Archive | Reviews

‘Schindler’s List’ in Trump’s America

The first time I saw Schindler’s List, it enraged me.

Admittedly, this was not a typical response. Upon its release 25 years ago, the film was touted as the crowning glory of director Steven Spielberg’s career and 1993’s greatest cinematic achievement. At the Oscars that year, the adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s historical novel about true-life figure Oskar Schindler won seven Academy Awards, including Spielberg’s first for best director.

It wasn’t just that the 3-hour-and-16-minute film was expertly crafted. Though documentaries like “Night and Fog” (1955) and “Shoah” (1985) had already catalogued the ravages of the Third Reich, Spielberg’s feature about a German industrialist who saved more than a thousand Polish Jews ignited younger generations’ commitment to “never again” just as Holocaust survivors and witnesses were beginning to die out. In a 2013 interview, the director said, “The shelf life of ‘Schindler’s List’ has renewed my faith that films can do good work in the world.”

Really, as an introduction to both the horror and the goodness of which humans are capable, it was the ultimate Spielberg vehicle. And that was my problem in a nutshell. As the film’s credits rolled and people around me sniffed, I stormed out of the theater, saying, “Leave it to Spielberg to find the feel-good story of the Holocaust.” Continue Reading →

Schnoz Is Beautiful: Reconsidering Modigliani

The Jewess

Even a year ago, “Modigliani: Unmasked” at New York City’s Jewish Museum would not have been as timely, though its pleasures would have been just as assured. A showcase of Italian-Sephardic Jewish Amedeo Modigliani’s work as a sculptor and a craftsman, it revels in his defiant embrace of outsider status, and reminds us that extraordinary creative work can arise despite – and to spite – repressive political climates.

In 1906, when Modigliani emigrated from his native Livorno, an Italian port town known as a safe enclave for Jews, France was beset by nationalist anti-Semitism. Because of his fluency in French and Latin good looks, he might have been able to assimilate as a Gentile. Instead, as the Museum’s curatorial notes report, he’d introduce himself by saying: “My name is Modigliani. I am Jewish.” This exhibition, amassed mostly from the collection of patron and dear friend Paul Alexandre, shows the “artist as a young outsider,” exploring non-Western art and unpacking accepted notions of beauty in rough drafts and sculpture as well as a handful of completed paintings made between 1906 and 1914. Continue Reading →

Of Grace and Duty: Materialist Matisse

Much has been made of Henri Matisse’s use of color, and much should be. Arguably the most adventurous colorist in the history of art, the artist’s palettes improved upon peak foliage, peak blooms, and the many feathers in a peacock’s plume. The painterly equivalent of a pregnant lady’s incongruous cravings, his hues forever altered Western civilization’s understanding of how color could explode upon a canvas. Along with the introduction of LSD, he and other Fauvists may have been centrally responsible for the rainbow splendor of the 1960s.

But in “Matisse in the Studio” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (it’s since moved on to London’s Royal Academy of Arts), the artist’s patterns are as important as his palettes. Spanning fifty years, the show is organized into five sections – “The Object Is an Actor,” “The Nude,” “The Face,” “Studio as Theatre,” and “Essential Forms” – and features his paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and cutouts as well as key possessions that inspired him. Not all of these objects of affection are high-falutin’; among them are a chocolate pot, a green glass vase, a short chair, a pewter jug, haitis (embroidered hanging cloths) from North Africa, and masks and figurines from sub-Saharan Africa. But he appreciated each enough to use in his work again and again. “He acquired things not because of their material worth, but because of how they spoke to him,” MFA co-curator Helen Burnham has said.

In his paintings, aglow with ochres and mauves and tomato reds, female subjects do not dominate so much as contribute shapes and shades to whole series of shapes and shades. In what has been called a “quantity-quality equation,” areas of color, each marked by a different pattern, are arranged across his canvases so that they are all accorded their own value. In Matisse the Master, Hilary Spurling quotes him as saying: “Peace and harmony is always my aim.” With everything as foreground and therefore background too, this aim is abundantly evident. Each of his canvases constitutes a flourishing democracy, if ever there’s been one. (America should take note.) Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy