Facebook Twitter

10 YEARS OF THE SILLY AND SUBLIME

SHARE 10 YEARS OF THE SILLY AND SUBLIME

We call it the "decade of the '80s," though we may eventually see it as the "decadence of the '80s." And, indeed, a good deal of self-indulgence spilled over into the arts.

Enormous publishing advances, unbelievable prices for original paintings and tremendous price tags on Broadway and Hollywood productions are part of the '80s legacy.Yet in the scramble for fame and outrageous fortune, the finest performing and literary artists kept integrity intact and produced some wonders.

Herewith, Deseret News critics and editors offer a capsulized glimpse at their specialties and make a few educated guesses about the arts in the 1990s.

FILM AND VIDEO / By Christopher Hicks

The '80s will go down in movie history as the decade that brought the videocassette recorder into the lives of couch potatoes all over the world, and its impact on the motion picture industry has been significant - though not as expected.

Echoes of fears about television 30 years earlier were pervasive, with doomsayers predicting the VCR would eventually shut down movie theaters as moviegoers became movie homebodies. Instead, at least during this decade, theater attendance rose each year, hitting record proportions in 1989, as movies on video and movies in theaters seemed to feed off each other.

The film industry also grew in Utah. In fact there hasn't been a period in Utah's history when so much movie/TV/commercial production has gone on since John Ford made southern Utah the prototype for Western backgrounds. Credit for that goes to the state's diversity and the aggressive Utah Film Commission, which has made that diversity known to filmmakers worldwide. Major contributors also are the annual United States Film Festival and Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, both of which became major influences in the film industry during the '80s.

Whether movie theaters will continue to flourish in the '90s remains to be seen, what with high-definition television on the horizon and major films for sale as cheap videos within six months of theatrical release. Certainly Utah will become an even more important location for shooting them, however. Besides all that Utah has to offer aesthetically, it's only a 90-minute flight from Los Angeles, which producers seem to enthusiastically appreciate.

VISUAL ARTS / By Richard Christenson

The 1980s have been a decade of chaos, yet highly exciting as far as the visual arts are concerned. It's remarkable how so many artistic styles, running the gamut from photo-realism to non-objective art, have co-existed.

During the past decade, our community has become more aware and accepting of contemporary art. We can thank not only the artists who have zeroed in on their own styles and mediums, but visionary gallery owners who have promoted these artists as well as educated the public.

Gayle Weyher of Gayle Weyher Gallery says, "In my gallery, people have started to ask more questions about the figurative, narrative and visionary art works. And they're purchasing more of it."

Bonnie Phillips of Phillips Gallery says, "Our community is becoming more accepting of varied forms of art." She pointed out that she doesn't concern herself about future trends. "We'll keep our galleries balanced with skillful, exciting, challenging and aesthetically pleasing works of art _ in all mediums and all styles."

Dolores Chase of Dolores Chase Gallery says, "Figurative art has become a strong idiom in this country. And yet there has been a resurgence of the abstract."

She observed that more and more people are saving up for an original work of art. "They want to surround themselves with fresh, unusual, one-of-a-kind objects that will make a statement about their personalities."

As far as visual art trends for the next decade are concerned, her final comment, hopefully, says it all. "Good art is good art, and it will transcend the isms."

BOOKS / By Jerry Johnston

For years there was a running gag on the Deseret News sports desk. If you couldn't think of a headline, you wrote "Teams win and lose."

Substitute "books" for "teams" and you have a head for literature in the 1980s.

As might be expected, the world was a loser when many literary lights went out during the decade. Robert Penn Warren, Truman Capote, May Swenson, Samuel Beckett, Louie L'Amour, Ed Abbey and Donald Barthelme are just a few of the fine writers who have passed away since 1980.

Salman Rushdie and his "Satanic Verses" has to be the "no-win" story of the '80s. His novel lampooning Islam shot him to international fame and made him a rich man, but the bounty placed on his head by the Ayatollah keeps the author in hiding to this day.

As for winners, there were many. Smaller cultures and countries got a boost in the '80s, as almost half of the Nobel Prizes in literature went to East European or Third World nations. Nigeria, Colombia, Egypt, Bulgaria and Poland each had a Nobel laureate.

The Pulitzer Committee awarded several prizes to members of minorities, including Toni Morrison, Rita Dove and Alice Walker.

Children's books took off on a national level.

Hefty, meaty "good read" novels like Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities" began to make a comeback.

On the local scene, the Utah Arts Council literary division singles out several high points. Having Joseph Brodsky in Utah to speak and read just days after he won the Nobel Prize in 1988 was surely a coup. William Stafford's statewide poetry tour in the mid-'80s stands out, as do the numerous awards given to the young adult novel, "After the Dancing Days" written by Ogden High School teacher Margaret Rostkowski. Several Utahns, including poets Mark Strand and David Lee were awarded large grants.

In the end, the '80s were good for books and good for those who write them.

The '90s don't look bad either. A lot of true literary writers _ perhaps seeing the enormous advance checks awarded to Tom Clancy, Stephen King, Dick Francis and other pop novelists _ will likely work their way back into the storytelling business and get out of the experimental-language business.

We'll see the essay come back as a viable genre, I think.

And we'll see 1,287,986 slim volumes of student poetry published.

THEATER / By Ivan Lincoln

On the local theater scene, there were two main points during the 1980s: phenomenal growth and a lot of niche-finding.

The past decade also saw Salt Lake City change from what had been basically a "musical-theater town" to a city where nearly two dozen theater companies are now catering to a broad range of more sophisticated and discerning tastes (see story in today's Arts & Entertainment section).

Nationally, there appeared to be a shift away from Broadway (where the costs of mounting productions soared almost out of sight) to regional theaters, which grew in stature and importance. Louisville, Ky.; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Seattle, Wash., are three centers of regional theater that come immediately to mind.

Broadway touring shows also are fewer and much further between. They still hit the big cities like San Francisco and Chicago, but Salt Lake City is off the beaten path for most of these bus-and-truck companies, so the shows that do come through on a rare occasion are pretty spartan (Debbie Reynolds' recent "Unsinkable Molly Brown" at the Capitol was an exception).

Locally, a number of theaters changed directions during the '80s. In a city where you could find Rodgers & Hammerstein somewhere almost every other month, theatergoers now have considerably more to choose from _ a menu ranging from powerful drama and experimental works to tried-and-true comedies and even that old stalwart, melodrama.

As Utah theater moves into the 1990s, we can expect more changes. The newer companies in town will be settling into their niches, and there're bound to be a few that might not make it to 1999.

Scanning the horizon, TheatreWorks West, the resident theater company at Westminster College, will likely be moving into a new performing arts center on that campus sometime early in the '90s.

A big question during the coming year will be Promised Valley Playhouse and how it will fit into the LDS Church's new budget program. Will wards and stakes have funds in their new streamlined budgets to mount shows at PVP? We were unable to contact Playhouse management on Friday to get their comments.

DANCE / By Dorothy Stowe

The '80s have been a period of near-zero growth in federal support for the arts, which Ronald Reagan began by suggesting a 50 percent cut for the National Endowment for the Arts in his first budget. Even now, the agency has barely regained the $177 million annually that was Jimmy Carter's final suggestion, and with people like Jesse Helms on guard, one sees further rough sledding for the NEA.

Shining and vigorous as the Balanchine-oriented New York City Ballet is, the American Ballet Theatre remains the country's flagship company, and ABT's 10 years under artistic director Mikail Baryshnikov have led to what Clive Barnes calls "Balanchinization" and "Sovietization," with lavish productions of the classics, super technique and little innovation.

This holding pattern has been evident locally, where Ballet West's hits of the decade have been 19th century classics like "Swan Lake," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Giselle," with a few sideways excursions like "Anna Karenina" and the internationally acclaimed "Abdallah" by Bournonville. Artistic director John Hart does show a heartening tendency to trust talented young choreographers like Val Caniparoli.

The modern dance profile is equally flat, with Martha Graham living on past glory, and her successor not yet arrived _ despite the integrity and talent of such as Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor and Lar Lubovich. One sees little reason to expect more in the '90s, since audiences and sponsors still seem well satisfied with the status quo.

Utah companies have had their moments, with RDT displaying its historic retrospective and some interesting guest choreographies, Ririe-Woodbury sponsoring guests and maintaining its style and enthusiasm. Mostly they have survived, through 20th and 25th anniversaries.

The major scare of the '80s was the near closure of the Capitol Theatre, averted by determined tenant efforts and improved efficiency in management. Utah dance's crown jewel of the '80s is the newly completed Marriott Center for Dance at the University of Utah.

OPERA / By Dorothy Stowe

In opera, both nationally and locally, 19th-century masterpieces reign supreme _ sometimes with shock-value staging. But box office is up incredibly, as are numbers of productions. In 1988-89 alone, audiences increased 20 percent nationally over the previous year _ a trend reflected locally in Utah Opera's addition of a fifth performance of each opera. Many credit this increase to the clarifying influence of Supertitles; and never underestimate the popularizing effect of opera in the home via public television's "Live from the Met" and "Great Performances."

Leading the way into the future are such companies as Chicago and San Francisco with commissions for ambitious new works. People are also liking what they hear in minimalists such as Philip Glass ("Satyagraha") and John Adams ("Nixon in China"). Look for more of this comprehensible, melodic new opera.

CLASSICAL MUSIC /

By William S. Goodfellow

Without question the most significant thing to happen to classical music locally over the past decade was Symphony Hall. Opened toward the end of 1979, this magnificent structure literally changed the face of music in Utah. And not just for the Utah Symphony.

Almost overnight Salt Lake City became a watering stop for most of the world's great orchestras, so that within a few years every one of the so-called Big Five _ Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Philadelphia _ had played here. As had their counterparts in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Vienna, Amsterdam, London, Paris and Israel.

If the number of solo recitals seemed down, well, that mirrored a national trend, at least when it came to major artists. On the other hand both local and visiting performers found a new forum on Temple Square via the newly remodeled Assembly Hall, and within a short time the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition increased in visibility and stature by relocating to Symphony Hall from Brigham Young University.

By contrast it was a technological advance _ albeit not one perceived as such by everybody _ that changed the face of music in the American home, namely the introduction of the compact disc. Apart from higher prices, the record industry's first all-digital sound carrier also spawned a new consumer consciousness regarding quality, even among those who clung to their treasured analog systems.

Another consciousness that received a shot in the arm in the '80s, especially overseas, was that surrounding the use of period instruments and playing styles in performances of late 18th- and early 19th-century music. For the first time on a large scale, people began performing and recording the symphonic masterpieces of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and even Berlioz on the kinds of instruments that prevailed in their day _ making one wonder if in the '90s Mendelssohn, Chopin, Rossini, Schumann and Brahms can be far behind.

Moreover, that interest was not confined to the classics. Witness EMI's scholarly reconstruction of "Show Boat," happily an artistic and commercial success. I suspect the next decade will see even more of these so-called crossover ventures, both in and out of the concert hall, at least among those institutions that survive the '80s' most distressing trend, the disappearance in some quarters of the symphony orchestra altogether.

Certainly this season's Utah Symphony lineup _ and the corresponding box-office receipts _ appear to point the way toward an expanded "pops" role for the orchestra, hopefully not at the expense of its traditional repertoire. But with that term undergoing redefinition with every passing decade, who is to say what in 10 years' time that might be?

POPULAR MUSIC / By Ray Boren

One music magazine has already relegated the 1980s to history's trash heap, arguing that any decade that began with the assassination of John Lennon and ended with the phoenix-like return of Donny Osmond isn't worth remembering. Clever, but a self-indulgent conceit if ever there was one.

For popular music remains vibrant, vital _ and maybe more pervasive than ever. Rock, pop, rap, jazz, soul, country and all sorts of hybrids are all thriving. True, it's difficult to find a good mix of the musical spectrum on one radio station, as was the case 20 to 25 years ago, and many artists bemoan the compartmentalization, but really, there's all kinds of music being made. Something for every taste.

Pop music was everywhere in the '80s _ at home, at work, in soundtracks for movies, TV shows and ads. The Walkman, boom boxes and car stereos allowed us to program our listening time to particular preferences. As the decade ends, LPs and 45 singles are on the verge of extinction _ handy cassettes and clear-sounding CDs have turned the discs into dinosaurs.

Musically speaking, the '80s gave us the persistent, danceable electronic drumbeat; rap; new age reveries; and hard rock and power ballads in the Top 40. Folk returned, and populist pop by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, U2 and John Cougar Mellencamp was just about the biggest thing going.

The decade was rife with superstars and megasellers like Springsteen, Madonna, Bon Jovi, George Michael, Whitney Houston, Prince, Lionel Richie and, most notably, the man-child Michael Jackson.

Music videos took off, gave us MTV and helped energize the whole industry. Filmmakers like Jonathan Demme and Brian DePalma dabbled in video; videomakers like Julien Temple and Bob Giraldi made movies. And Michael Mann gave us "Miami Vice."

Guns n' Roses let some hateful ideas seep into its rock; black rappers like N.W.A. and Public Enemy angered other minorities and police officers _ and yet rock promoted good causes and understanding through Band-Aid, Live-Aid, Farm-Aid, "We Are the World" and the Moscow Music Peace Festival.

The '80s won't be denied their place in the parade of music history.

The '90s promise to take us in yet other directions. We'll probably check out other cultures (Paul Simon's "Graceland" was just the beginning), especially via African and Latin rhythms; digital audio tape; CDs offering both sound and vision; Personics _ tape collections made to order in music stores _ and we'll probably hear even more politically tinged songs, naughty lyrics and heavy metal. We'll get back to you about 1999.