June 14, 2010

Man of The Rite: "Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky"

Here's my the beginning of my review in Taki's Magazine of a new movie about old-fashioned modernism:
The astringent new romance film Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky might be the arthouse equivalent of that often-proposed high concept blockbuster Superman & Batman. Instead of “Who would win in a fight: Batman or Superman?” Dutch director Jan Kounen delivers: “Who would win in an affair: Stravinsky or Chanel?”

In the 1913 prelude, the ambitious young dress shop owner attends the most celebrated classical music event of the last century, the Ballets Russes’s Paris premiere of The Rite of Spring. To her bemusement, a riot breaks out between the avant-garde claque who had received free tickets from the wily impresario Sergio Diaghilev and the paying customers, who are outraged by Vaslav Nijinsky’s angular choreography and Stravinsky’s polyrhythmically pounding score.

Ever since, “Le Massacre du Printemps” has been portrayed as inaugurating a new golden age of music. Yet, looking back from the 21st Century, The Rite seems more like the grand finale to two centuries of musical glory, the greatest run any civilization has enjoyed in any artistic field.

In 1920, the White Russian composer is back in Paris, down at the heels after the Bolsheviks stole his homeland. At a party with Diaghilev and a man named Dmitri, he meets Chanel. She offers to put him, his tubercular wife, and their four children up at her gorgeous Art Nouveau villa in the suburbs.

At first, he refuses due to the impropriety. Although The Rite’s debut was the most famous triumph of the bohemian motto “épater le bourgeois,” Stravinsky was himself a starchy bourgeois, a modernist man of the right like T.S. Eliot, whose 1922 poem The Waste Land was likely influenced by The Rite.

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below.

56 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great work Steve, thank you.

Dennis Mangan said...

Little known, irrelevant factoid: Igor Stravinsky's best friend was Edward G. Robinson.

j.ferguson said...

it's cute when steve pretends to know about classical music.

Uncle Peregrine said...

Over the weekend I found the greatest thing I've ever seen on youtube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tGA6bpscj8

Anonymous said...

Little known, irrelevant factoid: Igor Stravinsky's best friend was Edward G. Robinson.

...whose real name was Emmanuel Goldenberg.

Goatse said...

Little known, irrelevant factoid: Igor Stravinsky's best friend was Edward G. Robinson.

everybody knows that.

John Seiler said...

Don't you mean "épater le bourgeois"?

Or is your version an example of it?

CJ said...

Unless I'm missing a too-subtle joke here, it's épater les bourgeois for artistic types. "Spatter" the bourgeois sounds more like the Khmer Rouge style of socialist realism.

OhioStater said...

Steve, you were name-checked:

http://www.fredoneverything.net/Commentators.shtml

He says your IQ is too high.

R. J. Stove said...

"Le Massacre" should be "Le Sacre", surely? And "spatter" should be "épater", I presume? Something went awry with the spell-check mechanism when this article was being typed, I gather.

John said...

Do you mean "épater les bourgeois"?

dearieme said...

"two centuries of musical glory, the greatest run any civilization has enjoyed in any artistic field": eh? What about European painting?

Anonymous said...

It's "epater," not "spatter," le bourgeois.

Anonymous said...

Ever since, “Le Massacre du Printemps” has been portrayed as inaugurating a new golden age of music. Yet, looking back from the 21st Century, The Rite seems more like the grand finale of two centuries of musical glory, the greatest run any civilization has enjoyed in any artistic field.
Heh.. True true with visual arts too.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but here’s a debate on whether women can be happy if they’re successful but single.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1286611/What-singletons-think-Lisa-Snowdons-bane-Successful-Attractive-Single.html

Usually Lurking said...

it's cute when steve pretends to know about classical music.

It's not so cute when pretentious people jump at the opportunity to display there superiority.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you mean "epater le bourgeois."

steve burton said...

The Rite of Spring is certainly Stravinsky's most recorded work, but, it's far from obvious that it was his "peak," after which he was "creatively over the hill." Shostakovich, for one, considered Le Sacre "rather crude, so much of it calculated for external efect and lacking substance." He much preferred Les Noces (1917), the Symphony of Psalms (1930) and the Symphony in Three Movements (1945), among other things. The last work, in particular, completed when Stravinsky was 63, has to be on any serious list of the greatest works of the last century.

In general, "classical" composers, unlike "popular" musicians, rarely peak early and then decline. They usually get better and deeper as they age. Think Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Wagner, Verdi, Franck, Bruckner, Brahms, Faure, Janacek, etc.

Anonymous said...

"spatter le bourgeois".

What language is this? You mean "épater le bourgeois" - shock the ordinary citizen. By itself épater means impress, not spatter. I realize that nowadays the only way avantgarde artists can shock the middle class is to spatter then with, you know, sewage or ground-up fetuses or whatever, but people were more shockable back then.

dsaasfasdfsaf said...

"it's cute when steve pretends to know about classical music."

I know Sibelius was the greatest.

afasdfasdfasdf said...

"Personally, I was held rapt for two hours by Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky. I was enthralled by the Russian’s music, the Lost Generation clothes, the decor of Chanel’s villa, and by Anna Mouglalis’s self-assured performance as the designing woman."

Then you must have loved TIME REGAINED and TOPSY TURVY too.

Anonymous said...

"spatter" le bourgeois is much more evocative than "epater le bourgeois". I move to make the change in phrase permanent, even if a spell-checker is at fault.

asdfasdfasdfsdf said...

"Stanley Kubrick used the fanfare from Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Richard Strauss to anchor his ponderous and baffling classic about killer apes and space aliens"

It's not ponderous but pondering. It's not baffling but crystal clear(one of the most well-researched and scientific films ever made), until the stargate sequence, which is FAR OUT and OVERWHELMING.

Most sci-fi cater to our childish hunger for roller-coaster thrills. So, there is sound in space. There is no zero gravity in space. Spaceships can go from one end of the galaxy to another in a few seconds.
Kubrick was one of the few who conveyed the vastness of time and space and how we egocentric humans find ourselves dwarfed in and by it. He took us out of historical time and placed us in cosmic time. At first it may feel disorienting and baffling but it's really fascinating and awesome-ish.
In the opening scene, the looks, the sounds, the textures, and rhythms make us feel as though we've been transported to a million yrs ago.
Kubrick creates his own universe and refuses to pander to our ever shifting pop cultural tastes or expectations. No Raquel Welch to suddenly cavort with the apes.

As for Tarkovsky, his true Sci-fi masterpiece is Stalker.
And his film that uses time in the most Kubrickian sense is Andrei Rublev(which predated 2001 by 3 yrs), one of the few historical films where you really feel as if in another time and place--than have the time and place molded to fit our contemporary tastes.

Anonymous said...

Steve: The correct expression is "epater le bourgeois." You mistyped "epater" as "spatter."

Anonymous said...

o/t, sorry:

Residents get 6 votes each in suburban NY election

Voters in Port Chester, 25 miles northeast of New York City, are electing village trustees for the first time since the federal government alleged in 2006 that the existing election system was unfair. The election ends Tuesday and results are expected late Tuesday night.

Although the village of about 30,000 residents is nearly half Hispanic, no Latino had ever been elected to any of the six trustee seats, which until now were chosen in a conventional at-large election. Most voters were white, and white candidates always won.

Federal Judge Stephen Robinson said that violated the Voting Rights Act, and he approved a remedy suggested by village officials: a system called cumulative voting, in which residents get six votes each to apportion as they wish among the candidates. He rejected a government proposal to break the village into six districts, including one that took in heavily Hispanic areas.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100615/ap_on_el_st_lo/us_voting_rights_election

OK, democracy is over. It's over.

Anonymous said...

One of my (very reactionary) music teachers insisted that the Rite of Spring was really a joke.

Mercer said...

"“Le Massacre du Printemps” has been portrayed as inaugurating a new golden age of music. Yet, looking back from the 21st Century, The Rite seems more like the grand finale of two centuries of musical glory, the greatest run any civilization has enjoyed in any artistic field."

I disagree with your assessment. The rite of spring was followed by over fifty years of great Russian music. It was also followed by a lot a good ballet music in France and the US.

It was the twelve tone crowd that was the end of a great musical culture. The great Austrian and German tradition ended with them.

Steve Sailer said...

I must say that I've never see "spatter les bourgeois" before, but, now that I have seen it, I like it and will try to remember to use it in the future.

"Le Massacre du Printemps" is an old joke about the 1913 debut night.

asfasdfasdf said...

"“Le Massacre du Printemps” has been portrayed as inaugurating a new golden age of music. Yet, looking back from the 21st Century, The Rite seems more like the grand finale of two centuries of musical glory, the greatest run any civilization has enjoyed in any artistic field."

I disagree with your assessment. The rite of spring was followed by over fifty years of great Russian music. It was also followed by a lot a good ballet music in France and the US.

It was the twelve tone crowd that was the end of a great musical culture. The great Austrian and German tradition ended with them.


I think what Steve means is not that it was the end of good/great music--after all, there was Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Copland, etc--, but it didn't pave the way for something profoundly new in music.

Messiaen, Boulez, Takemitsu, Cage, and others all have their defenders and place in music history, but they don't seem as fundamental as the masters of the past.
And as good as Shostakovich, Copland, and Prokofiev were, they were, for the most part, traditionalist and not part of the New.

Gene Berman said...

Usually lurking:

You're damn right! There are at least some of us who wouldn't have any fucking class or culture at all if it weren't for Steve. That's got to be worth quite a bit.

Gene Berman said...

Ohio Stater:

Fred's just hiding his light under a bushel (or maybe a sombrero). He's right up with those he curmudges about
(just like Steve, who at least, needs it to be able to translate 'em).

Gene Berman said...

Usually Lurking:

And, don't think I didn't notice the "there" when you meant "their."
We both know the correct word (and its proper spelling) but composing from a keyboard plays tricks--likely related to checking the euphony and balance of what you're writing by "hearing" it--which makes no distinction. I am, literally, almost incapable of misspelling any word with which I'm familiar but I find myself having to proofread for exactly the same type error (and I didn't intend that pun but you're welcome to it!)

Related--I could tell Limbaugh was going deaf about three years before the shit hit the fan (and wrote a number of times to tell him so). The tip-off was (slight) mispronunciation of words I knew he knew: I realized he must not be able to hear his own voice properly. (Had no clue as to the cause, though.)

robert61 said...

Wasn't gonna read it but you drew me in. Unfortunately I'll have to dl the movie. The European capital city I live in is apparently too much of a backwater to support a cinema run.

Anonymous said...

1928 was said to be the date after which no significantly new physics or music has been created. I can't remember the reference.

Le Sacre is a worthy piece in the theater even for those of us who are not that fond of ballet. Whereas its contemporary L'après-midi d'un faune looks and sounds very dated. Similarly Rake's Progress holds the stage far better than Pelleas.

It takes a century or so to see things clearly.

Albertosaurus

Kevin K said...

"1928 was said to be the date after which no significantly new physics or music has been created. I can't remember the reference."

The question of music is open, but there certainly has been quite a bit of new physics since 1928. The neutron, for instance, was discovered in 1932.

Anonymous said...

It takes a century or so to see things clearly.

And Lorraine needs to go before you can see the icicles in your way.

Dahlia said...

"Gene Berman said...

Usually Lurking:

And, don't think I didn't notice the "there" when you meant "their."
We both know the correct word (and its proper spelling) but composing from a keyboard plays tricks--likely related to checking the euphony and balance of what you're writing by "hearing" it--which makes no distinction. I am, literally, almost incapable of misspelling any word with which I'm familiar but I find myself having to proofread for exactly the same type error (and I didn't intend that pun but you're welcome to it!)

Related--I could tell Limbaugh was going deaf about three years before the shit hit the fan (and wrote a number of times to tell him so). The tip-off was (slight) mispronunciation of words I knew he knew: I realized he must not be able to hear his own voice properly. (Had no clue as to the cause, though.)"

I'm responding kind of late in the thread, but that's very perceptive about Limbaugh and your explanation for the errors we commit in typing seems good.

Which reminds me... I have posted much less than normal lately and when I do, just old rather than new thoughts. The reason is because I'm at the very end of my pregnancy and have, as usual, suffered cognitive decline. I re-read some of my posts and I'm utterly embarrassed at the grammatical, and especially, vocabulary mistakes. The worst I think was recently when I wrote "illuminaries" instead of "luminaries". Uh!
I take the omega oil tablets, but I still have the brain fog. It usually lasts a few months past giving birth.

Reg Cæsar said...

"Illuminaries" sounds like the dark side, Dahlia. Just as "irregardless" refers to those lacking in irregard.

Anonymous said...

I remembered the reference to the statement that progress in music and physics essentially stopped at 1928. It's from In Search of Schrodinger's Cat by John Gribbin.

I'm currently reading Phillip Gossett's book on performing Italian opera. He explains how Donizetti composed by writing a piece first the way Rossini would have written it it and then he cut out the balancing sections that gave the music symmetry. Similarly early Verdi was converted into late Verdi (by Verdi himself) by making the music less regular. Gossett warns against cuts in Verdi lest it begin to sound like Puccini.

The whole history of Western music can be seen as a process of breaking symmetries and unbalancing regularities. After Puccini of course came Berg and Schoenberg with twelve tone operas - operas that have never quite captured the general public. So Gribbin claims that music became more and more modern up until 1928.

Similarly after General and Special Relativity and Quantum Mechanics there have been no similar revolutionary ideas in physics. New particles have emerged and accelerators have indeed accelerated but no "Theory of Everything", no "Unified Theory".

Gribbin suggests that the human mind ran up against internal limits around 1928.

Stravinsky wrote his great opera The Rake's Progress fully twenty years after the 1928 deadline but it was not a revolutionary piece like Le Sacre. It was neo-classic. It like Strauss's opera from around the same time Der Rosenkavalier looked back to Mozart rather than forward toward some unknown future.

Albertosaurus

Gene Berman said...

Good on yer, Dahlia. It seems too many these days think of a child as a vaginal discharge that keeps annoying for 18 years or so.

For old-timers , beside grandchidren, the only solace is realizing "trends can and do change," or, even more nebulously, "this, too, shall pass." But, from all I see, general optimism looks like an opiate, if not for the
masses, at least for the sentient classes. I've been an "incurable optimist" all my life but my condition's "improving" steadily.

Gene Berman said...

Dahlia:

Don't get bent out of shape over using "illuminaries" instead of "luminaries." I mean, after all, don't they have "luminaires " (just the change of a letter position) with which we "illuminate?" Who but a pendant (private joke for "dearieme")would be so brash as to criticize such an entirely intelligible "mistake" in a language in which "inflammable" and "flammable" mean exactly the same thing?

Just to take your mind off such an inexcusable faux pas, I'll tell you a little story; the events occurred in 1954-5 at a small liberal arts college in PA. My accomplice is now a retired hand-reconstruction surgeon.

We'd use some ruse to get a guy at work typing a term paper out of his room for a bit--and one of would go to his typewwriter (nobody ever locked their room in that dorm), sit down, and "fix" the paper. "Fixing" meant inserting a line of outrageous obscenities succeeded by a line the exact duplicate of the one preceding the intruded line. If possible, the
line would make reference to the prof involved. We did it about a half-dozen times; to our knowledge, it was never caught before the paper was turned in. Nor did anyone suffer--except embarrassment--since it was obvious to the professor--if he read it--what had been done.

And then, there was the old silver nitrate trick--another time, perhaps.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, looking forward to seeing the film. Thanks for telling us about it.

-pd in sf

asdfasdfadsfdf said...

"One of my (very reactionary) music teachers insisted that the Rite of Spring was really a joke."

Jokes are good. So was 'Breathless', but what a great movie.

Gc said...

"Similarly after General and Special Relativity and Quantum Mechanics there have been no similar revolutionary ideas in physics. New particles have emerged and accelerators have indeed accelerated but no "Theory of Everything", no "Unified Theory"."

But this only says that the development is not acceralated not that is has stopped (which IMO may have been the case respect to theories after the seventies) If a new particle or force is found that has not been expected is IMO a great development.
History of the quantum field theory

Anonymous said...

Steve,
The readers who corrected spatter to épater are all ignorant knaves who should be force to memorize all of Barry Obama's speeches.

Think of:
état -- state
étudier -- study
Étienne -- Steven
étranger -- stranger


It should be obvious to even the dullest of fools that the correct rendition of épater in english is spatter.

Cheers!

Mr. Anon said...

"Steve Sailer said...

I must say that I've never see "spatter les bourgeois" before, but, now that I have seen it, I like it and will try to remember to use it in the future."

I think it was the motto of the Manson family and the SLA, or - as someone else already said - the Khymer Rouge.

Mr. Anon said...

"Gene Berman said...

an entirely intelligible "mistake" in a language in which "inflammable" and "flammable" mean exactly the same thing?"

Actually, flammable and inflammable do not mean the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Loving the ongoing grammar debate. If you'll forgive me for quoting Truth, "No wonder you people aren't reproducing."

Lucille said...

Anon: That's nowhere near a universal rule. How would you render, say, "etoile" in English?

Sometimes your rule holds... but sometimes it's better to use the full original phrase. And sometimes it's better to translate outright.

David said...

>flammable and inflammable do not mean the same thing<

Yes, they do.

Anonymous said...

Anon: That's nowhere near a universal rule. How would you render, say, "etoile" in English?

Stella.

Cheers!

Gene Berman said...

Anonymous who said "no wonder you people aren't reproducing":

It's me on the grammar, sport (TM Truth). I've done my fair share of the job (and maybe just a wee bit more). But, hey, I'm only 73 and got plenty left. So, send the old lady around or a coupla yer daughters--no charge! I do a bit charity work on such special request.

Gene Berman said...

"render 'etoile' in English:

What I want to know is, why, when you render "pig fat" you get lard no matter what the language happens to be?

Anthony said...

Gene - in California, when you render pig fat, you get Manteca.

(Actually, the smell is the sugar-beet refinery.)

Felix said...

the problem with music, art or whatever that's designed to shock the bourgeorisie, expand the limits etc, is that it's necessarily bound to become outdated

whereas if you simply aim to write beautiful or profound stuff, then you may just make the timeless grade

David said...

Man of the Rite was pretty good too.

I'm surprised that during the discussion of "spatter the bougies" no one referenced this:

http://tinyurl.com/2u8u752
(USA TODAY's description of MTV's "Shower Rangers" incident)