DATELINE: Grand Music
Flavio in concert.
Some disparaging commenters have called Flavio Villani a mediocre talent who is the subject of a documentary on his effort to play Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto with a symphony orchestra.
It takes a snide and cowardly person to label Villani anything but brave and courageous to make such an effort. To tackle that difficult and breathtaking piece of music in a concert is like throwing a touchdown pass at the Super Bowl.
And, the sports metaphor certainly applies to Villani who came late to music—but found himself challenged and gripped by becoming a pianist of classical order. He left his native Italy and went to study in New Zealand at age 26.
His efforts are documented in this little film that shows him walking on the beach, admiring nature, cooking, and living a normal middle-class life while he ruminates on the power of Rachmaninoff’s intimidating piano composition.
We see him practice alone, practice with a second piano, and prepare for this first attempt to play with a symphony. It is daunting, and he is committed. A gay man, alienated by both classical music and his personal life, he is a man in exile in New Zealand. He returns home triumphantly, reconciling with his family before the big concert.
We see and hear snippets of the First Movement and almost the entire Third Movement on the big night. Whether he made a single mistake or several, we might never know, so complex is the concerto. The music is staggering, dramatic, and ultimately a melodious work of genius. He acquits himself admirably.
If you have never heard this concerto, you have missed one of the great experiences of life.
If someone without as much passion and heart want to knock his efforts, they reflect on their own base misunderstanding of the human condition.
This little story of one person’s integrity and decency is a beacon in the dark world of today’s inhumanity.
DATELINE: Corona of Career
It’s minor and troubling to almost no one, except perhaps me.
A colleague of many years passed away not quite ten years after retiring. She was on the faculty of our small college for thirty years, same time and same length as I.
As Robert Frost once said, happiness reaches in height what it lacks in length. We were the disgruntled, unhappy “employees” of the College, even denied being called “faculty” by administration in our living and breathing careers.
The rank of professor meant nothing much, a professor emeritus was denied to us.
How much worse can it be when we die off?
The announcement of her death form the Human Resources Center came from a director who never knew her. It was a pithy two sentences saying she had “worked” at the college in Nursing Department for many years. Because of the pandemic, there would be no services. There was no additional information.
And apparently no other remembrances or comments. This was her final moment on the college register. No eulogy, no thanks, no appreciation, no nothing.
It shall be the same for me. In a tight-knit department like Nursing, she was anathema: disliked by her colleagues for being a stickler for the regulations, and not participating in the social life of fake camaraderie among those with whom you share no politics. So it was for me.
There once existed a half-dozen of us from differing departments who sat together, a huddled small group, at all faculty meetings. We recognized each other as pariahs of the school. If we didn’t sit together, no one would sit with us.
In the past decade we retired to no particular fanfare. Now we are dying to no particular notice.
I visited her at her office now and then, gave her copies of my books that were published, and she was appreciative. Two other faculty of that ilk have also died in recent years. We were a grim little group of despised faculty members: not by students, but by our fellow faculty.
If no department head colleague will do cheerleading of your credentials, hard work, accomplishments at the college at death, then there is nothing more to be said.
You are relegated to non-person, name stricken from the record, students never to breathe your name unless in curse for a low grade.
Thus, the end came for another kind associate. It made me hope the college will be one of those they say may close its doors in a few years: let all of them on faculty for those decades share the same fate.
This memorial eulogy is anonymous for an unnamed, unknown faculty member from a breed of small liberal arts colleges that are fading away one by one.
DATELINE: Literary Road Trips
Steve Coogan with Rob Brydon.
With great sadness we are saying goodbye to the highly intelligent, witty, charming series of movies with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Their last is The Trip to Greece,all four civilized comedies were directed by Michael Winterbottom.
These have been four rarities of the modern age: witty as Noel Coward, beautifully locations, with amusing company. And they aren’t even gay. Two performers whose competition extends to out-imitating the other are sent on a fictional outing. Their job as journalists is to visit fine restaurants and write reviews.
The actors sort of play themselves in Brydon and Coogan (notable Oscar nominee for Stan and Ollie, as he was Stan). You often cannot tell where the fiction starts, as they play versions of themselves blending over into plot contrivance. Their litany of impersonations (Brando, Hoffman, Olivier, Caine, Pacino, Jagger) makes for a variety of dinner companions.
Four films feature hilarious riffs and impersonations over dinner and while driving around luscious countryside in Greece. Brydon sings the tune from Grease, and he crunches it to fit the country. Coogan is dutifully appalled.
They transform imitations of Laurel and Hardy over lunch into breath-taking jokes: Oliver Hardy morphs into Tom Hardy.
These little forays to gourmet restaurants have a price in this film (350 Euros).
The bittersweet last entry in the series showcases the performers to their greatest wish: Brydon becomes the epitome of the light comedian—and Coogan, as he likes, becomes the tragic actor of Shakespearean levels.
Their frictions and battles are nothing short of delightful wordplay. You don’t see that much anywhere in movies nowadays.
After visits to England, Italy, and Spain, this lap around the Aegean ends with a whimper. Brilliantly done, and hopefully there will be one more trip.
DATELINE: Charitable De-pants of Brady
Splitsville for Tom? Pulling an Elvis?
Tom Brady’s golf game has brought a split decision. It was a new low for the Super Bowl man without a pocket.
The big televised charity golf tournament with Peyton Manning, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, came apart at the seams during the match.
It seems Tom Brady bent over and found himself flying by the seat of his pants. How could a man so thin break the laws of physics? Or maybe he just broke the wind speed for a tee-off swing.
We haven’t seen such roughage to a wardrobe since Janet Jackson pulled her prank. Yes, Tom, we see you for all your worth. He needed his copper-infused pajama pants to play the rest of the game.
If we recall clearly, Elvis used to regularly split his pants in his final concert tour. Some believe it was sewn into the act.
Tom needed a diversion, and a pair of Sponge Bob’s pants fit the bill, harry, and tom. Underneath it all, there came a subpar moment in sports history. This seemed to parallel Spygate, Deflategate, and the general run of fake news.
Now this has nothing on Trump on Memorial Day, swaying in the breeze like the American flag. Supporters wanted to support the unsteady President who played golf the day before and showed his handicap: standing still.
In front of the Unknown Soldier during a ceremony, Trump looked like a man who had a few too-many swigs of Clorox before the game. He needed his club to act as a walker. We expect to see Trump split voters and pants, but never Tom Brady, his ardent supporter friend.
We gasped to see what color Tom’s undies might be: at least he wore undies, unlike some NFL players on Sunday games day.
Tom’s world tour of torn pants and broken promises will continue in Tompa Bay where the sea breeze will send a cooling cool to the Elvis stunt.
DATELINE: Gateway to Modern Architecture
American Masters did a one-hour biography of the notable architect whose name dominates New York Timescrossword puzzles. Of course, he is one of the most modern of all kinds of American architects (by way of Finland as a boy).
Saarinen is best known as the man who designed the St. Louis Gateway Arch, iconic like the Pyramid of Giza. He wanted something to last 1000 years—and his arch may well reach that grandeur.
This documentary is mostly narrated by his son Eric who is a noted film cinematographer—not following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps. He was alienated from his pater, but this film (he confesses) has changed him by seeing what marvels his father created: from a John Deere office building to Kresge Auditorium at MIT, or even a hockey rink at Yale.
His aides told him all hockey rinks were barns, so he designed one at Yale that is staggering in its Norse winter sports notions.
His father was hard to eclipse. Eero grew up with his father’s friends Gustav Mahler and Sibelius hanging around the house. He was bounced on Frank Lloyd Wright’s knee. Heavens, he was destined to create great buildings.
He made only one house—a glass marvel with stunning modern light. He is airier and brighter than Wright.
Yet, we must admit that these creative geniuses are not particularly good at being a family man. Eero was not an exception, but his second wife got him on the cover of Time—and the rest is history.
Shatner’s UnXplained recently claimed his great Arch is meant as a weather control system to deflect thunder and lightning. No such grandiose claims are made here—only breathtaking buildings and grounds, not to mention furniture.
He worked 60 years ago, but looks more modern than anything done today. This film also collects the withering criticism he took over his designs—by those who felt he pandered to 1950s American commerce. How wrong can they be?
We once heard an architectural critique as “nobody wants to live in someone else’s head.” Alas, most heads are devoid of creativity, individuality, or good taste. Thank heavens for Saarinen.
DATELINE: Rome’s Unbuilt Day
You have to love Dr. Richard Miles, not your usual host of these archaeological dig histories. We dig him and are dismayed that he gave up a media career to stay in academia. If you want history with a twist of lemon, try Carthage: the Roman Holocaust.
Miles is your quintessential media hunk—with credentials to kill for: Cambridge University, notable scholarship, and a presence to walk among the ruins with sharp observations.
Make no mistake, Dr. Miles has an axe to grind: he does not like the Roman Empire. Indeed, what they did to Carthage he compares to Hiroshima. They obliterated a city brick-by-brick for defying Roman authority. They attempted genocide on a people after 150 years of war. Talk about overkill.
Wearing an assortment of t-shirts and jeans, Richard Miles stops his perambulations now and then to smirk into the camera with one of his zinger one-liners.
Miles walks miles and miles before the end of this saga.
He is not shy about gruesome details either—if you want the uncivilized and unvarnished tale of two Punic Wars.
Dr. Miles puts emphasis on two individuals, one from Carthage and the other from Rome. They turn out to be metaphoric representations of the mind of ancient political and military philosophy: which is not too far removed from contemporary times,
In the corner of Carthage you have Hannibal. Miles shares many little-known details about the man with elephants at the gates of Rome. He was the bogeyman that terrified Rome for the rest of the Empire’s length. He was their worst nightmare come true.
On the other hand, you have the master race Roman version of Hitler in Cato, the jingoistic and nationalistic white supremacist of the Seven Hills. He wanted only the utter destruction, annihilation, and decimation of the arch-rival for Rome.
You can view this priceless documentary in two parts or one long one on Prime. Alas, Dr. Miles forsook a career in TV and moved on the Australian and the University of Sydney where he seems to prefer academic administration.
In our experience, there is not much difference between the Roman Empire and college admin than in a Roman holocaust.
DATELINE: NBA Twits
File Under Inept Waiters!
Now and then we follow NBA nitwits on and off the court. We seldom follow Miami Heat anywhere, but when Dion Waiters criticized coach Spoelstra and ingested designer drugs making for a panic attack whilst flying with the team, we took notice.
He’s coming to Boston to play after a suspension worth a couple of million bucks. Maybe he can earn the money back by waiting on tables and receiving tips. We offer our tip right here.
Dion sang an apology to teammates and coaching brain-trust that sounds all the world like a statement from his agent/attorney axis. After all, fines and suspension took money and food out of their wallets and open mouths.
We know from the spellcheck that Dion Waiters never wrote that apology. Some low-paid minion earned his keep.
No one wants to provide real details about imbeciles, lest they be accused of discriminating against drug users and people with bad judgment. We are fearless in that regard.
When we meet a body walking through the rye, we know it’s a kind of Scottish whiskey on his breath.
We doubt that Waiters would be a winner on a team that contained players Bron, Wade, and Bosh. When you put a fly in the oinment, you mainly change the chemistry.
The rain in Spain does not always fall on the plain, no matter what apology/tune Dion sings, and we think as an ordinary waiter Waiters would spill our wry rye all over our spellcheck. Especially at 37,000 feet above the court at American Airlines Arena. It’s no slam dunk from outside the arc/ark.
DATELINE: Progress on Oak Island
Something is bogged down on Oak Island, under the swamp that is. We do have to admit this season of Curse of Oak Island is the best one so far.
Marty Lagina seems finally to be convinced that there is something in the swamp, though he is one to admit that the rocky side of Oak Island really has never been explored for tunnels. That remains the truly amazing detail.
Once again, academic experts are the real stars of this show. Dr. Ian Spooner provides a perspective of a scientist looking at the swamp—and only when he tells them it is man-made do they feel some vindication. The real question is why it took seven years to confirm a theory that the Nolan-Blankenship diggers postulated decades ago.
Heartthrob Alex Lagina is given a larger role, and lets his younger nephew Peter Fornetti tag along with historian Charles Barkhouse, as they visit Dr. Christa Brosseau at St. Mary’s College in Halifax.
She seems non-plussed at meeting yet another group of visitors from Oak Island. She tells them what Gary Drayton has claimed all along: those swages found were tools that go back to the original searchers, at the latest.
Why haven’t they invited her to the Island? Women are always an afterthought on Oak Island.
The multiple searches also pay off location of remnants of dynamite that was used around 1900 to try to shut off the flood mechanisms that have ruined many a search. Whenever these primitive technological devices were created on Oak Island, they garner respect for those under-educated pirates or knights who buried the whole shebang.
Once again, folkhero Gary Drayton takes on the unenviable task of diving into the swamp to locate iron in a perimeter area that is now called the all-seeing “Eye of the Swamp.”
Don’t let your pineal gland go to your head, but this indicates that there may be a gateway to treasure awaiting us.
DATELINE: Ghost Hunters
If you saw New York Jest Quarterback Sam Darnold, of mono fame, on Monday Night Football, you saw a man spooked.
Yes, the young and callow big QB was mic’d up as they say for the cameras. He did not disappoint. When all the cursing is done, and whitewashed out, you had the tall drink of water having the worst night of his life. If you dismiss the night he caught mono…
He ended up with a QB rating of 6.5, which sounds nearly as abysmal as anything this season by anyone.
That conjurer of ancient gridiron spirits, Merlin Bill Belichick, apparently sent Macbeth’s witches to bubble up some trouble for young Darnold. Too damn young for being darn old.
The Jets main man said on the bench after one appalling interception that he was seeing ghosts out there on the field.
We, of course, believe him, as we have seen the power of orbs flying by at breakneck speed. These little photons of light are really the spirits of past football for Darnold, and they are making mischief that would do poltergeists proud.
Marley’s Ghost might have offered him some sound advice on how to deal with the Patriots defense that was fired up to deny the existence of ghosts.
Perhaps Hamlet’s fatherly ghost might have warned him of a coach would pour poison in his ear. That Jets coach was heard to tell him that he knew what to do. Apparently the coach did not know or have the number of an exorcist on his speed dial.
You can scare children with ghost stories, or conversely you can scare QBs like Josh Allen and Sam Darnold who look like giant kids playing a game of chess with the Grim Reaper. Shades of Shades.
DATELINE: Light Thinking on Ancient Aliens
When Ancient Aliensdecides to tackle the issue of psychic energies, there is an obvious blame game: those ancient space travelers came to earth 200,000 years ago and turned on the switch for the “neocortex” in the human brain.
Then, they completely undercut the theory by examining the cryptic, obscure, inconclusive predictions of Nostradamus. Their explanation for his lack of clarity (though they give him lots of credit) is that he was protecting himself from witchcraft charges and being burned at the stake. It’s around the same time that Leonardo da Vinci had the same problem.
However, the show is on firmer ground when it examines the validity behind psychic research with the discovery in 1935 of ESP.
The information about the differing methods of communications is intriguing: they specifically discuss precognition as looking at the future (as do all good soothsayers) but dismiss more quickly a look at past events (which may be post-cognition).
The show is more interested in the sensational stuff: like moving objects by brain power. These talents were given to all, but only a few select people (perhaps abductees?) are having their neocortex switched on.
Another intriguing examination is the notion that light photons emitted by the human body is a form of telepathy on which communication or messages may be received or sent. They use Biblical examples to illustrate how prophets often are glowing with knowledge.
Again, replacing the Akashic Record with something now called the Holographic Universe, the series insists that past, present, and future, are all stored in a place that is accessible.
And, the show comes full circle with Nostrodamus predicting that humans will migrate to other planets for survival.
DATELINE: Sex Charged and Sex Charges
Move over, Stable Genius!
Just how dumb is Antonio Brown? Let’s count the ways.
We have read that he is returning to college classes (online, of course)—and we wish him well in learning because this guy is dumb as a rock.
When you bite the hand that feeds you, it could be considered stupid.
When Brown attacks owner Robert Kraft, ridiculing in a tweet about Kraft’s still-pending misdemeanor investigation and prosecution, we have to figure this guy knows nothing about the law.
You cannot equate consensual sex with a prostitute (if it happened) with violent sex (rape) with a non-consensual victim—and you certainly cannot equate compounding the crime with threats of violence against another woman accuser, or the media messenger. Brown would shoot the messenger.
Brown cites the rape charges or allegations against Big Ben of the Steelers and dull Sharpe (formerly of the Broncos & NBC), for whom nothing was even proven in nearly a decade.
Brown’s case is as fresh as today’s garbage out in the smelly rubbish bin. Yes, he stinketh.
The Patriots may now recoil at paying $9million to Brown as a signing bonus because he withheld damaging information—and created new problems even while in the New England uniform. He played one game and practiced for nearly two weeks. For that he earned more than most people earn in a year or two (over $150,000).
He wants millions he claims he is owed.
If Kraft refuses to sign a check and uses his vast legal counsellor network to fight this for years to come, Brown may receive the money as part of his Social Security income. That’s a wait of about 30 years.
We suspect he will never make it that far. People like Brown never go the distance and come to unpleasant ends, blown up metaphorically in the ultimate act of self-destruction. It happens to terrorists, and it happens to idiots.
DATELINE: Literate & Bloody Genghis?
Gold with Genghis?
Another superior French production marks the visit of three scientists on the search for the burial spot of the Mongolian leader known for his bloodthirsty strategies of wiping out populations.
The Lost Tomb of Genghis Khan is somewhere in the hinterlands of Mongolia but has been kept hidden by a cult of devout worshippers—even until today. Not one scintilla of evidence from the tomb has ever appeared since his burial in the mid-1200s.
It is thought he was buried with immense wealth in a desolate spot where his sons and grandsons also now are entombed, notably Kublai Khan.
No one is sure of the exact spot because the funeral cortege murdered anyone who saw it along route. They did not want anyone to know the great Khan was dead: it would undercut his divinity until he was safely buried.
So, even in death, his cut-throat, brutal tactics were in place.
Yet, Khan was also known as the first Mongol to codify laws and create a written language to solidify his people. Nothing like writing laws to ban murder while you cavalierly murder your way to top!
Genghis received more than bad press outside his homeland, but he was revered as someone special within.
By use of drones and mapping without touching the ground, three scientists risk their lives to go to the secret location. They travel through bogs and across rough terrain as tourist academics, never letting anyone know their real purpose.
Yet, when they return a year later, it is clear that the cult of worship has known of their appearance: the burial mountain has fresh totems in stone around the area. It makes for hair-raising research.
Rough editing seems to come out where commercial interruptions might happen, and there is one English-speaking American expert in Chicago offering his sage wisdom.
This is an intriguing hour of history.
DATELINE: Latest Ancient Aliens Horror!
There’s a whole lot of blood-letting going on in the latest episode of Ancient Aliens on season 14 when it comes to your blood type and those space creatures messing with your genetic code..
Those pesky aliens appear to be planning to create a hybrid race. It’s like a bad flight out of that old chestnut movie Mars Needs Women. Except there won’t be any marriages, just some splicing of your DNA .
The latest episode hits on familiar themes of animal mutilation, interfering in the family tree, and alien abduction to take your precious bodily fluids.
We see the catalogue and history of images of animals with human heads . According to the shows experts, this is the work of experimentation thousands of years ago by nefarious space creatures. For good measure, they show presents evidence of Russian experiments in the 1950s when they put two heads on one dog.
Yes, they have the hideous photos to prove this contention.
All this goes to show that those little gray men are green with jealousy over human evolutionary jumps. We may still be in the middle of a great experiment.
Heaven help you if you are RH Negative As they seem to be targeting your blood type. The experts seem positive about this. Perhaps 50% of all kidnapped victims by aliens have that blood type. And nearly all of those seem to be Basque descendants.
Nick Redferne and Linda Moulton Howe are ringing alarms, like hero Paul Revere. Only they are coming by air!
DATELINE: Now, Voyager!
Percival White, Titanic deck, 1912.
Another billionaire is challenging the world with his money.
This time it is an Australian known as Clive Palmer who decided in 2012, on the 100th anniversary, to build a duplicate of the original unsinkable catastrophe, Titanic, and let it set sail under the Blue Flag Liners.
Delays can never be put aside, but the latest press releases are touting the ship as nearly ready to go out to sea in 2022. The ship will leave from Dubai for New York.
It may be an expensive voyage: first-class compartments may go for $100,000 for a few days of fun. The former owner of our home was one of the victims in 1912: Richard White died on Titanic as his college graduation present went awry.
Now Mr. Palmer plans to honor victims like Richard with an expensive, but safe, re-enactment. The ship is scheduled to sail right over the sunken wreck of the original ship, which should irritate enough paranormal spirits to evoke more than a few chills aboard Titanic 2.
This one will be modern, with plenty of lifeboats, and such unheard of items as wi-fi, tv, and re-enforced hulls. The lower decks where the hoi polloi will bunk for about $500 to $900 will be completely contemporary. The replicas start with D-deck.
The upper segments will be totally copied from original with restaurants, menus, and bistro areas, in ship-shape a la 1912.
We might be willing to go along for the trip and offer the passengers (about 2000) and crew (about 900) a lesson in history. As we have three books about Titanic and lecture on college campuses in New England, we could be persuaded to give a series of presentations aboard Titanic 2, to prove that the trip is meant to honor the victims, not to cash in on their tragedy. By providing historical background through an academic lecture, this will negate charges of “classless” cashing in that some news reports circulated.
If Mr. Palmer or ranker.com or AVIC wants to call on this expertise to fend off paranormal anger, we are ready and willing to discuss premonitions in 1912 of disaster and post-sunken spirit visits from various victims.
But, for heaven’s sake, don’t call us “a re-enactor.”
Dr. William Russo, Professor Emeritus, is author of three books on Titanic, including a paranormal history. He regularly presents and lectures around New England colleges on the topic. He is available to join the Titanic II voyage! His books include Tales of a Titanic Family, Chess-Mate from Titanic, and recently, Titanic Mysteries on Mill Circle. Percival White was born and lived at Mill Circle.