Blog Archive

End of January Blog

End of January Blog


The American Broadway Musical vs. Hollywood. This one is inspired by my watching, over the past few months, a PBS hour-long special on the American Musical Theater, and also encountering by chance the movie versions of some of those great musicals as they appear on odd channels of my TV. And by remembering back to the musicals I’ve seen over the decades on stage and in films. In a previous blog (the “New Year’s Blog” for the end of 2012) I wrote about my early fondness for the musical comedies of Victor Herbert, Sigmund Romberg, and Jerome Kern. Few of these were made into films, at least memorable films--Kern’s “Showboat” was made twice, but that’s a special case. (The earlier, 1936 version features singing by Paul Robeson and Helen Morgan, which makes it, for me, the “true” version.)

Beginning with the 1949 Rogers and Hammerstein “South Pacific,” the best of the Broadway musicals were mostly made into films.  But--and here is the core of my complaint--the great gap, geographical and cultural and financial, between Broadway and Hollywood meant that we too often failed to get original-cast movies of the great ones.  (Original-cast recordings we have, but that’s not remotely the same.) The great operatic baritone Ezio Pinza (whom I remember well as Don Giovanni) famously sang opposite Mary Martin in the 1949  Broadway “South Pacific,” but when a Hollywood studio bought the rights to it, they chose to cast Rossano Brazzi (augh--fine actor, bad singer) in place of Pinza, and Mitzi Gaynor instead of Mary Martin. Similarly for the 1959 Lerner and Loewe “Camelot”: to see and hear Richard Burton standing on stage and speaking/singing the title song was memorable and moving in a way that those of us (West-coasters) who didn’t see the original will never know, except through reports and the recording. By the time it reached the film, it was Richard Harris, a big drop downward.

A fine singer-actor who has lost out several times is Julie Andrews. Yes, we have her “Mary Poppins” (which my daughter Sarah saw 8-1/2 times, mostly with her father sitting beside her--push the button and I can still say That Word, or sing most of the songs) and “The Sound of Music,” in both of which Andrews is terrific. But when Hollywood got around to making a film of “My Fair Lady,” in the original Broadway production of which Julie Andrews had been Eliza Doolittle--she wasn’t a big enough “name,” and in went Audrey Hepburn. (No one admires Hepburn more than myself, but…) So we miss having the performance that Julie Andrews gave on Broadway.  (If you want to hear the greatest Eliza Doolittle ever, in the original ”Pygmalion” play without music, watch the old film of that with Wendy Hiller--the transformation of her speech under the tutelage of Leslie Howard as Henry Higgins is one of the supreme verbal triumphs ever captured on film. This is, moreover, the original version authorized by the playwright, George Bernard Shaw.)

Think of the great films we might have if Hollywood had been closer to Broadway. Kurt Weill’s “Knickerbocker Holiday” with Walter Huston singing “September Song.” The Gershwins’ “Of Thee I Sing” with the original cast. “Porgy and Bess” with Todd Duncan and Ann Brown. (I saw and heard them in an S.F. production of it.) Frank Loesser’s great “Guys and Dolls,” one of the masterworks of the American musical, comes through mostly OK, with Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin. But then they needed a big “star,” and there is Marlon Brando trying to talk and sing like a Damon Runyon gangster and act like one, and looking and sounding terribly out of place and pulling down, for me, the whole production.

I have the impression--as a non-specialist--that the stage and the film come together better in England, where the London theater, the BBC, and the film industry work more easily together, and we have such triumphs as the great Olivier Shakespeare performances. The Shaw plays are made into films that follow the scripts closely, and star major actors. The Angry Young Men plays and novels of the 1960s are turned into films without bad distortion. A fine short story by one of them becomes a fine movie: “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” with Tom Courtenay and Michael Redgrave. (How I would love to see again “A Taste of Honey” with Rita Tushingham!) And so forth. A different economic basis for the arts, with stronger government support through the BBC etc.? I suppose some difference of that kind lies behind it.

Double Negatives

In conveying to people these days, in speech or written messages, why I can’t locate a certain old document or file, I often find myself talking or writing about the wrapped boxes of files etc. that were shipped from my old study in Vancouver and still sit in piles on the floor in the adjoining room, not unpacked. And in talking or writing about them I begin by thinking: “unpacked boxes,” and then think: “No, that’s not right, it’s un-unpacked boxes.” But we don’t say or write that, too awkward, so: Not yet unpacked boxes. But there must be a shorter way to say it or write it?  This raises the big question of constructions in English involving double negatives. Some are well established and emerge easily, ones like “not without consequences” or “didn’t go unnoticed.” Others still sound awkward, such as “still not unpacked boxes.”  (Later report: my helper Katie and I unpacked most of them today, and distributed the contents to appropriate places, so that most of them are no longer un-un--uh, I mean Not yet un--Well, you know what I mean.)

A related matter: the new prevalence of “both --- as well as ---.” I still wince inwardly when I read it, although it’s become so common that we oldsters should just accept it, as we accepted the once-wrong usage of “hopefully” and others that we used to red-pencil in students’ papers. (I used to imagine myself responding, when the airline stewardess said “We will land momentarily in New York,” by saying: No, I don’t want to land momentarily--that means we will be taking off again almost immediately--I want to stay there.)

And I used to write this in the margins:

OK: Both A and B

OK: A as well as B

Not OK, wrong, tautological: Both A as well as B.

But then I gave up. These are all lost causes, based in memories of another age when popular songs had singable tunes and intelligent, sometimes poetic lyrics, and when other standards of English prose style prevailed. I’ve brought down some old books from my upstairs library and have been browsing in them, books by Hilaire Belloc, Max Beerbohm, Kenneth Grahame and others. Read ‘em and weep.

The Lateness of European Culture


Reading Stephen Greenblatt’s new book “Swerve,” about the re-discovery of Lucretius’s poem De rerum naturum and its profound effect on later European culture, I find myself thinking, often: How late these Europeans were in arriving at basic truths and discoveries! Gutenberg? for China, he’s a Ming person, late in their history of printing. And there they are still writing on parchment, thin animal  hides, etc. long after paper has been developed into a major craft in itself in China.  A book printed before the beginning of the sixteenth century in Europe is classified as “incunabula” and treated as a rare treasure. I have in my library upstairs a number of late Ming books, original editions of the classical writings on painting etc., bought in Japan long ago--there may well be one or another among them that would be “incunabula” in Europe. I am reminded of the story (which I told once in a banquet talk in China--see CLP 196 on this website) about how Yuan Shih-k’ai, when he was president of China and visited the U.S., was taken to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell, the symbol of our founding, and he gazed at it and said: “Hm, Qianlong!”  A put-down for China, although not intended as that. Needham’s Question Revisited.”

The third lecture in our series for the U.C. Berkeley Retirement Center (I gave the first, two weeks ago, and David Johnson the second, last week) will be by Eugene Wong, Emeritus Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and titled The Tradition of Science and Technology of China: Needham’s Question Revisited.”  Needham’s Question is, of course, the one about: Why did China, after being far ahead of the rest of the world for some centuries in technological progress and invention, decide collectively (it would seem) early in the Ming not to go any further? We’ll see what Wong proposes. David Johnson used to have a lecture titled “Why China Didn’t Invent the Steam Engine, “ and I have used this as one of my examples of practices that China originates, develops to a very high point, and then--as if by some grand collective decision--decides to stop doing. And I have often enough followed up this account of the Needham Problem with the obvious observation: Looking at the world today and the factors that threaten the very continuity of human civilization--global warming, pollution of air and land and sea, the extinction of so many species, all the rest--we might well consider the Chinese to have been wise to stop when they did. And that can serve as our final observation for today, one that is profoundly true and will lead, if one continues thinking in that direction, to some deeply disturbing thoughts.

Leaving you to pursue those on your own, unassisted, I remain

James Cahill , Jan. 27th, 2013.


Add-on, Next Day:

Nicholas Cahill in a Sardis Excavation

I can’t really close this without adding a Happy Birthday wish to my great son Nicholas, who was born on this day, I won’t say how many years ago.  (This was the holiest day of the year for the Kiyoshi Kôjin, the temple near Takarazuka where we used to spend so much time, and they always made this into an auspicious connection, more than coincidence.) Nick is a professor of Ancient and Medieval Art and Archaeology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, but is right now at Sardis in central Turkey with his wife Kay and three of their five daughters. Recently one of these daughters, his wife Kay, Sarah and I have been reminiscing on Facebook and elsewhere about how, as a boy, Nick would be captured for long periods by some obsession: he was, for instance (after I read him a children’s “Moby Dick”), Queequeg the harpooner for weeks, and I built him a whaling ship in the backyard (out of old lumber and doors etc. from the basement) so he could stand on the deck and harpoon whales; we read about a mermaid in “Father Bear Comes Home” (one of the  “Little Bear” books by Elsie Minarik with pictures by Maurice Sendak), and for weeks he was a mermaid, wearing a tail of green colored and sequined cloth made for him by my mother, elastic at the waits and ankles; he could never watch the underseas TV program without having his scuba-diving mask on. And so forth. My point in recounting these is to observe, as I have in the reminiscences, that this trait of character has carried over into his later life: when he sets his mind to something and commits himself to it, he doesn’t quickly let go or give up. For a dissertation project he spent two years at his MacIntosh computer feeding in a huge amount of information from eight thick volumes (never published) of excavation reports on the dig at Sardis, the most completely excavated of Greek cities, making this huge program searchable by many criteria; and the book he published, based on his dissertation, was properly hailed as the first example of using computer technology in this way for analysis of archaeological data. As director of Project Perseus for a time Nick worked on making the information and images of archaeology accessible to everybody. He has accomplished a lot in many seasons at Sardis, the directorship of which he took on with the recent death of Crawford Greenwalt, and he has devoted his sabbatical year to digging there, with results still to be revealed and published.  I wish him, with lots of fatherly love, a great 2013, with intact and richly-furnished early tombs down there waiting for him to find them!

Best again, James Cahill (now also, proudly, Dad.)

My Three Sons: Benedict, Nicholas, and Julian at Sardis


Big Projects Blog, 2013/1/5


Big Projects Blog, 2013/1/5

- Biggest News: I’m deeply and seriously involved in a project to help the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou--the oldest art academy in China, the one most open to foreign ideas (even when they differ from Chinese tradition), and my “home base” in China--they are also taking on the function of posting my video-lectures--a project to help them increase their library facilities by giving them most of mine, thousands of books. (I gave first choice to UCB’s East Asian Library, but they have most of them  already.) The Librarian at the Hangzhou Academy, Prof. Zhang Jian, and two assistants are coming here in March for 2-1/2 weeks to work on listing all the books for Chinese customs and arranging for their shipment.


And in the course of correspondence about how the books would be used, I argued that some of them--the ones that aren’t of the expensive reproduction-book type--should be available for borrowing, so that they can be read, not just looked at in a memorial library that’s a monument to me. They have agreed to this, in principle. That insistence of mine brought a message from Prof. Hong Zaixin, a major mover in this project and my main contact with the Academy, to which I responded with this paragraph--worth quoting, I think, as an expression of one of my deepest beliefs:


“Dear Zaixin, What you refer to as my democratic belief and anti-elitist mindset--I appreciate the thought, and take it as a compliment--is commonplace among people of my generation and status, especially here in Berkeley. If some people are choosing to forget the great legacy of F.D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, Johnson and the Great Society, and all that to pay attention to latter-day elitists, that’s a perversion of our national past. Those of you who grew up in China still preserve--however much your mind has opened over the years, and changed--some remnant of an older way of thinking. Whatever I can do to help convey the all-men-are-equal idea to elsewhere in the world, I want to do. And letting everybody (or lots of qualified people) read my books, not just gaze at them on library shelves and library cards, is an important move in that direction. So I’ll continue to press for that.”


Zaixin also commented on the quality of my writing, wondering where it came from. The right answer is: from extensive reading while young (see my Little Leather Library blog of July 9th, 2012, about reading these small-size classics while sitting in a tree). But in later years, it came from doing lots of both reading and writing, all the time, and choosing good models. To his question about where the best American non-fiction writing style came from, I answered: from, above all, articles in “The New Yorker”, especially those written during the early years by E. B. White, who had more to do than anyone else, I think, with establishing a great model for American prose writing. If you know him only from “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little,” do some more reading. I myself am now reading, and re-reading for some, his short pieces collected in “E. B. White: Writings From the New Yorker, 1927-1976” (ed. by Rebecca Dale, Harper, 1991; paperback reprint, 2006) and admiring his essays on Walden and “Visitors To the Pond,” on “Liberalism” and other political themes, on the death of James Thurber, and all the rest. He could serve as a model also for how to express strong views on moral issues without sounding preachy.


I wrote Zaixin about how every good American writer used to use, and teachers used to recommend to students, White’s reworking of a writing guide his teacher Strunk had written into what we called “Strunk and White,” (From the internet: “White's expansion and modernization of Strunk's 1935 revised edition yielded the writing style manual informally known as Strunk & White, the first edition of which sold approximately two million copies in 1959. In the ensuing four decades, more than ten million copies of three editions have been sold.”) Students and young writers heard so regularly and insistently about this that some of them rebelled, in the 1960s, and argued for a broader range of acceptable writing styles, seeing Strunk and White as “elitist.” But that’s another story: back to mine.


- Consoling Message To Friend who wrote that he/she had failed to get an applied-for grant:


Sorry to learn you didn’t get the grant for ----. And you are right to be optimistic about it and resolve to try again with an improved proposal. It’s a necessary part of the whole academic game, raising funds for one’s projects--I remember doing it in old days. And making fun of it--for several years I wrote or co-wrote the scripts for Faculty Club Christmas Party performances, and in 1983, when U.C. was badly in need of more funding, I wrote one based on the 18th century ‘Beggar’s Opera.” We persuaded our Chancellor Mike Heyman to join in as the leader of the outlaw band (expanding his name to Mike HighWAYman) and our band of robbers, who in the original sing “Let us take the road,/ Hark I hear the sound of coaches,/ The hour of attack approaches,/ To your arms, brave boys, and load!” etc., our group sang as foundation-grant-seekers:


Song, MacDestry and Chorus (Tune: “Let Us Take the Road”)


Let us seize the chance—

Hark, I hear the approach of deadlines—

We’ll join the academic breadlines

And pursue foundation grants.

See the pen I hold--

So prettily we write the jargon

Our project sounds like a bargain

And they send us pots of gold!


And it went on to elaborate, with songs based on those great originals, on how different UC departments turned their expertise to making illegal money--It was a bit too esoteric for the tipsy & rowdy holiday audience, and not one of our great successes, but I am still fond of it. (You can read it on my website, in the  “Ching Yuan Chai Treasury of Imperishable Ephemera,” a collection of my non-scholarly writings, under “Writings of JC”.)


So, to coin a phrase, Better Luck Next Time! Jim


- Words of 2012: A NY Times page on this matter includes the word “gladly”, as used by--I think it was Al Gore. Anyway, I can never see this word without thinking of a certain optically-challenged mammal. The old story goes: A line in the hymn, as sung in church, went “Gladly the cross I’d bear,” meaning: If I had been there when Jesus made the final march to Golgotha, I would gladly have taken up the cross and carried it for him. But children in the congregation misheard it and thought of it as a hymn addressed to an animal named “Gladly, the cross-eyed bear.”

- More to come: I’ll be writing about an expansion of the plan for supplementing the library at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou (see above) into a grander plan: to establish some kind of center for the collection and distribution of digital images of works of art, especially (for my contribution) Chinese and Japanese paintings. I want to do whatever I can, while I can, to advance the practice of visual art history in China, where--as you know if you’ve been reading these blogs--the other kind, the “verbal” (based mainly in reading texts and using them to write more texts) has mostly been practiced. (I’ve called this “Cahill’s Dream” and compared it to the vision of the old man in Uday Shankar’s film “Kalpana”--see previous blog.) And I’ll be writing about the arrangements I’m making with assistants and collaborators to continue producing and posting the video-lectures in the “Gazing Into the Past” series (of which six are already posted here--see at left). It’s a busy and productive time late in the long life of

Yours truly, James Cahill . 1/27/2013.

New Year’s Blog for the End of 2012


New Year’s Blog for the End of 2012



- Several nights ago, on Sunday the 23rd, Turner Classic Movies showed as its Sunday Silent feature Carl Dreyer’s “Joan of Arc” (also called “The Passion of Joan of Arc”) made in 1928. In my Movie Notes (written for my sons Julian and Benedict and posted here under “Writings of JC”) I wrote of it:

“Silent masterwork by Danish director, starring a great actor, Renee Falconetti, who appeared only in this one film. Intensely moving, don’t watch casually. ‘Convinced the world that movies could be art,’ says the jacket blurb, and it’s right. I remember my first seeing it;  you will remember yours. (Seen again: this is of all films the most unlike any other. Some consider Falconetti’s performance to be the finest on film—it seems beyond human capacity.  The young priest sympathetic to Joan is Antonin Artaud, himself a famous actor, and promoter of a rather poisonous doctrine of a ‘theater of cruelty.’)”

Last Sunday I intended to watch only the beginning, to call back my memories of that greatest of film performances, which indeed seems more than a performance, more than acting, somehow moving into the transcendental, the sublime. But in the end I couldn’t look away, and sat there mesmerized through the whole, through the terrible scenes of her death by burning. Looking up more information on Maria Renee Falconetti I see that she did make one other film, now forgotten, and was mostly a comedienne. Dreyer reportedly meant originally to use a famous movie actress such as Lillian Gish in the role, but ended with Falconetti, and somehow drew out of her--with harsh treatment, it’s said, that made her physically uncomfortable--this mesmerizing series of close-up studies of her face, her responses to the brutal questioning of her tormenters, which make up about half the footage of the film.  Nothing like it has been done before or since, and one can’t imagine anything like it being attempted again. If you haven’t seen it, buy the best disk you can get--a recent restoration with a musical score taken from old compositions that somehow fits the images--and watch it over and over. It will enrich your life.

- From the Sublime to the Ridiculous-- but the nostalgically and enjoyably ridiculous: The next afternoon Turner Classic Movies showed, and I happened to tune in on (without having noticed it in their programming) the original “Babes in Toyland,” with Victor Herbert music and starring Laurel and Hardy. Made in 1938, it must have been shown in that or the following year at the Union Theater on Main St. in Fort Bragg, the small fishing and lumber town in Mendocino County on the Pacific coast where, on one Saturday morning, a triangular-faced little boy of eight or nine stood in line clutching his dime for admission. He loved the movie, and was impressed enough by the “March of the Wooden Soldiers” near the end to persuade his piano teacher, a Mrs. Stagner, to order the music for it so that he could try to play it--as he never quite could. But the music haunted him through many later viewings, when he showed it to his children, always in danger of turning wet-eyed when Mother Goose at the beginning sings “Toyland, Toyland, little girl and boy-land” and “Once you leave its borders you may ne’er return again.” As a teen-ager he was devoted to the light operas of Victor Herbert, Sigmund Romberg (“The Desert Song,” “The Vagabond King”--push the right button and he will still sing the song with which Francois Villon rouses his fellows in a tavern to go off to fight the troops of Burgundy) or Jerome Kern (“Music In the Air,” with John Charles Thomas and Irra Petina, at the Curran Theater in S.F.) Anyway: seeing this old movie for the umpteenth time--but the first in a decade or more--stirred the old feelings in me, and I watched it through. Two complete movies in two days (see above) sets a kind of record for my later years.

- The NYTimes Obituary section for December 19th printed an obituary for the death at age 96 of Mary Griggs Burke, the New York collector who put together a great collection of Japanese art over many years. I got to know her when I was a fellowship student at the Met in 1953-4, and in later years saw a lot of her and her husband Jackson (whom she married in 1955.) The great exhibition of Japanese art shown at the Met in the spring of 1954 included several fine works of Nanga painting, introducing that subject to me, and I later advised Mary and Jackson on expanding that side of their collection, which was new to them (and pretty much everybody else outside Japan). When I put together the first foreign exhibition of that school of painting, the 1972 “Scholar Painters of Japan: The Nanga School,” I included, in an exhibition otherwise entirely made up of works from Japanese collections, a Taiga screen they had bought on my recommendation representing “The Poetical Gathering At the Orchid Pavilion.” And in fact this exhibition would not have taken place if Mary Burke had not gone to a lot of trouble to rescue it when it seemed doomed, confronting the Bunkachô authorities in Japan and arguing for its restoration in their program after they had decided to eliminate it. (For that story, see on this website Reminiscence no. 50, “My Partly Botched Nanga Exhibition.”) I visited Mary less often in later years, but remember being shown some Chinese paintings she had bought, including a figure scroll by Wu Bin. Like another New York collector I knew well, John Crawford, she was reluctant to see her collection go to the Met because, also like Crawford, she disliked the curator (and department chair) with whom she would have to negotiate.  But in 2006, perhaps in response to the retirement of that curator and his replacement by another, she announced that her collection would be divided between the Met and the Minneapolis Museum of Art--with the Met getting, I assume,   pieces that would best supplement what they had already, notably from the Harry Packard sale and gift. (This is only an “educated guess”--I have no direct information about the matter.)

So, farewell to another old friend and supporter.

- Finally: The Big News: OUR NEW SERIES OF VIDEO-LECTURES BEGINS TO BE POSTED AT LAST. At left, under the blog section, is a new one for the new series, which is titled “Gazing Into the Past: Scenes From Later Chinese and Japanese Painting.” The detail picture on it, from Shitao’s great “Waterfall on Mt. Lu” in the Sumitomo Collection, is the same detail that appeared (more cut-down) on the title page of my Skira book “Chinese Painting”  long ago, and depicts two men: one seated and watching the other, who is standing and gazing, not upward at the waterfall, but downward into the mist. When each of the lectures is opened, another “Gazing Into the Past” image appears behind the titles: a detail from Luo Ping’s 1799 “Portrait of I-an” that is the last painting in that same Skira book. (The implications and resonances of that picture, and of the music that accompanies it and the pianist who plays the music, are all explained at some length in an insert at the beginning of GIP 2--watch and listen to that and you will understand better  my purpose in doing this new series.)


Another dozen or more GIP lectures are close to completion and will be posted before long. Each, with a few exceptions, is devoted to a single artist, and in many cases centers on a single painting, typically an album or handscroll from which we see many sections and details. And always the lectures contain large numbers of  images, wholes and close-in details, mostly made from old Kodachrome slides from my collection--disorderly, but the largest anywhere?--and feature also commentary from my old head, of which much the same can be said (more visual images of Chinese paintings than in any other still-operative head, but more and more disorderly as time passes.) That the images, and whatever wisdom the old head holds, will be lost forever when I join my ancestors, is my main motivation for working to complete as much as I can of this series.


So:  take some time, when you have the time, to watch these lectures, which offer never-before-seen visual accounts of some of the most exciting Yuan-Ming-Qing paintings of China and some   great paintings--mostly Nanga but also works by Sesshû--of Japan.


And that is my Christmas and New Year’s gift for the end of 2012, offered with the warmest wishes for the new year, to all of you from your old lecturer and blogger,

James Cahill

Latest Work

  • Conclusion Conclusion
    VI Conclusion It is time to draw back and look, if not at the whole Hyakusen, at as much of him as we have managed to illuminate in this study. Dark areas remain, and doubtless many distortions, but...

Latest Blog Posts

  • Bedridden Blog
    Bedridden Blog   I am now pretty much confined to bed, and have to recognize this as my future.  It is difficult even to get me out of bed, as happened this morning when they needed to...