Posts by: Jan Saragoni

Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive
Photo by Liane Brandon

As executive producer and founder of Spy Pond Productions, Eric Stange has produced, directed and written a dizzying array of work, mostly telling unique, often lost stories of American history. His work, which also covers science, has been broadcast on PBS, The Discovery Channel, and the BBC. Before becoming a filmmaker he wrote about art and culture for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic Monthly, and other publications. Eric has been the recipient of a Harvard University Charles Warren Fellowship in American History. He’s on the board of Common-Place, a website devoted to early American history, and writes a column about media and history for American Heritage magazine. “Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive” stars Denis O’Hare as Poe, and was shot on location in Boston. A screening will be held on Saturday, April 29, 1:30 p.m., at the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square as part of the Independent Film Festival of Boston (http://iffboston.org), and will be broadcast nationally next fall on the PBS series American Masters.

 What was it like working with Denis O’Hare?

Denis is one of the most talented actors in the business. Virtually everyone has seen him in his many TV or movie roles (“American Horror Story,” “The Good Wife,” “True Blood, Dallas Buyer’s Club”), but like a lot of great character actors he isn’t a household name. He should be.

What sold us on casting Denis was that he spent a whole season of “American Horror Story” playing a leading character who’s mute. Our film doesn’t have a lot of dialogue—Poe is often alone and silent, though very expressive. When we saw that Denis did an entire season of episodic TV without saying a word —we knew he could be our Poe.

In addition, it turns out Denis had studied a lot of poetry in college, so he did a wonderful job reciting Poe’s poems. And we didn’t even realize until we started with hair and make-up how much he actually looks like Poe!

Left: Actor Denis O’Hare Photo by Liane Brandon

 Edgar Allan Poe is already a well-known figure, is there new information about Poe revealed in the film?

One of the reasons I made the film is because I came to realize Poe is a hugely misunderstood figure. Most people think of him in a one-dimensional way —as a brooding, mad, perhaps opium-addled denizen of the dark. Until I started researching this project I didn’t know that Poe was an important literary critic, and an influential magazine editor. He was a powerful player in the literary scene of the 1830s and ’40s—a tastemaker—one of the glitterati of his time. He helped define what American literature would be in the early decades of our nation.

I knew Poe had written detective stories. What I didn’t realize is that Poe invented the detective story as we know it today, with all the conventions we’re used to. Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, said he had modeled his stories on Poe. And virtually every detective writer since has followed suit.

 Poe is one of those iconic figures who appears in popular culture decade after decade. Even people who haven’t read his works know his face. Why?

Yes it’s amazing how often Poe pops up. He’s in “The Simpsons,” on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and on and on.

Poe himself is partly responsible for his enduring image in pop culture. He knew that to sell his stories in a competitive marketplace he needed more than just good writing—he needed a public persona that would give him an edge. He was a fan of the English bad-boy poet Lord Byron, and he saw how a reputation—even a dark one —could help sell literature.

So he had daguerreotypes made that portrayed him a certain way, and he wrote falsified biographical materials that made him seem a more adventurous and romantic figure than he really was.

But what really cemented his reputation—and in a bad way—was the first obituary after Poe’s untimely death at age 40 in 1849. His literary enemy, Rufus Griswold, wrote the obit, and he described Poe in all the negative ways people still think of him today. So Griswold’s negative portrayal, along with Poe’s own self-mythologizing, have played a big role in keeping Poe famous —or rather infamous.

Daguerrotype of Edgar Allan Poe

What’s the real story? Was Poe just a regular guy who was terribly misunderstood or is there some truth to the dark, Halloween-figure side of Poe?

Well, like any complicated person, it’s a bit of both. If Poe were my buddy, I’d think twice when I saw him come up on caller ID. He could be a terrible friend, and a worse enemy. He was dead broke and in debt most of his life. He had a terrible time with alcohol, though he could be sober for long periods. At the same time, he was brilliant, witty, had lots of friends and was a loving husband, most of the time. Though he married his 13-year-old cousin when he was 26!

One thing I discovered is that practically anything you say about Poe, the opposite is also true. That’s part of what made the film challenging, and fun!

Why the title: “Buried Alive”?

Poe was fascinated —maybe even obsessed—with stories of people who were buried alive by mistake, which happened fairly frequently in the early 19th century. Medicine hadn’t figured out how to determine death with certainty, and particularly during epidemics there was a lot of pressure to get corpses underground quickly. One of his most famous stories is “The Premature Burial.”

I also love the metaphorical meanings. Poe lived his life under a constant cloud of grief —virtually all the women he loved died young. He struggled with a mountain of debt, and even before he died his bad reputation had begun to overshadow the reality of his life. And then, of course, there’s the never-ending mystery of his death. For all those reasons, it feels like an appropriate title.

Mystery of his death?

You have to see the movie.

 

Walk for Hunger

Ellen Parker, the executive director of the anti-hunger organization Project Bread, is a leader in the national dialogue on poverty and hunger as a health crisis. During her tenure at Project Bread the organization has raised more than $100 million to help children and families who struggle to find their next meal. A major portion of those funds come from the East Boston-based Project Bread’s annual Walk for Hunger. On Sunday, May 3, the 47th annual Walk will take place. Ellen is a former senior policy adviser to Boston Mayor Ray Flynn and worked at area social service agencies before taking charge of Project Bread 16 years ago. A stylish, sought-after speaker with a professorial command of the devastating effects of hunger and nutrition, Ellen also knows her way around Boston’s neighborhoods, where she loves to shop and sample the traditional fare of the city’s newest immigrants.

Everyone knows about the Walk for Hunger, what else should people know about Project Bread?

As the only statewide anti-hunger organization in Massachusetts, Project Bread works to promote sustainable and reliable access to healthy food for all. Put simply, we want to end the public health crisis that is grounded in economic inequality and a fragmented food system. That’s why we work so hard to invest in the strength and resiliency of local communities—particularly in the public schools systems. There is no reason why children should leave school hungrie than when they arrived in the morning. And, we collaborate with others in building a robust regional food system from farmers, to food producers, to stores, anyone in the chain.

2014 Masses Shot

Project Bread’s Walk for Hunger is the most prominent in the country. Why is it so important to have regular people raising money and not just raise money in larger amounts from foundations or corporations?

The Walk for Hunger is a way for everyone to give back and raise awareness for anti-hunger work.  It is a movement that is much larger than a single donor, corporation or foundation. More than 40,000 people come together and show their support by walking 20 miles. Now that is a powerful message.

How is Project Bread different from other anti-hunger organizations? Does “anti-hunger” adequately describe your mission?

Project Bread is very much about that old, but wonderful saying: “Give a person a hand up, not a hand out.” People in the United States are so accustomed to seeing hunger within the narrow framework of charity and dependence that we think we know the answer. But we haven’t asked the most obvious question: how does the person facing food insecurity see their situation—and what do they truly need? If they had real choices about the kind of help they could receive, what would they choose and why? The most effective anti-hunger investments deliver multiple benefits. A healthy meal, first and foremost, but what if that meal could lead to new skills and better health? That’s what we call a “hand up.”

Is there a typical profile of a Massachusetts resident in need of food assistance? Is the need stronger in certain parts of the state than in others?

MPHA Award - Ellen and Kirk David LeiferNo, unfortunately we cannot predict where and when people will face this. Everyone has a different story. Everyone has a different background. What we do know is that those who are earning minimum wage or less are typically in need of food assistance. For too many working families—thousands of families in Massachusetts—no matter how hard they work, they cannot reliably protect themselves from hunger. The long-term answer is simple: people need to earn a living wage.

What’s a common misconception about hunger both in Massachusetts and nationwide?

When the head of household works fulltime, her or she should earn enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table. That is not a reality. To achieve that outcome requires broad collaboration among wage earners and political, civic, religious and business leaders. But, interestingly, anti-hunger advocates across the country are will to speak up for charity, but when challenged to speak out for a living wage, those same leaders are conspicuous by their silence.

You live and work in one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods Boston. Any favorite places you like to eat and go food shopping?

East Boston has some of the best food in the city. I love Angela’s on Eagle Hill and everyone in the office knows about Rino’s because it was featured on the Food Network. My go-to is Meridian Market, a favorite of the late Mayor Tom Menino. I also love shopping at Market Basket for the fresh food and the company’s commitment to the community. Now that spring is in the air, I can’t wait to revisit our local famer’s market. East Boston has residents from all over the globe and the local market reflects those cultures.  On a given day I can find anything from papalo, a South American version on arugula, to Asian mustard to collard greens to sweet Thai basil.

Conv W-Andris-lead photo

All eyes are on the energetic – and telegenic  — Andris Nelsons when he bounds across the stage of Boston Symphony Hall to take his place at the conductor’s podium, his sheer physicality a performance unto itself. At 35 years old, Nelsons is one of the youngest and most electrifying conductors on the international scene today and the youngest music director to lead the BSO in more than 100 years. He might also be the only one to have ever been a student of martial arts. Prior to his arrival in Boston, the Latvia native was music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), where he earned critical acclaim. Born in Riga to a family of musicians, Nelsons began his career as a trumpeter in the Latvian National Opera Orchestra before studying to be conductor. He is married to the internationally renowned soprano Kristine Opolais, who joined him on stage for his first opening night leading the storied Boston Symphony Orchestra.

AS A YOUNG CONDUCTOR, WHAT DID THE BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA MEAN TO YOU? WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS?

As a music student growing up in Latvia, I was aware of the leading position of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), one of the world’s greatest orchestras. I followed the careers of several BSO‘s legendary music directors, especially Serge Koussevitzky, Charles Munch, Erich Leinsdorf, and Seiji Ozawa, and more recently, James Levine. I remember listening to many BSO recordings and feeling overwhelmed by the extraordinary performances.  I never imagined that I would become this orchestra’s music director!

WHAT’S BEEN THE BIGGEST SURPRISE ABOUT BOSTON AUDIENCES FOR YOU SO FAR?

The enthusiasm that the Boston audiences has shown to me, has touched me deeply. I have always heard that the Boston audiences were passionate music lovers—and it is very true!  They also are generous in expressing pride and love for the orchestra. The BSO has been a great inspiration and joy for many of our patrons. My hope is to do all I can to continue to inspire them to ever greater levels of satisfaction and reward.

nelsons-big-9836

IS THE ORCHESTRA DIFFERENT TODAY THAN WHEN YOU FIRST GUEST-CONDUCTED IN 2011?

I don’t know that I can speak to how different the orchestra is today than it was in 2011.  When I conducted the orchestra for the first time in March 2011, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and power the orchestra displayed in Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.  It is a very difficult piece of music, but we developed quickly a good connection and were able to make incredible music together. My joy nearly four years later comes from getting to know the orchestra better. I enjoy meeting and getting to know each individual musician, knowing them by name. This helps us work better together and make some great music.

WE’RE IN THE AGE OF “NEW” MEDIA. DID YOUR TRAINING AS A MUSICIAN AND A CONDUCTOR PREPARE YOU FOR YOUR NEW ROLE AS HOLOGRAM AT SYMPHONY HALL?

I have never participated in the creation of a hologram before, so it was fun to see how they created the 3D image. It’s both strange and exciting to stand next to your own talking and moving hologram – and I was happy to see that I have lost some weight since recording the image last July! I hope our wonderful patrons enjoyed this technology, and that the hologram and overall exhibit communicated some interesting and new information, especially to newcomers to the BSO.

IS THE ROLE OF CONDUCTOR OF A WORLD-CLASS ORCHESTRA OF THE 21’ST CENTURY DIFFERENT THAN IT WAS FOR YOUR HISTORIC COUNTERPARTS?

I would say that it is a faster moving world today, of course it is, and this pace applies to all aspects of modern life! However, in contrast, the fundamental role of the conductor has not changed so much at all on the podium. This profession is still based on personal communication and it rather stands the test of time in this sense. It’s such a magical and of historic profession.

BOSTON HAS A REPUTATION FOR BEING A FAIRLY TRADITIONAL CITY. CAN YOU GIVE US A PREVIEW OF ANY EXCITING, NEW WORK YOU’LL BE INTRODUCING?

The Boston Symphony Orchestra has always presented many new interesting compositions with major composers as Bartok, Hindemith, Stravinsky, Babbitt, Birtwistle, Carter, and Saariaho, and many others, and also significant premieres.  So there is no doubt that with the great repertoire that we all love so deeply—music of Brahms, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, etc.—we will also explore works by new composers and go back to some of the works of the 20th and 21st centuries that have made the recent history of classical music.  Sophia Gubaidulina’s Offertorium is a great example of bringing back a late 20th century work that is now considered a masterpiece of our field—and Baiba Skride’s recent performances captured the extraordinary sound of Ms. Gubaidulina’s composition. This season we’ve also programmed works by Boston composers Gunther Schuller, John Harbison, and Michael Gandolfi, as well as works by Australian composer Brett Dean and my Latvian compatriot Eriks Esenvalds. Our audiences have responded very enthusiastically to what we have performed so far. We will continue to explore new works and bring the very best of music to our wonderful patrons.

For further information about the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a complete spring schedule, visit Boston Symphony or click here for complete programs, ticket information, photos, press documents, and artist bios.

Paul Endres Jr., American (b. 1985) The Surviving Members of the Sullivan Seven, 2014 Oil on panel, 36 x 36 inches

Paul Endres Jr., American (b. 1985)
The Surviving Members of the Sullivan Seven, 2014
Oil on panel, 36 x 36 inches

You might think that running Childs Gallery, one of Boston’s most established purveyors of fine art, would mean that Richard Baiano is stuffy, living like a citizen of the mid-20th century. But you would be wrong. Very wrong. Richard and his business partner, Stephanie Bond, who have co-owned the gallery since 2009, are constantly on the prowl looking for the next great artist all while honoring the 70-year history of the Newbury Street gallery that was founded by Charles D. Childs. Baiano got the art bug while working as an architect at GUND Partnership. We check in with him not just about the current state of Boston’s visual arts scene, but where he thinks it is going and which artists will be blazing that trail

 

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Jared Bowen Sienna Miller

Jared Bowen with actress Sienna Miller, star of the upcoming film ‘American Sniper.’

An Emmy Award-winning reporter and host for WGBH, Boston’s PBS television outlet, and its NPR radio station, WGBH-FM, Jared Bowen exudes the calm and authoritative demeanor viewers have come to expect from a seasoned journalist. As the city’s only remaining television arts and entertainment reporter, this Emerson College alum is also a busy guy, covering multiple cultural events a week in Boston and beyond. He hosts the weekly TV show “Open Studio with Jared Bowen,” contributes to WGBH-TV’s nightly news program “Greater Boston” and is a commentator for “Morning Edition” and the mid-day show “Boston Public Radio.” It should be noted that the dapper, blue-eyed bachelor possesses a finely tuned sense of humor and hasn’t – at least as far as we can tell – let all of his success go to his head. We caught up with the down-to-earth media maven in between him interviewing an Obie Award-winning playwright and prepping for a piece with a New York Times’ bestselling author.

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Michael DePaulo

Fashion designer Michael DePaulo is having a good year. Last February, the Boston native made his Palm Beach debut to critical acclaim and is getting ready to launch a new bridal and ready-to-wear line in December. Known primarily for his cocktail, evening and special occasion designs, DePaulo’s use of sophisticated lines with an innovative edge has attracted an A-list clientele that includes media and sports powerhouse Linda Pizzuti Henry and Tony Award-winning theater director Diane Paulus. We recently caught up with the handsome and peripatetic 34-year-old over coffee in the South End, where we talked about the intersection of fashion, design and architecture as well as the joys of the perfect plate of pasta.

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I’ve always been interested in architecture and how spaces are designed and built around us. Architecture affects most of us in ways we might not realize, although we all know the buildings and public spaces to which we are drawn. This summer I had the good fortune to meet  Janice Stanton, a New York City-based lawyer-turned-documentary-filmmaker, who was vacationing on the Greek island of Hydra, where since 2011 I’ve been renovating a stone cottage high on a hilltop, complete with donkeys, chickens and a spectacular view of the Peloponnese. Over cocktails at the Pirate Bar, a favorite harbor side haunt of artists, authors and summer sailors, Janice talked about her latest project, a film highlighting the work of five world-renowned  architects who all happen to be women.

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