Geneva Anderson digs into art

Three Great Film Festivals North of the Golden Gate Open in Early October—get ready!

Brian Percival’s film adaptation of Markus Zusak’s New York Times best seller “The Book Thief” (2013) is one of two films opening the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 3-13, 2013.  Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson star as a couple raising a young German foster child (Sophie Nélisse) and hiding a Jew from the Nazis during World War II.

Brian Percival’s film adaptation of Markus Zusak’s New York Times best seller “The Book Thief” (2013) is one of two films opening the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 3-13, 2013. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson star as a couple raising a young German foster child (Sophie Nélisse) and hiding a Jew from the Nazis during World War II.

The fall film festival season we’ve been waiting for kicks off in early October with three film festivals North of the Golden Gate—the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival (Oct 3-13, 2013), the 18th Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival (Oct 3-Nov 21, 2013) and the 5th Petaluma International Film Festival (Oct 11-13, 2013).

Stay-tuned to ARThound for detailed coverage, but below are the bare bones and ticketing information on each.  The three-day Petaluma International Film Festival overlaps with the final Fri-Sat-Sun of the Mill Valley Film Festival and the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival and Mill Valley Film Festival both share an October 3 opening, With some planning though, you can easily see plenty of films at each of these festivals.

Mill Valley Film Festival (Oct 3-13)

Heading into its 36th year, the acclaimed Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF36) kicks off Thursday, October 3, 2013 in high style with the Co-Opening night films Nebraska, from director Alexander Payne, and The Book Thief from director Brian Percival.  Bruce Dern and Will Forte will be in attendance for the Bay Area Premiere of Nebraksa at CinéArts@Sequoia in Mill Valley and Academy Award®-winner Geoffrey Rush and Sophie Nélisse and Brian Percival will be in attendance for The Book Thief at the Century Cinema Corte Madera in Corte Madera.  An Opening Night Gala at the Corte Madera Town Center will follow the Opening Night Screenings where guests will enjoy delicious local cuisine and wine and music.

A scene from Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” (2013), one of two films opening the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 3-13, 2013.  Bruce Dern plays a father who receives a sweepstakes letter in the mail and goes on a road trip across America’s heartland with his son Macgruber, played by Will Forte, to claim the prize. Photo: Paramount Pictures.

A scene from Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” (2013), one of two films opening the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 3-13, 2013. Bruce Dern plays a father who receives a sweepstakes letter in the mail and goes on a road trip across America’s heartland with his son Macgruber, played by Will Forte, to claim the prize. Photo: Paramount Pictures.

On the heels of the prestigious Venice and Toronto festivals, MVFF has the proud distinction of presenting Bay Area premieres of the last five Academy Award-Winners for Best Picture—Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech, The Artist and Argo—and festival organizers Mark Fishkin and Zoe Elton expect no less this year.  Aside from its array of big premieres, big nights, stars and luminaries, and tributes and awards, the carefully planned 11 day festival offers over 150 films and events that fit the informed, progressive and Bohemian zeitgeist of Northern California.  A few of the special interest categories include—animation, animal rights, Asian, Central Europe, Children’s Festival, comedy, environment/nature, fine arts, food, health, history, human rights, indigenous peoples, women, world cinema, and war.

There’s a huge buzz about Judy Dench’s performance in Philomena Steven Frears’ heart-tugging adoption story starring Dench and Steve Coogan.  Philomena tells the story of a down-on-his-luck journalist (Coogan) who teams up with older woman (Dench, 78 in real life) whose son was taken away after she became pregnant as a teenager and was forced into a Catholic convent cum slave-labor home for unwed pregnant girls run by Northern Irish nuns. The movie is based on a true story of Irish woman Philomena Lee’s 50-year struggle to find her son, who was sold for adoption in America, as told by Martin Sixsmith in his 2009 book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A Mother, Her Son and a Fifty-Year Search.

Because MVFF makes ticket available to California Film Institute members in advance of the general public, many of the films and special tributes are nearly sold out before they are publicly available. (For a list of films currently at rush,  click here.)  I’ll be pointing out several films over the next few days that still have availability and are unlikely to screen elsewhere, or, that have special programming combined with their screening that make them a must-see at Mill Valley.

Details:  The festival’s homepage is hereAdvance ticket purchase is essential as this festival sells out. To purchase tickets online for MVFF screenings, browse the film listings—the full list and scheduling information are online here.  Most tickets are $14 and special events and tributes are more.  Tickets can also be purchased in person at select Marin ticket outlets.

Rush tickets: If seats become available, even after tickets have sold out, rush tickets will be sold. The rush line forms outside each venue beginning one hour before show-time. Approximately 15 minutes prior to the screening, available rush tickets are sold on a first-come, first serve basis for Cash Only.)

Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival 2013 (Oct 3 – Nov 21)

The Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County presents the 18th annual Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival (SCJFF) which opens Thursday October 3, 2013 at Rialto Cinemas, Sebastopol, and ends November 21, 2013.  The festival conveniently runs on Thursdays at 1 PM and 7:30 PM and presents seven carefully selected films from Israel, France, Germany, Austria and the USA.  “You don’t have to be Jewish to love these films,” says Ellen Blustein, Film Festival Director who emphasizes their great stories. “We’re committed to providing high quality, entertaining, independent films to our loyal audience – after all – they are our community.”

Alice Taglioni and Patrick Bruel in Sophie Lellouche’s romantic comedy “Paris-Manhattan,” which opens the 18th Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival on Thursday, October 3 at Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas.  Photo: courtesy SCJFF

Alice Taglioni and Patrick Bruel in Sophie Lellouche’s romantic comedy “Paris-Manhattan,” which opens the 18th Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival on Thursday, October 3 at Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas. Photo: courtesy SCJFF

Opening the festival is Sophie Lellouche’s debut film, the romantic comedy Paris-Manhattan (2012) screening Thursday, October 3, at 1 PM and 7:30 PM Alice (Alice Taglioni) is beautiful, successful pharmacist in her 30s who is obsessed with Woody Allen and his films.  In lieu of a manly shoulder, she spills her secrets to an iconic poster of Woody that hangs in her bedroom.  She even prescribes his films to her customers who need advice and guidance beyond the traditional medicine she dispenses. France, 77 minutes, French with English subtitles.  click for trailer. Screens with Woody Before Allen, Short film, USA, 13 minutes, English.

The SCJFF always has a special event and on Thursday, October 31 presents a screening and a special musical performance.  The evening begins with music—a quartet from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra will perform for the first time ever in Sonoma County.  Then, Josh Aronson’s acclaimed documentary Orchestra of Exiles (2012) will screen—the suspenseful chronicle of how one man, Bronislaw Huberman, helped save Europe’s premiere Jewish musicians from obliteration by the Nazis during WWII.  This densely layered story of the creation of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (which in 1948 became the renowned Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, now conducted by Zubin Mehta) involves key characters including the high Nazi official, Goebbels; renowned conductors, Furtwangler and Toscanini; a future head of state, Chaim Weizmann; the families of victimized Jewish musicians who made up the ranks of orchestras across central Europe and Albert Einstein, who was an amateur violinist who liked to read music with Huberman.  The film features the music of Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zukerman, Joshua Bell and others.  After the screening, there will be a reception where audience members can mingle with the musicians.  Details:  Click here for tickets and information about the entire festival or call 707-528-4222 or visit the Rialto Cinemas Box Office. Ticket prices range from $10-$20.

Petaluma International Film Festival (Oct 11-13)

5th Annual Petaluma International Film Festival (PIFF) runs Friday, October 11 through Sunday, October 13th at Petaluma’s Boulevard 14 Cinemas.  Organized by Saeed Shafa who founded the popular annual Tiburon Film Festival in 2002, PIFF’s programming also reflects a strong emphasis on international points of view and great storytelling.  The festival offers six screenings daily, starting at noon and running till about 11 PM, each time slot allocated to a full-length film and at least 1 short (30 minutes or less) for a total of 17 full-length films and 23 shorts. This year, filmmakers and/or films span the globe from Athens to Kosovo to remote Papua New Guinea to Senegal to Yemen.

Opening Day: The festival opens Friday, October 11 with a noon screening of Hermann Vaske’s Balkan Spirit (2013, Germany, 80 minutes).  Vaske and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek explore the cultural, philosophical, political and artistic renaissance that is literally breathing life into this amazing region after decades of war and stagnation.  The engaging film features Angelina Jolie, Isabelle Huppert, Emir Kusturica, Dušan Makavejev, Abel Ferrara, Jasmila Zbanic and many other who will be forever on your creative radar.

5 Films by Sonoma Flimmakers, Saturday October 12, 6 PM—PIFF will present a collection of films made by Sonoma County filmmakers in support of the community’s rich and diverse talent.  All the filmmakers will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.  On the program- Greg Blatman’s Kitty Litter (2012, 9 min, shot in Petaluma); Beth Nelson’s The Sky is the Roof (2013, 30 min—historical overview of pre-colonial Napa Valley); Laura Owen & Aron Campisano’s Chocolatés (5 min); Bret Smith’s Rat-Face Burattino (2013, 5 min) and Paul Winston’s The World is My Stage (2013, 26 min).

Salem Salavati's documentary The Last Winter (Zemestane akhar) (Iran, 2012, 95 min) won the FIPRESCI  Prize at the Yerevan International Film Festival and screens Sunday, October 13, at the 5th Petaluma International Film Festival.  With beautiful cinematography, it tells the story of rural family in a remote corner of Iran and, like many Iranian films, it employs allegory to make a larger statement the threatened culture of Iranian Kurdistan.

Salem Salavati’s documentary The Last Winter (Zemestane akhar) (Iran, 2012, 95 min) won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Yerevan International Film Festival and screens Sunday, October 13, at the 5th Petaluma International Film Festival. With beautiful cinematography, it tells the story of rural family in a remote corner of Iran and, like many Iranian films, it employs allegory to make a larger statement the threatened culture of Iranian Kurdistan.

Shafa has a passion for the great poetic of film.  This year’s gem from Iran is Salem Salavati’s documentary The Last Winter (Zemestane akhar) (Iran, 2012, 95 min), an elegant parable about the threatened culture of Iranian Kurdistan told through the story of a family who is unable to change and to come to terms with a tragedy. Salavati’s documentary is an expanded version of his previous short Snowy Dreams with the same picturesque winter scenery, calm, realistic life style and culture of Iranian Kurdistan.  Screens with the short Double Occupancy at 6:15 PM on Sunday, October 13, 2013.

PIFF Details: Tickets are $11 for all PIFF screenings and are available in person or for online purchase at Petaluma’s Boulevard Cinemas, 200 C Street, Petaluma.  All inclusive festival pass is $150 and can be obtained by phoning (415) 251-8433 or by emailing  Full schedule here.  Film descriptions here.

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“MUNCH 150”—the new Munch exhibition from Norway comes to the big screen—Thursday, June 27, 2013 at Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas with encore Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Edvard Munch's "The Scream," (1893), National Museum, Oslo @Munch Museum)

Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” (1893), National Museum, Oslo @Munch Museum)

This year, all of Norway is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edvard Munch (1863-1944) master of emotion, alienation and loss.  The exhibition, Munch 150, co-hosted by Oslo’s National Museum and the Munch Museum, which opened on June 2, 2013, has been hailed as a once-in-a-lifetime show.   On Thursday, June 27, 2013, at 7:00 p.m., Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol will bring the exhibition and its fascinating back-story right to Sonoma County with the event film, EXHIBITION: Munch 150, with an encore presentation on Wednesday, July 3 at 1:00 pm.

With 220 paintings on display, the sesquicentennial exhibition brings together the greatest number of Munch’s key works ever, including works from the Norwegian’s debut as a 20-year-old in 1883 until he stopped painting just before his death in 1944.  Highlights include near-complete reconstructions of The Frieze of Life (1902) and The Reinhardt Frieze (1906–1907).  In Oslo, these paintings have been liberated from their heavy frames and re-composed into the epic emotional odyssey – the visual novel of a life and of an age – that Munch had originally planned.

The event film, hosted by art historian and cultural commentator, Tim Marlow, goes behind-the-scenes with the curators, art historians and conservators in Oslo who know Munch’s work best and provide crystalline analysis of the artworks and their art historical context.  The planning and hanging of this epic two-venue exhibition is explored at the National Gallery, where Munch’s works from 1882-1903 are exhibited, and at the Munch Museum, where his works from 1904-1944 are on display.

The film also provides an in-depth biography of Munch who lived from the mid-19th century right through to the German occupation of Norway in the Second World War.  When Expressionism arrived in Europe, Munch was a significant and recognized pioneer of this new epoch.  His oil paintings produced during the 1890’s have always attracted the most attention but Munch created a number of masterpieces in the 20th century as well.

Of course, the Scream (Skrik), is given in-depth coverage—from its relationship to The Frieze of Life (1902) series, to the composition’s central iconic figure and its agitated background that undulates with strokes of pure color, to its enduring psychological resonance.   The Scream was originally painted onto cardboard using a mixed media of tempera, oils and pastels in 1893.  Munch recreated this particular painting twice in oils and twice in pastels between 1893 and 1910 as well as a Lithograph in 1895.  Originals are so highly sought after they have been stolen and recovered several times.  On May 3, 2012, the one Scream painting that remained in private hands set a public art auction record of $119.9 million when it was sold at Sotheby’s New York.

Edvard Munch, "Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine," 1906, Munch Museum, Oslo, @Munch Museum

Edvard Munch, “Self-Portrait with a Bottle of Wine,” 1906, Munch Museum, Oslo, @Munch Museum

EXHIBITION host Tim Marlow seems to get better with each successive exhibition film he hosts and interviews numerous Munch luminaries in Oslo who offer their expert insight and knowledge on this exceptional show.  ARThound is interested in knowing if these excellent cine-art experiences actually stimulate viewers to go and seek out art on their own.  Nothing can replace the magic of seeing an artwork up close and in person.

Run-time:  One hour and 20 minutes

More on Munch:   The National Museum of Oslo has put together a great timeline of Munch’s life, illustrated with artworks, click here.

ARThound scoop:  One special fact about Munch was that he took his dog with him to the cinema; if the dog barked, he left, as the film was obviously not up to it.

Details: MUNCH 150 screens Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 7 p.m. with an encore Wednesday, July 3, 2013 at 1 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas, 6868 McKinley Street, Sebastopol.  Tickets: $14.00 Adults; $12.50 Seniors (62+) and Children (11 and under). The Box Office opens daily 15 minutes prior to the first show of the day. To purchase tickets online from Rialto, click here.  Note:  The seating for this performance is general admission, so arrive early to get the seat of your choice.

Coming to Rialto in October: Vermeer and Music—The next event film in the art exhibition series is on October 10, 2012 (encore October 16, 2013) at the Rialto Cinemas and takes place at the National Gallery in London where audiences will see a unique perspective on the exhibition, Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure (June 26-September 8, 2013) which showcases three masterpieces of Johannes Vermeer brought together for the first time— A Young Woman standing at a Virginal and A Young Woman seated at a Virginal (both owed by the National Gallery) and Guitar Player (on loan from the Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House.) (Click here for more information and to by tickets.)

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Art, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Maria Stuarda,” Donizetti’s powerful Tudor queen opera, never before performed at the Met, screens on “Met Live in HD” this Saturday, January 19, 2013

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While history informs us that that Mary, Queen of Scotts never actually met Queen Elizabeth I, Donizetti couldn’t resist putting the two rival queens together to clash it out in his dramatic 1834 opera, “Maria Stuarda.”  The Metropolitan Opera premiered this fiercely dramatic opera—the second opera from Donizetti’s bel canto trilogy about the Tudor queens—on New Year’s Eve. With Joyce DiDonato as Mary Queen of Scotts and the debut of the remarkable San Francisco-trained South African soprano Elza van den Heever as Elisabetta, the power struggle between the two queens with two sets of religious beliefs and only one possible, bloody outcome couldn’t have been better cast.  This David McVicar production will be transmitted live around the world on Saturday, January 19, 2013 as part of The Met: Live in HD series and will play at 10 a.m. PST in Sonoma County at Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas.   Encore performances will play on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.  Approximate running time: 166 minutes

 Those lucky enough to have experienced Joyce DiDonato’s rapturous “Drama Queens” performance in November at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall know what magic this Grammy Award winning mezzo is capable of—channeling the very soul of her composers.  While the role of Mary is normally a soprano role, it’s been transposed for diDonato’s rich and expressive mezzo.  Here’s a taste of the passion DiDonato delivered while practicing the role. Deborah Voight’s interview was part of the Met Live in HD transmission of “Un Ballo in Maschera” on December 8, 2012 and speaks to the wonderful extras that are part and parcel of every Met: Live in HD experience—

Elza van den Heever went to extraordinary lengths to portray the legendary Queen, who is vividly developed in this production.  She even shaved her head in order to better suit the elaborate wigs and high forehead depicted in portraits of the Monarch.  The Wall Street Journal’s Heidi Waleson noted that her “big, well-controlled soprano” was “steely and assertive, with the flexibility to pull off Elizabeth’s vengeful, vitriolic cabalettas.”  And I can’t wait to see her in a wide red skirt by John Macfarlane that opens like curtains to reveal pants. Van den Heever is a graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Merola Opera Program and San Francisco Opera’s (SFO) Adler Fellowship Program.  At SFO, she last portrayed Mary Curtis Lee (general Lee’s wife) in the 2007 world premiere of Philip Glass’s Appomattox and Donna Anna in the Company’s 2007 Don Giovanni. She has also partnered with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, notably in their triple Grammy Award winning 2009 release of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8.

Originally premiered in 1835, Maria Stuarda is based on the German writer, Friedrich Schiller’s play Mary Stuart, which depicts the final days of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was viewed as a challenger to Elizabeth I’s throne and beheaded in 1587. 

“In this mid-point opera we are really focusing on the relationship between two queens in the same moment and the political impossibility of these two women co-existing on the same small island,” said Mr. McVicar.  “It’s based on the Schiller dramatization of Mary’s story which contains the great, mythical scene – which never actually happened in history – when the two queens meet and have a cataclysmic showdown.  It crackles with drama, it crackles with romance and it’s a very, very powerful mid-point in the trilogy of these three operas.”

For Maria Stuarda, Mr. McVicar works with fellow Scotsman, John Macfarlane on set and costume designs. Mr. Macfarlane’s previous work at the Met has included the much-loved fantastical sets and costumes for Hansel and Gretel. Mr. McVicar says that this new production embraces the romance of Maria Stuarda, rather than realism: “When we did the production of Anna Bolena last season at the Met, we went for the ’nth-degree of historical accuracy, particularly in the costuming. With Maria Stuarda being a different type of opera, we’ve gone for a visual style that is free-er, that is more romantic and which somehow, rather than reflecting history, reflects the romantic nature of this retelling of the story and the sweeping romantic nature of Donizetti’s music.”

Cast: Joyce DiDonato, Maria Stuarda; Elza van den Heever, Elisabetta; Matthew Polenzani, Leicester; Joshua Hopkins, Cecil; Matthew Rose, Talbot

Artistic and Production Team: Conductor, Maurizio Benini; Production, David McVicar; Set & Costume Design, John Macfarlane; Lighting Design, Jennifer Tipton; Choreographer, Leah Hausman

Details:  “Maria Stuarda” is Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 10 a.m. (PST), with encore (re-broadcast) performances on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. (PST).  .  Purchase tickets, $23, for Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas and select your seat here.   A list of participating Bay Area cinemas and online ticket purchase is available at  For a complete list of cinema locations nationwide and schedule, please visit The Met: Live in HD.  Ticket prices vary by location.  NO ONE cares what you wear or what you eat or drink but please be kind enough to elbow your snoring partners to consciousness.

Sonoma County:
Rialto Cinemas Lakeside
551 Summerfield Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95405


Napa County:
Cinemark Napa 8
825 Pearl Street
Napa, CA 94559

Marin County:
The Lark Theater
549 Magnolia Avenue
Larkspur, CA 94939

Cinemark Century Northgate 15
7000 Northgate Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903

Cinemark Cinearts Sequoia 2
25 Throckmorton Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941

January 17, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“God’s Fiddler”—a new film about the life of the great violin master, Jascha Heifetz, screens this Tuesday, October 30, at the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival

Mysterious at his core, contradictory, visionary, incredibly difficult—legendary violin master Jascha Heifetz wears the genius label well.  Heifetz’ life (1901-1987) spanned nearly the entire 20th century, starting at the very dawn of the age of recording technology—when most people still traveled by horse and buggy—and ending on the forefront of the digital age.  And for most of that long life, when it came to the violin, he ruled.  Born in Vilnius, Lithuania (then a part of Russia), the child prodigy, took up the violin at three at his father’s knee.  At seven, he studied in the fabled St. Petersburg Conservatory with Russian virtuoso Leopold Auer, acknowledged as the greatest teacher of his time.  At ten, he was mobbed at his famous public debut concert in St. Petersburg; at eleven, he made his European debut.  At sixteen, in 1917, he escaped revolutionary Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway for a new life in America.  That same year, he gave his first concert in America at Carnegie Hall and he became an immediate sensation.  Yitzhak Perlman, who has a presence throughout the film said, “When I spoke with him, I thought, ‘I can‘t believe it.  I’m talking with God.’”

Filmmaker Peter Rosen tackles Heifetz’ life and far-reaching influence in his 2011 feature length documentary Jascha Heifetz: God’s Fiddler,” which screens this Tuesday, October 30, 2012, at the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol as part of the 17th Annual Jewish Film Festival.   The program will include a special guest appearance by musician Ayke Agus, Heifetz’ student, accompanist, and companion, who appears in the film, and who will speak and play after the screening.  Angus first met Heifetz as a violin student in his master class at University of Southern California and had extensive involvement in life in his later years.  Many say she knew him better than anyone.  She is the author of Heifetz As I Knew Him (Amadeus Press, 2001).

Award-winning director, producer and editor Peter Rosen has made 49 films, many about musicians—from Leonard Bernstein: Reflections (1978) to Yo-Yo Ma at Tanglewood (1990) to Nobuyuki Tsujii Live at Carnegie Hall (2012).  Prior to watching Rosen’s latest, God’s Fiddler, I had little exposure to Heifetz and his legacy and, in that, I am not alone—there is a whole generation who are too young to have any personal experience with his playing.  The film itself does a great job of explaining the creative environment surrounding this great violinist whose music was unparalleled and whose spell was overpowering for those in close contact with him.  Thoroughly researched, it draws on 300 hours of film and 2,000 photos and fascinating personal and professional memorabilia taken from 1903-1987.  A recently discovered cache of Heifetz’ own home movies surface for the first time here too.  The photos are all the more special for their great historical significance.  We are privy to the family leaving St. Petersburg on the heels of the great Russian Revolution, to his early European tours, and to stirring shots of Heifetz interacting with the troops during his three year USO tour during WWII.  The film is also sprinkled richly with clips of Heifetz playing, though many of those are time-weathered and there is some distortion of the sound.

For anyone looking for an enthralling story, or to simply sort out fact from lore, the film delivers.  It includes musicians who knew him and heard him play live chiming in on what made his playing so special.  While it is well known that Heifetz’ expressive tone was coupled with technical perfection, beyond numerous accolades, there is not much discussion of his actual technique or the actual substance of his playing.  Heifetz is touted as the first modern violinist but there is no explanation of what modernity means in musical terms.

As for his personality, it is well-known that Heifetz was stoic, but professionals put the oft-repeated accusation that he was cold in context.  Violinist Ida Haendel says assuredly, “His playing was so passionate. I am astounded that people don’t realize it. They thought that he was cold— and it was fire, absolute fire!”

The film also devotes time to Heifetz’ stern teaching methods evidenced in several student anecdotes of his master classes.  Time flies and these students are now seniors.  Many pursued careers in music and have had years to reflect on their interaction with Heifetz and the importance of a mentoring relationship.  The word mentor, in fact, never comes up.  While there is no connection drawn between his perfectionistic and controlling father, the implication is obvious—it left scars on his son, who also was very controlling and, at times, despotic with his pupils.  This is all the more interesting in that the film delves into the exacting blow that a single negative review had on Heifetz when he was at his peak professionally.  He took the criticism to heart and it caused him to work all the harder and to rekindle his devotion to his artistry.  Heifetz was harsh but never demanded more from his students than he demanded of himself and those who stayed the course seem to have benefitted immensely as musicians.

Jascha Heifetz was ahead of his time with his understanding of the importance of protecting the environment. In the early 1960’s, he drove a custom-made electric car and spoke out against the Los Angeles smog. Image: Jascha

Particularly enjoyable segments of the film include his affluent lifestyle in Southern California, enabled by his high concert and teaching fees, income from recordings and shrewd money management.  His career lasted more than 60 years and for many of those years, following his arrival in the States, he was paid upwards of $100,000 per concert.  He was connected intimately with the history of recording, logging more studio time than any other violinist, committing to disc virtually the entire violin repertory, along with a substantial amount of chamber music.  He sold more records than any violinist in history, so many that, even after he stopped making records, he was on a $100,000 permanent annual retainer from RCA Victor, his lifelong record label.  This enabled him to live well and he maintained a beach house in Malibu.  He also lived thoughtfully.  He was so concerned about the environment and the unacceptable level of air pollution in Los Angeles that he bought a custom-built electric car in 1966, the first on West Coast.  The film shows footage of him tooling around in this little dream machine which reportedly could go 45 mph for 45 to 70 miles, depending on his driving efficiency.

The film leaves us hungering for more about Heifetz the man.  There is precious little, save at the end, about his family life which includes two ex-wives and several children.  Sadly, no one says he was a friend of Heifetz.   The natural question that emerges is what price did he pay for his genius?  The implication of the film is that there were sufferings and misunderstandings that he never worked through in his lifetime, though he was celebrated day in and day out.  And the larger looming question—what are the proper conventions for dealing with genius?  And the larger musical question—violin playing has evolved since Heifetz, what is his musical legacy and how does that impact how we define today’s virtuosos?

As it stands, the thoughtful film brings up many questions and is best seen in the company of a musician who can offer more substantial explanations of topics broached in the film.  The screening at the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival with Ayke Agus will provide an excellent forum for discussion.  For purposes of this review, I asked Wayne Roden, a friend of mine and violist with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra to watch this film.  Wayne’s enthusiasm for Heifetz is contagious and, not only did he find Rosen’s film engaging, on several occasions, he got up and actually demonstrated what was unique about Heifetz’s bow grip, speculating how he got that silken sound out of his violin.

Violist Wayne Roden, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, on Jascha Heifetz’ Bow Grip

Run time: 87 minutes. English with Russian dialogue. Director: Peter Rosen; Screenplay: Sara Lukinson; in collaboration with WDR, Arte, Euroarts Music International; Produced by Peter Rosen.

With: Jascha Heifetz, Itzhak Perlman, Ayke Agus, Seymour Lipkin, Ivry Gitlis, Ida Haendel, John Maltese, Bill Van Horn.

Details: Jascha Heifetz: God’s Fiddler screens Tuesday, October 30, 2012, 7:30 p.m. at the Rialto Cinemas, 6868 McKinley Street, Sebastopol as part of the 17th Annual Jewish Film Festival.  The festival presents six Thursday evening shows and runs through December 4, 2012.  Remaining screenings include:

Kaddish for a Friend Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 1 and 7:30 p.m.

Nicky’s Family, Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 1 and 7:30 p.m.

Reuniting the Rubens, Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 1 and 7:30 p.m.

A.K.A. Doc Pomus, Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 1 and 7:30 p.m.

Hava Nagilia, Tuesday, December 4, 7:30 p.m. Special Program: Filmmaker Roberta Grossman (Blessed Is The Match, SCJFF 2009) will speak and answer questions after the screening.

October 29, 2012 Posted by | Classical Music, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No hassle Opera! The Met’s new “Live in HD” season kicks off this Saturday, October 13, at Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas, with a new production of “L’Elisir d’Amore” starring Anna Netrebko

The Metropolitan Opera’s “Live in HD” 2012-2013 season kicks off Saturday, October 13, 2012 with a new production of Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore.” Opera superstar, Anna Netrebko, is Adina and Ambrogio Maestri is Dr. Dulcamara. Photo: Nick Heavican/Metropolitan Opera

When it comes to opera, it’s hard to beat the enduring popularity of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore—a whacky travelling salesman, fake love potions, rich girl, poor boy, botched communication and LOVE.  The 7th season of The Met: Live in HD opens this Saturday, October 13, in Sonoma County at Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas, and at select theatres across the country, with this comic gem. The series runs through the end of April 2013 with a selection of 11 other top Metropolitan Opera productions, including seven new productions, two of which are Met premieres. Each live performance is broadcast through National CineMedia’s (NCM®) to participating local theatres in real time on a Saturday with a Wednesday “encore,” a re-screening of Saturday’s captured performance. Encore performances are always shown on Wednesday afternoons and evenings by the Rialto Cinemas.

HD productions offer those of us in the extended northern Bay Area, the opportunity to sample a rich menu of almost live opera for $25, without crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and all the time and expense that entails.   The immersive screen experience offers exacting close-ups of the performances—facial expressions, costumes, scenery—and informative specially produced features—generally interviews—hosted by Met opera stars such as Renée Fleming, Natalie Dessay, Plácido Domingo, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Patricia Racette, and Deborah Voigt.  These backstage chats with cast, crew, and production teams give an unprecedented look at what goes into the staging of an opera at one of the world’s great houses.  All transmissions have on-screen English subtitles, the same ones used in live performances at the opera house.

In fact, the popularity of the Emmy® and Peabody award-winning series has skyrocketed, reaching over 3 million people in more than 1900 theaters in 64 countries, making the Met the only arts institution with an ongoing global art series of this scale.  The 2012-13 season will be broadcast in over 660 select U.S. cinemas and in 100 additional independent venues worldwide.

Johan Botha as the title character and Renée Fleming as Desdemona in Verdi’s “Otello,” the second of twelve operas in the Metropolitan Opera’s popular “Live in HD” series. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

A rare occurrence, last year’s Metropolitan opera season opened with Donizetti’s tragic Anna Bolena, with Netrebko in the title role, and its new season also opens with Donizetti and Netrebko …again.   This is the first time in 20 years that the Met season has featured a comedy for opening night and the first time ever that The Met: Live in HD opens with a comedy.  Anna Netrebko, starring as Adina, and Matthew Polenzani, as Nemorino—both making their Met debut in these roles—received rapturous reviews the first night and the production has been praised for its insightful new staging.  The opera co-stars Mariusz Kwiecien as the soldier Belcore, Adina’s swaggering fiancé, and Ambrogio Maestri as the potion-peddling traveling salesman Doctor Dulcamara.  (Run time: 125 minutes including 2 intermissions) Encore: Wednesday, November 7 at 1 and 7 pm.

On October 27, Verdi’s Otello, the first opera to be televised from the Met nearly 65 years ago, comes to HD.  The Shakespearean masterpiece returns with an exciting cast that includes South African tenor Johan Botha singing the title role opposite the star soprano Renée Fleming as Desdemona, with Symyon Bychkov conducting.

2012-2013 Season

Donizetti’s L’ELISIR D’AMORE
NEW PRODUCTION Saturday, October 13 at 10am and Wednesday, October 17 at 1 & 7pm

Verdi’s OTELLO
Saturday, October 27 at 10am
and Wednesday, November 7 at 1 & 7pm


MET PREMIERE Saturday, November 10 at 10am
and Wednesday, November 14 at 1 & 7pm


Saturday, December 1 at 10am
and Wednesday, December 5 at 1 & 7pm


NEW PRODUCTION Saturday, December 8 at 10am
and Wednesday, December 12 at 1 & 7pm


Verdi’s AIDA
Saturday, December 15 at 10am
and Wednesday, December 19 at 1 & 7pm


Saturday, January 5 at 9am
and Wednesday, January 9 at Noon & 6pm


MET PREMIERE Saturday, January 19 at 10am
and Wednesday, January 23 at 1 & 7pm


NEW PRODUCTION Saturday, February 16 at 10am
and Wednesday, February 20 at 1 & 7pm


NEW PRODUCTION Saturday, March 2 at 9am
and Wednesday, March 6 at Noon & 6pm


Saturday, March 16 at 9am
and Wednesday, March 20 at Noon & 6pm


NEW PRODUCTION Saturday, April 27 at 9am
and Wednesday, May 1 at Noon & 6pm

Details:    Tickets are available at participating cinema box offices and online at . For a complete list of cinema locations and schedule, please visit The Met: Live in HDTicket prices vary by location.   Tickets at the Rialto Cinemas are $25 and season subscriptions are available, allowing you to choose your seat.  NO ONE cares what you wear or what you eat or drink but ladies please curb check your snoring partners, or be kind enough to elbow them to consciousness.

Sonoma County:
Rialto Cinemas Lakeside
551 Summerfield Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95405


Napa County:
Cinemark Napa 8
825 Pearl Street
Napa, CA 94559

Marin County:
The Lark Theater
549 Magnolia Avenue
Larkspur, CA 94939

Cinemark Century Northgate 15
7000 Northgate Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903

Cinemark Cinearts Sequoia 2
25 Throckmorton Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941

October 11, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment