Rostropovich: a great disappointment
by Kirk Wetters
Mstislav Rostropovich is undoubtedly a great cellist and
musician, but this only made his recital on Sunday more
disappointing. It was difficult to reconcile this lackluster
performance with the sensitivity and excitement of many of
The cello sonata of Richard Strauss got the program off
to a less than auspicious start. While Rostropovich played
well enough, his efforts didnot sufficiently redeem thepiece
itself, which is bad even in comparison with other early
Strauss works. Rostropovich produced an admirably beau-
tiful sound, as he did throughout the concert, but his inter-
pretation was bland and flawed by imprecise articulation.
January 10, 1993
A general problem throughout the concert was the
obvious lack of communication between Rostropovich and
his accompanist, Sara Wolfensohn. Without the flexibility
of good chamber music, the performances often seemed
lifeless and unmusical. Ideally, Wolfensohn should have
had a more equal role. As it was, she was completely behind
Rostropovich's back, and it appeared that they were me-
chanically playing their parts, without concern for the
musical dialogues within them.
As the only genuine masterpiece on the program, Bach's
Suite No. 5 for unaccompanied cello should have been the
high point of the concert. Bach's cello suites are interpre-
tively the most demanding pieces in the cello repertoire, and
Rostropovich was not up to the challenge. The enormity of
Hill Auditorium worked against him in this music, which
should ideally be performed in a more intimate environ-
ment, such as a living room.
Although Rostropovich had numerous technical diffi-
culties in the Bach, including faulty intonation, missed
notes, and awkward attacks, these were the least of his
problems. His interpretation was not refined enough to
bring out the distinctive character of each movement. He
was unable to translate Bach's long, flowing lines into the
coherent musical ideas they should be. Instead Rostropovich
made the suite into an overly long collection of formless
mutterings. Even more disturbing-were his frequent heavy-
handed distortions. In the Gavotte, for example, he was at
his most perverse, turning Bach's mysterious, graceful
dance into a lumbering, oafish affair.
The concert's second half was not as disturbing as the
first, but it was no more inspired. Rostropovich acquitted
but his performance of Shostakovich's cello sonata often
seemed half-hearted and unidiomatic. There were signs of
life in the final movements, but unfortunately Rostropovich
never really managed to catch fire.
V11 I 1111 l
Richard Attenborough directs Robert Downey Jr., instead of the film.
by Megan Abbott
A meaningful, well-wrought screen
biography is a rare phenomenon. For
every accomplished biopic ("Malcolm
X"), there are dozens more which be-
come as tedious and episodic as a TV
miniseries. The genre is a virtual
landmine of cinematic confounds -
from excessive length to composite
characters to sheer ludicrousness (one
critic bemoaned this as the "Hefe comes
Beethoven" school of moviemaking).
Directed by Richard Attenborough;
written by William Boyd, Bryan
Forbes and William Goldman; with
Robert Downey Jr., Anthony
Hopkins, Kevin Kline.
Indeed, trying to translate the life of a
famed person into a motion picture in a
coherent and artistic manner almost
dooms good filmmakers to failure. How,
after all, do you tell the story of a giant's
Richard Attenborough's "Chaplin"
tackles the dilemma with gusto. The
ensuing failure of the film is certainly
notdueto lack of effort or talent. Robert
Downey Jr., the charming actor who
previously seemed to be making a ca-
reer out of unworthy films ("The Pick-
Up Artist," "Chances Are"), stars as the
cinematic genius, Charlie Chaplin. The
film traces Chaplin's life from his
Dickensian beginnings in turn-of-the-
century London, to Hollywood star-
dom, to haunted exiledom in Switzer-
land. That's quite a scope for one fea-
tune film to take on, but Attenborough,
king of the crane shot ("Gandhi," "Cry
Freedom"), seems determined to make
It doesn't. But "Chaplin" is not a
disaster of "Hoffa" proportions either.
Attenborough's clever use of silent fin
techniques such as wipes and dissolves,
not to mention a string of wonderful
slapstick sequences, serves to connect
Chaplin's life with his art. "Chaplin"
attempts to tell much of the story of the
comedian's life in the style of one of his
movies. But Chaplin's genius as a fihn-
maker is derived not solely from his use
of physical comedy and Dickensian
melodrama. Chaplin's political and so-
cial criticism fuel much of his greatest
work ("Modern Times," "The Great
chooses to deal with Chaplin's politics
in a largely tabloid fashion which is
political convictions are only touched
on, while the screenplay actively as-
sures us of Chaplin's true patriotism for
the United States.
Thisglossy, surfacestorytelling also
penneates the exploration into Chaplin's
private life. His romps with teenage
starlets are treated sensationalistically,
with plenty of gratuitous female nudity.
0 'All of this luridkiss-and-tell takes n so
Chaplin slaving away in the editing
room, without actually allowing us to
see his magic at work.
But much - if not most - of the
failure of vision in "Chaplin" is made
up for by the rather dazzling perfor-
mance by Downey. The parade of other
actors (Dan Aykroyd, Diane Lane, a
lively Kevin Kline) passes by Downey,
but you miss them all. You can't take
your eyes off him. Aging from 19 to 83
during the course of the film, Downey
manages this risky process with great
subtlety. He imbues his young Chaplin
with the same kind of melancholy beauty
that the real Chaplin revealed in the
quieter moments of his early films. You
can see why people want to be around
this sad-eyed genius, thanks to
Downey's talents. The characters are
drawn to Chaplin; his burgeoning ge-
nius flickers in their faces while they
work with him.
Perhaps more remarkably, Downey
captures the eventual world-weariness
of the older Chaplin. Sadness deepens
and settles with the passing years, as
Downey portrays him. The thick cock-
ney accent gives way to a polished
voice as the young cinematic pioneer
becomes a sophisticated millionaire.
Downey's remarkable portrayal de-
serves a better film.
Film biographies are generally the
best when they focus on a few years, or
a crucial period in a person's life. Per-
haps the best biopic in recent years,
"Vincent and Theo," succeeds largely
because it does not try to tell us the story
of Van Gogh's entire life. Instead, ittries
to show us a vision of what it's like to be
Vincent, to be trapped in one's own
genius. "Chaplin" is largely frustrating
in its failure to have a vision, something
to say about its hero. Like "Hoffa," it
has nothing to prove. Downey's perfor-
mance demands a rich vision of
Chaplin's genius. One look into those
smudged Tramp eyes and you can see
he's still begging for the story tobe told.
Chaplin is now playing at Briarwood
Perhaps Mstislav Rostropovich should have practiced a little more before Sunday's concert.
Get down and double-check,
brothers and sisters. Detroit's finest
postmod D(r)eadHead bottom-heavy
vibe tribe Black Mali's gonna kick
that motorbooty punk funk at The
Blind Pig ((206 S. First St.) Wednes-
day night. Also spicing up the festivi-
ties with some groovy flavor of their
own isA2'snew soulful crunch bunch,
Motherlode. Doors at 9:00, 18 and
over more than welcome.
Dirty Looks at Lunch
Karen Finley came to the Michi-
gan Theater last year, got naked, and
smeared her body with chocolate and
alfalfa sprouts. She's one of the hot-
testartists today, perhaps because she's
at thecenteroftheN.EA.-Jesse Helms
contraversy. Learn more about her
tomorrow at noon at the UMMA .
They're showing one of her taped
performance pieces, in which she ex-
amines traditional gender ideas.
Brown bag lunches are encouraged
officially, but you'll probably get dirty
looks from the other watchers if you
crinkle too loudly. Call 747-0521.
rsA SPm INDO
i iV rll fllii i
to Ann Arbor!
In concert at the Michigan Theater
Wednesday, January 13 @ 7:30 p.m.
announces its winter production of
These fine titles are now on sale!
$'7.99 cassette $11.99 CD
prices good thru 1/17/93
We'll be open the night of the show, so stop by and see us.
to be performed march 25, 26, & 27
NOW HIRING: ALL STAFF POSITIONS
The Cottage Inn at Packard & Hill (769-5555) will give away
a FREE Spin Doctors poster
alono- with vour nizza for all nrders delivered on camnus!