Therese Honey: Harp Tunes for Cold Nights

Summer’s End
Waterbug 108

Some instrumental albums force you to dance; Therese Honey’s solo harp release makes you want to hunker down with a fleece and a steaming mug of cocoa. She’s titled it Summer’s End, but the mood is midwinter. The ambience is enhanced by the glassy tone of Honey’s harp, the skill with which she plays high scales, her tendency to let her strings ring rather than stopping them, and her downy touch on those strings. It begs a positive spin on the adjective ‘icy,’ as in crispness and stark contrasts. Honey’s repertoire of original, traditional, and covers is mostly drawn from or inspired by Celtic composers, lands, and legends. There are the obligatory Turlough O’Carolan pieces, tunes drawn from the O’Neill and Bunting collections, and a few learned from Grainne Hambly. As this suggests, Honey’s playing tends toward the formal side of the ledger, even when she’s plucking out a jig or reel. You’ll find old favorites such as “Hewlett,” “Moving Clouds,” and “Queen of Yarrow,” and accomplished originals such as the title track and “Connealy Rose.” There’s also a surprisingly lilting rendition of “Bonaparte Crossing the Rockies,” a reworked variant of the popular hornpipe “Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine.” What makes Honey’s rendition unusual is that the variant is a bluegrass standard generally cranked out with deliberate homespun raggedness. No rough stuff from Ms. Honey; she’s as inviting as that cup of cocoa with my name on it.

Rob Weir


August: Osage County--Overactors of Hollywood Unite!

 August: Osage County (2013)
Directed by John Wells
Weinstein Group, 121 minutes, R (language)

Wrestling for the coveted "Greatest Overacting Award."
What we’ve learned from the moves lately is that living in flat places like Montana, Nebraska, and Oklahoma can make you nuts. Apparently Oklahoma also produces horrendous acting, if August: Osage County is any indication. Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: Julia Roberts out-acts Meryl Streep. Here’s another: That’s because Streep’s latest performance is her career worst. She’s not alone, though. A “412” is actors’ slang for overacting and if there were 412 Oscars, the cast of Osage County would clean out the trophy case.

The film is ostensibly a twist on the adage: “The sins of the father are visited upon the son.” This time it’s the sins of the mother. Violet Weston (Streep) is a pill-popping bitter woman suffering from mouth cancer, and from benign neglect from her brilliant world-weary poet-husband Beverly (Sam Shepard in a cameo) . He’s had it with her Wicked Witch of the West act and has hired Johanna Monevata, a local Cheyenne woman (Misty Upham), to be a housekeeper and wedge between him and Violet. When Bev dies (accident or suicide?), the extended Weston family descends upon the homestead to bury Bev and pick up the pieces.

Hank Williams once sang, “A house without love is not a home,” and this is certainly true of the Westons. There’s not an ounce of kindness between Violet and her three daughters: Barbara (Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), and Karen (Juliette Lewis). Violet is equal parts abusive and manipulative toward her younger sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and her huband, Charlie (Chris Cooper). She is sharp-minded, sharp-tongued, and occasionally funny, but Violet is as Machiavellian and mean-spirited as her own mother had been. Of course, she is powerfully resented by her daughters, all of whom are convinced they are nothing like her when, in truth, they’re chips off the old blockhead.

Barbara is a control freak in the midst of a disintegrating marriage to Bill Fordham (Ewan McGregor), and estranged from her 14-year-old daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin). Ivy is the stay-behind daughter who is dutiful on the outside, but is so filled with resentment and fury that she’s about to explode; Karen is a trashy floozie dating the older Porsche-drving huckster Steve (Dermot Mulroney), who is literally and metaphorically taking her for a ride. Also in the mix is “Little” Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch), Mattie Fae’s son, whom she abuses and demeans at every opportunity.

Tracy Letts wrote the screenplay, which was based on her Broadway play. There’s  plenty here for a skilled director to shape but, alas, Wells isn’t that director. He’s best known for his work on television and he simply isn’t up to the task of laying down the law to all the star power and egos involved in this film. Streep plays Violet like Michael Bolton sings–she starts at 110 decibels and stays there. Her performance isn’t dramatic, it’s histrionic. Roberts is far superior because at least her anger smoulders before it ignites, but playing off of Streep’s overwrought tantrums, even cool Julia bursts into lighter-fluid-fanned flames. The less said about Juliette Lewis, the better; her performance is inept and embarrassing. Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t have much to do, but he does it badly in a performance that runs the gamut from moping to really moping. Even the usually delightful Abigail Breslin slips; she plays a 14-year-old living dangerously as if she’s reduxing an old Christina Ricci role.

There are a few highlights. Julianne Nicholson is quite good because she plays her cards close to the vest instead of waving them in front of our faces. McGregor also does a nice job of repeatedly retightening the lid on the lamp, lest the genie (destructive outbursts) escape. Misty Upham is quielty present but forceful whilst being a leaf upon a raging stream, though we do wonder why she doesn’t leave all these Pugnacious Pale Faces to drown in their own bile. Best of all is Chris Cooper, a mostly silent man who’d be content just to be a good person, except for all the bullshit he’s forced to shovel and dodge. His perfomance has something most of the others lack; I believe they call it sublety.

This film is up for quite a few Oscars, but don’t be fooled–it’s what you’d get if you took the humor out of Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch and mashed it with a high school production of A Long Day’s Journey Into Night and shocking revelations รก la Chinatown. It’s my least favorite type of movie: 412s masquerading as weighty high art. Rob Weir


Intent to Deceive: Can You Spot the Fake?

Intent to Deceive: Fakes and Forgeries in the Art World
D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts (Springfield, MA)
Through April 27, 2014

Take a look at this luscious painting by Van Gogh. All his mastery is on display–the psychedelic colors, the thickly applied oils, and bucolic tranquility that looks as if it’s about to be devoured by the swirling sun burning across the horizon. The work is so vivid that we can imagine the mad, paint-splattered Vincent attacking his canvass with brushes and palette knife. Except that what you’re seeing is actually by John Myatt.

And what a treat to drive the 20 miles to Springfield and gaze upon Vermeer’s classic Girl with the Pearl Earring. The last time I saw it, I had to board a plane to Amsterdam and board a train for The Hague. Now that the Mauritshuis is closed for renovation, the Vermeers are free to travel. All is good, except that the image before me isn’t Vermeer; it’s Myatt again.

Intent to Deceive features five talented individuals: Myatt (1945-), Elmyr de Hory (1906-76), Han Van Meegeren (1899-1947), Eric Hebborn (1934-), and Mark Landis (1955-). You have to be talented to do what they did: make the art world think your knock-off is the Real McCoy. A newly opened exhibit at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts explores the world of art forgers. Its purpose is didactic, not laudatory. One should not equate art forgers with romantic double agents–their mischief has sidetracked careers, tarnished museum reputations, and triggered untold millions of dollars in financial losses. There are an estimated 1,000 works hanging on museum walls posing as master works that are actually by de Hory. The next time you see a museum label identifying a work as “attributed to,” chances are you’re gazing at a fraud. That may not be entirely bad. Stay with me on this seemingly outrageous remark.

The first question on everyone’s mind is: “How did the forgers get away with it?” This brings us back to the fact that one must be a superior artist even to attempt such a thing. This, in turn, begs the question of how value is assigned to art. A friend of mine judges so-called masterpieces by framing them in a question rather than gilt: “If you saw this painting at a yard sale, how much would you pay for it?” A real Van Gogh would sell for over a hundred million dollars; a faux Van Gogh for several hundred. Is the genuine article really 50,000 times better than Myatt’s work? Before you take the high ground, consider that tens of thousands of satisfied visitors annually leave a Las Vegas museum that admits its walls are adorned with simulacra.

This begs the question of whether the ultra-rich and self-anointed arbiters of public taste are complicit in the forgery trade. It’s a bit like the issue of why some athletes cheat by using steroids–because the potential monetary gain seems to justify the risk. The deceivers showcased in the exhibit made very good money off collectors, art houses, and museums more focused on value than artistry. None of the painters have made that much money with their own canvases, yet each was good enough to pass as a master.    

One can both deplore theft and raise questions about the culture of ridiculous accumulation. Take de Hory, for instance. A 1969 biography detailed de Hory’s shady career. It was penned by none other than Clifford Irving, who two years later published (and was eventually jailed for) a falsified autobiography of Howard Hughes. Did these men commit fraud for a lark, or was it for the lolly? A shadowy character named John Drewe sold several Myatt works as masters before the artist knew about it. Why did Myatt eventually go along? Follow the money.

If you’re looking for ‘good’ guys, check out the details on panel boards that explain how forgers are exposed. It’s real CSI stuff involving connoisseurship, meticulous tracking of a work’s provenance, and technical analysis (much of it using technology not available when some of the works were produced). One fascinating revelation is how an eagle-eyed art detective noticed that two prints allegedly from different time periods used the same paper. That’s a real connoisseur at work, but basic homework would have averted a lot of fraud. Myatt and Landis, for instance, legally sold acknowledged copies on the open market. 

Intent to Deceive is about mischief-makers, con men, and rubes. Its final section has small works and forgeries side by side. We are invited to identify which is fake and which is real. Can you do it? Here’s a painting. It’s a de Hory, not a Modigliani. If nothing else, Intent to Deceive made me look more closely than I normally do. It’s the only way to appreciate a true Modigliani.--Rob Weir