and the grotesque on the other.

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An academy more ephemeral than Kaplan University, the body of movie-industry workers who vote for the Oscars acted with rare judiciousness this week and made only two nominations—the lowest number in Academy Award history—for Best Original Song. To qualify, a tune must have been composed especially for the film in which it appears, and it must play within the body of the movie or immediately at the end.

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For the AIDS Dead

The plague you have thus far survived. They didn’t. Nothing that they did in bed that you didn’t. Writing a poem, I cleave to “you.” You means I, one, you, as well as the you inside you constantly talk to. Without justice or logic, without sense, you survived. They didn’t. Nothing that they did in bed that you didn’t. Frank Bidart is an American poet. This poem appeared in the February 16, 2012 issue of the magazine.

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