Arts

Arts and culture

We Have Always Been Bored — 'Yawn' Wonders Why

May 20, 2017

Boredom is a going concern, particularly in a Western culture over-saturated with things designed to make every moment count. Freelance researcher Mary Mann began writing Yawn: Adventures in Boredom because she was concerned with her own restlessness; was she succumbing to the depression that ran in her family? Was modern malaise taking hold? Was she fundamentally ungrateful for life, as her parents had always suggested about bored people? If she was broken, was there a cure? (And if you're already rolling your eyes at Mann, this is not going to be an easy read for you.)

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A painting of a skull by Jean-Michel Basquiat broke records at Sotheby's last night. The work sold for more than $110 million. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, that is the most ever for an American artist's work at auction.

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A Salute To 30 Years Of 'The Simpsons'

May 19, 2017

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These days, in-flight meal service often consists of a packet of pretzels and a can of soda. It's a far cry from the days of the Hindenburg, where the sumptuous dining options included multi-course meals served in an opulent dining room.

Before it became a byword for disaster 80 years ago this month, the Hindenburg was the state-of-the-art in ultra-luxury flight: a giant passenger airship composed of durable aluminum alloy filled with highly flammable hydrogen. (That would prove its downfall.)

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been entertaining audiences for a long time. Its history goes back 146 years — to about the time when professional baseball emerged and before Coca-Cola was invented.

Jean-Michel Basquiat joined "joined the pantheon of great, great artists" Thursday night, when the late painter's 1982 work Untitled sold for a record-breaking $110.5 million at auction — the highest sum ever paid at auction for a U.S.-produced artwork.

That breathless assessment was offered after the sale by Oliver Barker, chairman of Sotheby's Europe. So you can imagine just how thrilled the buyer must have been.

When John Luther Adams won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2014 for his undulating orchestral piece Become Ocean, you'd be forgiven for thinking of him as something like the Jacques Cousteau of contemporary classical music.

First, let me remind you: we've still got tickets to see us live in L.A. on June 15, where our fourth chair will be Shereen Marisol Meraji. We've got lots of good fun planned, since we figure everybody can use a night of good fun, so join us!

We've been known to enjoy a mix of the sublime and the ridiculous, and it's a week that's a little bit like that as we take on one of the best shows we've covered in a while and one of the most vexing movies.

Oh, Code Switch fam: Has there ever been such a week? Because of the virtual smorgasbord of unfortunate news, you may have skipped putting these on your plate. Dig in. Keep a chaser of Pepto handy.

In 'The Commune,' Where We Live Is Who We Are

May 18, 2017

It's the 1970s, and a Copenhagen family has just inherited a very large, rambling mansion on the outskirts of town. What to do with it? The time is right for a group living experiment, and if the new Danish film The Commune were a different sort of movie, it would stage everything that follows — the group skinny-dips, house meetings about dishwashers, and Elton John songs — as warm, raunchy comedy.

'Alien: Covenant' Continues To Mine Old Ground

May 18, 2017

Almost 40 years ago, Alien was a B-movie with A+ production values and performances, and the scariest monster the movies ever gave us.

There's a whiff of John Cheever-ish unease in Wakefield, a quietly unsettling drama about a man who disappears from his suburban home, only to spy on his family's response from a house across the street. In fact, the movie is based on a 2008 New Yorker short story by E.L. Doctorow, which in turn was inspired by a Nathaniel Hawthorne tale with the same premise, written in 1837.

Based on Nicola Yoon's YA novel, Everything, Everything is about an 18-year-old girl who suffers from severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), a condition that's kept her inside the same house her entire life, due to potentially fatal vulnerabilities to allergens, viruses, and other infections. SCID is a real disease — David Vetter, the famous "bubble boy," died due to complications after a bone marrow transplant in 1984 — but for Yoon's purposes, and the film's, it's mostly a romantic obstacle, a thin but impenetrable barrier between the girl and whatever her heart desires.

From the pages of sober financial journals to Hollywood's slapstick-econ adaptation of The Big Short, commentators often note that no American banks were indicted in the wake of the 2008 financial cave-in. Hoop Dreams director Steve James is here to say that's not true. In May 2012, New York's district attorney brought charges against Abacus Federal Savings Bank and 19 of its employees.

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Now, a correction. On Tuesday, we ran a story about the famous Renaissance painting the "Birth Of Venus" by Sandro Boticelli.

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And now we remember this voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK HOLE SUN")

CHRIS CORNELL: (Singing) In my eyes, indisposed, in disguises no one knows...

As the American-born child of parents who emigrated from India, comic Hasan Minhaj often feels a little out of place. "I exist in this hyphen," he says. "I'm an Indian-American-Muslim kid, but am I more Indian or am I more American? What part of my identity am I?"

Ask some actors about their dream role, and they're likely to offer range of answers: a character from Shakespeare, a superhero, the lead in Phantom of the Opera. As for Daniel Dae Kim, a Korean-American actor who has had roles in Lost, Crash and most recently Hawaii Five-0, his dream is to play a romantic lead. Any romantic lead.

The king of the Netherlands moonlights as a part-time commercial pilot, he told the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf.

An American Abroad Searches For Self In 'Florence In Ecstasy'

May 18, 2017

There's no shortage of stories in the genre of Westerners experiencing a personal disaster and then globetrotting in search of answers about themselves. There's always potential for these narratives to go awry in subtle and damning ways — to seem unthinkingly privileged and navel-gazing and selfish — and so the endeavor of writing one is both a sure thing in terms of finding an audience, and risky as a self-aware artistic endeavor.

When Josh Groban takes his final bow in Broadway's Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812, he'll leave some very big shoes to fill. Fans of the multiplatinum-selling recording artist have flocked to see him in this exuberantly offbeat musical, which is based on a section of the Russian novel War and Peace.

It's a question the broadcast TV industry asks itself around this time every year: How long can we keep this going?

The occasion is TV's upfront season, when all the big programmers announce their plans for the next season in glitzy presentations for big advertisers in New York, selling commercial space in the new schedules early.

These days, the moneymaking heart of the TV business — broadcast television — is fighting harder than ever to stay competitive with the innovation at streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.

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Browse through some turn-of-the-century American cookbooks, and it's obvious that popular tastes have changed (such as the presence of fried cornmeal mush and the absence of cilantro). But more striking than the shift in flavors and ingredients is the focus on feeding those who are sick — or, to use the parlance of the time, "cooking for invalids."

Let's get this out of the way: The best part of The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings is not the title piece. In his introduction, translator Douglas J. Weatherford makes a big deal out of El gallo de oro, Mexican master Juan Rulfo's long-ignored second novel, but it's nothing compared to the sketches and fragments that come after.

The famous Renaissance painting of the goddess Venus, standing nude on a giant shell, has been appropriated, satirized and riffed on so many times — by everyone from Andy Warhol, to Lady Gaga, to The Simpsons — that it's easy to lose track of its origins.

Susan Burton knows just how hard it is to get back on track after being released from prison. It's an experience she lived through six times, once for each of the prison terms she served.

"One of the things about incarceration is that you're deprived. You lose all of your identity and then its given back one day and you're ill-equipped to actually embrace it and work it," Burton says. "Each time I left prison I left with the resolve to get my life together, to get a job, to get back on track. And each time the task became more and more and more daunting."

This spring brings a bumper crop of short story collections, some introducing distinctive new writers, others strategically timed to tide us over the wait between an established author's novels. I've been enjoying a stack of these books, most notably by Haruki Murakami, Joshua Ferris, Penelope Lively, and Tessa Hadley. They're all worthwhile, but if pressed to recommend just one, it would be Hadley's Bad Dreams. Her meticulously observed, extraordinarily perceptive stories are as satisfying as Alice Munro's. Yes, Hadley is that good.

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