Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Sting At 40: A Sure Bet That Paid 29 to One - Presented by David Reffkin

What is the hidden truth about the best-seller status of “The Entertainer?” What was Marvin Hamlisch’s astonishing response to David Reffkin’s request for an interview? Is it really possible to quantify the time it took to alter history? You will be stunned by the revelation presented at the very opening of this talk. Yet the tension, surprise, horror and enlightenment will only intensify as the story unfolds toward the dramatic, shocking conclusion!

The Sting accomplished what no other picture ever did: It thoroughly revitalized and re-popularized an entire genre of music. This is the definitive account of how an original American creation - ragtime - became a pop music phenomenon, as it had been some 70 years earlier. It was also recognized as a classical art form, a goal that Scott Joplin had tried to achieve before his death in 1917.

The Library will present The Sting At 40: A Sure Bet That Paid 29 to One, a lecture by David Reffkin, on Thursday night, September 5, 2013 at 6:30 PM in the Latino/Hispanic Meeting Room in the Library's Lower Level.

Reffkin traces the actual (not mythical) history that led to the extensive use of ragtime in the movie score, the overnight rise of Scott Joplin's music on the record charts, the extent of its influence on our culture, and the rebirth of ragtime as a compositional form. Along the way he clarifies the process of choosing ragtime for the score by director George Roy Hill and composer Marvin Hamlisch. He’ll detail some of the contemporaneous reviews, awards, misperceptions, and long-lasting effects - intended and otherwise - of The Sting and its unsuccessful sequel (did you know there was a sequel?).

David was personally involved with some of the background events that led to the scoring of the music. Through careful documentation and direct quotes from the principle players, he shows the evolution of The Sting from a tale of con artists and self-employment to a film that became known as much for its score as for its stars, Paul Newman and Robert Redford. And he illustrates the 40-year migration of “The Entertainer” from main title theme to ring-tone.

• Background quotations about the genesis from the writer, director, two stars, Marvin Hamlisch, and others
• Precedent events, especially the Joshua Rifkin ragtime recordings, NY Public Library Collected Works of Joplin, and the “Red Back Book” recording of the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble
• Comparison of the film score with the soundtrack recording
• Published reviews –favorable and not - of the score
• Two-year arc of the popularity of ragtime, including chart tracking and awards
• The difference between “The Sting” by Marvin Hamlisch and “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin
• Effect of the film on the genre of ragtime and the careers of ragtime musicians and composers; secondary influences on classical and popular music
• The Sting II, especially in terms of adaptation and marketing
• Financial picture of the film production versus the ragtime composition and performance “industry”

DAVID REFFKIN is the director of The American Ragtime Ensemble, founded in 1973, with expertise in the history of orchestration and performance of music from the early 1900s. His interests in ragtime began during study at the New England Conservatory as a recording engineer on the Grammy-winning Red Back Book album of the NEC Ragtime Ensemble, a group he later joined as lead violinist. For 30 years he produced and hosted The Ragtime Machine, a radio program broadcast every week without interruption. These shows are now preserved at the Stanford University Archive of Recorded Sound. Many of his interviews and reviews appeared in The Mississippi Rag, for which he was a contributing editor and won the readers’ poll for Best Ragtime Journalist. His seminars are a popular feature at ragtime festivals around the country.

As a professional violinist, David appears as a soloist and member of various ensembles, performing many styles of music. He is also a conductor, arranger and music contractor, and he is frequently called upon to work as a music curator, archivist, speaker, consultant and teacher. Acknowledged for his editorial work, he wrote the Foreword for the discography Cakewalks, Rags and Novelties (2003). David was one of the musicians who helped create the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in 1974, organizing and directing the festival All-Star Orchestra, and in 2006 he received the Scott Joplin Award “for outstanding achievement in research, performance, and advancement of ragtime.” In 2011, the city of San Francisco presented him with the Mayor’s Certificate of Honor.

This program is supported by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.  All library programs are free and open to the public.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

In Memory of Ruth Asawa (1926-2013)

Come Celebrate Ruth Asawa Day, San Francisco Examiner Feb. 11, 1982

Both as an artist and as an activist, Ruth Asawa played a powerful and lasting role in San Francisco's cultural life.  Her artwork is a familiar part of the our city's landscape and expresses a very San Franciscan sensibility.  Both through creative work and advocacy she contributed to how we as a City think about art within our community.

While she worked in several media, she became known as the "fountain lady" because of the beloved public fountains she created in our City - the Fox Plaza Fountain (removed in 2008), Andrea at Ghirardelli Square, the San Francisco Fountain at the Union Square Hyatt, Aurora at the Embarcadero, and the Origami Fountains in Japantown.

A detail of the mermaid of the Andrea Fountain on the San Francisco Fountain

Learning about the creative process during her education at the Black Mountain College she came to view that artistic work is a form of self-cultivation.  Her teacher, Josef Albers stressed that the "lessons of art were also the lessons of life" and encouraged artist to work on solving practical problems.  She carried that ideal with her through life. A prime example being that when as an established artist she created her mermaid sculpture (Andrea) for Ghirardelli Square she had never done representational sculpture or cast in bronze before.

This ideal also showed through artistic engagement with her community.  Many of her public art works involved members of the community, artists and non-artists alike, in their creation.  Her San Francisco Fountain is a prime example of this -- the fountain took more than two years to finish and involved 250 people including children from the public schools who she had worked with.

She held a strong "belief in having professional artists work with students" so that they could learn by learn by doing
You don't have to be an artist to do artistic work.  I believe it is the artist's duty to make it possible for many people to participate and to become involved in community art projects.
From being an active volunteer in her childrens' school she continued as an advocate for the arts in the school and became the driving force behind the creation of the School of the Arts (SOTA) today rightfully named the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.

A Powell Mason cable car on its way to SOTA / McAteer (detail from San Francisco Yesterday and Today)

As the president of the School for the Arts Foundation she worried about the growing emphasis of technology over creativity:
When I see children sitting down in those cubicles staring at computer screen terminals, I sense we are teaching these youngsters to be farther and farther away from people ... I think the greatest computer around is the human computer whereby one learns how to solve problems, create ideas and develop independent critical thinking skills.  Art exercises more mental skills than any other activity I can think of.
 Andrea Jepsen, her friend and the model for the mermaid in her, in an appreciation of the artist wrote of her incredible ability to cut through red tape.

Today the School of the Arts continues to thrive and San Francisco Public Schools continue to engage their students with art and artists.

Above is a detail from San Francisco Yesterday and Today of her husband, architect Albert Lanier, whistling as he approaches a BART train, carrying a School of the Arts Foundation (SOTAF) briefcase in his left hand.  Note the detail work of the faces looking out from the train.

On a Library related note - both Asawa and Albert Lanier, played a major role in getting the Gottardo Piazzoni murals moved to and displayed in the new DeYoung museum after they were displaced from the old Main Library by the Asian Art Museum.

A humorous entry from the Ruth Asawa file in the Art, Music and Recreation Center's Newspaper Clipping Files:

from the San Francisco Chronicle Feb. 26, 1973

"However, if he ever takes a magnifying glass to Ruth Asawa's fascinating fountain at the Union Square Hyatt, he may not be amused to find a lot of anti-war slogans, including one reading 'Pull Out Dick.'"

Detail from San Francisco Fountain - "Give Peace a Chance"


(all newspaper entries are found in the Ruth Asawa Newspaper Clipping Files) 

Ruth Asawa, Art, Competence, and Citywide Cooperation: An Interview Conducted by Harriet Nathan in 1974 and 1976 (Regional Oral History Office, University of California, The Bancroft Library, 1980).

Dan Borsuk, "Sculptor sees too much computer education, not enough arts," San Francisco Progress (October 10, 1984), A3.

Daniell Cornell, The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours In The Air (University of California Press, 2006).

Stephen Dobbs, "Community and Commitment: An Interview with Ruth Asawa," Art Education 34/5 (September, 1981), 14-17 [available through the JStor database]

Mildred Hamilton, "Posterity's Little Hands," San Francisco Examiner (September 19, 1972), 21.

Alison Isenberg, "'Culture-a-go-go': The Ghirardelli Square Controversy and the Liberation of Civic Design in the 1960s," Journal of Social History 44/2 (Winter 2010), 379-412. [available through the Academic OneFile database].

Bernard S. Katz, The Fountains of San Francisco (Don't Call It Frisco Press, 1989).

Andrea Jepsen, "In Praise of Ruth Asawa," California Living Magazine May 11, 1975.

Warren and Georgia Radford, Outdoor Sculpture in San Francisco (Helsham Press, 2002).

Merla Zellerbach, "The Asawa Legacy," Nob Hill Gazette April 1993, 6

Thursday, August 8, 2013

From the Library's Files: Ruth Asawa's Bakers-Clay Recipe

One of Ruth Asawa's passions was to make the activity of art accessible to all. This philosophy was developed while she raised her own children.  As Sally  B. Woodbridge has written:
As the mother of six children she was always interested in ways to keep small hands busy.  One of the more successful of these was making things with a kind of inedible dough she later called "baker's clay."
While sculpted clay must be placed in a kiln and fired at very high temperatures, baker-clay can be "fired" in an ordinary home oven.  Her recipe, however, also has an extra step of applying lacquer or varnish because flour and salt both react over time to air.

During her exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1973, she organized a "dough-in" for the opening.  She prepared "giant batches" of her bakers' clay and supervised 400 participants in creating their own sculptures which she included in her exhibition, and subsequently returned to their creators.

While this technique has proven popular with parents, educator's and children, Asawa also applied it to her own work.  The most famous manifestation of this is her San Francisco Fountain where the detailed images are cast from this modest medium.

There is more detailed information about Baker's Clay on Ruth Asawa's webpage.

San Francisco Public Library Vertical File

Education Department
San Francisco Museum of Art
Van Ness at McAllister
San Francisco, California

Ruth Asawa's Bakers-Clay Recipe:

For those who would like to make bakers-clay sculpture the following recipe is provided:

4 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons dry tempera paint (optional for color)
  1. Mix flour, salt and tempera color (optional) together; add water and mix.
  2. Knead dough for four or five minutes for smooth consistency.
  3. Make sculpture.
  4. Insert paper clip or beer-can pull-top to act as hanger if the sculpture is to be suspended.
  5. Bake sculpture in 300 to 350 degree oven for about one hour or until very hard.
  6. After it has cooled, spray sculpture with clear lacquer or brush on a clear plastic varnish such as Varathene.  Let dry in clean dustless space.
Bakers lay can be stored in well sealed plastic bags kept in the refrigerator for as long as 24 hours.  For best consistency, however, clay dough should be freshly made just before sculpting.


"Ruth Asawa: A Retrospective View" (press release, June 25, 1973) in Ruth Asawa [Artists file], San Francisco Public Library, Art Music and Recreation Center.

Ruth Asawa's San Francisco Fountain by Sally B. Woodbridge (San Francisco Museum of Art?, 1973).

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Engaging World Cinema - Global Lens Film Series 2013

We are pleased to continue our partnership with the Global Lens Films Initiative to showcase ten wonderful movies from across the world under the banner of Engaging World Cinema. We have already screened About 111 Girls from Iraq, Beijing Flickers from China, and The Fantastic World of Juan Orol from Mexico. We regret that we were unable to present the film Cairo 678 due to reasons beyond our control, but we intend to show it sometime later this year. In its place, we were able to show the Argentine film The Prize.

For our August 4 program, the library will show a Chilean film Life Kills Me (La Vida Me Mata) by Sebastian Silva, the director's first feature film. This is a story about an unlikely friendship between a grieving cinematographer and a morbidly obsessed drifter. At work on a schlocky, low-budget horror film, Gaspar is still reeling from the untimely death of his beloved older brother when he meets Alvaro at yet another premature funeral. A mildly sociopathic young man with an unyielding curiosity for the dark side, Alvaro soon coaxes Gaspar out of his shell in unexpected ways in a debut film that pulses with a sure cinematic style as it channels a compassionate vision of frail, formidable, unforgettable lives.

On August 11, the library will screen the highly awaited Modest Reception (Paziraie Sadeh) by Mani Haghighi, the internationally acclaimed Iranian director of Men at Work. Modest Reception is about Leila and Kaveh, a mysterious pair from Tehran, who travel the mountainous countryside in their Lexus coupe to push big bags of money on the locals. This turns out to be not so easy, but fascinating to watch, as the cagey couple invent increasingly brazen stratagems to place cash in the hands of the wary, proud or indifferent. Will they push things too far? Are they losing sight of their mission? What exactly is their mission? Led by riveting performances from Taraneh Alidoosti and writer-director Mani Haghighi, this bold comedy-drama unfurls with unexpected force amid subtle themes of power, privilege and corruption.

Over the following four Sundays the library will show the following films: The Parade (Serbia), Shyamal Uncle Turns Off the Lights (India), Southwest (Brazil), and Student (Kazakhstan).

All the movies will be shown on Sundays at 1:00 PM in the Koret Auditorium of the Main Library of the San Francisco Public Library.  All programs at the Library are free and open to the public.