Grateful Hearts

During the 1970s Paul Williams’s talents as a singer, songwriter, composer and actor were in high demand. His song, “Evergreen”— sung by Barbara Streisand for the film A Star is Born—won an Academy Award and reached number one on the pop charts. He produced similar hits for the Carpenters, Helen Reddy, and David Bowie. He wrote the celebrated score for Bugsy Malone, and appeared in numerous films himself—stealing the show as a wisecracking bootlegger in Smokey and the Bandit. On television, Williams became a ubiquitous presence, co-hosting the Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas shows, and appearing on the Tonight Show an astonishing forty-eight times. In 1979, Williams became even more famous when he wrote The Rainbow Connection, the theme for Jim Henson’s Muppet Movie. Continue Reading »

The Five Stages of Grieving the Art of Jeff Koons

It is Sunday night, and the Whitney Museum of American Art has been open for thirty-some hours straight. The line for this last chance to see the Jeff Koons retrospective wraps around the block. Fittingly, these are also the last hours of the Whitney Museum itself, at least in its upper East Side manifestation (their new building opens in Chelsea next year). Visiting the hideous structure one last time is like reaching out to pet the old family dog before he gets put to sleep—only to have your hand bitten. The inverted ziggurat architecture has always been an exercise in anti-effort with the art to match. A longstanding top floor feature was Marcel Duchamp’s In Advance of the Broken Arma snow shovel the artist purchased and declared art by fiat. Once elusive, the meaning is now clear. Here is the tool that has authorized the Whitney to pile it high. Koons’s towering mound of polychrome aluminum Play-Doh, the highlight of the show, is the simply the crest of the heap. Continue Reading »

Their Decadence and Ours

The last quarter of the nineteenth century saw movements calling themselves “decadent” in both England and France, and from the modern reader’s perspective there is very little that separates Oscar Wilde and Arthur Symons, on one hand, and Joris-Karl Huysmans and Villiers de L’Isle Adam on the other. They wrote in the same exquisitely mannered prose, embraced the same cult of artifice and ornament, took as their anti-heroes the same dissolute aristocrats bemoaning the same prevailing philistinism. At the end of Villiers’ play Axël, the hero withdraws from the world with the parting cry, “As for living, the servants will do that for us.” That is a line Walter Pater would have applauded from his box, if he could have bestirred himself to do something so vigorous. Continue Reading »

Colbert’s Double Game

The cognoscenti tell me that Stephen Colbert, who is a self-identified faithful member of a Church that teaches that homosexual inclinations are intrinsically disordered and that sodomy is a mortal sin, is a smart guy—a really smart guy. Evidently, his shtick is to adopt the persona of a certain type of individual whom he regards as intellectually and morally inferior to himself so that he can ridicule people of that sort. This, I’m told, is the kind of humor that people who watch Stephen Colbert, who is a self-identified faithful member of a Church that teaches that homosexual inclinations are intrinsically disordered and that sodomy is a mortal sin, relish. Continue Reading »

“The Art of the Beautiful” Lecture Series

Announcing the the Art of the Beautiful Lecture Series. The Catholic Artists Society and the Thomistic Institute present a series of lectures on a Catholic understanding of the Arts. Eminent artists, theologians, and writers will be exploring the nature of art and its role in society. Continue Reading »

Take Me to Church

Dear Hozier: Your overtly theological song titles lured me in. “From Eden”? “Take Me To Church”? Once I read some of your anti-Church comments, I girded my theological loins for a smackdown; I didn’t want to like you. But, as it turns out, I think you’re really good. Your sound is hypnotic, many of your lyrics poetic (comparatively speaking). I like the fusion of blues, jazz, pop, and gospel. There is a pulse and a crackling sparseness and a dark beauty to many of your songs. I’ve had your album on repeat on Spotify for the past week, despite myself. You’ve stirred my lingering desire to become a singer-songwriter—nearly enough for me to pick up my guitar. Continue Reading »

Politics and the Arts

Jed Perl warns in the August 25 issue of the New Republic of a new threat to the arts. Art for art’s sake has been displaced by a view of “art as a comrade-in-arms to some more supposedly stable or substantial or readily comprehensible aspect of our world.” Art is losing its “purposeful purposelessness” and is becoming a bondservant to “some more general system of social, political, and moral values.” It’s hardly news, Perl knows, when art is enlisted for some extra-artistic cause. The new danger is that many have drawn the conclusion that “art has no independent life.” Continue Reading »

John Updike the Blogger

Every critic knows that John Updike was a gleeful child of his age, but did he rise above it? The common complaint against him is that the greatness of his style eclipsed the thinness of his substance, and Adam Begley’s new biography, full of insightful and sympathetic detail, does little to dim such prejudices. Begley portrays Updike as a man who could not stop writing and as a writer who could not stop thinking about himself. For Begley, in fact, Updike comes across as America’s first (and finest) blogger. Continue Reading »

The Scandal of Calvary

Is it possible for a film to capture the horror of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church while at the same time presenting a case for the necessity of the institutional priesthood? Against all odds, this is exactly what Irish director John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary manages to do. Father James (played with magnificent presence by Brendan Gleeson) is a good priest, if a haunted one. He is a widower and an alcoholic with a suicidal daughter and a parish full of troubled townspeople in rural Ireland. One afternoon a parishioner confesses to him that he was serially raped by a now-deceased priest as a child, and as a way of taking revenge, he will kill Fr. James in a week. Continue Reading »