Michael Lonsdale was a British-French actor who mainly worked in France, one of my favorite actors. He played in many films, though rarely as the protagonist. He turned 89.
In the English-speaking world, he was known for his role as the villain Hugo Drax in the James Bond film Moonraker, and for his appearances in The Day of the Jackal and The Remains of the Day.
As a character actor with a penetrating gaze, he can be admired in auteur films such as Le fantôme de la liberté (1974) by Luis Buñuel, Glissements progressifs du plaisir (1974) by Alain Robbe-Grillet and the unforgettable 5×2 (2004) by François Ozon.
I would like to take this rather sinister opportunity to highlight the story “Bartleby” (1853) by Herman “Moby Dick” Melville. That short story was adapted for film four times, and in the 1976 French version, Lonsdale plays the bailiff.
The hero in “Bartleby” is called Bartleby. He is a clerk who is recruited at a law firm to copy documents, but soon after his arrival at the firm refuses an assignment with the legendary words “I would prefer not to”. From then on, Bartleby the clerk basically refuses everything, which means that he refuses to live.
This hero is reminiscent of other impossible, frustrated novel characters such as the nameless hero in Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground (1864) and Julien Sorel in Stendhal’s The Red and the Black (1830).
In the clip, Lonsdale visits Bartleby in prison where he urges the latter to make a last effort to live. In vain. We see Bartleby die while standing up.
“This painting owes its existence to prior paintings. By liking this solution, you should not be blocked in your continued acceptance of prior inventions. To attain this position, ideas of former painting had to be rethought in order to transcend former work. To like this painting, you will have to understand prior work. Ultimately this work will amalgamate with the existing body of knowledge.”
In his own analysis, he said he would be best remembered as “the guy who puts dots over people’s faces.”
Jerry Herman was an American composer and lyricist, known for his work in Broadway musical theater. He composed the scores for the hit Broadway musicals Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles. He was nominated for the Tony Award five times, and won twice, for Hello, Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles.
By pure coincidence I was watching Paris Is Burning (1990) this afternoon, it features the Jerry Herman-penned gay anthem “I Am What I Am” from La Cage Aux Folles.
Perhaps an offending passage is this one, in which Sethe pays the tombstone engraver with sex:
“You got ten minutes I’ll do it for free.
Ten minutes for seven letters. With another ten could she have gotten “Dearly” too? She had not thought to ask him and it bothered her still that it might have been possible–that for twenty minutes, a half hour, say, she could have had the whole thing, every word she heard the preacher say at the funeral (and all there was to say, surely) engraved on her baby’s headstone: Dearly Beloved.”
Margaret Atwood in Writing with Intent: Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose: 1983-2005 (2009) remarks:”Sethe wanted “Dearly Beloved [on the tombstone],” from the funeral service, but had only enough strength to pay for one word. Payment was ten minutes of sex with the tombstone engraver.”
He was also known for his on-set conflicts. While filming Maidstone for example, Torn struck director and star Norman Mailer in the head with a hammer. With the camera rolling, Mailer bit Torn’s ear and they wrestled to the ground. The fight continued until it was broken up by cast and crew members. The fight is featured in the film.
The history of bossa nova starts with this recording:
Canção do Amor Demais (1958) by Elizete Cardoso features the compositions “Chega de Saudade” and “Outra Vez”, both featuring João Gilberto’s guitar beat, which would go on to become a staple of bossa nova.
Then there is bossa nova’s defining moment, the release of “Bim-Bom” (1958), most often claimed to the first bossa recording.
While researching Gilberto’s death it came to my attention that bossa nova is considered a nobrow phenomenon, i.e. the mixing of high and low culture .
Perhaps Caetano Veloso was the first to make this point in 2013 in The Guardian:
“It [bossa nova] was possibly the first popular music where the themes were existential […] It’s part of what makes it high art. Third-world countries usually produce raw materials that are then transformed into capital by first world nations. This happens in industry, but it also happens in the arts. What was revolutionary about bossa nova is that a third-world country was creating high art on its own terms, and selling that art around the world.” —Caetano Veloso in “Why bossa nova is ‘the highest flowering of Brazilian culture”.
When I further investigated, I came upon this quote by José Miguel Wisnik in Robert Stam’s World Literature, Transnational Cinema, and Global Media (2019) which makes the nobrow point explicitly:
The result within MPB (Popular Brazilian Music) was a perhaps unprecedented synthesis of “high” and “low” culture. Wisnik notes the “permeability established, beginning with Bossa Nova, between so-called culture and popular cultural production, forming a field of encounters that cannot be understood within the binary between music of entertainment and creative and informative music.