Sunday Nov. 22, 2015

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Psalm 24

1 The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
2 For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.
3 Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
5 He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
6 This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.
7 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
8 Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
10 Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.

“Psalm 24,” public domain. 

It’s the birthday of graphic novelist, illustrator, and film director Marjane Satrapi (books by this author) born in Rasht, Iran (1969). She is best-known for her memoirs told in graphic novel form, Persepolis (2002) and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (2005), which detail her childhood and early adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution. The titles are a reference to the capitol of the Persian empire, Persepolis. As a child growing up in Tehran, Satrapi witnessed family and friends being persecuted, arrested, and murdered for their political and religious beliefs. She speaks four languages: Persian, English, French, and German.

Satrapi began to rebel against the regime in her adolescence. She was in such frequent trouble with police for breaking modesty codes and listening to banned music that her parents sent her to Vienna to finish school. She did well for a time, until she was expelled for hitting the headmistress. She spent two months living on the streets before returning home.

Satrapi’s parents were Marxists who encouraged her intellectual freedom and she grew up on a steady diet of punk rock and Batman comics. It was while working as an illustrator in France in her late 20s and sharing a studio with comic artists that she first began to be interested in the comic as an art form. She said, “It was nuts because they have to do the same thing over and over every day, like monks, and then I tried my own and realized I was a monk myself, inside.”

Satrapi’s style is deceptively simple: black and white, high-contrast inking that is as intricate as a woodcut. The composition of her graphic novels takes a considerable amount of time and discipline. She says: “You have to be in shape. For example, if at lunchtime, you eat a lot, then you cannot work. So you have to watch everything, like the military service — you wake up, you make your pushups, you shout, stuff like that.”

Though Satrapi’s novels have sold more than a million copies worldwide and have been heralded for their perspective on a frequently closed society and the East-West divide, she claims, “I’m not interested in politics — it is the politics that is interested in me.”

Satrapi, who now lives in Paris, hasn’t returned to Iran since 2000. She says: “If I was a man, I would say Iran is my mother and France is my wife. My mother is my mother. I will love her to the last day of my life. I will die for my mother. France is my wife. I have chosen her myself. Now, I am very much in love with my wife, but once in a while I can cheat on her.”

On this day in 1927, the musical Funny Face premiered on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre. Starring Fred Astaire and his sister, Adele, the musical was penned by brothers George and Ira Gershwin. They wrote the story of charming Jimmy Reeve and his three flighty sisters while holed up in a farmhouse in upstate New York. George Gershwin and Fred Astaire met while teenagers in Tin Pan Alley in New York. Gershwin was a song plugger, which meant he played piano in department and music stores to promote and sell sheet music. Astaire and his sister had been on the vaudeville circuit since they were small children. They were looking to break into pictures, but when a Hollywood scout came to see them, he dismissed Fred by saying, “Slightly bald. Can’t act. Also dances.”

The show was originally called Smarty and had opened in Philadelphia to poor reviews. Robert Benchley, the longtime New Yorker columnist, was one of the co-writers and he quit in humiliation, saying, “How can I criticize other people’s shows if I had anything to do with this?” After Benchley quit, Ira Gershwin said, “There was an enormous amount of recasting, rewriting, rehearsing, and recriminating — [but] of rejoicing, there was none.”

Nonetheless, when the show premiered on Broadway at the newly opened Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre in Midtown Manhattan), it was a hit, running for 244 performances, largely due to the dancing of Fred and Adele. The New York Sun Review said: “They are a sort of champagne cup of motion, those Astaires. They live, laugh, and leap in a world that is all bubbles.”

Adele was tiring of the nightly grind of theater work. She was almost 30 and often showed up to the Alvin Theatre tipsy. Funny Face was the last time she danced with her brother. Astaire went on to a successful Hollywood career and the Gershwins went on to write Porgy and Bess (1935). Funny Face introduced a number of standards, like “’S Wonderful,” to the American songbook. Ella Fitzgerald particularly liked to sing the title song, which begins:

I love your funny face
Your sunny, funny face
For you’re a cutie
With more than beauty
You’ve got a lot
Of personality for me

Funny Face marked the first time Fred Astaire danced in a top hat and tails, which would become his trademark.

It’s the birthday of the woman who wrote under the name George Eliot (books by this author), born Mary Ann Evans in Warwickshire, England (1819). Her first full-length novel, Adam Bede (1859), was about a carpenter who is betrayed by his love, Hetty Sorrel. It was an immediate success. People across Europe, including Leo Tolstoy in Russia, called it a work of genius, and everyone wondered who this George Eliot was. Mary Evans decided to reveal her identity, and went on to become one of the most renowned writers of her lifetime.

Her masterpiece was Middlemarch (1871), the story of Dorothea Brooke, an idealistic, intelligent young woman who hopes to become a social reformer. She marries the scholar Edward Casaubon, hoping to share his intellectual life, only to realize that the marriage is a disaster and her husband is a stuffy, old-fashioned snob, and the man she really loves is her husband’s younger cousin.

The writer Henry James described Eliot as “magnificently, awe-inspiringly ugly,” but also praised her greatness, saying, “What is remarkable, extraordinary — and the process remains inscrutable and mysterious — is that this quiet, anxious, sedentary, serious [...] English lady [...] without adventures, without extravagance, assumption, or bravado, should have made us believe that nothing in the world was alien to her; should have produced such rich, deep, masterly pictures of the multifold life of man.”

George Eliot wrote, “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®