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ArtsBeat: ‘The Americans’ Recap: It Means Nothing to Me

Written By Unknown on Kamis, 16 April 2015 | 16.43

Photo Keri Russell in "The Americans."Credit Patrick Harbon/FX

Season 3, Episode 12: 'I Am Abassin Zadran'

Товарищи, пристегните ремни.
(Comrades, fasten your seatbelts.)

"Clark." Peeling. Off. His. Wig. Martha watches as if he were a hideous alien pulling away the false skin that allows him to masquerade as a member of her species (and to mate with her). The scene is excruciating and fascinating. Clark looks as serious as we have ever seen him, and by the time he has loosed every bobby pin and pried the sandy hairpiece from his head, he has assumed a wild-eyed Randle McMurphy expression, or maybe it's just the asymmetrically disarrayed natural (or so we believe) hair underneath.

He removes the wig in what looks like a moment of desperation when Martha is about to leave him. His eyes say he wants Martha to stay, and that to keep her, he will reveal another layer of himself. It's possible that he simply fears losing her as a potential agent, or that it's just a matter of retaining control over her and what she knows. Where did she think she was going, anyway? Leaving Clark and returning to her parents' house, even for a little while, would not fool Walter Taffet and company. It might not even fool Stan Beeman.

Martha has no choice. She doesn't know Clark's whole story, and she probably won't find out he is Philip Jennings, a married Russian spy with children. But she does know she was gullible to accept the terms of their "marriage," no matter how satisfying the sex was and no matter how exotic her little bit of spy work made her feel.

What does Clark mean when he says to Martha "We might have to go away, someplace new?" Is that a euphemism for getting her out of town to some remote motel where he can kill her? He wouldn't be serious about leaving with her for good. It's difficult to determine what he hopes to salvage and how he can manage the damage control.

An Afghan coup.

All at once, control is what seems to be sliding through the hands of the Directorate S illegals.

But they have not lost their touch. Their masterly handling of the visiting mujahedeen leader Abassin Zadran is the ultimate exercise in control. After laying a trap based on a tidbit of information from the bug in Kimmy's father's briefcase, they smuggled out the Afghan fighter, wound him up and let him go.

The power of suggestion — supported by the knowledge of how to inflame a killer with strong tribal loyalties coursing though his veins, an inbred suspicion of outsiders and a likelihood to act first and do the fact-checking later — allows Philip and Elizabeth to complete their destruction of the C.I.A.'s relationship with the Afghans bloodlessly. Sort of. The only blood on their hands was metaphorical. By remote control they gutted his enemies like goats and then delivered him, the nemesis of the Soviets, red-handed to the Americans.

At the Rezidentura.

There is a valedictory aura surrounding events in this episode as it shifts from moment to memorable moment.

Oleg amusingly reads English dialogue from the copious transcripts of conversations the mail robot picked up. Every word is clatteringly committed to paper by the Red Army Typing Corps.

The brilliant plan to use the lumbering machine as a roving eavesdropper seems to have backfired in the newly restrained atmosphere of the F.B.I. office.

And Arkady is being uncharacteristically mercurial when he suddenly calls a halt to Operation Zephyr. Tatiana thinks it's a bad move, an interference with her own secret plans, perhaps — and manipulates Oleg to help find ways to prolong the program and presumably help save Arkady's image in the process.

She also drops a few hints of Prague and brings in some Czech-Slovak pastry. Relevant detail, or a red herring? Did she get her chops steering a tank through the Prague Spring to crush the hopes for democracy?

Get smart.

Back at the bureau, the atmosphere is tense. In the course of a heated exchanged with Agent Aderholt, who is increasingly in his face, Stan presents a what-if scenario, and he is very close to being right.

But Aderholt is a Denny-one-note.

Aderholt: "Did you plant the bug?"

Stan: "No. And you are not as smart as you look." (Is that a bad thing?)

Speaking of smart, Martha did handle her unexpected gentleman caller beautifully. He said he was there because he thought she was troubled, that she had stared into her coffee cup for a long time. (Nice try, Stan.)

Martha takes the ball: "You know, I talk to it sometimes, and I beg it to wake me up," she tells him over their endlessly steeping tea.

Their nervous fiddling with the teabags seems to go on forever as we bite our nails, worrying over what would happen should "Clark's" trajectory to Martha crosses Stan's. Thank heaven for Hans, who was dispatched to patrol the area a few visits ago when Elizabeth thought Philip might need help.

Martha does a professional job of getting rid of Stan, too. All she has to do is mention his failed marriage and wonder aloud why he is there in her maidenly apartment (she had carefully tucked away a photo of her and Clark) and Stan hightails it out of there. She certainly seems to have a future in espionage.

Tea and comradery.

Claudia (a.k.a. Granny, played by Margo Martindale, who has been plenty busy these days) makes an appearance again, this time with Gabriel in a place that resembles the diner that Stan and Zinaida visited in Episode 4. Contemptuous consumers that they are, Claudia and Gabriel banteringly discuss the burgers and their endless variety.

"How does one choose?" he asks.
"The paradox of being American," she says.
"Mmm. Isn't this a Greek diner?" he says.

They settle for tea, and amid some patting and clasping of each other's hands — like very old friends or once upon a time something more? — they talk about the family of illegal agents that met a tragic end back in Season 3. Maybe Philip is right about trying to protect Paige, Gabriel ventures. He staves off Claudia's disapproval, saying, "I'm thinking, Claudia. I can think out loud with you after 30 years."

"Think out loud all you like. It's a free country, or hadn't you heard?" she says as only she can. (Claudia is wearing what appears to be a wedding ring, at least for part of the scene, but that could mean nothing.)

Stealth and wealth.

So, in the last episode, Maurice's greed propelled his wife, Lisa, right into Elizabeth's … er … Michelle's hands. The couple said they caved so quickly because they were trying to save their house from foreclosure. But Lisa isn't going to see any of that cash, is she? At least not the laundered K.G.B. payment from her first foray onto the Northrup factory floor with her clandestine camera. And now Maurice, fortified with everything a blackmailer needs, has Lisa in his control. Or he is about to reach the end of his days. All Elizabeth – or Lisa – would have to do would be to sprinkle a little something into that big juice jar in the cabinet.

It leaves us with the question: Who is the nastier person? Elizabeth, preying on down-on-their-luck alcoholics, or Maurice, taking further advantage of his already abused (in unspecified ways, but surely abused) wife?


"I would gut every one of them like a goat." Does this have a future as a catchphrase?

We probably won't see a lot more of Abassin, the bloodthirsty mujahedeen leader who gave the episode its name and uttered that line, but perhaps we can designate some other character to pick it up. Henry might be best.

For example:

Philip to Henry: "Hey, buddy, what are you studying so hard?"
Henry: "Geography test tomorrow."
Philip: "Are you ready?
Henry: "I'm gonna gut it like a goat."

White noise.

Now, we must deal with Paige's latest outbursts. Did you want to take a flyswatter to her for her insolence or body-block her overly menacing parents during their latest claustrophobic closed-door conference in the garage?

She engaged in a fairly minor act of rebellion, except for her quite pointed embrace of Pastor Tim and a slightly less enthusiastic hug to his wife. Is she seeking asylum with them? Does she want to be adopted? These thoughts probably were not lost on her parents, who are losing control over her. They need to choose their battles, but their adolescent has a more dangerous secret than most.

Following another explosion in which Paige rips photographs of faux relatives from a family album, she is probably feeling more isolated than ever. Philip senses her need for connection to family, and so the idea Elizabeth initially rejected begins to become reality. After much deliberation, Elizabeth reverses herself on the idea of going to Russia to see her mother. But she'll be taking her daughter with her.

She swoops into Paige's room and presses the clock radio to create some white noise, setting off the dark "Vienna," by Ultravox, which plays as she makes her proposition to her daughter, repeating its chorus, "It means nothing to me."

Comments on the comments.

To those of you who brought up Elizabeth's recounting to Paige that she and her mother had shared an apartment with three other families, don't you suspect that Elizabeth, even in that little speech in the car in Episode 11, was already spinning tales for Paige's benefit? She elaborated her stories and lied outright to burnish them with a sheen of adversity and even heroism.

Julie of Delaware came up with a way to neatly tie up the plot, when she posited that the family could accompany Pastor Tim on a mission trip to the Soviet Union, killing several birds with one stone, but religion is probably the last thing the Soviets want to import, so any "mission" had better be disguised as something else entirely. If they do make the trip, will Martha go along on a one-way ticket?

Allen Rebchook of Wisconsin noted that "if you're going to make your 16-year-old daughter an accessory to a capital crime, you probably have to get used to a bit of the silent treatment." So true. And after this episode, a little silence might be welcome.

Which moment was the most shocking for you in this episode, comrades? The most tense? The most realistic?
It's time to sum up your impressions as we head to the finale next week. I hope those of you who are writing several hundred words of impassioned commentary each week and who are deeply invested in the show have something to turn to after April 22, or have a vacation coming, or are returning to your dissertations on crop yields for opium poppies.

Товарищи, повторяйте за мной: Жизнь есть после Сезона 3.
(Comrades, repeat after me: There is life after Season 3.)

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ArtsBeat: ‘Broadchurch’ Recap: Properly Angry

Season 2, Episode 7

Photo From left, James D'Arcy and David Tennant in "Broadchurch."Credit ITV/Kudos

Alec Hardy has no pity for any of his suspects, and "Broadchurch" has no pity on us. "I like it when they panic," Hardy tells Ellie Miller with a devilish grin — or at least as much of a grin as his taut face can muster. And most viewers will be panicking when they finish Episode 7, which ends with a double cliffhanger — including a verdict paused halfway through — before cutting to black.

"That's a cheap ploy!" you might cry from the bleachers.

So what? They like it when you panic.

There's no doubt about it: after slurring and panting through the season, D.I. Hardy has made a bionic man resurgence. He walks with a new-found swagger, pursues leads with abandon and no longer dreams about the deathly waters, but rather of his intimate, serene moment with Claire.

"I'm reborn," he gloats at Lee, before ripping off a self-motivational monologue worthy of any great boxing movie. They've been wonderful antagonists: the younger, stronger and more stoic Lee delivered the first blows, but the post-surgery Hardy has turned into a wrathful, no-holds-barred fighting machine. When he lets slip that Claire had a secret pregnancy, he shatters Lee's "Bonnie and Clyde" illusions and sends the Ashworth marriage into freefall.

Not that they need much help. They're a deceitful, self-destructive pair, perfect for each other but impossible in the long run. All it takes is that one small push from Hardy before they're trying to drown each other in the ocean. They can't quite finish each other off, but the inevitable tides of history crash, beating them over and over. Any hope for a spinoff, Mr. Chibnall? I'd absolutely watch "Star-Crossed Murderers in the South of France."

After letting Lee dog-paddle toward his own destruction, Hardy goes about picking off every other suspect. He starts with the hopeless headcase Gary Thorp, who's less of a decoy than Lee presumed. Then it's off to Ricky Gillespie, who dodges and lumbers around the truth like an elephant trying to hide in some trees. His answer to whether he likes bluebells tells you all you need to know about his intelligence and tact: "Yeah, they're all right. They're a flower."

When Hardy takes one more crack at Lee at the end of the episode, he's in total command. Lee backs into full denial mode, just as Joe Miller tried to do in his mock interview before getting cut down by his own lawyers, so you know the truth is around the corner. Lee has generally been impossible to read, but his final "I have nothing left to say" reeks of fear and exhaustion.

Speaking of Joe: he's either about to be set free or convicted, as the two lawyers give their final statements back in the courtroom. Jocelyn is professorial in her attack: deliberate and eloquent, with sweeping  gestures and carefully-measured statistics. But she also carries with her more than a decade of passion, as she is about to confess her love to Maggie, in a touching (if slightly cloying) scene on the beach.

"I always loved watching your speeches," Sharon says to Jocelyn outside the courtroom during an improbably timed smoke break. (I can't wait to see Pacquiao and Mayweather sharing a Gatorade  between rounds eight and nine.)

Of course, Sharon doesn't stop there.  Jocelyn and the  justice system "can both go to hell," she snarls. How ironic and devastating that her redemptive mission was so poorly chosen. In her own closing speech, she throws all of Jocelyn's formalities out the window. She's blunt and manipulative, beginning with clear conjecture before dropping the hypothetical halfway through and gleefully concocting an account of Mark's killing Danny. "Can you be sure that didn't happen?" she asks, with a whiff of Lena Dunham-esque verbal trickery.

Worst of all, it's shockingly convincing.

After this, it's an agonizing and unnecessary waiting game, as the jury shuffles from one claustrophobic room to another. A drinking game involving close-ups of Beth Latimer's pained expression would land you in the hospital. And if you thought you would get a result by the end of the episode, you're a sucker. See you next week!

Stray Notes and Observations

Scene Stealer Award: It goes to William Andrews as Ben, who stumbles over to Abby during a private moment in the courtroom to mumble, "I just wanted to say — I think you're a truly horrible person." Score a massive point for the good guys.

Obligatory Ellie-to-Hardy insult: "You are such terrible company!"

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Preserving the Ghastly Inventory of Auschwitz

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Preserving Auschwitz-Birkenau

Preserving Auschwitz-Birkenau

CreditJames Hill for The New York Times

OSWIECIM, Poland — To visit Auschwitz is to find an unfathomable but strangely familiar place. After so many photographs and movies, books and personal testimonies, it is tempting to think of it as a movie-set death camp, the product of a gruesome cinematic imagination, and not the real thing.

Alas, it is the real thing.

That is why, since its creation in 2009, the foundation that raises money to maintain the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau has had a guiding philosophy: "To preserve authenticity." The idea is to keep the place intact, exactly as it was when the Nazis retreated before the Soviet Army arrived in January 1945 to liberate the camp, an event that resonates on Holocaust Remembrance Day, on Thursday.

It is a moral stance with specific curatorial challenges. It means restoring the crumbling brick barracks where Jews and some others were interned without rebuilding those barracks, lest they take on the appearance of a historical replica. It means reinforcing the moss-covered pile of rubble that is the gas chamber at Birkenau, the extermination camp a few miles away, a structure that the Nazis blew up in their retreat. It means protecting that rubble from water seeping in from the adjacent ponds where the ashes of the dead were dumped.

Photo A display of childrens' shoes belonging to some of the victims of the camps. Credit James Hill for The New York Times

And it means deploying conservators to preserve an inventory that includes more than a ton of human hair; 110,000 shoes; 3,800 suitcases; 470 prostheses and orthopedic braces; more than 88 pounds of eyeglasses; hundreds of empty canisters of Zyklon B poison pellets; patented metal piping and showerheads for the gas chambers; hundreds of hairbrushes and toothbrushes; 379 striped uniforms; 246 prayer shawls; more than 12,000 pots and pans carried by Jews who believed that they were simply bound for resettlement; and some 750 feet of SS documents — hygiene records, telegrams, architectural blueprints and other evidence of the bureaucracy of genocide — as well as thousands of memoirs by survivors.

The job can be harrowing and heartbreaking, but it is often performed out of a sense of responsibility.

"We are doing something against the initial idea of the Nazis who built this camp," said Anna Lopuska, 31, who is overseeing a long-term master plan for the site's conservation. "They didn't want it to last. We're making it last."

The strategy, she said, is "minimum intervention." The point is to preserve the objects and buildings, not beautify them. Every year, as more survivors die, the work becomes more important. "Within 20 years, there will be only these objects speaking for this place," she said.

The conservators are walking a less-trodden path in restoration. "We have more experience preserving a cathedral than the remains of an extermination camp," said Piotr Cywinski, who turns 43 on Thursday and is the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which runs the site. Auschwitz, he said, "is the last place where you can still effectively take the measure of the spatial organization of the progression of the Shoah."

Last year, a record 1.5 million people visited to take that measure, more than three times the number in 2001, putting even more strain on the aging buildings.

Between 1940 and 1945, 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz, the largest of the death camps, 90 percent of them Jews. The camp encompasses 500 acres, 155 buildings and 300 ruins.

Over the years, there have been dissenting views about the preservationist approach. "I'm not convinced about the current plans for Auschwitz," said Jonathan Webber, a former member of the International Auschwitz Council of advisers, who teaches in the European Studies program at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. "If you have a very good memorial, you could achieve that without having to have all this effort on conservation and restoration," he added.

The preservation lab, with high-end technology, opened in 2003. One afternoon last week, Nel Jastrzebiowska, 37, a paper conservator, was using a rubber eraser to clean a row of papers in files. They were letters on Auschwitz stationery, written in German in rosy prose intended to slip past the censors. "I'm in good health," one read, adding, "Send me money."

On a nearby table sat the second horn part to Tchaikovsky's Capriccio Italien (Op. 45), which had been played by the death camp's orchestra. Ms. Jastrzebiowska would preserve the page as it was, she said, and keep the smudges showing that the pages had been turned. "The objects must show their own history," said Jolanta Banas-Maciaszczyk, 36, the leader of the preservation department.

"We can't stop time," Ms. Jastrzebiowska said. "But we can slow it down."

Photo Visitors to the site crossing the railway line by the ramp where those arriving at the camp disembarked. Credit James Hill for The New York Times

Ms. Jastrzebiowska's husband, Andrzej Jastrzebiowski, 38, is a metal conservator. He spent three months cleaning all the eyeglasses in a vitrine, preserving their distressed state but trying to prevent them from corroding further. "When I saw the eyeglasses in the exhibition, I saw it as one big pile," he said. But in the lab, he began to examine them one by one. One had a screw replaced by a bent needle; another had a repaired temple. "And then this enormous mass of glasses started becoming people," Mr. Jastrzebiowski said. This "search for the individual," he said, helps ensure that the work does not become too routine.

In 2009, the infamous metal sign reading "Arbeit Macht Frei," or "Work Makes You Free," which hangs over the entrance gate, was stolen. It was found several days later elsewhere in Poland, cut into three parts. (A Swede with neo-Nazi ties and two Poles were later charged with the crime.) Mr. Jastrzebiowski helped weld the sign back into one piece. But the scars from the welding told the story of the sign's theft more than of its long history, and so the museum decided it would be more authentic to replace the damaged sign with a substitute.

The conservators have an easy camaraderie, but sometimes their task can become too much to bear. "Working with shoes probably is one of the most difficult parts of working here," Ms. Banas-Maciaszczyk said. Everyone here has emotional moments. For her, it was a day when she was cleaning a little girl's wooden sandal. She could see the small footprint inside. "This is something hard to describe," she said. From 1940 to 1945, between 150,000 and 200,000 children died here.

Ms. Banas-Maciaszczyk said her mother thought she was crazy to come work at Auschwitz. "There are moments when I think, What am I doing here?" she acknowledged. But then she thinks of the bigger picture. "Everyone who works here must feel this importance," she said. "If we didn't feel that, no force would make us stay here."

Kamil Bedkowski, 33, worked as an art conservator in Britain for eight years, even restoring ceiling frescoes at Windsor Castle. Now he is on the team shoring up the crumbling brick barracks of Birkenau where thousands slept at a time, crammed into decaying three-level wooden bunks. "This is the most challenging project I've ever worked on," he said.

Almost all the conservators here are Polish and studied conservation at Polish universities — this is, after all, a Polish state museum, which employs some 287 people, plus 264 guides who operate in some 18 languages.

Most conservators are under 40, young enough not to have known the Second World War — "It's not our fault that the camp was built here," Mr. Jastrzebiowski said — but old enough to have heard stories from their parents and grandparents. Few have any regular contact with Jews who aren't survivors or visitors.

Despite the spirit of freezing the site in time, some exhibits have been redesigned in recent years — the Russian Federation's tells the story of Russian political prisoners here; those of the Netherlands and France and Belgium talk about the fate of their Jews; the exhibit dedicated to the Sinti and Roma present the often-neglected story of those peoples murdered here. The Polish exhibit is colored by the country's Communist past.

The new Jewish pavilion opened in 2013. It was designed by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. It shows black-and-white films of Jewish life in Europe before the war, then of Hitler's rallies. In one room, the Israeli artist Michal Rovner has copied children's drawings from the camp onto the wall. In another, names of some of the six million Holocaust dead are printed on a long row of pages, their edges yellowing from human touch.

The permanent exhibitions here will be updated over the next decade to include more evidence focusing on the perpetrators, not just their victims. In the collection's storage is a box with neat rows of red-handled rubber SS stamps conserved in acid-free boxes. These will eventually go on view. This is part of the long-term plan by the museum, aided by the foundation, which has raised nearly 120 million euros, or about $130 million, about half of it donated by Germany, to ensure conservation in perpetuity.

The museum has decided not to conserve one thing: the mass of human hair that fills a vast vitrine. Over the years, the hair has lost its individual colors and has begun to gray. Out of respect for the dead, it cannot be photographed. Several years ago, the International Auschwitz Council of advisers had an agonizing debate about the hair. Some suggested burying it. Others wanted to conserve it. But one adviser raised a point: How can we know if its original owners are dead or alive? Who are we to determine its fate?

It was decided to let the hair decay, on its own, in the vitrine, until it turns to dust.

Correction: April 16, 2015

An earlier version of this article misstated the age of Piotr Cywinski. He turned 43 on Thursday, not 44.

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Behind ‘Outlander,’ on Starz, True Hearts in the Highlands

Photo Caitriona Balfe in "Outlander." Credit Sony Pictures Television

Sometimes it's hard to tell where the real-life love story between Ronald D. Moore and Terry Dresbach begins and the fictional one they depict on "Outlander" ends.

Mr. Moore, the executive producer on the Starz series about a 1940s British nurse who is transported to 18th-century Scotland, met Ms. Dresbach, the show's costume designer, in 2003, while working together on the HBO drama "Carnivàle." After a long production meeting in a fluorescent-lit room, Mr. Moore confessed his feelings to Ms. Dresbach.

"I told her when she leaned forward, it was as if the sun came out, and when she leaned back, the sun went away," Mr. Moore recalled.

"I stood up and walked around the desk, and that was the first kiss," Ms. Dresbach said. "We were engaged six weeks later."

Cut to the pivotal first-season episode of "Outlander" in which that nurse, Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), marries the Jacobite warrior Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). He tells her: "I'll never forget when I came out of the church and saw you. It was as if I stepped outside on a cloudy day and suddenly the sun came out."

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Ms. Dresbach discusses some of her most memorable designs.

"When I wrote that, I thought, 'Wait 'til Terry reads this,' " Mr. Moore recalled. "It's a little love letter to her."

"I started crying," Ms. Dresbach said. "He's a hopeless romantic."

Swoonworthy moments like that have helped propel "Outlander" to rapid success. The recent midseason premiere drew 1.2 million live viewers, a 69 percent increase over its debut last summer.

In a recent interview at the Manhattan offices of Starz, the cable network that distributes "Outlander" in the United States, Mr. Moore and Ms. Dresbach — who joined the conversation via telephone from Scotland, where she's working on the show's coming second season — discussed the challenges and joys of working together as a couple on a project with such a rabid fan base.

"Outlander" is based on the first book in Diana Gabaldon's series of best-selling novels, which have sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. Ms. Gabaldon has now written eight books, all of which straddle the genres of historical fiction, romance, fantasy and adventure, and a ninth is on the way. Each volume (many run more than 800 pages) is expected to be covered by one season of the television show.

Ms. Dresbach's sublime costumes are a starring attraction. Yet before she and Mr. Moore decided to collaborate on the project, she had retired from show business and was spending much of her time helping to raise his two young children from a previous marriage, as he worked on sci-fi series like the highly acclaimed "Battlestar Galactica" revival.

Still, she couldn't resist the lure of bringing to life Ms. Gabaldon's best-selling historical novels, which she started to devour soon after the first one was published in 1991.

"As Ron kept pointing out, 'Who the hell else is going to do this other than you?' " Ms. Dresbach said. "He was kind of right."

It turned out to be a perfect fit. The couple share a similar philosophy when it comes to period costumes: Make them as authentic as possible. "I want them to look lived-in, beaten-up and home-repaired," Mr. Moore said. To that end, his wife assembled a 15-person aging and dyeing department, whose primary objective is to weather the costumes and "make them look real," he explained.

Occasionally, they clash when the needs of story and the reality of costumes collide. For instance, when the villainous redcoat Capt. Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) literally rips Claire's bodice, Mr. Moore said, "Terry tells me in excruciating detail how impossible it is to rip open these dresses unless you're the Hulk, because there are many layers of thick fabric."

Ms. Dresbach continued: "Then Ron says, 'I don't care. Make it happen!' "

"That's when we're going to bend the reality of the period," said Mr. Moore, who settled on having Black Jack slice open Claire's dress with a knife.

The show's stars cite their costumes as keys to getting them into their characters. "Once you're sucked into these corsets, you realize just how repressed women were," Ms. Balfe, an Irish model turned actress, said. "Your ability to emote, vocalize and be physical is so restricted, purely because of the clothes." Lotte Verbeek, a Dutch period-drama veteran ("The Borgias") whose character is accused of being a witch, agreed: "The costumes help, but they also kind of hurt."

The male actors have fewer complaints about their wardrobe. "It's a totally freeing experience wearing a kilt," said Graham McTavish, who plays a Scottish war chieftain. "It represents something from the past that has style and elegance — you're not going out dressed in sweatpants, sneakers and a baseball cap."

Photo Graham McTavish in "Outlander." Credit Sony Pictures Television

Not all the men share his enthusiasm. "It's an awful thing, the kilt," sneered Mr. Menzies, perhaps channeling Black Jack's roguishness. "I don't know why you would wear that. Put some trousers on."

All these costumes come off nearly as often as they're put on, as "Outlander" maintains Starz's reputation as a purveyor of historical flesh, built on earlier opuses like "Spartacus: Blood and Sand." Yet despite a sadomasochistic spanking scene in the series' recent midseason premiere, Mr. Moore and Ms. Dresbach resist comparisons to another piece of erotic literature recently hitting the screen, "Fifty Shades of Grey."

"Our intention as filmmakers is not to play that," he said. "But if the audience wants to bring that to the party, that's all well and good."

Ms. Dresbach noted: "In our 20th-century brains, corsets are sex get-ups. But in the 18th century, they were like T-shirts. You always have to know that a modern audience isn't going to look at things through historical eyes."

Still, the overall appeal of "Outlander" is less about sex than it is about chivalry. "It's unashamedly romantic, and that's very rare nowadays on TV," Mr. McTavish said. "A lot of shows are cynical, lacking in hope and nihilistic, and we go against that trend."

Mr. Moore agreed: "Even as there's tragedy, it has a moral center, heroism and belief, and that comes from the books. It's an adventure you want to take."

That's certainly been the case with the novels. Mr. Moore initially had trepidations about pleasing the books' devotees, but Ms. Gabaldon, who's a consultant on the show, was certain he was the right man for the job as soon as she read his pilot script.

"I told him, 'This is the first thing I've ever read based on my work that didn't make me turn white or burst into flames,' " she said from her home in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Mr. Moore and Ms. Dresbach acknowledge they take license in altering some details, but the fans have come to understand. "At first they were like, 'Wait, there aren't little flowers on that dress like Diana wrote,' " Ms. Dresbach said. "I just came clean and said, 'Look, guys, I'm a fan of the books, but I've got to design what's in my head. It's not done without love and care, but it's got to be my choice.' "

One choice that was nonnegotiable was to shoot on location in Scotland. And Mr. Moore and Ms. Dresbach have so fallen in love with the nation that they now live in a 700-year-old house near a castle where the series films. "It's got secret passageways," Ms. Dresbach said of their home. "You pull down a wall sconce and a corridor opens up."

Mr. Moore and Ms. Dresbach frequently host cast and crew members for dinners and holidays, earning them the nicknames of Papa Bear and Mama Bear from Ms. Balfe, among others. "Part of my job is to take care of the family," Mr. Moore said. " 'Do they have food today? How long have they been in the rain?' " Ms. Dresbach added: "I'll whack Sam Heughan on the back of the head if he messes with his costume too much. It's like I yell at my kids: 'Pick that up off the floor!' "

These father and mother figures often also find themselves compared with their show's central characters. "The fans say we're the real-life Jamie and Claire," Ms. Dresbach said. "I'm a lot like her — I'm outspoken, pushy and brash. Ron is true, solid and heroic. He's Prince Charming. He's one step short of having that white horse."

Mr. Moore shook his head in disagreement. "I'm more deeply flawed than Jamie is," he said. "But you are very much like Claire."

Ms. Dresbach concluded: "There are a lot of moments when you're yanking me out of the fire right before I'm about to get everybody killed, just like Jamie does with Claire. Wouldn't you say, dear?"

"Yes, dear," Mr. Moore said.

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ArtsBeat: They Dug Coal Together: Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins Look Back on ‘Justified’

Written By Unknown on Rabu, 15 April 2015 | 16.43

Photo Timothy Olyphant, left, and Walton Goggins in "Justified."Credit Prashant Gupta/FX

The gun thugs were plentiful. The body count might have exceeded the total population of Harlan County, Ky. But in the end, "Justified" went out on a surprisingly compassionate note.

Over six seasons the darkly comic FX crime drama, created by Graham Yost, served up an array of colorful "big bads" to menace Timothy Olyphant's swaggering United States marshal Raylan Givens, including Margo Martindale's Emmy-winning crime queen in Season 2, Neal McDonough's sleeve-gun wielding nutter in Season 3 and Sam Elliott's dope kingpin this year.

The final season, however, mostly amounted to a three-way showdown between the core characters — Raylan, his hometown nemesis, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) and their shared love interest, Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter). The finale put them all in a room together one last time, as Boyd and Raylan squared off in a callback to the series's inciting incident — Givens's "justified" shooting of a criminal in Miami that nevertheless resulted in him being re-assigned to his home state, Kentucky.

"Let's walk up to it and not have a justified reason to pull," Mr. Olyphant explained. "The thinking was, let's make it difficult for Raylan to not kill him, and see if he could do the right thing."

He did, and all went their separate ways in an episode that, true to form, also included more violent showdowns and plenty of other fireworks, metaphorical and literal (at one point Boyd flung actual dynamite at his pursuers). Other fan favorites like Jere Burns's cagey schemer Wynn Duffy apparently made it out alive, too, though Raylan's signature Stetson didn't (more on that below).

In separate phone interviews, Mr. Olyphant and Mr. Goggins discussed what they'll miss about "Justified" and why it was time to end the show. Edited excerpts from the conversations are below.

Did you keep the hat?


It seems like a natural memento.

OLYPHANT: What am I gonna do with it?

Put it in your den or something?

OLYPHANT: I'll tell you what I did do: I kept the other hat. [In the finale, Raylan kills a hired gun and takes his hat.] I had that one made for me. I've always said let's kill the hat before we kill Raylan, you know? Elmore never liked the hat. Let's put a bullet in the hat. Then I thought, I should get another hat, one that I didn't wear for six years. So then I get a free hat out of the show.

You're wearing it right now, aren't you?

OLYPHANT: [Laughs.] I wear it everywhere. It's awesome. It's got a matchstick in it. It's a good-looking hat.

When did you know how the show was going to end?

OLYPHANT: I was in the room before we started shooting this season and we talked about the ending on Day 1. The big question we asked right off the bat was, are we going to kill anyone?

GOGGINS: I wanted to die. I really, really wanted to die. It would have been easier for me, as an actor, just to lay him down and not think about it. But at the beginning of the season, Graham sat me down with the other producers and said, "What if nobody dies?" I went home and I really thought about it and I went, "O.K. I think he's right." Selfishly, I don't want to see Boyd die and maybe the audience didn't want to see him die. I'm very, very happy with how it ends.

There was that final scene in the prison where Raylan and Boyd did seem to arrive at some sort of mutual understanding. What was that like to shoot?

GOGGINS: It was my last day and it really snuck up on me, the exchange between those two people. We read it on the page and when we stepped in to do it, it became something completely different. It was very, very cathartic for me, as Boyd, and I think it was for Tim. Boyd needed him to acknowledge that he did love Ava, that that was real, and that their friendship was more than the adversarial dynamic that they had been living in for the last three seasons. That their prior friendship and their mutual struggles amounted to something more than just anger. That was summed up in the phrase, "We dug coal together." I was elated and somehow released from this burden for Boyd after that scene, and I just cried like a baby and just hugged Tim, and hugged and thanked all those incredible people. It's there one minute and then it's over.

Were there any other emotional moments toward the end?

OLYPHANT: I had one more setup left, and the gravity of the moment definitely snuck up on me. The last scene I shot, ironically enough, was a scene with David Koechner in the Miami marshals office. So when I say the gravity of the situation snuck up, it definitely snuck up because it was Koechner, who cares? [Laughs.]

Why was it so important to bring things back to the core three characters: Ava, Raylan and Boyd?

OLYPHANT: At the risk of sounding sarcastic, because they were still around. What else was it gonna be about? When it was clear that Boyd and Ava were in it for the long haul, I didn't see any other reason why it shouldn't be about those three.

GOGGINS: So much of it is keeping in the tone of Elmore Leonard. In his short story it came down to those three people sitting around a table. Ava is where Boyd and Raylan intersect in the most intimate way. People who watch this show want to know how that trio ends, where they intersect and where they go from there.

You've had some time to get used to not doing the show. How do you feel about the fact that its over?

GOGGINS: I thought I was better prepared for it, having been through the process with "The Shield," but it was very different. But it's time. I said everything I needed to say as Boyd Crowder. I don't know where the story for Raylan Givens goes, but for me, it was time to step out from underneath the weight of this guy and love him from a distance for a while.

OLYPHANT: Now is not the time to ask me because this time, every season, it's like thank God, it's nice to take a breath. Talk to me in six months when it's supposed to be time to go back to work. But there's very little doubt in my mind that we got off the air when we should have, or at least in that setup with those people. Because I'm going to put an asterisk by it: If someone calls me a couple years from now and asks me if I want to do another Raylan, I bet the answer would be yes. There's a follow-up question, which is for how much? [Laughs.]

So would this theoretical new Raylan show be set in Miami?

OLYPHANT: You're thinking too small. U.S. marshals are federal; they can go anywhere. I've been pitching this for six years now — I kept saying, "You know, Raylan could go to Paris." They're like, "Hey this year Ava's going to run," and I was like, "Great, to … Paris?" And they said, "No, just up the hill." Look, it would be a lot of fun to do some sort of whatever they call it these days — limited series, mini-series. I'd gladly take the gig.

After some time passes, what do you think you're going to remember about working on this show?

GOGGINS: I'll miss buttoning my shirt all the way to the top. [Laughs.] It's rare that you get the kind of chemistry that I had with Tim, that Boyd has with Raylan, and that's going be a big hole in my life. Speaking the way Boyd speaks, his life philosophy, as complicated and nuanced and as enigmatic as it is — it's going to be a big loss.

We keep hearing about the Golden Age of television, and "Justified" was on alongside all these other well-regarded shows. Where do you think it fit in among the other great series of the era? What will its legacy be?

GOGGINS: I think it will age well. What people have loved about it is, there are no rules or definable walls that hold "Justified." It's absurd, it's out-and-out funny, and it's dark and violent. It's emotional at times — I feel like Boyd's story line really added that element to it. It has something for anyone who chooses to pick it up in the future.

OLYPHANT: I have no clue. I can tell you the thing I'm proud of: There were times, when the show really hit its stride, I remember thinking, "Well, this is as good as it gets." I haven't seen many of these other shows, but there's no way they're that much better than what I saw here. When I'm doing that scene in the pilot with Dewey and Ava at the doorstep, that whole sequence, that's just good writing. And I'm watching Damon (Herriman, who played Dewey Crowe], and that's good acting. And when I'm in the scene in the church with Walt in the pilot, I'm like this guy is great. And I remember thinking that when I was working with Margo Martindale. And I remember doing a scene with Jere Burns in the Winnebago, when Raylan's playing Harlan roulette with him, and I'm like, you know, there's no naked girls in this scene but otherwise this is pretty much everything you've ever asked for in entertainment. So where does it stack up at the end of the day? I don't know. It doesn't really matter. I can only tell you that I'm quite confident that when the show was good, it was really good.

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ArtsBeat: ‘Justified’ Series Finale Recap: We Are Gonna End This

Photo From left, Jacob Pitts, Erica Tazel, and Timothy Olyphant in "Justified."Credit Prashant Gupta/FX

Season 6, Episode 13: "The Promise"

Somewhere up there in the hills of Harlan, Ky., there may be $9 million still buried. Or not.

There were few loose ends left dangling as six seasons of "Justified" came to a close. The location of Avery Markham's remaining $9 million may be one of them even though we were provided with a likely explanation.

It was a satisfying ending for a series that has always been primarily about the characters. It has been, at many times, a funny show, but they never Gomer Pyle'd the rural folk for the benefit of coastal audiences. And with this final episode, unlike other shows in which the hero (or antihero) dies, the series creators showed the wise restraint they have exercised throughout by letting Raylan Givens, our hero deputy U.S. marshal not only live but thrive. But for a few moments there, we weren't so sure.

Before this episode, Raylan had killed 19 men and women. (No law enforcement agency would tolerate that record, but don't think about it too much.) And we all expected there could be at least three more on that list: Boyd Crowder, Raylan's criminal nemesis for the entire series; Avery Markham, the pot king; and Boon, Markham's murderous hat-obsessed henchman. Raylan itches to kill bad guys, enjoys it even, and that doesn't change after his boss, Art Mullen, springs him from the law enforcement officers who were holding him at the end of the last episode.

Raylan never gets a chance to shoot Markham. Just as Markham was about to kill Ava in a tobacco-drying barn for stealing his money, in strides Boyd with a crooked sheriff's deputy as a shield. Boyd, who was searching for the money, had eluded the marshals chasing him in the hills by throwing lit sticks of dynamite at them.

It seemed like a bit of a miscalculation on Boyd's part to think that Markham would even think twice about killing a lawman, even a crooked one in his employ. Markham, calling Boyd a hillbilly, shoots at him, hitting the deputy. Boyd dispatches Markham with a shot through the eye. Then he turns on Ava, but the magazine is empty.

There are enough other loaded guns in that barn that it shouldn't matter. But just then, as heroes are wont to do, Raylan strides in. He is itching to kill Boyd and provokes him, even kicks a loaded pistol his way. Boyd picks it up, but has a question for Ava first. Why, he asks, did she turn on him? (As if it wasn't obvious.) "I put myself in your shoes and did what I thought you would do," she says. Another loose end tied up.

This scene, though only a few minutes long, is the essence of why this show has always been so good. Raylan wants to kill him, but can't do it in cold blood. As in that first killing we witnessed in season one at the restaurant table in Miami, he needs to be provoked. He has a code even if he has an itchy trigger finger. "I ain't doing it, Raylan," Boyd says. "Yeah, you are," Raylan replies. "You are going to take that gun and we are gonna end this." The camera stays on Raylan, his holstered gun and then his face and he must be considering the consequences, as we have all season, of just gunning Boyd down. The scene cuts to Boyd led out in handcuffs and we are fine with that even though Boyd is a coldblooded killer.

Raylan's next encounter is with someone who has no code, Boon. And the showdown is a classic Western movie motif: facing off in the middle of the street — in this case a highway. Raylan has Ava in a car taking her to jail. Up comes Boon in a truck with Loretta, the aspiring teenage pot mogul, who Raylan has tried to protect since we first met her in Season 2. (Probably still the best of the series.)

"I thought you were going to leave without saying goodbye," Boon sneers. They square off, each waiting for the other guy to draw first. Boon has to go for a head shot. He explained to Loretta in the last episode he always does even though it is more difficult because people wear bulletproof vests, as Raylan does. They shoot and near as I can tell, fall simultaneously. The scene is suspenseful. Raylan isn't moving. Boon is, though, and as he prepares to take another shot from there on the ground, Loretta steps in, putting her boot on his arm. He dies and she kicks his revolver away.

Raylan, in true Hollywood cliché, is merely grazed, but his hat is ruined with a bullet hole in it. Ava, still in handcuffs, takes off in the car.

The show skips forward four years to a sweet coda that works because we've come to care for all these characters so much. We do want to know what happened to them. Raylan has found peace and has come home to raise his daughter, and the two of them are adorable together. But he does not live with his ex-wife. She has remarried. "You are the most stubborn man," she tells him. "Beats angry," he replies. So Raylan is happy now. Another loose end tied up.

This I found weird: He wears Boon's hat, which, while it's a very good-looking hat even with the nick in it, it is the hat of a man he killed.

Raylan finds Ava out in Lebec, Calif., about halfway between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. (It's near where some of the filming for the series took place.) She is no longer a criminal, she tells Raylan. He replies, "Every longtime fugitive I've ever run down expects me to congratulate them for not doing what no one is supposed to be doing anyhow." But he lets her go if only because Ava has a son. We are led to believe it is Boyd's, but it could be Raylan's, couldn't it? We won't know, because Ava isn't talking.

Raylan makes sure Boyd is convinced she is dead, so he won't ever come after her should he escape from prison. And the show ties up another loose end and leaves us with a sly joke on the series's themes of friendship and ties to the land. Raylan didn't personally tell Boyd the bad news that Ava was dead because they dug coal together. He personally told Boyd to make sure the con worked.

So where is the money? Yes it could be up in those hills. It was crawling with L.E.O.'s, as law enforcement officers apparently call law enforcement officers, we are told. No one went up there digging. But whoever knew the location could bide their time. That section of land wasn't going to be watched forever. Wynn Duffy, Raylan surmises, got much of it, maybe in a split with Ava to rescue her and help her escape and afford a place that must cost at least a quarter of a million dollars.

As for Loretta's life, nothing is said. We can assume she continued her criminal life. I'd like to think she found the money.

Did you catch what I think is a small homage to Elmore Leonard, the novelist whose books the series is based on? Raylan pulls out a beat up copy of "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," by George V. Higgins. It's a novel set in Boston about a criminal being squeezed as an informer for the government. Mr. Leonard reportedly called it the best crime novel ever written.

The final show drink: Art Mullen and Raylan share a glass of Blanton's bourbon to celebrate getting Boyd behind bars and Raylan back to Miami. It is a nice metaphor for the episode: A bit of a kick and then a smooth warm glow.

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Nirvana Concerts Could Be Beautiful Wrecks

Photo Krist Novoselic and Kurt Cobain at Beehive Records in Seattle on Sept. 16, 1991. Credit Charles Peterson

In the unrelenting new documentary "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck," Nirvana's frontman can be seen abusing his body in both public and private. While battling drugs and depression at home, Cobain was a tattered rag doll onstage, hurling himself into drum sets, flailing off speaker stacks and writhing in waves of guitar feedback as if possessed.

For the film, written and directed by Brett Morgen, Nirvana's expertly sloppy live performances function less as plotted points on the band's ascension to the rock stratosphere than as visceral representations of Cobain at war with his own psyche. Not grounded in time or place, the clips form a collage of attempted catharsis.

Cobain's performances with the band have rightly become essential viewing for colliding physical chaos and serene melody. From dingy Seattle bars to the "Saturday Night Live" stage, Nirvana concerts were a beautiful wreck, with more and more gathering to witness until Cobain's death in 1994. Here are some of the group's most memorable live moments.

Photo Cobain on "MTV Unplugged" on Nov. 18, 1993. Credit Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Central Saloon, Seattle

APRIL 10, 1988

Seattle's oldest bar, known to locals as the Tavern, hosted the Aberdeen, Wash., band's debut in its adopted hometown. "Based on that show we decided to sign them," said Bruce Pavitt, the founder of the Sub Pop record label. Nirvana had "no stage presence and no songs," he said. "Kurt was very shy and just stared at his feet the whole time. But he had a great voice, and their vibe was right." The standout was a cover of "Love Buzz," by the Dutch band Shocking Blue, which would become Nirvana's first release as the inaugural record in the Sub Pop Singles Club.

Astoria Theater, London

DEC. 3, 1989

After a disastrous concert in Rome days earlier, during which Cobain had a nervous breakdown and briefly broke up the band, Nirvana regrouped for a label showcase, featuring the Sub Pop stars Mudhoney and Tad. Billed as LameFest U.K., the show was "the turning point" in Nirvana's career, Mr. Pavitt said. "They totally raged it in front of 1,600 jaded hipsters and blew everybody away." Cobain ended the set by pitching his guitar to Krist Novoselic, Nirvana's bassist, who "hit it as if it were a baseball and completely destroyed it," said Mr. Pavitt, who chronicled the tour in his book, "Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe 1989." The British music bible NME declared, "Nirvana are Sub Pop's answer to the Beatles."

OK Hotel, Seattle

APRIL 17, 1991

After the underground success of its debut album, "Bleach," Nirvana signed with a major label, Geffen Records. On a bill with Bikini Kill ahead of recording what would become Nirvana's breakthrough, "Nevermind," Cobain opened the show with a characteristically wry message — "Hello, we're major label corporate rock sellouts" — before the debut of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Kim Warnick, an early Sub Pop employee, recalled a friend asking her what the song was. "I think it's a Pixies cover?" she replied. "Then the chorus came in and I said: 'Sheesh, this is not the Pixies. This is big time.' "

Beehive Records, Seattle

SEPT. 16, 1991

What was supposed to be an acoustic in-store performance ahead of the release of "Nevermind" turned into a full-band onslaught, with fans moshing in the store. Ms. Warnick recalled the band's earlier celebration at Re-bar in Seattle. "They had a food fight," she said, "and got kicked out of their own record release party."

'Saturday Night Live,'

New York

JAN. 11, 1992

With "Nevermind" taking off, the band brought its rough edges to television — with predictable bumps. On "S.N.L.," with "Nevermind" having just replaced Michael Jackson's "Dangerous" at the top of the Billboard chart, the band members finished their performance by trashing the stage and kissing one another. "The fact that they were on national TV was a huge deal," Mr. Pavitt said. To have an alternative act in the mainstream "was like the fall of the Berlin Wall."

Reading Festival, Reading, England

AUG. 30, 1992

While Nirvana had become the hottest band in the world, Cobain's increasingly public struggles with heroin addiction had rumors of the group's demise swirling. In front of 50,000 people, he mockingly took the stage in a wheelchair and hospital gown. "This is our last show," he said at one point. "Until the next one." Michael Azerrad, the author of "Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana," said: "They had something to prove. Everyone thought Kurt was a hopeless drug addict and the band was falling apart. And then they got up and played a truly transcendent show, one of those times when you felt like your feet weren't touching the ground."

Cow Palace, San Francisco

APRIL 9, 1993

A benefit for rape survivors in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the concert found Nirvana at the height of its influence and hoping to use that power for good. "The Cow Palace show combined a bunch of things that were really important to Nirvana," Mr. Azerrad said, including the opening bands, the Breeders and L7, "both led by empowered women who came from the same musical community." The cause, he added, "touched on both Krist's Yugoslavian ancestry and Kurt's outspoken feminism."

'MTV Unplugged,' New York

NOV. 18, 1993

This stripped down performance, which included covers of David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" and Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night," has helped to cement the band's legacy as performers of substance, not just style. Lori Goldston, a cellist who played with Nirvana that night, recalled the MTV taping as a "hype fest," with celebrities in attendance. But it was also seen by Cobain as "an opportunity to branch out," she said.

Terminal 1, Munich

MARCH 1, 1994

In Nirvana's final stretch of shows, the mood was more dour, Ms. Warnick recalled. "It's not that it wasn't good — it just seemed like the heart had been taken out," she said of the band's final American show in Seattle. In Munich, at the last Nirvana show — Cobain canceled the tour afterward, citing throat problems, and killed himself the next month in Seattle — the band opened with an impromptu cover of the Cars' "My Best Friend's Girl," recalled Dale Crover, the drummer for the Melvins, who opened for Nirvana on that final tour in Europe. "We didn't even stay for that whole show," Mr. Crover said. "We said to ourselves, 'We'll see them tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.' "

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With ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,’ Brett Morgen Demythologizes a Legend

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Clip: 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'

Clip: 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'

An exclusive clip from the HBO documentary film "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck," screening in the Tribeca Film Festival, in theaters April 24 and coming to HBO May 4.

By HBO Documentary Films on Publish Date April 15, 2015. Photo by HBO Documentary Films.

LOS ANGELES — Clad in a crimson dress, Courtney Love blew into the Beverly Hills Hotel in March 2007 with a lawyer in tow and Kurt Cobain's legacy on her mind. For the first time, she wanted to provide a documentary filmmaker with unrestricted access to her dead husband's archives, including journals, artwork, home movies and more than 100 never-before-heard cassette tapes stashed in a mysterious storage locker.

And she wanted the unorthodox nonfiction director Brett Morgen, tucked in the booth beside her at the hotel's Polo Lounge, to take on the project.

"It was time to examine this person and humanize him and decanonize these values that he allegedly stood for — the lack of ambition and these ridiculous myths that had been built up around him," Ms. Love, the actress and musician, said recently by telephone. It would be the first authorized documentary since the Nirvana singer committed suicide in 1994, leaving Ms. Love a widow with a 20-month-old daughter, Frances Bean.

Shocker: The film did not go smoothly.

Photo Kurt Cobain with his daughter, Frances Bean, in "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck." Credit HBO Documentary Films

Mr. Morgen, whose movies include the celebrated Robert Evans cine-memoir "The Kid Stays in the Picture," figured a Cobain documentary would take about 18 months. It took eight years — "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck" arrives in limited theatrical release April 24 — as Mr. Morgen wrestled with an unexpectedly enigmatic subject. Mr. Morgen also had to navigate a mother-daughter legal drama and pick through that storage locker, which turned out to be a gargantuan task. ("It's totally true," Ms. Love said. "I'd never gone through any of it.")

In the end, Mr. Morgen, 46, said he discovered a guy who was "enormously complicated, much more than I ever imagined," an artist whom the culture had come to misunderstand, or at least confine to a distorted niche.

Photo Brett Morgen, director of "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck," in Los Angeles. Credit John Francis Peters for The New York Times

"I thought I was going to meet a rock star who got tired of his fame, because that's the narrative that has settled around him," Mr. Morgen said. As he dug deeper, "a character started to emerge who I had never met before." Yes, the romanticized rock-god misery was there: the unwanted spokesman-for-a-generation pressure, the disturbing art and journals, the horrific heroin spiral. "But there was also this loving and funny and warm guy who enjoyed parts of his life," Mr. Morgen said.

The ingrained perception of Cobain as an unambitious, helpless waif overpowered by Ms. Love was "shattered," Mr. Morgen continued. "On the home movies I saw, Kurt is not meek. Courtney is not dominating him. I think this film is really going to challenge people's perceptions."

Photo Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain around 1992. Credit Dora Handel/Corbis Outline, via HBO Documentary Films

In one eye-popping 1992 home video included in the film, Cobain and Ms. Love are seen blissfully living in druggie squalor in Los Angeles. Standing in a towel in the bathroom with shaving cream on his face, Cobain teases Ms. Love about her tabloid image as a man-eating monster. "You and Roseanne," he says playfully, referring to Roseanne Barr. "You're tied for the most-hated women in America." She pretend-pouts.

Mr. Morgen said the 108 cassettes he found in a Southern California storage space were the most enlightening. Recorded by Cobain when he was still unknown, the cassettes find the budding musician experimenting on the guitar (singing the Beatles song "And I Love Her," for instance), talking on the phone, giggling, listening to 1980s pop (Kim Wilde's "Kids in America"), working on embryonic versions of Nirvana songs ("Polly") and relating raw stories about his anguished teenage years.

Photo Cobain as a young visual artist. Credit HBO Documentary Fims

Cobain was a pack rat, and when he died people started stealing his stuff. Ms. Love had everything that was left, which was a lot, quickly moved into storage facilities. Some of the material had been seen over the years by writers, including Charles R. Cross, whose "Heavier Than Heaven" is regarded as the definitive Cobain biography. But the cassettes Mr. Morgen discovered had apparently never been played. (Asked how it was possible that she had never listened to them, Ms. Love responded, a bit testily, "I'm not going to listen to 108 noise cassettes!")

"Montage of Heck," which will also arrive on HBO on May 4, emphasizes one audio passage as a crucial window into Cobain's psyche. In the lengthy recording, Cobain talks about trying to lose his virginity in high school to a "very fat" girl who attended special education classes. When his peers found out, Cobain felt so humiliated that he panicked. "I couldn't stand the ridicule," he says on the tape. "So I got high and drunk, and I walked down to the train tracks," where he lay down, hoping to be killed.

Photo Cobain in repose. "It was time to examine this person and humanize him," says Courtney Love. Credit HBO Documentary Films

"To me, that is the most interesting and revealing piece of media he ever recorded," Mr. Morgen said. The film connects dots between that moment of teenage despair and Cobain's suicide, suggesting that humiliation — Cobain suspected Ms. Love of cheating — factored heavily in his end.

Nirvana fans will undoubtedly regard "Montage of Heck" as mandatory viewing, but some may not like Mr. Morgen's inferences. What drove Cobain to get high and shoot himself has been endlessly debated for 21 years, with no satisfactory closure, noted Mr. Cross, who was not involved with the film. "Everyone wants to make conclusions that ultimately can't be made," he said. "There is no easy answer."

Photo Kurt Cobain with Frances Cobain. Credit HBO Documentary Films

Most fans, he added, want to write the narrative that Kurt was a victim of his fame. "The truth is that this man was very, very tormented, and he was full of contradiction," Mr. Cross said. "What part of Kurt do you want to believe? What he wrote in diaries? What he said in interviews? What his friends said?"

Other viewers may question specific filmmaking decisions. For instance, Krist Novoselic, Nirvana's bassist, reflects on camera about Cobain, but an interview with Dave Grohl, who played drums and went on to form Foo Fighters, was not included. (Contrary to reports, that interview will not pop up as a DVD extra, Mr. Morgen said.) Mr. Morgen also abruptly ends his movie just before Cobain commits suicide, leaving examination of that event and its aftermath to the highly unauthorized 1998 shock-doc "Kurt & Courtney."

Photo Kurt Cobain as a boy. Credit HBO Documentary Films

"The problem with most biopics is that they try to hit all the beats you see in Wikipedia," Mr. Morgen said. "You can't cover everything. That's what books are for. I think my films are documentaries in the sense that they arrive at a truth. But the word 'document' is actually antithetical to art and cinema." (As it happens, Insight Editions will publish a "Montage of Heck" companion book on May 5. Mr. Morgen has also been working on a soundtrack, but a release — if any — is still undecided.)

Even so, Mr. Morgen knows that his film has a stigma to overcome: "Authorized" documentaries are usually hagiography.

Photo Cobain at 14. Credit Wendy O'Connor, via Insight Editions

"It usually means watered down," Mr. Morgen said. "That's clearly not the case here." He said members of Cobain's family, notably his sister and mother, were uneasy with some material, but it stayed in.

In particular, it was difficult for the family to see camcorder video, shot by a family friend, of a sore-covered Cobain — high to the point that he is nodding off — holding his baby daughter while Ms. Love tries to cut her hair. "I think that they just wish that the heroin wasn't there," Mr. Morgen said. "And so do I."

Photo Cobain with a girlfriend, Tracy Marander, around Christmas. Credit HBO Documentary Films

Ms. Love had no creative input, Mr. Morgen said, but Frances Cobain, 22, served as an executive producer. Ms. Cobain has held rights to her father's name and likeness since 2010 as part of a confidential agreement with her mother. Ms. Cobain and Ms. Love have a volatile history, with Ms. Love most recently losing custody of her daughter in 2009.

"Frances wanted an emphasis on the art," Mr. Morgen said. "She felt that Kurt had been heavily mythologized, and that it was essential to her that he was humanized in the film. It happened that her take was exactly in sync with mine."

Photo Frances Cobain with her mother, Ms. Love, at the film's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Credit Chris Pizzello/Invision, via Associated Press

"Montage of Heck," named for a mixtape Cobain made in 1988, has been greeted with universal acclaim on the festival circuit. The family also seems pleased. "I love it," said Ms. Love, who receives a fair amount of humanizing in the film herself. "It's as honest as it's ever going to get." Ms. Cobain declined to comment. In an interview with Rolling Stone, she said, "It's the closest thing to having Kurt tell his own story in his own words — by his own aesthetic, his own perception of the world."

Even though Ms. Love did not know it when she approached him, wrestling with difficult, oversize projects has long been one of Mr. Morgen's specialties. As a high school student at the Crossroads School in Santa Monica, Calif., he directed as his senior thesis a rock musical adaptation of "The Conformist," Bernardo Bertolucci's 1970 political drama, replete with dance sequences. (His classmates Jack Black and Maya Rudolph led the cast.)

Photo Cobain in 1970. Credit Wendy O'Connor, via Insight Editions

Mr. Morgen, who studied American mythology at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., has said that people call him the mad scientist of documentary film. It's partly a reference to his appearance — long, unkempt hair — and manner. "Would you mind if we went to SoulCycle," he asked me with a penetrating stare as I arrived at his office, referring to the exercise chain, "and you could interview me as we pedal?" Was he serious? Joking? It was hard to tell.

But the nickname mostly comes from his unusual approach to making movies. He is no Ken Burns, who also attended Hampshire. "On the Ropes," a 1999 look at three young boxers, was a deliberate attempt to make a documentary feel like fiction. Directed with Nanette Burstein, it was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary.

"The Kid Stays in the Picture," also directed with Ms. Burstein, again pushed the form. "Kid" told the story of the flamboyant producer Mr. Evans from one point of view — his — using motion graphics and other untraditional visual tricks. Mr. Morgen tried an animated documentary in 2007 with "Chicago 10," about the antiwar protesters put on trial following the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

"Montage of Heck" uses all of those tools. Cobain's journals are brought to life with animation. Parts of the film are in essence music videos, with sharp-edged Nirvana songs playing against photos of Cobain as a sweet little boy. When Cobain's chronic stomach ailments are discussed, Mr. Morgen's camera appears to zoom inside bubbling human intestines.

"Brett is unique in his presentation of the psychology of his characters," said Sheila Nevins, the president of HBO Documentary Films. "His films are almost like abstract paintings. In this one, you feel the pain in the stomach of Kurt Cobain. You feel the talent. You feel the anger."

Ms. Nevins described Mr. Morgen as a bit of a tortured artist himself. "I don't think Brett ever really feels that he has done a great job on anything," she said.

If nothing else, Mr. Morgen does seem proud of his stamina, having stuck with the project despite the roadblocks. At one point, with discussions over rights extending over months and Ms. Cobain battling her mother in court, Mr. Morgen put the film on ice for about a year to make "Crossfire Hurricane," about the Rolling Stones.

The Cobain odyssey "took everything I had," Mr. Morgen said. After he finished "Montage of Heck" in January, he said, he "went to the bathroom and cried for about 25 minutes."

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Theater Review: Review: ‘Iowa’ Is a State of Absurdity at Playwrights Horizons

Written By Unknown on Selasa, 14 April 2015 | 16.43

Photo Jill Shackner, left, and Karyn Quackenbush star in "Iowa," at Playwrights Horizons. Credit Brian Harkin for The New York Times

Aiming for the endearingly zany, the new musical "Iowa" overshoots the runway, landing somewhere in the vicinity of complete inanity. This oppressively antic show, about the uneasy relationship between an introverted teenage girl and her excessively — make that lunatically — outgoing mother, plays like a series of songs, scenes and sketches with little connecting tissue.

Featuring a book by Jenny Schwartz, music by Todd Almond and lyrics by both, "Iowa," which opened on Monday at Playwrights Horizons (where the program cover and title page call it, confusingly, "Iow@"), tells of the middle-aged Sandy (Karyn Quackenbush), who has been conducting an online romance with a man she met on Facebook. Desperate to seem youthful, she tends to speak in textese. In a loopy monologue about sex, she asks her 14-year-old daughter, Becca (Jill Shackner), "BTW are you a lesbian?"

The answer, which is no, comes during a conversation in which Sandy introduces Becca, via Skype it would appear, to Roger, the man she calls her fiancé. His voice occasionally interrupts Sandy's dithery and often cruel ramblings about Becca, whom she mockingly calls Bookah, because she reads a lot.

Photo Lee Sellars, left, and Annie McNamara in "Iowa." Credit Brian Harkin for The New York Times

The scatterbrained and self-involved Sandy doesn't really take in much. Minutes later she continues her mother-daughter talk with this stream of unconsciousness, after Becca glumly wonders why her mother is planning marriage when she's going through menopause. Answers Sandy: "Perimenopause. Sad face. One can still get pregnant. As long as one still gets one's period. Are you writing this down? Becca? Need a pen? Lesson Two. Your body will betray you. Embrace it. Delete. Don't let yourself go. Men are very visual. You wouldn't understand. You're a lesbian. Lucky duck. I have a wedgie. Don't gloat. Moms can too wear hot pants. Says me. That's who."

Given Sandy's attention-span problem, it's hardly surprising that she announces she and Becca will be moving to Ohio, only to have Roger pipe up that it's actually Iowa. "What's in Iowa?" the bewildered Sandy asks.

"Corn, cattle, caucuses, me," comes the answer.

"I'm a sucker for a caucus," barks Sandy. "Say no more. Enough said."

Rather more than enough, really. It's only a few minutes into "Iowa," which is directed at a choppy pace by Ken Rus Schmoll, that Ms. Schwartz's babbling dialogue, delivered at warp speed, begins to grate. You also wonder why the sensitive, sensible Becca hasn't had her mother locked up in a mental institution, since her endless narcissistic chatter tends to fly off in crazy directions.

In a conversation with Becca's best friend, Amanda (Carolina Sanchez), Sandy delivers a nonsensical meditation on Islam, ordering Becca to buy her a burqa. "Try Amazon," she says. "Dot-com. I said, a burqa. And while you're at it, get me a Quran. Preferably paperback." (Later she actually starts calling Becca burqa, and vice versa.)

Nor, alas, is Sandy the only absent-minded blatherer in Becca's life. When Becca announces she's not moving to Iowa, but would rather go to London, where her father, Jim (Lee Sellars), lives, he evinces a similar inability to focus. When she tells him, "Mom's getting married," he answers in mystification, "Married? That's impossible. My mom's dead as a doornail. Doornails don't get married."

The author of the experimental plays "Somewhere Fun" and "God's Ear," Ms. Schwartz clearly likes to play mad word games, and some of the dizzier stretches of "Iowa" have a disorienting absurdity that might be enjoyable in another context. ("Actually, I'm an actuary," announces Jim's girlfriend.) But the interchangeable gabble soon wears down any admiration you might have for Ms. Schwartz's frisky sense of language, since it's untethered to characters who bear much resemblance to human beings.

The music of Mr. Almond, who recently performed opposite Courtney Love in his music-theater piece "Kansas City Choir Boy," is gently melodic and occasionally recalls Aaron Copland, but it cannot really hold up under the strain of supporting lyrics mostly in the same frantically surreal mode. There's a song about coastal erosion, apropos of pretty much nothing. (A vague reference to Becca's adoption in Indonesia seems to be the only trigger.) Another song consists of a list of random worries: "Wi-Fi harmful to my health?" "What are parabens?" "How worried should I be about a credit check?"

There's a ditty sung by a pony, and one about cheerleaders ("Cheerleaders are perfect eaters"), because among the show's bizarre assortment of supporting characters is a cheerleader at Becca and Amanda's school (amusingly played by Annie McNamara) who, naturally, speaks in bursts of self-involved chatter: "Confession: Jeans make me sad. My favorite color is blue. Because blue is sea and sky. I like the sky. Because it's endless. And then it gets dark."

The performers embrace the musical's bonkers style in a go-for-broke manner that you have to admire, even though you may not enjoy it. (Ms. Quackenbush does manic and madcap with great élan, but I still wanted to stifle Sandy.) And Ms. Shackner, to her immense credit, manages to shape a touching and sympathetic portrait of Becca, the still center in the show's swirling silliness, yearning to escape the complications of her life. This despite having to deliver some of her own chopped-salad dialogue.

Incidentally, the cast of characters also includes a cadre of Nancy Drews (Becca was obsessed as a child) in assorted types: black, Latina, Jewish, Asian. But I suspect not even a full drill team of Nancys would be able to detect a viable musical in this show, which is so besotted with its self-conscious absurdity that it frustrates any real emotional engagement.

"Oklahom@" this ain't.

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Opera Review: Review: Purcell’s Elaborate Scores, Elegantly Executed at Carnegie Hall

Photo Les Violons du Roy and La Chapelle de Québec Dorothea Röschmann in a performance that included "Dido and Aeneas," at Carnegie Hall. Credit Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

It's an inevitable reaction. A good performance of Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" leaves you thinking of what might have been had Purcell lived longer.

This 53-minute opera, a miracle of musical and dramatic inspiration, seemed especially wondrous in the elegant performance by the superb Les Violons du Roy ensemble and the La Chapelle de Québec chorus on Sunday afternoon, part of Carnegie Hall's Before Bach festival, a monthlong focus on 16th- and 17th-century music written before the emergence of Bach and Handel, which opened last week.

Alas, "Dido" is the only true Purcell opera. The first performance we know about took place in 1689 at a girls' boarding school in Chelsea, six years before the composer died at 36. Imagine how he might have shaped the course of English opera.

Yet, this Purcell program, conducted by the excellent harpsichordist Richard Egarr, also drew from the reams of music that Purcell wrote for the theater in his later years, not just incidental songs and dances but elaborate scores he called semi-operas. Mr. Egarr and his forces performed excerpts from two such works, "The Fairy Queen" and "King Arthur." These are not just operas that might have been. They show Purcell forging a path for English musical theater.

The concert began with excerpts from "The Fairy Queen," adapted from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The players of Les Violons du Roy, based in Quebec City, brought Baroque-style focused sound and appealing swing to an orchestral Air and Rondeau, which led into a scene for a drunken poet. The bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus was delightful as the poet, slurping his delivery, sometimes bellowing his lines. A chorus of spirits mocked him for his "dogrel rhymes" and prodded two fairies to "pinch him for his crimes" in music that walked a blissful line between gentle joking and intense needling.

"King Arthur" is a play by John Dryden, and the musical excerpts offered here whet your appetite for a full production with Purcell's score. Then there were more excerpts from "The Fairy Queen," including an impassioned account of "O let me weep" sung by the great German soprano Dorothea Röschmann.

It was no surprise that Ms. Röschmann was also such an affecting Dido, the Queen of Carthage, who dares to make herself vulnerable to the romantic entreaties of Aeneas, the Trojan prince, only to face death-inducing grief when her beloved leaves for Italy.

The baritone Henk Neven as Aeneas, the soprano Hélène Guilmette as Belinda (Dido's confidante) and the alto Vicki St. Pierre as the Sorceress were among the excellent soloists. Ms. Röschmann commanded the stage as Dido, especially in her nobly wrenching account of "Dido's Lament."

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Review: ‘39 Steps,’ Frenetic Thriller Spoof, Rises Again

Photo Robert Petkoff's silhouette pursued by crop dusters in "39 Steps" at the Union Square Theater. Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Silliness, it would appear, has been gravely undervalued as a survival strategy. How else to explain the unquenchable life — or rather lives, for there have been many — of Richard Hannay, the charmingly fatuous fop who keeps defying death all over the world and has now returned to fight bad guys with bad accents in New York at the Union Square Theater?

That is where "39 Steps," the larky play in which Hannay appears, opened on Monday night. And, yes, those of you with eagle eyes and sharp memories, that is the correct title.

Never mind that when Hannay appeared on Broadway in 2008, saying and doing almost exactly the same thing as now, it was under the rubric of "Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps." Or that when he showed up in 2006 in London's West End — where he continues to wreak merry havoc in a production that picked up the Olivier Award for best comedy — the show was called "John Buchan's 'The 39 Steps.' "

Like a proper British acquaintance who finally feels you've known him long enough to call him by an abbreviated form of his full name, "39 Steps" has shed even its "the" for this reincarnation. If it has also shed a little of the freshness of its first youth, it remains indomitably funny.

Photo Brittany Vicars and Robert Petkoff in "39 Steps." Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

This century's most tireless and high-profile example of the little show that could, "39 Steps" was (according to the official credits) adapted from Buchan's 1915 novel about dastardly espionage in a sleeping Britain. But in its shape, characters and dialogue, it is far closer to Hitchcock's wonderful 1935 film version, which took more liberties with Buchan than a sailor on shore leave with his one-night stand.

Anyway, the "39 Steps" now on view in New York is the one that Patrick Barlow whipped up around 2005, reworking an earlier version by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon from the mid-1990s that had been touring the provinces in Britain. The show has retained an impression of seat-of-the-pants, frantic improvisation, such as one associates with local shoestring entertainments.

But under the guidance of its original London director, Maria Aitken, this bare-bones production is as disciplined and as precise in its footwork as a "Firebird" from the Bolshoi Ballet. Featuring a cast of four portraying too many characters to count, "39 Steps" remains a gallant and giggly ode to make-do resourcefulness, to the air of spinning illusions out of nothing but a clown's talents.

In this sense, the show reflects the enterprising spirit of Hannay, portrayed here by a blithely stolid Robert Petkoff, who has appeared on Broadway in revivals of "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Ragtime." When first seen, looking restlessly sedentary in an armchair in his London flat, Hannay is a man of too much leisure in search of excitement.

He finds it in short order when he goes to the theater and meets a glamorous foreign woman in black (Brittany Vicars). His brief encounter with her leads to a series of adventures that find him on the lam from the police in Scotland, where he crosses moors, fords streams, dangles from bridges, assumes false identities and meets a prototypical Hitchcock blonde (also Ms. Vicars).

Constables, spies, rustics, traveling salesmen, innkeepers, newsboys and railroad porters are all played by Arnie Burton (who appeared in the original Broadway production) and Billy Carter. These metamorphoses are achieved via instant costume changes, including one breathless sequence involving flying headgear. (The bargain-basement special effects are achieved with strategic use of Peter McKintosh's costumes and elemental set, Kevin Adams's lighting and Mic Pool's Bernard Herrmann-score-quoting sound scheme.)

Mr. Burton and Mr. Carter also show up as inconvenient features of the Scottish landscape (brier bushes, lochs, bogs, etc.), which impede our hero's progress. Hannay is also required to deal with attacking crop dusters, in a blissful shadow-puppet sequence, and what looks like a knife-wielding maniac lurking behind a shower curtain.

You're right, those particular menaces were not part of Hitchcock's film of "The 39 Steps," belonging instead to "North by Northwest" and "Psycho." This show delights in groaning references to all things Hitchcock, with name-checking puns, verbal and visual, to his movies and general style.

It is in this production's knowing riffs on the Hitchcock sensibility that theatergoers looking for substance amid the inanity can find it, if they squint. Much of the slyest humor here — including the sexual frisson elicited by handcuffing our adversarial hero and heroine to each other — comes directly from Hitchcock's movie.

We are also reminded of how much of that cinematic master's work involved putting average Joes in extreme circumstances, and how fine the line is in Hitchcock between suspense and comedy, between high anxiety and low farce. In crossing that line, "39 Steps" is as much a celebration of a moviemaker's wit as it is a parody pastiche.

The cast members are as crude and as refined as they need to be, though a few bits of physical comedy are stretched past the breaking point. And they definitely earn their paychecks, with their sustained gymnastic performance.

The Union Square Theater is giving out bulbous red noses to audience members before the show, suggesting that anyone can be a clown. Don't believe it. The kind of virtuosic clowning that "39 Steps" requires is anything but easy.

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