Arts & Culture

Award-winning novelist and former St. Louisan Jonathan Franzen is a hot topic in the media world — again.

Christine Brewer
Christian Steiner

Christine Brewer is a woman of extraordinary talent and artistic gumption, and in recent years has emerged as one of the most highly regarded sopranos in all the world.

At the beginning of the month, a report came out from the Pew Hispanic Center reporting that illegal immigration into the country had declined "sharply since mid-decade."

According to the study, which used U.S. Census Bureau data, the number of undocumented immigrants in the country dropped 8 percent, from 12 million in March 2007 to 11.1 million in March 2009. 

Kelley Johnson's show, "Recent Paintings," at Bruno David Gallery, offers a dizzying looking into spaces, both deep and shallow, punctuated by gnarled abstract structures that teeter on the brink of collapse. Johnson's forceful, confident handling of the paint demands your full attention, and rewards you with a serious case of vertigo.

The 10 canvases in this show come in two sizes, medium and large; but within those dimensional confines Johnson produces an astonishing array of formal effects.

The death of Claude Chabrol this weekend provides further proof that the masters of the Nouvelle Vague, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year (depending on how you determine its origin), are all in their sunset years even as their films, new and old, continue to shine.

Capt. Steve Mossotti of the Mehlville Fire Department
Mary Delach Leonard | 2010 St. Louis Beacon photo

St. Louis veterans joined with area residents Saturday morning to honor and remember the victims and heroes of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks during a reflective walk and patriotic ceremony at Jefferson Barracks Park.

Charlotte Ward among the planters
Provided by the Wards

Charlotte had been a banking and real estate lawyer whose true love was gardens and English style ornaments. Daniel had been a leather maker, director of perennials and horticulture before deciding he was going to concoct a limestone hardy enough to withstand all that nature could deliver.

Finally, some encouraging news. While wading through the seemingly endless litany of wars going badly, economies gone south, broken dreams, busted marriages and what Charles Bukowski once called “the routine tales of ordinary madness,” I came across a glimmer of hope, thanks to a report published by Time/CNN. Turns out drinkers — even heavy drinkers — tend to outlive their teetotaling counterparts.

I’ve made it my personal business in the past year or so to introduce some of my students at Washington U. as well as some St. Louis County friends to the terra incognita that stretches east from Skinker Boulevard to the Mississippi River and beyond. Delight in cycling enlivens these adventures, but some pedagogical wheels are spinning too, responding to students’ and acquaintances’ lack of awareness of the deep and wide resources of the city of St. Louis.

Breathless stars Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.
Screen shot | Wikipedia

"Breathless," the iconic French New Wave movie from 1960, is being re-released in an impeccable new print, and it opens Friday, Sept. 10, at the Tivoli. In part homage to the low-budget American crime movies that flooded Europe after World War II, in part a brilliant exercise in stylistic innovation, the movie remains a landmark of 20th century cinema.

The “Gorky Park” series gave Martin Cruz Smith the “overnight success” label that's reserved for those who have been toiling in his field for years. “Gorky Park,” which the author sold for $1 million in 1981, was called by Time magazine the “thriller of the ’80s,” and was made into a successful movie two years later.

Smith will discuss and sign his new novel, “Three Stations,” at St. Louis County Library Headquarters on Sept. 13. This is the latest in the heralded series of seven murder mysteries that feature Senior Investigator Arkady Renko of Moscow.

For time immemorial, theatrical renderings of adolescent angst have revolved around typical themes of boy-meets-girl, or occasionally, boy-meets-boy or girl-meets-girl.

But boy-meets-horse? Though the premise is a rarity, the play’s not exactly new. “Equus,” first produced in 1973 and presented by St. Louis’ HotCity Theatre Sept. 10-25, tells the story of 17-year-old Alan Strang (Drew Pannebecker) and his sexual and religious preoccupation with horses.

A crazy thing happened last week. A friend of mine, chief executive of Nurses for Newborns Foundation, posted a Facebook status noting that their diaper reserves had been reduced to zero. For those who are not familiar with Facebook, the "Status" is a line of text at the top of your profile that some update more than others and people use to convey everything from the weather to how they are feeling to true confessions. When you log in to Facebook, the home page displays status updates and other postings from your circle of friends in chronological order.

Just this past week I finally got to Frontenac Plaza to see “Winter’s Bone.” A friend had urged it on me a month ago. I’m sorry I put it off, but relieved that Frontenac’s policy is to hold over remarkable films so long. If you’ve seen it yourself, or read Harper Barnes’ splendid June review , you know (I trust) what a fine drama it is, and what remarkable performances are in it.

Debbie Lum will visit her native St. Louis later this month on an interesting errand. Originally, she was set to arrive, purely to celebrate her mother’s 70th birthday. That aspect of the trip is still alive, but a few wrinkles have been added onto the itinerary of the San Francisco-based video editor and filmmaker.

Last week I was frustrated trying to bring the news to as many people as possible. In preparing coverage for the upcoming election, I kept running into unexpected problems.

Despite all of our modern conveniences and all of our carefully thought out philosophies and all of our civilized contrivances ... our clothes and cars and technology ... we are, in the end, mammals. It's a fact we seem to forget.

Among the most significant impacts of civilization on our animal existence is that we have become freakishly sedentary. No other animal sits around us much as we do.

(Even the incredibly slow moving sloth is strong enough to hang from tree limbs for an entire lifetime, so don't even go there.)

Half the Fun.

Getting there that is. This implies that being there is the other half. Two halves make one. What about planning and getting ready? That's a lot of fun, too. So the end result is better than 100 percent.

I like that and my right brain looks for that kind of solution. If it were math, maybe it'd qualify to be called "an elegant solution." Well, maybe a little brother of one.

Unlike some major movie stars of today, George Clooney is not reluctant to take on roles that don't always reflect the best in human nature. In "The American," Clooney plays Jack, a high-priced assassin who works in Europe. Jack knows that the rules of his profession don't permit sentimentality or mercy, and, in the taut opening scene of the movie, set in deep snow in the beautiful Swedish wood, he acts accordingly. The scene, with cold and ruthless efficiency, sets up the rest of the movie, both its tone and its tale.

Francesca Williams and sculptor Don Wiegand stand before a shrouded mockup of the proposed statue of Tennessee Williams.
Sheila Rhodes

When Francesca Williams put on scuba gear for her first lesson on Saturday, Aug. 14, she was on the 37th day of an attempt to do 50 new things in 50 days to celebrate her 50th birthday on Aug. 28.

50 by 50

Since she kicked off her 50-things marathon on July 10, Francesca Williams had already tried shooting a hand gun, flying in a glider, getting ordained as a minister, writing 50 haikus in a day, attending a strip club, eating a fried Twinkie and spending the day at a nudist resort.