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Short Takes: Nov. 16, 1992

4 minute read


The Maestro’s Mixed Legacy

NOT SINCE NIETZSCHE’S PASSIONATE briefs for and against Wagner has anyone so eloquently argued both sides of a musician’s claim to greatness as ARTURO TOSCANINI does for himself in his recorded legacy. RCA’s Toscanini Collection — 82 CDs, available in 71 volumes — produces clear evidence that he was both an inspired interpreter and an artist who applied his gifts inconsistently to a fairly narrow, mainly 19th century repertoire. The collection represents most of Toscanini’s recordings from 1920 to 1954. In a splendid 1946 La Boheme — 50 years after the maestro led its world premiere — the microphones capture his unwitting participation in the Act I love duet, turning it into an enchanting — or is it off-putting? — trio.


Beyond Roses

THERE MUST BE SOME UNWRITTEN LAW of rock ‘n’ roll thermodynamics stating that the more stellar the band, the more likely its members will split off and go solo. Consider one of the founding members of Guns N’ Roses, rhythm guitarist and songwriter IZZY STRADLIN. Stradlin departed the world’s orneriest rock band in 1991, and shows up now with a loose-jointed, slaphappy and rather neat & debut. Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds (Geffen) parades much of the assaultive power of GN’R, but leavens it with a more relaxed funk and a bracing dose of humor. Time Gone By, one of Stradlin’s own tunes, shows off an engaging ability to be both tough and wistful at once. Hey, Axl: got to be your turn soon.


Postscript to War

BRITISH NOVELIST IAN MCEWAN HAS carved an icy career out of the motto that evil lurks in the hearts of men. In all his books, notably The Cement Garden and The Innocent, malice, frailty and misplaced zealotry lead to consequences that empty the soul. His latest novel, BLACK DOGS (Doubleday; $19.50), is swift and flinty, telling how a young woman’s life, and that of her family, were permanently altered by an encounter with two starving attack dogs left behind by the Nazis in postwar France. If Black Dogs is not up to McEwan’s best work, it may be that the woman, who has a strong mystical streak, never really comes to life. Her estranged husband, a leftist blowhard as only Britain can produce them, runs away with the book.


Episodic Enchantments

ADOLPHO (STEVE BUSCEMI) IS A YOUNG, unproduced filmmaker so desperate for backing that he’s hawking his 500-page script in the want ads. Joe (the marvelous Seymour Cassel) is a genial small-time mobster eager to broaden his cultural horizons. IN THE SOUP mixes this ill-matched pair in a low-budget, black-and-white comedy that features singing landlords, a hemophiliac hit man and a dope dealer in a gorilla suit. There’s also a touching scene with a wistful widower (Sully Boyar), whose safe the indefatigable Joe tries to crack. Alexandre Rockwell’s film is perhaps too episodic for its own narrative good. But there are guys in Hollywood spending millions and not getting results half as hilarious — and inventive — as his best vignettes.


Human Figurehead

PART OF OUR FASCINATION WITH THE British royal family is their almost total inaccessibility. For all the tabloid gossip, tell-all books and TV-movie re- creations, we know almost nothing about what really goes on behind closed palace doors. Thus practically every scene in ELIZABETH R, a BBC documentary soon to air on PBS, is a revelation. Producer Edward Mirzoeff was given unprecedented access to the Queen over a 13-month period (which included the Gulf War and an official visit to the U.S.). We watch her discussing her daily schedule with aides, making small talk with her portraitist, getting excited at the horse races, and helping Ronald Reagan get some decaffeinated coffee at a state reception. As figureheads go, she seems quite a decent sort.

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