Letter from the Eastern Townships – September ’07

September is a time to enjoy living in the country, far from the big cities, and we make the most of it. But it is also time for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and this is one of the highlights of Marita’s year. I love film too but the crowds in Toronto at what has now become one of the most prestigious festivals in the world, are too much for me. I went to a few films and then headed back to our country retreat.

I spent an afternoon watching Flower Drum Song, one of the lesser of the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals and had long ago decided it was kitsch. But there was an angle that drew me in. The film was set in San Francisco and and featured virtually an all-Chinese cast headed by Nancy Kwan, and she was in town to introduce the film. She would be assisted by another Chinese-American, director Arthur Dong, who had a film in the festival about how the Chinese were treated in Hollywood.

Dong’s film is called Hollywood Chinese and it examines the mentality that wouldn’t allow Chinese roles to be taken by Chinese actors. Think of Christopher Lee or Peter Sellers as Fu Manchu, Paul Muni and Luise Rainer in Good Earth, or Warner Oland as Charlie Chan. In this context, Dong recalled Flower Drum Song as a breakthrough film. As a young man growing up in San Francisco in the 1960s he was inspired by being able to see Chinese characters on the big screen portrayed mostly by Chinese actors. So while Flower Drum Song remains corny and predictable for those of us looking for another Oklahoma or Carousel, it made quite a different impression on Chinese-Americans.

One of the biggest crowd-pleasers at the TIFF was the Danish film With Your Permission, and it deserved the accolades. At the performance I attended the director Paprika Steen was present along with the leading actors in the film and they answered questions with grace and humor. The film is remarkable for being able to make domestic violence a subject for comedy. It is about an annoyingly pompous ferry employee whose wife beats him. It is also important to the plot that she is an opera singer frustrated in her career. It is fresh, funny and with a terrific cast.

Back at the farm I am busy getting the final version of my Karajan revision off to the publisher. It should be out before Christmas and just in time for the 100th anniversary of Karajan’s birth next year. The Stokowski revision is not far behind but before I put it to bed I want to visit the Stokowski Collection at the University of Pennsylvania. There is a lot of material there including his conducting scores which would be fascinating to see and study. I will do that on our way back to Texas in early October or later in the fall.

A prominent part of the Stokowski the first time around was the selection of photos Paul Hoeffler had taken in New York when Stokowski headed the American Symphony. Paul became quite close to Stokowski and some of the photos are of both artistic and historic value. Sadly, Paul passed away last year after a struggle with cancer. On this trip to Toronto I visited his widow Claire and we will make sure there is again a good selection of Paul’s Stokowski photos in the revised edition of the book. In addition to the Stokowski photos Paul was celebrated as a photographer of jazz musicians and many of his photos were featured in Ken Burns’ recent television series on the history of jazz.

Check out the following websites if you would like to see some of Paul Hoeffler’s photographs of jazz artists:



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