Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Monster Kid of the Year Walks Among Us!

     Every year, as the Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award spotlights shine on the brightest in their respective fields, the Rondo Awards honor achievements in the darker corners of entertainment, the world of classic horror movies.  People working for monster magazines, spooky DVD releases and scary movie soundtracks are the types who win the internationally-known Rondo Award.  The awards are sponsored by the Classic Horror Film Board, a website dedicated to all things Dracula, Frankenstein, and other creatures that go bump in the night.

     Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro said of the awards, "I love Rondo!"

     Into this misty realm steps producer Paul Larson of Mountain Lake PBS, who has just won the coveted "Monster Kid of the Year" Award, the highest honor of the award program.  Larson, producer of documentaries and the program Art Express, won the award for his work on bonus features for the Shout! Factory blu-ray release "The Vincent Price Collection."  When Larson heard last spring that Shout! was going to release a blu-ray set of 1960s Vincent Price films directed by Roger Corman, including many based on Edgar Allan Poe tales, he remembered a TV series he watched while in elementary school. His hometown PBS station, Iowa Public Television, had produced a film retrospective series in 1982, where Vincent Price himself had come to Des Moines to shoot new introductions for the very same Corman-Poe films.

     They featured the tuxedo-clad actor in an appropriately Gothic Des Moines mansion, speaking about twelve films and his time working with Roger Corman.

     "I contacted Shout! Factory first, the very night I heard they were going to create the blu-ray set," Larson said.  "Then I contacted Iowa Public Television.  I had no idea whether the Vincent Price intros even existed anymore.  They were shot on videotape and were thirty-one years old."

     As luck would have it, Executive Producer Duane Huey called Larson, and said it was a good thing Larson reached out when he did, because Huey was on the verge of retiring and was one of the few people who might know how to locate the long-forgotten footage.  Huey had written the intros for Vincent Price in 1982.

     Huey found the raw footage, and Larson volunteered to edit it back into the intros and outros as he remembered them.  Larson also interviewed Huey to create a brand new bonus feature for the blu-ray set.  "I thought the intros could use some context," Larson said.

  As for the award, "I'm completely elated about this," Larson said.  "People are saying I saved this rare Vincent Price footage before it may have vanished. To think in 1982 I was a kid enjoying Vincent Price introducing his movies in my hometown, and now I've played a role in getting this footage out to a wider audience.  It thrills me!"

     A "monster kid" is someone who has loved the classic monster movies since childhood.  According to the Classic Horror Film Board, the award recognizes Larson's "efforts beyond the call of duty" to help celebrate and preserve the archival materials that help keep these creepy creatures alive. Thousands of horror fans and genre professionals around the world vote for Rondo winners in the annual contest. The award is named after 1930s B-movie actor Rondo Hatton, whose exaggeratedly brutish facial features grace the award bust, and enabled him to play a believable thug in many films.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Hansel und Gretel, Opera de Montreal

Loved it so much I saw it twice!

I've known Humperdinck's exquisite music since childhood, but had never seen Hansel and Gretel performed live on stage until last week.  This production is the latest triumph from Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal, and they staged it in collaboration with the National Theatre School of Canada and the National Circus School.

This is the best opera I have seen.  I suppose I was pre-conditioned to love it, since both the story and the music have always been a part of my life.  The production did impress me.  The staging,  the singing, the live music...all superb! 
Humperdinck's music is enchanting.  The visuals in this production, abstract.  Book pages and German words from the tale compose much of the scenery,  reminding one that the opera originated with a German text by the Brothers Grimm.  It was a real pleasure to hear the opera sung in its original language too.  I'm very happy for the translation provided on an unobtrusive screen above the stage.

The second time I saw it, I noticed how good the acting is in the production.  Gretel looked genuinely scared of the witch.  Hansel, played by a female (following the tradition of this opera, due to the mezzo-soprano voice required for the role) was a believably protective brother.  Also,  sitting close to the front, I noticed the mother froze just before the final curtain fell, holding a broom and giving a hysterical facial expression linking her with the witch.  Hilarious for those of us who noticed, but sad in that, perhaps the happy ending that Hansel and Gretel deserve after their heroism will not be achieved once they settle back into life at home.

Perhaps I went twice to see the ending of the second act another time. The scene in the forest, after the two children sing their evening prayer for angels to guard them while they sleep, was followed by one of the most beautiful spectacles I have ever seen on a stage. Acrobats from the National Circus School, dressed in white, gracefully descended from ladders and higher planes, twirling and defying gravity in slow motion, and gently placed the sleeping children on a white bedspread, eventually covering them with it under a twinkling sky.  Extraordinary!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Joshua Bell to perform in Montreal


For those of you who have not yet seen this violin virtuoso play live, this is a great opportunity.  For those of yo who have already seen him, you may be tempted to go again.  Joshua Bell will perform at the Maison Symphonique de Montreal on Tuesday, February 25 at 8pm.

Joshua Bell is a Grammy Award-winning violinist and conductor whose work can be heard on many Sony Classical CDs, and movie soundtracks, including the hauntingly beautiful The Red Violin, which was made, in part, in Montreal.