Virtual Reality for Classical Concert Lovers (Like Me)

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I have never been accused of being a techie, quite the contrary in fact, but even I’m excited by a new project that takes one of my favorite activities—going to a classical music concert—and converts it into a virtual reality experience. The program is called VAN Beethoven, due to the specially outfitted van driven to public event locations throughout LA, where the lucky participants are immersed in a performance of a Beethoven symphony performed by the LA Philharmonic. The interior of the van is a mini concert hall. You put on your VR headset and, as the LA Phil describes it, you are “transported to a 360° 3-D performance” of Beethoven’s Fifth. I never thought I’d want to try one of these new-fangled VR headsets, but for a chance to experience one of my favorite pieces of music in a revolutionary new way, I’d make an exception. A short video can be seen here which explains how it was all done.

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The Artist

We went to a large screen multiplex and sat through the assault on our senses inflicted by nausea inducing coming attractions, only to find bliss watching this beautifully produced homage to early Hollywood. There are a few moments of sound in The Artist, which are astonishing, but the rest of the film is silent, apart from a subtly understated score. I defy you to resist its charms.

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Midnight in Paris

I’m a sucker for any film set in Paris, and the latest Woody Allen is a charming, wistful love letter to my favorite city. The contemporary setting is enriched by magical excursions to several glorious Parisian eras, notably the Belle Epoque of the 1890s and the interlude between the two world wars. Among the many luminaries we run into are Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Toulouse Lautrec and F. Scott Fitzgerald (and his mercurial wife Zelda.) Carla Bruni, wife of French President Sarkozy, makes an appearance as a tour guide, though she should probably keep her day job.

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The Forsyte Saga, 2002 Version

I never saw the original TV adaptation of The Forsyte Sage made in the 60s, but the remake is the most enthralling television I’ve seen in a long while. The physical beauty of the production, the locations and costumes, are matched by knockout performances. You can’t help but be drawn into the lives of the highly dysfunctional Forstye clan from the 1880s to the verge of the Great Depression. The story is about the most basic and universal of themes…family, love, betrayal, obsession, power and money. What else is there?

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The Children of Chabannes

This deeply moving documentary tells the story of a tiny village in France during WWII that was home for over 400 Jewish refugee children. Having recently read about the morally dubious actions of French artists in Paris during the Occupation, it was heartening to hear a story about the courage ordinary human beings can display when facing extraordinary depravity.  Due to the heroism and basic human kindness of a handful of French citizens in a dot on the map called Chabannes, only 4 of 400 hidden children ended their brief lives in the camps. At times harrowing, at times idyllic, the story of how these children were rescued from certain death convinces you that the human spirit can, in fact, triumph over evil.

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I Am Love

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be a wealthy Italian living in a glorious villa in Milan surrounded by the most beautiful things imaginable, “I Am Love” will give you a glimpse. What’s really special about this sumptuous, sensual, ravishingly photographed Italian film is the way the plot escalates. The characters progress from cool sophistication to passionate intensity, leading to a train wreck of a conclusion that left me stupefied. And Tilda Swinton has never been better.

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The Ghost Writer

Fans of Hitchcock should rush to see Roman Polanski’s new thriller, The Ghost Writer. We saw it over the weekend and were bowled over by his brilliant direction. There are interesting parallels to Polanski’s current situation, as an ex-British Prime Minister clearly modeled on Tony Blair (played by Pierce Brosnan) finds himself exiled due to an indictment for war crimes. Of course Polanski has been exiled in one way or another his whole life. The film glides forward seamlessly as the plot elements kick in and the suspense mounts. The acting is uniformly great with numerous big name actors playing relatively minor parts. Just like a good Hitchcock, you feel that you’re in the hands of a master, guiding you confidently through the twists and turns of this intriguing, sophisticated thriller.

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Gloomy Sunday

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I found this 1999 film by trolling through Netflix and didn’t expect much. Turns out it’s an achingly bittersweet love triangle set in a Budapest restaurant in the 1930s, loaded with East European sophistication and world weary charm. Of course we know the Nazis are coming, and when they do the plot ratchets up, but the film remains true to its appealing ménage a trois. The movie ran for six months at an art house in Beverly Hills, and I can understand why. It’s a real sleeper, with a lovely denouement. The song “Gloomy Sunday” that plays a key part in the plot was composed by a Hungarian in the 30s and was rumored to have sparked hundreds of suicides throughout Europe and America.

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An Education

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Saw a delightful film last week that I think marks the arrival of a new star in Carey Mulligan. The film is a coming of age tale set in the early 60s in London about a bright, sheltered teenage girl (Ms. Mulligan) studying for an Oxford scholarship who meets a charming and somewhat mysterious older man. That’s all I’m going to say about this bittersweet comedy, except that if you like great writing and acting, and want to see the breakthrough film by a soon to be major star, then An Education is for you.

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Coco Before Chanel

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Saw this wonderful film recently with Audrey Tautou. All about Coco Chanel before she became Coco Chanel. I enjoyed the sophisticated treatment of her rise, from orphan to music hall singer to country squire’s mistress to proprietor of a small hat shop in Paris. Tautou is excellent as the independent, driven woman who would later revolutionize the fashion world. The photography is magnificent, the costumes are ravishing, and the lush interiors of French country chateaus gave me several ideas for clients. Not to be missed.

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