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Notebook

Notebook, 1993-

APPROACHES - In The Words Of . . . .

From: Ferrier, Jean-Louis, Director and Yann le Pichon, Walter D. Glanze [English Translation]. Art of Our Century, The Chronicle of Western Art, 1900 to the Present. New York: Prentice-Hall Editions. 1988.

1990 Preveiws from
36 Creative Artists

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By the time a play, or a dance, or a piece of music reaches the stage, or a movie makes it to the screen, or an artwork is unveiled, it has often been years--sometimes decades--since its creator first conceived of it. On the eve of 1990, The New York Times asked three dozen creative artists about their projects for the coming year. Their responses represent the spectrum of the creative process, from initial spark to final preparations for opening night.

Martha Clarke, Director, choreographer, writer
I'm working on "Endangered Species," a co-production between the Music Theater Group and the Brooklyn Academy of Music that will open in October at BAM. I think of this piece as a requiem for nature. David Balding, the director of Circus Flora in Charleston, is a collaborator. We're using dancers, actors, singers, as well as Flora the Elephant, a monkey, a giraffe and goats. Actors and dancers are learning traditional circus skills, which we'll use for dramatic expression. The piece covers the Civil War, the Holocaust and the Amazonian rain forest, among other things.

Martin Scoresese, Film maker
IÍm trying to finish editing my new film, "Good Fellas," which is based on Nicholas Pileggi's book, "Wiseguy," and stars Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta. It's about a young man growing up in the Mafia from 1955 to 1980. It's more about the life style than about the details of who did what to whom. The biggest challenge for me was the style of the picture. It's a combination of documentary, drama and comedy.

I'll also be appearing as an actor in "Dreams," a new flim by Akira Kurosawa, who's an idol of mine. The film is about nine dreams that Kurosawa has had since he was a child. The day after I finished shooting "Good Fellas," I went to Japan to play van Gogh in a sequence set in a wheat field.


Lar Lubovitch, Choreographer
I'm about three-quarters of the way through a new large-scale piece called "From Paris to Jupiter," which will have its world premiere during our New York season this February at City Center. It's set to Mozart's 40th Symphony, a monumental piece of music that triggered my inner eye. It has a bit of a trick title because the 40th Symphony is the one between the Paris and Jupiter symphonies. I also chose the title because of the beauty of the images it evokes and the implication of space and energy that exists between two such diverse points as Paris and Jupiter.

Joni Mitchell, Singer-songwriter
I'm about three-quarters through my new album. My last few albums have been more symphonic and musically expanisve, so that the voice was a color in a large orchestra. This album is more intimate: the voice is forward and the acoustic guitar is the main instrument. I think I now have more textural range as a singer. I'm a chain smoker, so the rasp that I've picked up over the years actually enables me to sing rock 'n' roll better. Lyrically, this album deals with matters of the heart. I've even written some middle-aged love songs. I quess that's inevitable.

Bill T. Jones, Choreographer; director, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane and Company
I'm in the early stages of a new work that I'm choreographing and directing called "The Last Super at Uncle Tom's Cabin," which will have its world premiere next fall at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I think of Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel as a wonderful liberal tract. Arnie Zane and I were talking about the Last Supper a couple of months before he died, and the idea of the Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin sort of started as a joke. After Arnie died, I began to look more closely at the idea. There is so much about people being torn from each other and people in pursuit of each other and with the kind of robust, athletic partnering that we do, I think we'll produce something quite evocative.

Elizabeth Lecompte, Artistic director, the Wooster Group
The Group is working on "brace Up," a large piece set in the future. I've been watching a lot of samurai films from the 50's and they all have subtitles. There's a certain point when the samurai warrior is dying--he has four swords sticking out of him--and another one of his cohorts is cradling him and saying something very strongly to the warrior in Japanese, which always comes out translated as "brace up." The piece should be a mixture of a lot of laughter and a lot of horror. There will be a lot more dance in this one. John Lurie and Lawrence (Butch) Morris are composiing music for the piece, which we hope to preview this spring.

Eric Fischl, Artist
I've been working on a series of paintings of India inspired by a trip I took there last February. They are the opposite of St. Tropez, which is where I went to get inspired for many of my earlier paintings. There, people lie around naked, whereas the Indians are completely covered--so there's this fantastic erotic mystery to them.

Jessye Norman, Opera singer
I'm collaborating with Robert Wilson on "Alceste" for my Chicago Opera debut in September. I seem to spend a great deal of time singing roles about long-suffering and rather noble women, and Alceste really does fall into that category.

Penny Marshall, Film director
I'm in the midst of shooting "Awakenings"--with Robert De Niro and Robin Wliliams--which is based on Dr. Oliver Sacks's case studies involving his work with post-encephalitic patients in 1969. They couldn't talk, they couldn't do anything, so they were just written off as brain dead. Their minds were trapped inside their bodies. It's mainly about how we imprison ourselves in our own little neurotic worlds while there are other people imprisoned by much bigger things. We've been shooting in a psychiatric hospital in Brooklyn. Because it's such a serious subject, we try to keep the set as light as possible. When I need to go think, I say, "Robin, entertain them for a while."

Michael Feinstein, SInger-pianist
I had an idea last year to produce a series of albums featuring notable songwriters presenting their own songs exactly as they want them to be heard. I just finished recording an album with Burton Lane that will be out in March. Burton does all of the playing and sings on a few tracks. I'm about to do an album with Jule Styne. We're in the process of making decisions about whether it will just be me singing, whether we might do a couple of duets, whether we want to have dialogue on the album.

Steven Soderbergh, Film maker
I've just started writing the screenplay of "The Last Ship," based on a novel by William Brinkley, which I hope to start shooting in the spring. The book is about the men and women aboard a naval destroyer who are apparently the only survivors of a nuclear Holocaust. What drew me to the book was the subject matter: it's men and women again.

Christopher Hampton, Playwright, screenwriter
I'm writing a new play for the National Theater. It's about my childhood in Egypt at the time of the Suez Crisis. I've never written anything autobiographical before, so it's been very difficult finding a tone.

Alice Aycock, Sculptor
I'm working on a retrospective at the Storm King Art Center in Orange County, NY, which will open in May. I'll be building two new pieces that will use the landscape. My early work dealt with siting things on and in the land. This wrok will deal with the landscape in a much more self-conscious way. I'll be using earth and trees on top of a manmade environment with an inverted pyramid resting on a sphere. The landscape will emerge out of the top of that.

Barry Levinson, Film director
I'm back in Baltimore shooting "Avalon," which is about the Americanization of my family. My grandparents were Russian-Polish immigrants, and the film follows a family over a period of time. There are these moments when I feel like I'm flashing back in my life. This film alludes to a time when the family played a strong and influential role in our behavior and in the way that we functioned in the community.

Kent Nagano, Conductor
In January at the Opera Company of Lyons we'll begin a Puccini cycle with "Madam Butterfly," which has never been performed there. Later I'll be working with the San Francisco Orchestra, which is a treat since it's my hometown. In August I'll be working with the Los Angeles opera on "Nixon in China," In November we finish the season in Lyons with "La Bohème" and go on getting the company ready for the opening of the renovated opera house in 1992.

Ken Burns, Film Maker
I'm in the final throes of post-production on "The Civil War," a nine-part film that has taken me five years to make--longer, in fact, than it took to fight the Civil War. PBS plans to air it in the fall over one week. The film covers not only the great generals and Presidents, but ordinary people. We tell the story with old photographs of the period, live cinematography of the now-quiet battlefields and with a chorus of voices reading journals and love letters.

Edward Zwick, TV and film director and writer
I'll continue to be involved with the TV series "Thirtysomething." Physically I was gone from the show for only about four months [to direct the film "Glory"], but mentally I had pulled away a year prior to that. I feel a moral obligation to get back. The show has been an opportunity to learn, make mistakes and grow in a more protective environment than flims. Beyond that, I'll begin working on a screen adaptation of "Legends of the Fall," a novella by Jim Harrison. It's set in Montana in 1917, and it's about place and tradition.

Wim Wenders, Film director
I'm finally in pre-production after five years of pre-pre-production on my new film, "Until the End of the World." It takes place in the year 1999 through the year 2000 and will be shot in 15 countries. There is quite a lot of work to do because we have to work out how these places might look 10 years from now. I wrote the first version in 1977, and everything I envisioned for the year 2000 has long occurred. The film follows five characters all through the world. It's a chase: A woman follows a man she's fallen in love with and she's followed by a man who still loves her. Those three are flolowed by two other people for very particular reasons. They all end up together in the Australian desert.

Edward Villella, Artistic director, Miami City Ballet
Jerry Robbins called up and asked me to dance "Watermill" during the Robbins retrospective at the New York City Ballet this June. I told Jerry that my ego would love to do it, but that I'd have to consult my body. The first thing I'm going to do is get back into fully performance-toned shape. The downside is I'm going to have to start drinking light beer.

Kenneth Branagh, Actor; artistic director, the Renaissance Theater Company
We will make our American debut in January at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles with "King Lear" and "Midsummer Night's Dream." We'll then travel to Tokyo, Europe, Chicago and Toronto. We've tried to put an edge on "Midsummer" that looks at the wood as a very nightmarish place; what the fairies do stops a little short of evil. Our fairies eat bugs and live in the ground. All the way through this glorious essay on love is a very uneasy look at the kind of madness and extremity of passion that the situation of being in love can push us to.

Bill Murray, Actor, comedian, director
We're almost finished editing "Quick Change," a film that Howard Franklin and I co-directed. The challenge was doing five weeks of night shooting on the streets of New York. Somebody on the set even got shot at. Night shooting is tough: You feel like a Swedish person because you don't see light for five weeks. We like to call the film an urban comedy for the 80s and beyond. It's about some people who want to get out of New York so they take a one-shot stab at crime. I play one of them.

Peter Eisenman, Architect
I'm finishing the working drawings for the Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. It's supposed to begin construction in April. The convention center is on the same street as the Wexner Center, but it's completely different. The forms are much softer and more malleable and sensuous. There are no grids, no harsh forms--if you look at the grid and the scaffolding of the Wexner Center, you say, "That's Peter Eisenman." The convention center marks a complete change in attitude. These days, I'm more interested in a subtle transformation of achitectural conventions than in the kind of frontal attack that I sometimes made.

Anthony Burgess, Novelist, playwright
I wrote a musical stage version of "A Clockwork Orange," called "A Clockwork Orange 2004," a few years ago and this February the Royal Shakespeare Company is producing it. The music is being composed by what we call a "pop group" named U2. I'd never heard of them. I don't like the book, but I got fed up with rock groups writing to me all the time wanting to do their own version. Some of the scripts they produced were so horrible that I thought the best thing to do was to stop all this amateurish nonsense by producing a definitive version. I've written the lyrics as well. We end up now with what I hope will be my farewell to the book. I haven't been able to get rid of it. I get a lot of mail from kids who say they've just read "A Clockwork Orange" as though it's the only damned thing I've ever written.

Peter Gabriel Songwriter, musician
I've been working on a project for about five years that has become a bit of an obseession. It involves artists, musicians and flim makers in the design of interactive environments. I've been developing the idea with Brian Eno and Laurie Anderson among others. Each artist or group of artists will design certain experiences in different chambers. The sounds and images will respond to what the viewer is doing and how he interacts with them. We're going to start doing experiments on a small scale in my studio in England this year. The long-term goal is that we'll implement these environments in an area of natural beauty.

June Wyndham-Davies, Television producer
I'm an enormous Elizabeth Bowen fan, and I've wanted to do "The Heat of the Day" for about five years. It's been a question of waiting to get Harold Pinter to do the screenplay. I think that his style and Bowen's are amost interchangeable. The series will air on Masterpiece Theater sometime this year. It's a wartime story and centers on an extraordinary woman named Stella, played by Patricia Hodge. She's having an affair with a captain, played by Michael York. Suddenly a sinister stranger--played by Michael Gambon--comes into her life and tells her that the captain is a spy and he'll agree to cover up the fact if she will sleep with him.

Errol Morris, Documentary film maker
I'm planning to go into production this year on "The Dark Wind," a feature film that Robert Redford's company is producing. The flim is based on a Tony Hillerman novel about two Navajo detectives. Hillerman's novels are about people whose world is slowing dying out. The idea of the world on the wane fascinated me.

Elizabeth Murray, Artist
I'm working on another painting of shoes. This is the fouth time I've used this image, and it's become kind of an obsession. The last time I did one, I thought, "Well, that's it," so when I started to do this next pair, I felt a little embarrassed. Now I'm getting a lot more ideas for the image and I think I'm even going to do more. I was thinking about how images repeat themselves in work and what it means. People expect you to move so quickly from one idea to the next, but the way you really develop is by returning again and again to images you're really fascinated with and trying to understand why.

Bette Midler, Actress, singer, producer
My partners and I are producing a film called "For the Boys," which is based on an idea I had four years ago. I've always been interested in all kinds of entertainers and I love to listen to their stories. This flim is about a U.S.O. singer who is in love with a man who's also an entertainer and a bit of an odd duck. He represents the more conservative element in the country through the years, while she represents the more liberal element.

Marvin Heifferman, Photography cruator
I've been working on "The Indomitable Spirit," an exhibition that opens in February at the International Center of Photography's midtown Manhattan space and then moves to Los Angeles in May. The idea was to bring together the photographic community in a single project that would raise awareness of the AIDS crisis. The exhibition features the work of about 100 photographers. I thought it would be interesting to let each photographer make their own decisions about how they think and feel about the notion of the idomitable spirit.

David Lynch, Film maker
I'm in the middle of editing my new film, "Wild at Heart," which is based on a book by Barry Gifford. It's a road picture, a love story, a psychological drama and a violent comedy. The film centers on Sailor, played by Nicholas Cage, and Lula, who is played by Laura Dern.

I'm also producing a television show called "Twin Peaks," which should air in the spring. I wrote the pilot and two of the seven episodes with my partner, Mark Frost, and I directed the pilot and the first episode. It's a murder-mystery soap opera set in a fictitious town in the Northwest. I've found that television gives you this opportunity to unravel long, complicated stories over the weeks.


Peter Martins, Choreographer; director, New York City Ballet
I proposed the idea of doing a Jerome Robbins retrospective to Jerry in 1988. At that point, he was in the middle of his Broadway show. Then I proposed it again last winter and he had the time. The Robbins festival will run for two weeks this June and will celebrate Jerry's 70th birthday and his 40 years with the company. I came up with a list of ballets I thought he might do. He crossed out some of them and said, "I don't want to look at that anymore." He hasn't decided whether he's going to do something new.

Carrie Fisher, Actress, screenwriter
"Postcards From the Edge," which I wrote for Mike Nichols, is now being edited. The biggest challenge in adapting the screen play from my own book was that the book had no structure or any basic story. I ended up focusing on a relationship between a mother and daughter. In the film, Meryl Streep plays an actress who goes into a drug hospital. While she's there, she gets cast in a movie, but the insurance company will not cover her unless she stays with a responsible parent. She ends up staying with her mother and if you put a post-chemical dependent in close proximity with a parent, you're going to have a crisis.

Peter Hall, Stage director
This autumn, I'll be directing "The Homecoming" in London in honor of Harold Pinter's 60th birthday. It has been 25 years since we first did it together at the Royal Shakespeare Company and I imagine it will be different, because we're different. It won't, however, be self-consciously different.

Kirk Varnedoe, Director, department of painting and sculpture, the Museum of Modern Art
The art critic Adam Gopnik and I are co-curating "High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture," which will open at MOMA in October and then travel to the Art Institue of Chicago and to Los Angeles's Museum of Contemporary Art. The show will look at the relationship between modern art and popular and commercial culture. The obvious people you'd expect to see in this show are Lichtenstein and Warhol, but what you might not expect to see, for example, are paintings Miro did by creating a vocabulary of painting using the shapes of egg beaters, combs and forks that wound up looking like cave painting. We're interested in that sense of transformation based on a source in commercial culture.

Paul Mazursky, Film maker
Every few years I make a film abuot marriage. "Scenes From a Mall," a screen play I wrote last year with Roger Simon, is about a longterm marriage. We'll start shooting in June, and the film should be out by Christmas. Woody Allen will play a sports lawyer who is married to Bette Midler, a psychologist. It's essentially a two-character comedy that takes place on the couple's 15th anniversary. When you think about Woody Allen and Bette Midler as a married couple, you've got to start smiling.

["1990: Previews From 36 Creative Artists" - Compiled by Diane Solway, THE NEW YORK TIMES, December 31, 1989]




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