That was my mother’s succinct critique of the score of my short film “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre”, the follow-up to “The Tell-Tale Heart – musicabre“, and currently in pre-production.
She meant it as a compliment, by the way. In case that wasn’t clear.
Mothers are of course expected to praise their offspring’s work, but my mother wasn’t just praising to please her son. This retired opera coloratura, AKA Catherine Gayer, was genuinely enthusiastic, adding she found much of the music very scary; and she also didn’t hold back where she had criticisms.
Anyway, I got a big kick out of her saying “If there’s a hell, this is the music”. Now there’s a poster quote. Makes me want to share it with the world, so I’ll do so in this blog post.
Anyway, it’s time I tease another tidbit about my musical adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum. I’ve already talked about the new film during several live streaming Q&A’s I did over the past year for Tell-Tale, starting with this one, among others, and made the official announcement here. A slice of the music for the film was audible in this post where I also shared this image, without explaining how it fits in with the preparations for the film:
I’ll continue to be mysterious about that for now; nonetheless today I will share something new.
I’ll share some of that hellish music.
Not much, just a taste, a peek, a touch, if one may use those words for a piece of audio.
Just one measure,
almost three seconds worth
I’ll say no more except that that measure, those three seconds, are only the beginning of not the first, nor the second, but most surely the final descent into hell …
What I enjoy most about Easter is the hiding and seeking of treats. I best like hiding and having my loved ones do the seeking.
It’s just Ed and me together today, and we haven’t made any eggs or purchased chocolate treats, but we have an odd assortment on knick knacks, old toys and gifties and souvenirs that have accumulated in our home over the years. I decided to put together a collection of some of those that I can hide in our backyard for Ed to seek.
And I thought, hey, maybe I can invite others to join the fun!
Let’s first get a lay of the land, uh, tiny Brooklyn garden…
The daffodils and hyacinths are in full bloom, the crocuses are already fading, but most of the rest of the garden is still waiting for Spring to kick in…
Okay, let’s familiarize ourselves with the items we will be seeking.
A plush dragon, a plush bear, a lion hand puppet, four plush frogs, three plastic or beanie cows, a wind-up frog, a witch figurine, and 10 strands of colorful beads.
Section 1. Eight items are hidden here…
See any of them yet?
Okay, let’s look a little closer… to the left ….
… to the right …
Okay, getting closer. Three items are hidden in this picture. One of them should be really obvious now…
Yes, that would be the lavender beads.
The second item may be more easily seen from above…
“Opera Kids” is a documentary about the Creating Original Opera program that I had taught and also helped develop with my colleagues at the Metropolitan Opera Guild Education Department since 1990. It was directed by Max Sturm, who participated in the program as a 5th grader and later as an adult returned to his old school, where the program continues, to document the process of children creating their own original opera production. From the film’s website (which is chock full of interesting info about the program worth a deeper dive):
“Opera Kids follows the journey of a fifth grade class creating an opera from scratch. Behind the scenes, the stakes could not feel higher, as students take their first collaborative steps — writing, composing, designing, staging, and acting out their own dramatic musical creation. Their hard work leads to a culminating performance and lessons for a lifetime. Simultaneously, the founding members of “Creating Original Opera” recall the program’s groundbreaking past and its legacy that continues to this day.”
Here is the trailer for “Opera Kids”:
The Creating Original Opera program was the inspiration for the First Grade Opera program I had implemented with the first grade teachers at the Brooklyn Children’s School for twenty years (but then Covid 19 put the stop to that last April). It flourished during the 1990’s as one of the most highly esteemed in-school arts programs in the country.
The film is not yet available for general viewing, but when it is released, I will let you know.
Max Sturm interviewed me for the film in 2017. Here is a screenshot from the finished film to prove that some of my three hour interview made it past the cutting room floor:
And here are two screenshots from the “Opera Kids” website listing the teaching artists / champions (many longtime colleagues and friends of mine), school teachers, founders and students featured in the making of the documentary:
That’s one of those memes or games circulating among actors in social media lately. “Show me your range” in photos, and one of its specializations “Show me your range but in hair”. And I thought, well I can do that. Having gotten headshots made February 2019 right before shooting “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre”, for which I needed to be clean shaven anyway…
… giving me a bearded and clean shaven look with the same hairdo on top. I grew back my beard and my hair grew longer over several months, and in a fit of exasperation against the summer heat that July I cut my hair as short as I ever had in my life …
… which made me feel for the first time that I could play a cockney heavy if need be.
Since then I have let my hair grow… and grow … in preparation for shooting the follow-up to Tell-Tale: “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre”. I took this pic several weeks ago while in a playful mood.
And these two the morning of March 27 (the hair really does half the character work here):
Over the months the hair length and attitude have passed from Fabio through Jacqueline Bisset to Farrah Fawcett and is currently reaching Veronica Lake proportions. I will keep letting it grow until we shoot “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre” in June or July.
Midway through the shoot I will be shaving off my beard and long hair. Going totally baby faced and bald. For the alternate role I play in the film. This will be an even more dramatic way to show you my range but in hair.
Just down South from Hollywood, near Disneyland, the Anaheim Film Festival designated “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” a Quarter-Finalist. It will play there (virtually) April 10.
And while we’re at updating Tell-Tale tidbits, London’s Romford Film Festival accepted “The Tell-Take Heart – a musicabre” into its special Horrorhiffic festival, which plans to screen publicly early June, London’s Covid restrictions expected to be (enough) lifted by then.
The Halloween Horror Picture Show 2021 in Orlando Florida has also already announced it plans to publicly screen my short musical Poe adaptation in August.
I’d slowed down submitting “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” for festivals and awards last Spring and stopped completely by November, but with all the delays and uncertainties caused by the Covid pandemic, several festivals with submission deadlines as early as late 2019 have pushed their announcements and/or festivals far into 2021. And so the Tell-Tale festival experience is still continuing…
After watching President Biden’s speech on the one year anniversary of the Covid pandemic, this classic Peanuts cartoon panel, one of my personal favorites, came to my mind, yet with a slight modification…
So in light of my love of Snoopy and Schroeder and classical music and the fact we have a competent, compassionate President again, I am going to start referring to the current occupant of the White House as
Art is Alive Magazine’s Matrell Wood interviewed me a few weeks back and the article has just been published. It touches upon “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre“, its companion piece-in-the-works “The Pit and the Pendulum – a musicabre” as well as “I Too Sing America – the Blues According to Langston Hughes”, about which I have not yet blogged much (but there is this) but which was brought up during the interview while discussing my other projects and experiences.
You can check out Art is Alive Magazine here. There is a unique diversity to its contents, as a contents banner that lists bikers next to artists and authors suggests:
Here is Matrell Wood’s article, in full:
Who does not know about the master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe? I cannot imagine anyone raising their hand and saying they have never heard of him or any of his works. Death and finality create suspenseful tales of darkness and woe, nonetheless, they remain entertaining. With entertainment comes innovation, and innovation breeds artistry. Artistry thrives in many forms when you are able to witness talents the likes of composer, actor, writer, and filmmaker Danny Ashkenasi.
Ashkenasi is a German born American that grew up in a multicultural lifestyle. He went to a German/English school, walked both sides of their cultural norms, and learned a lot about life while he had his feet in two different worlds at once. His mother was an opera singer, so music followed him closely throughout his life. He told me that he could not remember a time that he did not love performing, but he did not become a composer until later in his life.
Despite doing a whole lot of everything, Danny identifies himself, first and foremost, as a composer. Despite coming into composition farther down the road, it is the core of who he is and what he does. This culminated in his creation of The Tell-Tale Heart: A Musicabre. This is one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most universally known stories. As a dedicated fan of Poe, I have never seen it done quite like this. Take the dismal scene laid before you in The Tell-Tale Heart and add some music. This is not the grim drums and eerie background music you hear in some renditions. When the piece itself is turned into an awe inspiring and masterful musical performance, you are now witnessing the work of Danny Ashkenasi.
The work was originally made for stage production, but with the ever-changing landscape that we have been accustomed to this past year, he morphed his vision into a screenplay. His musicabre aired during the Art is Alive Film Festival and was highly regarded (deservedly so), and thus, rewarded for its incredible production.
However, he is not done with his walk down the dark path of Poe. He has already begun piecing together his next venture into the mind of the mad man. His next venture focuses on another of Poe’s popular works, The Pit and the Pendulum. He first got the idea for his music opera for The Tell-Tale Heart from a roommate he had in his early twenties. After bringing that story to life, he wanted to give it a companion piece that had the same depth and presence of the one man show. Hence, this is what drove him to choose this next project. Of course, this comes with its own set of difficulties and creative hurdles. One of the most complex was the creation of lyrics in Latin. They need to fulfill their intended purpose while fitting in this atmosphere, and of course, translate well to the song and overall performance.
Danny Ashkenasi remains a man of many talents. Poe’s works are not the only pieces that he envisions bringing to life. I was particularly captured by a project he detailed to me about the renowned poet and social activist, Langston Hughes. Now you might be asking yourself, why would he want to tackle Langston Hughes’ works. The answer is something I can only hope reaches anyone willing to lend an ear. He embarked on an ambitious adventure – sifting through every single poem he could find by Hughes. He obtained the rights of use, and began putting together a story using Hughes’ poems. Ashkenasi wants to tell a tale that chronicled the world Hughes lived in and the issues he strove to bring out to the forefront.
I, for one, am excited to see what Danny Ashkenasi brings to the table as he further refines his talents and brings his artistic visions to life. I will be the first in line to witness his Langston Hughes production, and I am incredibly excited to see The Pit and The Pendulum: A Musicabre. His ideas are fresh, and they are labors of love. Danny Ashkenasi is someone to keep your eyes on.
Aidey Pugh, director of the Jump Cuts Film Festival, sent me an email announcing that my “Fab musical adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic horror story!…” received Quarter Finalist awards for Best Actor and Best First Time Director.
Normally the festival screenings and networking and awarding would take place in Leeds, U.K., and this festival was supposed to take place in 2020, but…
Our final magnificent stop of the Great American West Tour Ed and I took the summer of 2019 was Monument Valley on Navajo land right at the border of southeastern Utah and northeastern Arizona.
Certainly saved one of the best for last.
The first view one gets of Monument Valley from the terrace of the visitor’s center:
If you have ever watched a Western, or even generally enjoyed a regular diet of movies, you probably recognize these iconic formations.
Monument Valley has been made famous by Hollywood Westerns as well as helped make these Westerns epic and iconic, as this excellent video illustrates.
West Mitten Butte
The three big Buttes, West Mitten, East Mitten and Merrick, are the most iconic, most photographed attractions of Monument Valley, no doubt. But there is far more to see and marvel at, and in the course of one long lovely day Ed and I got to quite a lot of it which I will share here.
In the morning we drove along the Monument Valley Loop Drive that visitors may take on their own in a regular car.
Beyond that route, to the south, one needs to hire a guide in a jeep to explore. We would do that in the afternoon.
So first, the Loop Drive. Here’s Merrick Butte’s southern facade, as seen from the road.
Your film submission has been chosen for the American Filmatic Arts Awards Selection.
If you have received this email, your project has been OFFICIALLY SELECTED & Award WINNER in one or more categories.
We believe your project is a strong addition to the American Filmatic Arts Awards selection and are pleased to be awarding it.
Our 2020 selection was very competitive and we obviously see that your project is one of the greatest among all submitted.
Your film has been awarded amongst over 1.200 projects. We undoubtedly believe it is a great success!
For your information, OUR AWARD CEREMONY WON’T BE RUNNING THIS YEAR DUE TO COVID-19 / PANDEMIC RESTRICTIONS IN NEW YORK.
WE WILL BE ANNOUNCING ALL 2020 AWARD WINNERS AND CATEGORIES on our website on MONDAY, FEBRUARY 22.
That’s wonderful news of course, tinged with a bit of sadness that, because of Covid, there would be no ceremony, no event of any kind. As this festival is based in Brooklyn, it would have been a really convenient event to attend and meet fellow local filmmakers.
So, “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” receives the award for Best Short Musical Adaptation Story.
There’s a tongue twister, say that three times fast: Best Short Musical Adaptation Story Best Short Musical Adaptation Story Best Short Musical Adaptation Story…
If that is the award, it would be unprecedented as a category in my festival experience. But maybe there is an ampersand missing? Maybe the award is for Best Short Musical & Adaptation Story? Or Musical Short & Story Adaptation? Or am I just greedily hoping for two awards when I should just count my blessing with the one?
Technically, if one is to follow syntax strictly, the award is for the story upon which the adaptation that led to the musical short is based. That award would go to Edgar Allan Poe, as he wrote the story, not me. Uh oh, am I about to reason myself out of an award?
The American Filmatic Arts Awards has an official list of their awards categories. Musical and/or Adaptation are not listed there as regular awards. That suggests these were especially added this year. However one reads the award designation for “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre”, one thing is clear: American Filmatic Arts Awards created a new category (or two?) to recognize the work, and that is a special honor I do feel sincerely, regardless of my humorous musings here.
I decided to send an email to American Filmatic Arts Awards, and ask them, right after first thanking them gratefully, to clarify the category designation(s). After all, I would like to make sure I make no error when I register the award on IMDb.
The most famous feature of Canyon de Chelly is Spider Rock, a 750 feet (229 m) tall sandstone spire. So I will start this blog post with it, even though it is not the first thing visitors entering Canyon de Chelly encounter.
Canyon de Chelly, part of the Navajo Nation, is located in the Four Corners region of Eastern Arizona.
The name Chelly is a Spanish borrowing for the Navajo word Tséyiʼ, which means canyon.
So … Canyon de Chelly technically is the Canyon of Canyon…
The Navajo inhabited Canyon de Chelly when US forces invaded in the early 19th century. Many bloody events ensued, but the Navajo held out, aided by the fact that the narrow western entrance into the canyon made it easily defensible.
But in 1863 Kit Carson’s troops found their way in from the East, massacred many and destroyed Navajo dwellings and crops. After that the Najavo were exiled from Canyon de Chelly.
Today Canyon de Chelly is part of the Navajo Nation.
The tour map above shows that the Spider Rock Overlook lies at the end of the southern rim road. There are many magnificent overlooks as well as a two hour hike into the canyon one can take as a regular visitor on the way to Spider Rock. And then there are views from the northern rim road too. I will share images from those stops as well.
Starting with a video taken at the first southern rim stop, Tseyi overlook:
Watch (and vote for) “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” for Free this Weekend via the Los Angeles Television, Script and Film Festival
This Saturday and Sunday, or more precisely from midnight EST Friday night through midnight PST Monday morning, LATVSFF is hosting free access to a whole batch of interesting international films, including my own short film musical Edgar Allan Poe adaptation “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre“.
You can also vote for / leave a comment about “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” in the festival “Voting Machine” at the bottom of the webpage. Comments can be left during the festival screening time, Saturday and Sunday, and will be tallied to determine festival awards.
I missed out on his last concert appearance in New York because it sold out before I made it to the ticket website. But this time I got my ticket early. And this time it wasn’t going to “sell out”, since an unlimited audience could watch virtually from home while Adam Lambert and his band performed live before cameras.
Welcome to the rock concert in the era of Covid 19. The band members, all women by the way, were masked, as assumably were the few crew members required to record and transmit the performance.
There were some technical difficulties, at least for me in my location in Brooklyn, where unusually brisk arctic winds were being whipped up that day, messing with our internet connection. The concert for me started jarringly, in that my screen switched rather suddenly from the orange stand-by image to the middle of the first song, “Superpower”. Repeatedly during the concert my image froze and the sound died. Sometimes it would return, often I would have to refresh to get it back. I blame the unusual winds and my internet provider and a likely unstable cable they have not been able (or willing) to replace in all these years. It may be a problem only once a year or so, but it certainly was unfortunate that it was a problem at this very time.
The concert was performed and filmed to simulate a live performance but it lacked the audience. We the audience were hidden away in front of our screens in our homes all around the world. We could only be imagined by Lambert, and it showed. I’ve seen Adam Lambert performing live, in person and on a TV screen, and there is a spark that animates his eyes and expression in front of a crowd. That was lacking. His singing and musicianship was beautiful and impeccable, the songs sounded great, but a certain insouciance and thrill, a genuine give and take between performer and listener, was missing.
It’s rather big and has weight. And shines impressively in the light.
“The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” won for Outstanding Technical Work in a Short Film. This awards the director (me), the cinematographer (Jason Chua), the editor (Stolis Hadjicharalambous), the sound designer (Todd Maki), and the VFX/color artist (Austin Lepri).
Having a category awarding “Outstanding Technical Work” seems to be unique to The Short Film Awards. I love that this categorization made it possible for the award to officially honor so many particular collaborators.
Ed suggested I take some pictures that show how the trophy catches the sunlight…