Play Time

A couple of nights ago Dave and I watched Jacques Tati’s 1967 movie Play Time. I became a fan of the Tati movies in college — they would show now and then at the Balboa Cinema not far from campus. Mon Oncle was my favorite, and I liked Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday a lot, but Play Time was sort of bewildering as a whole, though it had many very funny sequences. What we watched the other night, though, was a DVD of the movie in a restored version, with some of the footage that had been cut for its released restored (some but not all, as some of it is completely missing), and the whole thing makes more sense now and seems more consistently funny all the way through. Play Time is also a movie that gets better on repeated watching, partly because some of the deadpan humor takes a little time to grow on you, and partly because some of the sequences have actions and subtle visual puns and not-so-subtle sight gags happening all over the screen, all at once, and it takes a couple of viewings to absorb it and get the full point of the comedy. It also helped that we were watching it on a high-def television — the sharpness of the picture brought out a lot of the detail.

The Concord Sonata into the Concord Symphony

Friday night Dave and I went to Davies Hall to hear MTT conducting an orchestration by Henry Brant of Charles Ives’s Concord Sonata. The Concord, as Ives wrote it, is a very difficult and densely written work for solo piano; I’ve listened to it a few times on record but never with much comprehension. As arranged by Brant, it is much clearer, much easier to make out what is going on. Still a difficult work to figure out, but I felt I could see much further into it this way, and I came away with some sense of the work’s overall shape that I never did with the piano sonata. Now I want to get hold of a recording of the symphonic version and listen to it some more, and that’s saying something because I had pretty much figured the Concord Sonata was a work I was probably just never going to figure out how to listen to with understanding or enjoyment in this lifetime.

Brant worked for several decades on the orchestration, in between other projects, as a labor of love. The orchestration is terrific; some of the orchestral colors didn’t always sound quite like Ives’s own, but it rang true to my ear all the way through and I’m not sure that it wasn’t actually a more skilled orchestration than any of Ives’s own. At any rate, I often felt there was a greater variety of colors and a greater transparency to the orchestration than Ives generally had. There are also some appropriately inexplicable Ivesian quirks, such as a wind machine in the the percussion section that as far as Dave and I noticed only gets used once, and for only a few bars.

The other work on the program was a short Schubert mass which they could have skipped as far as I was concerned, though I did notice quite a few people came only for it and left at intermission, so I guess it had its purpose on the program. It was probably chosen as something easy and pleasant that the orchestra could just about sight-read through, so as to save all the orchestra’s rehearsal time for the difficult and unfamiliar Ives/Brant work.


I’ve had the urge to reread some Salinger lately. What I really wanted to reread was Franny and Zooey, but the only Salinger book I seem to have in the house is the other collection of two long stories, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction. The rest of the books are, I assume, still in God only knows which box in the garage.

Franny and Zooey was the first Salinger I ever read, back in high school. I don’t remember why I read it, other than that I read a huge amount when I was young. It wasn’t assigned reading — they would never have assigned such a book at my high school. I can’t remember whether I bought it or got it from the library or came across it on my parents’ bookshelves; can’t remember what caused me to be curious about it. But I read it. I liked the Franny part all right, but the ending of Zooey just floored me. I’ve reread it several times since and I still consider it one of my all-time favorite books.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters is a terrific story. Seymour: an Introduction, on the other hand, is a rambling mess, and yet as I read it, it all came back to me how important some of the passages were to me and how their meaning had stuck with me even though I’d forgotten the source.

I read Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters in a hot bath (appropriately enough, given the ending of Zooey) several days ago after waking up at 3:00 a.m. with a headache and not being able to get back to sleep. Then yesterday, after working an excruciating number of hours the last week and a half (including both Saturday and Sunday) to get a very thick book ready for the printer on schedule, and with the book done and with another headache starting, I took the afternoon off and went home and sat in another hot bath and read most of Seymour: an Introduction. I stopped about 20 pages from the end because I found my concentration flagging — I was getting sleepy, and like I said that story wanders terribly. It’s also too precious by half, which I know a lot of people say is true of Salinger in general; I don’t agree in general, but I do about that story. There are long passages in that story that give me enormous pleasure and joy to read, but it meanders terribly and self-consciously in a way that Raise High doesn’t. I plan to finish it on the train home tonight.

So Dave and I were chatting about Salinger, and about one story I’ve never read, “Hapworth 16, 1924”, that was published in the New Yorker but hasn’t been collected or republished anywhere else; and Dave pointed out that I must have it on my set of the complete New Yorker on DVDs, which I bought four or five years ago and never got around to looking at. So I put the installation DVD in my Mac and got it started (the software is amazingly clunky and slow), and found the article. I’ve saved it, page by page (and it spreads out over fifty pages! fifty!) in PDF form to read on my laptop later. It looks if anything even more meandering than Seymour.

The fact that I have the New Yorker set also means I also have Franny and Zooey and the other stories at hand after all.