September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill


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This innovative, well-researched tribute by Larry Weinstein to one of Germany's great modern composers elevates the music-video format to a new height: it's a seamless sequence of some of Weill's greatest and most obscure musical numbers, sung by celebrities from the rock and opera worlds, as well as his philosophical ruminations. Imaginatively filmed in a cavernous warehouse on cleverly designed sets, the vignettes range from the predictable (Nick Cave crooning "Mack the Knife") to the unexpected (the hip-hop dance troupe Ghettoriginal deconstructing a little-known song), from the inspired (Betty Carter in a regretful mood in "Lonely House") to the demented (William S. Burroughs delivering a soliloquy in his usual deadpan manner). There are also winningly stylish performances by soprano Teresa Stratas ("Surabaya Johnny" and "Youkali Tango"), Lou Reed (a bluesy cover of "September Song") and PJ Harvey (vamping sorrowfully in "Ballad of a Soldier's Wife"). Elvis Costello does a swoony take on "Lost in the Stars," accompanied by the Brodsky String Quartet. In between we hear musings by Weill and his wife Lotte Lenya as the camera tracks through a futurist setting; the two also take turns singing "Speak Low." Weinstein, a veteran classical-music documentarian, has an impeccable sense of rhythm that's reflected in the pacing of these "interpretations." September Songs has been shown on PBS, but this 35-millimeter screening should do it justice. Film Center, Art Institute. Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, November 11, 8:00, and Sunday, November 12, 2:00, 443-3737.

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