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Short Takes
B O O K S
CHANCES OF A LIFETIME By Warren Christopher The memoirs of diplomats can tend toward the turgid, but Christopher has managed to be colorful and concise as he trots through the tales of 40 years in public service ranging from Deputy Attorney General under Lyndon Johnson to Secretary of State under Bill Clinton. What makes the book engaging is the diversity of material--from the race riots in Watts to the war in the Balkans--and the deft sketches of the characters he meets along the way. Though lacking in Dean Acheson's wicked wit or Henry Kissinger's grand concepts, Christopher's earnest approach has its charms.

ENGLISH PASSENGERS By Matthew Kneale North is north and south is south in this 19th century sea story that contended for Britain's prestigious Booker Prize last year and came out in a U.S. paperback edition last month. The novel follows the voyage of the Sincerity, a smuggling vessel that takes on a party of highbrow landlubbers bound for the island of Tasmania. One of them, the Reverend Geoffrey Wilson, believes that the Garden of Eden is located on the island and seeks to prove this as part of a great effort to debunk modern scientific theories of geology and evolution. Also on board is Dr. Thomas Potter, another amateur philosopher with a strange pet theory. Potter is a systematic racist, out to classify and pigeonhole what he believes to be the world's inferior strains of humankind. These men have a terrible surprise in store for them. Tasmania's British colonists have been warring with the Aborigines, and the Sincerity is sailing unwittingly into the heart of darkness. The book is a thinking person's shipboard yarn, morally complex, stylistically inspired, yet rich in straightforward romance and adventure.

THE BULLFIGHTER CHECKS HER MAKEUP By Susan Orlean The profiles in this collection range from skater Tonya Harding and designer Bill Blass to Spain's pre-eminent female matador and New York City's pre-eminent vendor of ceiling fans. The metaphors in these wryly detached yet not dispassionate observations rarely miss. (Blass is described as someone who "no matter where he is, he looks as if he might be standing on the deck of a big sailboat.") But just as evocative as Orlean's sketches of people are her renderings of place. The portrait of Harding's hometown in Clackamas County, Ore., reveals as much about the skater as her words and deeds do themselves.

C I N E M A
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE Directed by Wong Kar-wai Whispers in doorways. Long, longing looks. Desire at war with propriety. This enthralling, enigmatic, romantic drama from Asia's most influential auteur (Chungking Express) is an essay in appetite and inhibition. In 1962 Hong Kong, two neighbors (Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-wai) learn that their spouses are having an affair with each other. Slowly they are drawn into their own web of resentment, guilt and lust. Do the cuckolds have their own affair? That is for the viewer to judge. What's beyond dispute is the artful evocation of a world of glamour and deceit, humidity and heartbreak--it's the year's first unmissable film event. Recommended to anyone who's ever felt the fear and lure of falling in love.

D V D
TREASURES FROM AMERICAN FILM ARCHIVES No hype here: there are nearly 11 hours of buried treasures, most of them from the first half century of movies, all rescued and restored by nonprofit institutions. Among the finds in this handsome four-disc set are footage of Orson Welles' 1936 "Voodoo" Macbeth and Marian Anderson's 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial; a 1901 trick film transferred from paper prints; a 1905 ride on a New York City subway; such avant-garde classics as The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) and Joseph Cornell's Rose Hobart (1936), a work with such power to shock that Salvador Dali, in the first-night audience, kicked over the projector. Modern viewers should jump for joy at this collection--a heroic work of excavation and, at $99.99, an ideal Valentine's Day gift for and from film lovers.

M U S I C
RELATIONSHIP OF COMMAND AT THE DRIVE-IN AND FROZEN POOL Christina Rosenvinge Rockers who run their own labels are often in search of the Next Small Thing--acts that can appeal to cult audiences first, and if they go on to something bigger, fine. At the Drive-In hails from El Paso, Texas, and is slowly building a larger--though not necessarily large--following. The group's new CD, Relationship of Command, released on the rap group Beastie Boys' Grand Royal label, deftly combines punk ferocity with artful though sometimes inscrutable lyrics. Like heavyweight champs, the band works the head and the body and scores points in both areas. Drummer Steve Shelley of the underground rock band Sonic Youth met Christina Rosenvinge, a Spanish singer, while he was traveling in Europe. Frozen Pool, her debut for his label, Smells Like Records, boasts an elegant cool, with Rosenvinge's crisp vocals breezing along like winter winds over smooth snowdrifts. The listener, chilly but charmed, is carried away.

WHEN SKIES ARE GREY Ron Carter From his early days in Miles Davis' quintet to his groundbreaking work with the rap trio A Tribe Called Quest, Ron Carter is the rare bassist who propels music as much with his ideas as his skills. On this, his first album-length experiment with Latin jazz, Carter realizes that others have come before him, so rather than beat the congas to a pulp, his expert quartet, featuring ace percussionist Steve Kroon, flirts with them. Latin classics like Besame Mucho and Corcovado are splendidly reworked into disciplined, mid-tempo jazz tunes, while samba-flavored Carter originals Loose Change and Mi Tempo prove that playing in the cultural middle ground has its own intellectual thrill.

T H E A T E R
GLIMMER, GLIMMER AND SHINE By Warren Leight The Glimmer Brothers are old-time jazzmen, long estranged. Martin (John Spencer) has kept faith with the music--and with self-destruction. Daniel (Nicolas Surovy) has settled for suburban prosperity and forgetfulness. Shine (Jonathan Silverman), the son of a man who played with them, effects a reconciliation while pursuing Daniel's daughter (Alexa Fischer). Leight won a Tony for Side Man, also about musical lives. This play, now at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum, is slicker, more manipulative. It is saved by Spencer (of TV's West Wing), whose towering rage at the dying light is awesome and hilarious.

T O U R S
BLACK & BLUE WORLD TOUR Backstreet Boys The group's show at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., on Feb. 3 started with a simulated meteor shower and gradually grew more frantic. The music, like good sportsmanship at an XFL game, was subordinate to spectacle.




February 19, 2001 Vol. 157 No. 7




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